Friday, December 24, 2010

From the December Logbook

First of all, I must apologize for the lack of posting for such a long time.  I do have a good excuse though!  For the last month or so, we have been slowly fixing up a house here for the next family to arrive mid-January.  There have been many things to fix up, including re-wiring the house, installing an inverter, stabilizer, and batteries (that weigh more than I do), as well as re-plumbing the entire water system, cleaning, and remodeling the kitchen.  We had started the process when we had a little extra time from the flight schedule, and continued to work on it little by little, until I found out that we needed to move...almost immediately.  Our landlord had decided to start construction on a second house inside our property, and that poses a huge security risk.  So, not wanting to wait until after Christmas, we decided to move right away.  And that meant a lot of work needed to be done in a week, not two months.  Needless to say, we have been very busy preparing for Christmas, packing and unpacking, wiring, plumbing, and cleaning, all while still flying.  I am now the only 206 pilot here as well, since the other pilot has gone back to the US for the birth of his first child.  Now on to the logbook....

I grab all the usual flight gear, but this time I make sure not to forget my overnight bag.  That's right, the flight schedule today takes me several hours to the South and West of Bunia, too far for me to make it home before sunset, so I'll be staying with some missionaries out in the jungle.  I get to the airport a little earlier than normal in hopes of getting a quick start.  But that's a rare thing here.  I do the normal routine of making sure both myself and the airplane are fit for flying, then I turn my attention to the loading of cargo and passengers.  Today is a little different too...because of the avgas situation I need to carry all my own fuel for the whole trip.  All four of the airplane's fuel tanks are full, plus I have 7 jerry cans of fuel to take along with me.  I have to remind the staff that fuel and passengers both can't go in the cabin at the same time, and I don't really think the passengers want to ride along in the cargo pod (no window seats down there). 

I'm taxiing for takeoff only 30 minutes later than I wanted to, not too bad, I still have an hour of flexibility in the schedule.  I takeoff for a city called Bukavu 250 miles to the South, along what has to be some of the most striking and beautiful terrain in all of Africa, with one passenger and almost 10 hours of fuel.  December brought the dry season here, and with that comes haze, smoke, and visibility that can be down to a mile or two.  We pilots trade dodging thunderstorms and unlimited visibility for smoky skies and stable weather.  Even though this leg will take almost two hours, there's no time for inattention.  With the low visibility it's very hard to see clouds, and there are many mountains and volcanoes along this route.  If I just carelessly fly along and follow the pink line on the GPS, I could fly up the wrong valley and find myself unable to outclimb rising terrain and unable to turn around as the mountains close in around me.  With that in mind, I pull the chart out and study my route carefully, making note of prominent landmarks and coordinates.  I also decide to make a plan B just in case plan A goes bad.  This trip also takes me over the Equator and into the Southern hemisphere, where believe it or not, it's the rainy season right now!  As I get closer and closer to my destination, the weather begins to deteriorate more and more, and I am forced lower and lower to the ground.  I snake my way through the valleys and around the volcanoes, peering into the haze for the landmarks I found on the chart.  I dare not make assumptions either.  One thing I learned in school was always to verify landmarks from the chart to the ground, not the ground to the chart.  Why?  Because everything on the chart will be on the ground, but not everything on the ground will be on the chart...just another opportunity for me to mistake my position and fly up already mentioned wrong valley.  The visibility is so low in places as I fly over Lake Kivu, that I check and verify my instruments often, as there is no horizon for me to do so outside.  I land in Bukavu right on time, making up 15 minutes because of a great tailwind.  I unload my passenger as well as most of the fuel I brought.  I leave just enough for 3 hours of flying time which will get me to my next destination and back with an hour and a half to spare.  All the paperwork and taxes are in order, so this portion goes quickly as I help load a 55 gallon drum of fuel and other cargo for my jungle destination of Kama.  Bukavu sits in a big bowl at almost 6,000 feet, and with a fully loaded non-turbocharged airplane and low visibility, I am very conservative on this takeoff.  I don't have far to climb though until I reach the bases of the clouds, heading West into the jungle.  The weather is not all.  I am tense and alert, ready in a second to turn the airplane around if a mountain peeks through the haze.  I am crossing ridges at a few hundred feet, just like they taught us in training, only this time it's for real.  There are real clouds, real mountains, and real danger.  After 30 minutes of this, I'm starting to feel drained and tired, but the mountains are now dropping away and giving me a little breathing room as I reach the edge of the jungle.  I sit back for the first time since I took off, but now I have a new problem...there is a solid layer of clouds 200 feet above the jungle canopy for as far as I can see.  I decide early that if it doesn't look good in Kama and  I can't see the airstrip when I fly over, I will just have to fly back to Bukavu.  Better to save the stuff for delivery another day than never deliver it at all.  As I reach my destination, the clouds are no better, but I do spot the airstrip, and it looks wet.  I quickly give up on a normal approach and circle a few times as I gather together my plan.  I have been here before, and I notice that the airstrip lies just to the left of a river.  I also notice that there are several "holes" in the clouds along the river, both on the departure and approach ends.  The river is relatively straight until it reaches the airstrip where it bends sharply to the right, parallels the airstrip, and then continues on past the airstrip.  I decide that I can drop below the clouds and fly up the river safely, take a look at the airstrip and continue past the airstrip over the river and pop back up and over the clouds on the other side if things don't look good for landing.  I make a mental note that this landing needs to be spot on, and drop below the clouds, following the river as planned.  2 miles, 1 mile, 1/2 mile, finally I see the end of the airstrip and adjust the power so I can land where I want to.  55 knots, descending at 500 feet per minute, things look good and I continue.  Just before my touchdown point, I pull the power back, raise the nose and land almost exactly where I had planned.  Splash!!  Water goes everywhere.  I am slowing down in a hurry so I check the brakes very briefly to make sure they're working, and add a considerable amount of power to help me control the airplane until I get to taxiing speed.  People come walking out of the jungle as I approach the parking area and shutdown.  I get out and everyone wants to shake my hand and greet me.  My boots sink in an inch of mud, but the airplane, with its oversized tires holds its ground.  I unload the airplane with the entire village's help.  Many of the younger people come to me and say, "Goood Morning Captain," even though it's early afternoon...hey, it's the only English they know.  I greet them in Swahili and they smile.  Soon, the airplane is loaded again with cargo bound for Bukavu.  I am soaked and already dreading the return trip.  I takeoff the way I landed (the way I know is good), splashing huge amounts of water until I liftoff and head East.  The weather doesn't look any better, and before I know it, I'm back to crossing mountain ridges a few hundred feet above the trees.  I pass over small villages, with farmers outside tending to their crops.  One even has the audacity to pick up a stone and throw it at the airplane as I pass by.  No matter, I have other things to worry about right now.  I make my way back to Bukavu again to pick up two passengers, freight, and more fuel for another flight out into the jungle.  We load quickly as I have no time to spare...the sun doesn't wait for me like it did for Joshua over Gibeon.  My destination now is a village called Kipaka, about 100 miles past Kama.  Honestly, I don't have much hope for the flight, but as we takeoff, I notice that the weather had drastically improved in only 30 minutes; I am real happy about that.  So I settle in for the 1.5 hour flight and give my passenger a headset.  I am taking her "home" from the US where she goes to college.  At the last minute she got enough money for the trip home to Congo to be with her family for Christmas.  It's always nice to have someone who speaks English on a long flight over the jungle!  We talk almost the whole way, and even though the Lord wouldn't be holding the sun for me, he did make a nice big hole in the clouds right over our destination!  We circle overhead a few times as I study the airstrip.  I have never been here before, so I am a little more cautious than normal.  As I make my approach I notice the first 300 meters of the airstrip are unusable because the grass is taller than the airplane, so I adjust my touchdown point on final approach, and switch to a "short-field" landing technique.  I land firmly, put the flaps up, and squeeze the brakes hard.  Everyone leans forward in their seatbelts and I hear this old airplane creak, but it doesn't complain.  We stop a couple hundred meters from the end and taxi to the parking area.  I am glad this day is over!  Now on to the stack of paperwork and a good night's sleep!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bug Battles...Continued

Although a rat is not a bug, it falls into the same category of "really nasty and does not belong in my home."  What you are about to see might be a little disturbing, just a warning. 

 For the past few weeks we've heard "things" in the kitchen.  At first it was just hearing things, then we found evidence...stinky evidence.  So I bought some traps, like the one that goes "snap!" and some rat glue and poison bait.  I started with the bait, and at first they were eating it up by the package, but it didn't seem to be doing much.  So I went to the snap trap and only managed to nearly snap my thumb off.  The cheese was always gone, but nothing was ever caught in the trap.  So I moved on to the really really sticky glue spread in a circle around a little piece of cheese.  Well, all that produced was a bunch of rat hair, so I started to get a little frustrated and desperate.  So last night, me and Joy decided to take things into our own hands and try to lure the rat into a plastic bucket with some cheese.  After two hours of chasing the rat around the kitchen and almost succeeding, we were getting pretty angry.  Then we realized there were two of them, and I got a great idea from my survival training.  I asked Joy to go get my survival knife, some duct tape, and an old broom handle.  She feverishly taped the knife to one end and handed it to questions asked.  After a little more screaming, and a bunch of missed attempts (those things are fast!), I finally managed to skewer one (I will spare you the picture of this one, pretty gross).  I thought I had missed on the first stab, but definitely pinned him down on the second.  Finally success!  After waiting til he stopped moving, we threw him out on the trash pile and I started to get ready for bed, it was already 11pm.  Then, I heard the other one squealing and running around the kitchen, so I grabbed my spear again and thought I'd give it one more try.  This one was a much harder shot though, he was crawling around in the cabinet, underneath all the pots and pans.  So I waited and watched for a minute, and then I had the perfect opportunity right in between two glass bowls, so I took it.  Suffice it to say that there are at least two less rats in this world.  I slept good last night.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Real Reason

I am a pilot and a mechanic; that's what I do...not who I am.  I fly in Congo, but that's not why I'm here.  Tonight I re-affirmed the real reason why I am here, why I learned French, why I put up with marginal electricity, water I can't drink, and corrupt officials just looking to make some money.  I often told people during our full-time support raising that my love is flying, but my passion, who I am, is serving people.  Tonight, a local Congolese pastor (who by the way speaks more languages than I can count) and I teamed up to show the "Jesus Film" in Swahili near an orphanage just outside of town.  I was there to help him set up the equipment and show him how to use it.  I didn't fly at all today, yet I'm tired and fulfilled.  It's a beautiful thing to watch the face of a young boy or girl (who has lost everything) react to the unjust crucifixion and death of Jesus, and then see them light up with joy and hope when they realize that even death could not conquer him.
Most of the night I chatted with an 11 year old, very outgoing girl.  It was good for my French!  She told me about how her mom and dad were murdered by rebel militias who came and attacked their village to rape, kill, and steal.  She escaped with some of her friends by running into the jungle and hiding for several days.  They returned home, only to find their families dead or gone, their homes burned, their few possessions stolen.  She looked for her brothers and sister, uncles and aunts, cousins, but none were found.  Somehow or other, she ended up here, on the outskirts of Bunia, in an orphanage.  I ask her if she understands the story of Jesus and if she believes in him.  Her reply was a quick and confident, "oh yes."  She goes on to say, "Jesus is the only one who has never abandoned me; He is the only family I have left now, if you know what I mean."  I was speechless.  What would you say to that?  All I could think of was to say I'm sorry for your family, but I'm glad you believe in Jesus.  She smiles and says, "I'm sorry for them too, they didn't know Jesus like I do, but that's the way he wanted it."  And I ended the conversation by encouraging her to tell everyone she knows about Jesus, because you never know when something bad might happen.

I am a pilot and mechanic, that's what I do...not who I am.  I am a child of the King, and I am here to tell people who Jesus is and what he did for them.  Who are you?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

An Unexpected Week Off

After Monday's flights were done, the rest of the week was canceled for me, so I figured it would be a good time to work on some projects, get some things done around the house, and explore Bunia a little bit.  In Africa, it doesn't matter what it is, things always take longer.  Everything.  So Tuesday I went to the market to get some supplies and tools for wood projects that I want to build.  That took pretty much all day, going from store to store trying to get a decent price for it all.  Wednesday I worked on an arbor that goes over our entryway, so that the vines of passion fruit can climb up and over the other side.  It's all finished now, complete with a sitting bench and everything.  My arms were sore from cutting all the wood by hand.  I slept real well.  The next day I worked all day planing some wood that I bought for kitchen cabinets that I'm making for Joy.  If sawing by hand made my arms sore, planing by hand turned my muscles into jello.  I had to stop when the sun went down, I just didn't have anything left.  I did get one board completely planed though, so now it's on to sanding and cutting to size.  Friday we bought some living room furniture and I had them leave one chair unfinished so I could sand and stain it myself.  I worked on sanding most of the day, but I also got some replacement parts for both our toilets that broke.  I only fixed one, because I refused to pay the asking price for one of the parts I needed.  But hey, one is better than none, right!  While I was fixing the toilet, I noticed this little creature.  I'm not really sure what to classify it as, except for "creature."  A lot of things crawl up through our drain in the guest shower, why, I have no idea.  But I've seen 4" millipedes, spiders, cock roaches, all sorts of things, but never something that looked...or moved like this.  If you look real close, it kind of looks like a little millipede with some kind of shell or something.  I was intrigued by the way it was moving, and I love any excuse to postpone plumbing work, so I just sat and watched him crawl around for a minute.  And then it happened.  I saw his little head disappear inside and thought he must be scared or something.  Then, lo and behold, it popped out the other end and he started crawling backwards.  It was crazy.  So I ran to get Joy and the camera because I've never seen anything like this before.  I kept him alive just long enough to take a few photos, and then hit him with the DOOM.  Saturday, I worked on finishing the chair with mahogany varnish, had Kaitlyn help me with an oil change in the Land Cruiser, and played volleyball with some friends.  All in all, a good week.  Not what I expected, but a lot of fun and exploring.

The Backpack

My backpack to be specific.  See, it all started when I got back from a full day of flying.  I got in the MAF truck to drive home and noticed it was almost out of gas.  I figured I'd stop by the gas station on my way home and fill it up, so I pulled into the station on the Main street of Bunia, told the attendant how much diesel I wanted, and waited until he finished pumping it.  Then I locked the doors and headed inside to pay at the counter.  As I was counting out what I owed, I took a quick glance back out at the car and noticed a young man standing next to the car with a blue backpack that looked a whole lot like the one I take with me every time I fly.  It didn't register right away, but I figured I'd take one more good look as I started walking down the side of the road.  Then I knew, it was my backpack, the one that was sitting on the front passenger seat of the truck.  As he disappeared around the corner, I took off in a full sprint, slowing down just enough to peek in through the windshield of the truck and make sure all my other stuff was still there.  It was; back to a full sprint.  As I rounded the corner, I half expected to see nothing but a crowd of people (and to see really cool stuff for sale at the market the next day that looked a whole lot like mine), but I spotted my bright blue backpack over the shoulder of another guy.  I was enraged, and I started shouting at the top of my lungs.  (Only now I realize as I look back on the event, it may have helped to have been shouting in French, not English).  Then I had a flashback from my days in was a common thing to see young kids who would come up to your car and kick the door or throw something and then take off, hoping you would get mad and chase after them.  Then, while you were busy chasing the kid, some other kids would come around the corner and go through everything you had in the car without you even knowing it.  I quickly glanced back over my shoulder and all I saw was a bunch of wide-eyed, open-mouthed people staring in unbelief.  I didn't care, I just kept on running.  And as this guy saw I was not going to stop running full bore until I had my belongings back, he got scared and took off running himself.  Amazingly, I was still gaining on him, until I finally got within 10 feet of him, he sheepishly dropped my backpack and kept on running.  I just picked it up and walked back to the car, through the still gaping crowd of onlookers.  After making sure everything was still in the car, I again locked the door and went inside to pay.  Nobody said a whole lot, nor did I.  I was way too out of breath for a conversation. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

One Of Those Days

     Ever have one?  One where everything seems to be going wrong?  Nothing seems to be going as planned, things take way longer than they should.  I did.  My day went something like this….

     I make my way to the airport at the normal time, but today I see something a little strange…an 8 or 10 year old little girl wearing a mini skirt and high heels, posing for passersby and asking for a “job.”  In my groggy morning fog it takes a minute or two to register that this little girl is a prostitute.  That sets the tone for my day.  I arrive at the airport and say hi to the national staff.  Despite what I saw earlier, I’m happy because today will be a short day, I should be home by lunch time.  In my mind, I’m already making plans for fixing up the house the rest of the day.  There are lots of little things that need repairing. 

     We just finish loading 450 pounds of cargo when two passengers show up, asking for a ride into the jungle.  Wanting to accommodate passengers, we agree to take them to their destination, and begin unloading the cargo we had just secured.  During the unloading, I get a call asking for me to make an unscheduled stop an hour North of Bunia for two more passengers.  I quickly change my flight plan, add more fuel for the extra stop, and takeoff half an hour behind schedule.  The first leg of the trip goes ok and I land in Doko to pick up the two unscheduled passengers.  I try and pay the landing fee to the airport official, but he doesn’t accept any of my bills because they aren’t crisp, new bills.  He reluctantly accepts the last bill I give him, after 10 minutes of squabbling, because that’s all I’ve got.  Then the passengers show up with way more baggage than I am able to take.  I’m in a hurry because I’m already behind schedule, I need to pick up a passenger and bring them back to Bunia so they can catch their flight on to Uganda, and here these guys are trying to take a truckload of stuff.  I muster some kindness and calmly tell them I can only take two bags, the rest will have to stay behind for another time.  They sort through their belongings, wasting more of my precious time.

     Now an hour behind schedule, I takeoff for my original destination.  Unfortunately the weather keeps me from climbing very high and I am unable to take advantage of the strong Easterly winds higher up.  What could have taken one hour takes 20 minutes longer, and I land an hour and a half behind schedule.  As soon as I land and unload the plane, I begin feverishly loading up 300 pounds of medicines and two passengers, trying to make up some lost time.  It seems like all anyone wants to do is talk with me, but I am focused on the task at hand and don’t want to chat…at all.  I’m almost finished loading up when I get a call that there is a sick person at our next stop that needs to go to the hospital.  I very reluctantly agree to pick them up and unload everything I had just put in the airplane.  Yep, you guessed it, almost two hours behind schedule now.

     I takeoff for a short hop over to a medical mission station in the jungle to pick up one passenger and a medical evacuation.  Come to find out, the sick person is actually an infant that needs emergency brain surgery, and his mother is coming along.  I load everyone up and confirm that all four passengers want to go back to Bunia.  I get two confirmations and to my great surprise, two no’s.  The sick passenger and the last passenger both want to go to Nyankunde where the hospital is.  Not a big problem, but now I need to get more fuel for the extra stop…which puts me even further behind schedule.  I am brief and short with the folks, and as I take off and fly overhead, I mentally say sorry to the people down there who all came to see the airplane and talk with the pilot.

     It’s now mid-afternoon and I’m heading straight into the strong wind that should have carried me swiftly out here.  I could climb up higher, but there’s no point now.  The higher I go, the slower I get and the longer it takes to reach my destination.   This leg seems to take FOREVER, and I begin thinking about the day as I drum along.  I wonder what that little girl’s story is that I saw this morning on the way to work.  Man I was a little short with our national staff this morning.  Come to think of it, I’ve been short with just about everyone today.  I talk a little with God about the day and He gently tells me (with a thunderstorm directly in my path) it’s time for an attitude change, and I make up my mind to be as nice as I can be with the passengers at my next stop. 

      I land, even though the winds here are exceptionally strong today.  I shutdown, hop out, and help the poor mother as she gets out of the airplane.  She hands me her sick little boy, clearly relieved to be at the mission hospital.  I cradle him up in my arms and for the first time, I realize why he so desperately needs surgery.  He has the body of a 9 month old, but his head is so swollen it’s about the size of a basketball.  His eyes look into mine, but nothing is registering in his little brain.  No smiles, no giggles, not even crying, just a blank stare.  And to think I almost said, “No, it’s just too much hassle today.”

     By now, the thunderstorm has moved on, my passenger’s next flight has been delayed so there will be no conflicts, and I head for home, pondering again the day’s events.  What kind of witness am I portraying?  What kind of person do these people think I am now?  How am I going to make this right?  Can I just rewind the day and start over?

     I land in Bunia, three hours later than I had originally thought.  I get out, bid the passengers farewell, and make a B-line for the national staff.  I need to apologize. On my way home, I once again think about the day's events.  Today I carried folks with medical missions, and SIL/Wycliffe Bible Translators, enabling them to do their missions work.  And I also quite possible saved the life of a little baby boy.  Was it worth it?  You bet.

Monday, November 1, 2010

DHL and Surprises

Usually when I pick up packages on the airplane and take them back to Bunia, they're covered in tape and the boxes look like they've been used and re-used for a very long time.  So, when a nice box comes along, it grabs my attention.  This one had the familiar DHL logo on the side, so I took special care not to damage the contents.  Arriving back in Bunia, I noticed a man walk up and pick up the DHL package and walk away.  He had a yellow shirt on and I figured it must be the Bunia DHL delivery man.  My suspicions were confirmed when I saw his bright yellow delivery vehicle...a bicycle!  I wish I had my camera.  Next time I see him, I'm taking a picture!

Surprise #1:  Meet the newest member of the family, Lucy.   She's a puppy from one of our friend's neighbors.  Everything happened kind of suddenly.  Joy and I had been talking about getting a dog down the road eventually, after things settled down a bit and we got into a routine here.  But wonderful opportunities don't always wait for the most opportune time.  And after we saw this little cutie, we just couldn't pass her up!  She's the most mellow puppy I've ever known, and luckily she's just Kaitlyn's size too.

Surprise #2:  Did you know that on top of volcanoes, civil unrest, and the most thunderstorms out of any place on earth, they also have earthquakes.  No really, it's true.  We had one a few weeks ago in the middle of the night.  Nothing huge, but it got my heart going pretty good.  It wasn't violent, just a strong back and forth motion with a loud, shake all the china, bang at the end.  Normally that sort of thing wouldn't get me going too much, but when your house is made of sand and water, it makes you stop and think for a minute.

Surprise #3:  One of my co-workers says to me, "Hey, did you hear any shots last night?" "No," I replied.  "Oh, well Joe the national worker who lives really close to you said he heard a lot of gunfire last night, and this morning he confirmed that there was a bunch of shooting going on not too far from your place around 11pm."  "Oh, that's interesting.  Nope, didn't hear a thing, I was fast asleep from a hard day's work!"  It's moments like these that I thank the Lord our house is made of sand and water!

We spent the last week in Kampala, Uganda, where I began my maintenance orientation with our chief mechanic.  I am a firm believer in a good strong maintenance program, especially when I'm flying over many miles of thick jungle :)  We were also able to get some shopping done for things we can't get here in Bunia.  We are starting to feel at home here, and once again we find ourselves beginning to take root; they say once you've lived in Africa, it will forever be in your blood.  And I'd have to say, I think they're right.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

From the Logbook

     My alarm goes off at 6am; I hit the snooze button and roll over as the first rays of sunlight come through the window.  After 10 minutes, I decide it's time to get up and get dressed.  Just before I hear a honk at the gate, I double check that I have everything--flight bag, lunch, survival kit, water, multi-tool, flashlight, cell phone, watch, ID, pen, and calculator. 
     The ride to the airport takes 5 minutes and we are greeted by the national staff, and I start my pre-flight, file flights plans, and oversee the loading process.  We are taxiing for departure an hour later with 2 passengers (a nun and a doctor) and several hundred pounds of cargo.  As we takeoff and turn right, heading North for the one hour flight to Aru, I climb through a scattered layer of puffy white clouds and can't help but smile...I have the greatest job in the world.  The airplane practically flies itself in the crisp morning air.  Today I am flying with Jon, the chief pilot; he's been flying longer than I have been alive, so I try and soak in everything he says.  We talk about landing areas and airstrips along our route, and before I know it, we are descending for landing.  As we touch down on the runway, one of the passengers in the second row begins yelling and clapping his hands...out of excitement.  I immediately thought that he must be a skiddish flyer and was so relieved to be on terra firma again, but quickly realized he actually thought MAF was the coolest ministry ever, and swore over and over again that he will only fly on MAF airplanes from now on.
     We taxied to our parking spot, shut down, and were greeted as we exited the airplane.  A young man hands me an ice cold of the perks of flying into Aru.  He then brings around 5 passengers all of whom are "scheduled" to get a ride back to Bunia.  That presents a little bit of a problem when you have 7 people who all want to go flying in a 6 passenger airplane.  We told (as kindly as possible) one gentleman he would have to stay behind, and began loading the rest of the luggage and freight as the workers fueled the airplane.  After just three passengers were on board, I was already thinking to myself that something was amiss, and sure enough, as the fourth passenger climbed in, the airplane gently settled back onto its tail, with the nose up in the air.  It's commonly known that you can easily check the 206's center of gravity by pushing the tail to the ground--if it comes back up, you are within the limits of the airplane, if it doesn't, you have to either put more weight in the front of the airplane, or take extra weight out of the back. 
     We ended up having to take several large suitcases out of the back of the airplane and leave them so we could accommodate all the passengers.  An hour and a half later (and already an hour behind schedule) we were headed back to Bunia to drop off the passengers and pick up 2 more passengers and a few hundred pounds of cargo.  The stop in Bunia goes much quicker, and 30 minutes later, we are taking off and heading West into the Ituri rainforest.  We're now headed for a city called Isiro with a passenger from an organization called MedAir, and lots of boxes for them and for Doctors Without Borders.  It is an hour and a half flight over what looks strikingly like a huge field of broccoli.  This stop also goes quickly as we unload and pick up 2 passengers for a short hop over to a mission station called Nebobongo.  We circle overhead to make sure the airstrip is clear and suitable for landing before starting our approach.  The airstrip is plenty long, but with 100-200 foot trees on all sides, the approach and landing require careful attention.  We land and taxi uphill to the end of the airstrip where it seems like the whole village is awaiting our arrival.
     We turn around, shut down, and add one more passenger, for a total of 6 people, and add a little more cargo.  It seems hot here, and unbearably humid.  Water leaves my body faster than I can replenish it.  But no worry, soon I'll be cruising in the cool air.  We now have one mission doctor, one national, one humanitarian worker, and a photographer on board.
     I make a mental note that this takeoff will definitely require a "short field" technique.  As we start up and run through our pre-takeoff checks, the whole village is waving frantically and all the kids run behind the airplane to try and defy the hurricane-force winds of the propeller at full power.  All checks are complete, things look good, so I squeeze the brakes and add full more check to make sure the engine is operating normally before releasing the brakes and starting the takeoff run.  Everything's good, let's go.  I instinctively add right rudder as the airplane's tendency is to go left.  Speed check is good, and before I know it, the airplane tells me it's ready to fly and leaps off the ground.  As the end of the airstrip is fast approaching, I have a moment of doubt as the 200 foot trees begin looking ominously huge through the windscreen, and every muscle in my body screams at me to pull the nose up...but then the training takes over and I wait for 65 knots, and then I pitch up to hold that airspeed.  We "balloon" up and over the trees with plenty of margin.  I smile again and silently thank my parents for providing the means to get the right training for this kind of environment. 
     It's mid-afternoon now and the scattered layer of clouds has turned into a broken layer, so I climb up right underneath them and wait patiently for a hole to climb up through and into the cooler, smoother air.  Several minutes later, I find what I'm looking for, add full power, and climb up and around the clouds.  10 minutes of climbing get us up to 9,500 feet; I sit back, relax, and let the plane do all the work.  Jon and I talk about the vast jungle beneath us as I gently bank the airplane around clouds.  After an hour of cruising along, I begin to see massive thunderstorms ahead, and make my descent early.  Back down into the bumpy humid air we go.  As we get closer to Bunia, several thunderstorms and rain showers block our path home, so we deviate to the south and try and out run the storms.  As we make our way just outside the rain, a hole opens up and promises a straight path right into Bunia.  We land without a problem, 15 minutes before the rain starts.  I smile again, thanking God this time for yet another safe return.  I wonder what Monday's flight schedule might hold?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bug Battles Begin

Episode 1:

When we first got here, I thought the bugs weren't that bad at all, there weren't even that many mosquitoes flying around.  Truthfully, the bugs still aren't that bad, I just think we were exceptionally spared the first two weeks we were here.  Now that we're starting to settle in, I'm beginning to notice the little things.  Geckos scurry up the walls, but I can get used to them.  They keep the other small bugs at bay.  Ants crawl freely under the doors, some are big black ants, others are so tiny you can hardly see or notice them at all.  Keep the floors relatively clean and the lid tightly on the sugar canister, and they aren't a problem.  But, the other day I was outside burning our trash, and the biggest wasp I have ever seen landed on the bush right next to me.  I was more intrigued than scared, but I couldn't help thinking that the sting from a bee that colossal would probably make a rugby player cry.  I wasn't too concerned until I noticed yesterday that their nest is in one of our window sills.  I googled them today and found that they are among the most docile wasps in the world, and that they eat black and brown widow spiders and other insects.  I guess they can stay.

We also had a big surprise last night when I shut our bedroom door.  There was a spider the size of my palm staring back at me.  I promptly re-opened the door and ran to get the DOOM everything killer spray.  I let him have it until he shriveled up into a ball and then he went down the toilet.  I googled him too, and found out he eats mosquitoes, insects, other spiders, and even lizards and geckos, but I draw the line at spiders.  I don't care what they eat, how small they are, or what their purpose in life is--if they are in my house, they die.  Especially when they are that big, hairy, and can leap small buildings.  Their bite is not deadly, but can cause severe headaches, nausea, vomiting, and heart palpitations.  More than enough reason for me to justify my actions :) 

Until next time!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Home Sweet Home

As we fly in over the city of Bunia on an MAF Cessna Caravan, I think to myself, "Wow, this is small...and this is home!"  I look out the window as we make our approach to land and the first thing I notice is deep ruts and ditches in the roads, a few cars and motorcycles inch their way along; there are no paved roads here, not one--boy am I glad to be flying!  I notice a few thunderstorms off in the distance.  We are met by the entire MAF-East DRC team as we get off the airplane and they begin helping us unload our luggage.  After quick introductions, we meet a MAF national staff person who takes our passports to finish up Visa and entry paperwork, and we are on our way "home."  After a bumpy 10 minute ride we arrive at a big green gate and honk the horn.  A young man opens the gate (our day guard) to let us in and we get our first glimpse of what will be our home.  It is fully furnished with everything we need (for now) and I can't help but be impressed by the cleanliness!  Everything looks spick and span.  A quick tour reveals 3 bedrooms (one currently being an office) and two bathrooms, living room, dining room, and kitchen. 
     I have to say, most of it has been a blur, but we are settling in, and are beginning to learn the ropes.  Managing the electrical power and water to our house, minimizing bugs, cooking with matchlight gas stoves, and listening in on the MAF radio have kept us plenty busy so far.  Much of it will become routine in the coming weeks and months, but until then, we have a sharp learning curve!  We will share more as more becomes availabe, but for now, I'll leave you with a photo of Kaitlyn helping mommy hang clothes out to dry!

P.S.  Please continue to pray for our health to be strong, for our adjustments to life here, and for our shipment to arrive in a timely manner (preferably in the next week or two!)  Thanks!

Sunday, August 29, 2010


It's finished!  Quick facts:

Total shipment weight--1,919 lbs.
Total pieces--20 (17 plastic bins, 2 large boxes, 1 crated toolbox)
Shipping via--air freight

We've also pretty much completed packing our luggage.  For that we have 9 checked suitcases, 3 carry-on suitcases, stroller, carseat, 2 laptops with cases, and a diaper bag!

Our itinerary:

British Airways
Departing Los Angeles International Airport  September 8th @ 9:20pm
Arriving London Heathrow Airport September 9th @ 3:30pm
Flight Time is 10 hours 30 minutes
Aircraft =  Boeing 747-400

British Airways
Departing London Heathrow Airport September 9th @ 9:15pm
Arriving Entebbe, Uganda September 10th @ 7:45am
Flight Time is 8 hours 30 minutes
Aircraft = Boeing 767-300

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Kaitlyn's Second 1st Birthday

Yep, that's right.  She had a birthday party with grammy and popa in Ohio before we left, and Saturday we had a second birthday party at grandma Alvina's with Brian and Kristi's family.  This was however the first time she actually had a cake.  She wasn't too sure about everyone staring at her and singing, or the cake for that matter, until she found out what it tasted like!  Then it was all over!  There was cake everywhere.  After the cake and ice cream, we opened some presents.  Kaitlyn loves all her new toys...even though most of them are now packed in our shipment. 

In fact, we only have two more storage bins to pack before our shipment is complete!  Hopefully we will be finished by the end of this week.  Then we can focus more on last minute details, paperwork, and checklists.  It's hard to believe we'll be leaving in less than a month, but at the same time, we're super excited to begin this new chapter in our lives.  Please pray for our health in the next several weeks, as it will be undoubtedly stressful!  As always, we cherish your prayers!

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Chris:  "Why is it so quiet in here?  Hey Joy, do you know where Kaitlyn is?"  
Joy:  "Nope, I thought you were watching her."
Chris:  "Oh, I thought you were watching her." ..."Kaitlyn, where are you?"   Silence
Kaitlyn, where are you?!
Kaitlyn:  "He he, blah blah blah!

Oh there you are!  You found your bag of cheerios I see.  Didn't you eat enough at dinner?  

Apparently she didn't, because she had two big handfuls of cheerios and they were disappearing faster than I could pick them up.  After I got all the cheerios out of her hair, off her back, legs, and forehead, I decided to take a picture!  Now she goes in the luggage so we can keep a watchful eye on her!  If you look closely, you might even be able to see her first tooth that just poked through!
Other than chasing a 10 month old around, we've been packing, shopping, and packing some more.  With just one month left, we're starting to feel the pressure of getting everything done before we leave September 8.  You can praise the Lord that we are all healthy and doing well!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Niagara Falls

Along the drive home, we decided to stop at Niagara Falls.  I haven't been there in quite a few years, Joy hasn't been there since she was three, and Kaitlyn...well, this was her first time.  We all enjoyed the break!  Kaitlyn LOVES water and all she wanted to do was jump in and take a dip.  As soon as she saw the water, she started kicking her legs and trying to swim!  Here are a bunch of pictures....

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Saturday, June 19, 2010


Land of ice cream and the world's longest suspension bridge!  This was our final field trip before the semester ends on Wednesday and we receive our diplomas!  From here, we will be heading back to Ohio for a few weeks before continuing on to California.  We are busy packing, cleaning, and studying for our final French exams.  Here are a couple pictures from the past few weeks:
The Guinness Record for the longest suspension bridge in the world, 169 meters long (554 feet) and 50 meters high (164 feet).

Kaitlyn started crawling a few weeks ago, and she's already grabbing onto things and trying to pull herself up and walk.  This is her "can you put that silly camera down and come pick me up...I need some snuggle time?"  pose.  She ate baby food for all of maybe a month, and now all she wants is what mommy and daddy are eating.  So we chop everything up in little pieces and she feeds herself.  We don't get carrots and peaches spit all over us, and she gets the satisfaction of doing it herself, everybody wins!  I've never seen a child down spaghetti quite like her though!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

My Weekend with Daddy

has been awesome!  It's been just me and daddy the whole weekend long!  Mommy and Grandma went somewhere (daddy says Quebec City) and we've had so much fun together!  We went to the park yesterday and got home just in time, right before it started raining really really hard.  I got to go on the swing, down the slide and on the teeter-totter (although daddy said it was really hard with no one on the other end).  Then, when we got home, we had a tea party!  Well, daddy had coffee and I had a bottle, but we had a tea pot that talks and plays music, and some crackers to munch on.  He even let me stay up later than usual so we could hang out and watch the first game of the Stanley Cup finals!  I think we're rooting for Chicago because daddy says all the good teams got kicked out.  Then, in the morning, I shared my oatmeal with him and we went to church where I just usually play with a couple of my friends while daddy and mommy sing songs and listen to the preacher.  After church, we ate some lunch and then went on another walk to the park so I could swing some more.  I just love it when we go outside!  When we came back from the park, I had to take a nap because I was really tired from having so much fun.  In fact, I think I set a new nap time record; I slept for 3 hours!  Well, it's time to have some more fun before dinner time...and still no signs of mommy and grandma.  Daddy says he has some big news he wants to share, but he's waiting until next tune back in a few days from now!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Grandma's Here!

That's right; all the way from sunny California!  She even thought to bring the sunshine and the warm weather with her!  Check out the 3 generations:  Grandma, momma, and baby!  We've been doing the tourist thing again, seeing all the sights, having picnic lunches at the park, going on long strolls.  The only difference now is that we can get around mostly in French!  I guess two and a half semesters of classes are finally paying off!

Our monthly support has begun to slowly climb towards 90% now.  That's a wonderful thing; it would be so nice to just focus on all the little things that need to get done and our shipment of belongings.  We are still hoping to depart sometime in September.  Hope you have a wonderful Memorial Day next weekend!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

7 Month Pictures

Actually, I'm just about 8 months old now, but mommy and daddy took all these pictures a few weeks ago.  We went for a really long walk because it was so nice outside.  They took me to a huge park where I got to swing and play in the grass!  They showed me dandelions, and a big place where water goes called a river.  It was so much fun!  I can't tell you how happy I am that it's nice outside now; there's so much to do and see!

I'm working on crawling right now too.  It's really hard, but I've almost got it down!  Mommy and daddy have been working hard to finish up the rest of their schoolwork and have been sending lots of emails to people, asking them if they want to join our team so we can go to Africa and help the people there.  They say we're really close to meeting our goal, if we only had about 25 people who could give $25 a month, we could go!

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Tourist Thing

Aside from our regularly scheduled program, that's what we've been doing lately.  We took a day trip to Québec, North America's oldest city.  It's got more of a European feel with narrow cobblestone streets lined with shops, cafe's, and bistros.  The one on the left is pretty wide, they get much more narrow than that.  The building on the right is the "Chateau Frontenac," or Frontenac Castle, named after the French governor of the then "New France."  In 1690, He famously mouthed these words, "I have no reply to make to your general but from the mouth of my cannons and muskets," when British forces sailed up the St. Lawrence River and demanded he surrender.

I just thought this sign was a little funny.  Tourist Information, the Citadelle, Parliament Building, Frontenace Castle, and...Youville?  Hmmm, wonder what that is?

We also spent this past weekend in Montréal with Grammy and Papa Konop who came all the way up from Ohio to visit.  We went shopping, swimming, saw an IMAX film, saw the Body World exhibit, and got a passport for Kaitlyn too!  Here me and Kaitlyn are learning about "African army ants" on the Discovery Channel.  Hopefully we will get some pictures of Kaitlyn swimming soon; she LOVES the water!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Park!

Did you know they make these chairs outside that go back and forth?!  They're so much fun; all you need is for someone to push you!  Daddy says it's as close to flying as I'll get for a while.

They also have this bumpy plastic thing that you ride down.  It's ok, I like the swing better; it's a little scary to be up so high sometimes.

Mommy and daddy both took turns taking me on all the fun toys there.  I like going there when it's nice and sunny and warm outside.  It's fun to go on a stroller ride and see lots of neat things. 

When we do things like that, I get really tired and sometimes I have to go to bed early so I can catch up on some sleep.  Other nights, I stay up and watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs with daddy.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Easter was a busy time for us this year; we got to celebrate Joy's birthday on Saturday, and we had a bunch of missionary friends over on Sunday after the church service for a good old fashioned pot luck dinner. We had a 12 pound honey/pineapple glazed ham (of which I am still reaping benefits), mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls, cheesy macaroni, salad, and three desserts! We had fun talking and laughing together, playing games, and coloring easter eggs.

Joy's birthday was fun too, although many things didn't really go as planned. I took her to a little town about 25 miles from here so she could go shopping. It was a really nice day so it felt great to be outside, but after looking in several different shops, nothing really tickled her fancy. So we came back home and one of our friends offered to babysit for the evening. Joy wanted to go to a restaurant that we like to go to for special occasions; they have a great salad bar and awesome rotisserie chicken. The only problem was that we had limited time to sit down and eat because she also wanted to see a movie. So we decided to just get the salad bar, but then we had to wait for utensils because they were so busy they ran out of clean ones. Then we had to wait for a long time to get our check, and by the time we got over to the movie theater, it was starting. But we figured we could miss the first few minutes and it would be ok, so we paid for our tickets and ran up to the theater just in time for the manager to come walking out saying the show was canceled because only a few people showed up. Oh no! We did get our money back and a pair of free tickets to come back some other time, but we were still a little disappointed. Instead, we walked the streets for a little while and found a nice little coffee shop where Joy got a slice of cheesecake and we shared it on the terrace. All in all, she had a good day, and her next birthday will be a lot more interesting I'm sure, as we celebrate it in Congo!

Our French is still coming along; I'm just about finished with my second semester. After that, I will participate in a conversation course where no new grammar is introduced, and we just practice...well, conversation, and speaking/understanding too. It will be a good two months of building a solid vocabulary and practicing what we've already learned. The time is going by fast now, and before we know it, we'll be on our way back to southern California.

A certain little girl is also growing up really fast! I realized the other day that she doesn't really fit in my arms anymore. She's learning so much! We've started her on some baby food, so far just peas and squash. She hasn't really got the whole "open mouth, close mouth, swallow" thing down yet, so what she does is more like this: "open mouth slightly, push contents back out onto chin and surrounding area, collect contents with hands, mash vigorously on tray, lick contents from fingers, repeat." She hasn't figured out the crawling thing yet, but she can stand all by herself and very soon she will be completely mobile!

We hope you were able to make some great memories during this wonderful holiday too, as we celebrated His death, burial, and triumphant resurrection!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

La Cabane à Sucre!

--OR-- the "Sugar Shack"

This was one of our field trips this spring. Apparently, Québec produces most of the *world* supply of maple syrup and it's a big tradition here. The "sortie" (or outing) began with a traditional brunch type meal with maple-glazed ham, eggs, bacon, sausages, beans, crêpes, coffee and juice! We then took a quiz and learned about the maple process and history. After that, we visited an actual site where they produce the syrup.

What you do when you get there is take a spatula, grab some maple syrup and pour it out on top of the snow and let it start cooling. Then take the spatula and roll it across the syrup and voilà! you have a syrup covered spatula. We also took a walk through the woods to actually see the harvesting pots.

It's almost comical...Ok, maybe I should back up a little bit first....The Quebecois people are very, very, very...very proud of their heritage and their traditions. Did I mention they're super proud of them? Well, this tradition is no exception. They claim that the syrup has incredible amounts of essential vitamins and minerals, and if eaten in large enough quantities, will boost your immune system so high that you'd probably never get sick again. I had just one spatula's worth, most others had 2 or 3, and a few dared to have twice that amount. At any rate, it was a fun time and a good break from the classroom as it's starting to warm up here.