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.