Saturday, February 26, 2022

An Unforgettable Journey: Part 2

It was 4:00 am and we began dragging ourselves out of bed to get an early start on the day. I felt as if I hadn’t slept at all. Every time I closed my eyes during the night, I felt as if I was still bouncing down a dirt road, and in my mind’s eye I continued to watch endless miles of winding dirt roads pass me by. Whether I actually slept, I don’t really know, but it was most certainly not a restful night.

Despite being exhausted, this is all I could see in my mind when I closed my eyes and tried to sleep!

We grabbed a cup of coffee, then loaded up the two vehicles that we would take to the top of the hill to get us closer to the site where the airplane was located. In a cloud of grogginess and darkness, I placed my backpack into the back of my vehicle. I watched the door swing shut just as I realized that my keys were inside. I had a moment of panic, knowing that for some unknown reason our car (with its aftermarket alarm system) sometimes locks itself. I quick pull on the handle confirmed my fears: the doors were closed and locked with both sets of keys inside!

So here we were, hours from nowhere, with a bunch of our supplies locked in my car, along with my keys. No locksmith would be on call in this remote place. The only options were to somehow unlock the car from the outside or break a window to get in—not something I was excited to do since rain was virtually guaranteed. Thankfully, the rear passenger doors had only closed halfway, and after about 30 minutes we were able to reach in with a wire and unlock one of them. Thank you, Jesus!

We soon started driving up the hill, and I was quickly praising the Lord that I had locked my keys in the car. This road was the worst yet, and that delay had set us back just enough that we had a bit of daylight to illuminate the road ahead. I really think that little incident was a blessing in disguise!

The terrain we would cross in order to reach the airplane.

We eventually made it to the top and gathered up the tools and personal items we would need to disassemble the airplane, and to be warm and dry for the night we would spend with a local family. A light rain was falling as we began our hike, so we put on our rain gear before setting out. The hike began around 13,000 above sea level, and we immediately started on a long downhill stretch. I couldn’t help thinking, “We are going to have to hike back UP tomorrow!”

A horrible photo of me, but an accurate portrayal of my feelings at the moment!

The locals seemed to tackle the steep terrain with ease.

One of the easier sections, approaching the airplane site.

Down, up, down, up… The locals made it look easy, but I was struggling. Even though I live at 8,400 feet elevation and frequently walk stairs and hills, the weight of my backpack and the extra 4,000 feet of altitude made a big difference! We were challenged by rain, steep hills, and off-camber trails, but after more than three hours we finally arrived!

The last few hundred feet down to the airplane were quite steep, but fortunately there were some level areas to set up our tools.

Rick and Tony working on the engine.

We descended the steep hill where DJ’s airplane had tumbled to its resting place and assessed the situation. I would work inside, removing instruments and radios. Tony and Rick would start on removing and disassembling the engine, which would be too heavy to carry out with the cylinders, pistons, and accessories still attached. DJ and Ryan would cut off the wings and tail, and salvage the structural pieces that could be reused. JosuĂ© was in charge of securely packing all if the pieces to be transported.

Salvaging pieces of the wing that would be saved.

As we worked, a steadily growing crowd of locals formed on the hillside. We had prayed for help, and God provided. While the work of disassembly was done by those of us who knew how to take things apart without inducing further damage, there is no way we could have gotten all the pieces out on our own. As we made progress taking things apart, the local men began to carry pieces out: in buckets, on their backs, and on mules. It was both impressive and humbling to watch these men haul heavy airplane parts over challenging terrain, as I struggled just to make it with just my backpack.

Locals gathering up on the hillside to watch and help.

Some of the local men helping to carry out the fuselage.

What was left of the airplane after most of the salvageable pieces had been removed.

As the sun began to settle behind the mountains and the fog rolled in, we completed our work and began hiking back to the houses where we would spend the night. The local men would transport the pieces to our vehicles the next morning and afternoon, when we would load the vehicles and be ready to leave the following morning. 

A unique solution for transporting the fuselage. 

A cool fog settled in as we began the hike back out.

As we traversed the foggy countryside, I was glad that DJ knew the way back to the house! There were several places where the path was not clear, and everything looked different than I had remembered it in the daylight. Finally, we reached the first house, where Tony and Rick would spend the night. We stopped for a short break, but darkness fell just as it started raining. I donned my poncho and headlamp and we started the 20-minute hike down a rocky trail, across a creek, and up a steep grassy hillside. Finally we arrived at the house where the rest of us would spend the night. 

This is the valley we crossed to get from one house to the other. In the top center of the photo, you can just make out the house where Tony and Rick stayed.

The countryside was beautiful. I just had to remember to stop and take the time to soak it in!

The home where DJ, Josué, and I spent the night (the photo was taken earlier in the day when we passed by).

We were welcomed with a hot cup of tea, warm bread, and a bowl of potato soup. After finishing my dinner and putting on dry clothes, I tossed my sleeping bag on the bed: a wooden platform covered with loose sheep wool and a blanket. Despite the rustic sleeping conditions, I had no problem falling asleep. Whether from comfort or sheer exhaustion, it was the best I’d slept in a long time! 

We had reached the halfway-point of our trip, but the next two days would be more exhausting than we imagined. However, that is a story that will be told in my next post!

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

An Unforgettable Journey: Part 1

On February 3, I answered my phone and received the news that no pilot wants to hear. An emergency locator transmitter (ELT) was sending an SOS signal in the area where a friend of mine had been flying. ELTs only begin transmitting under two conditions: when manually activated by the pilot, or when triggered by high g-loads, as in a crash. We began gathering as much information as possible, and preparing for a search and rescue.

Thankfully, within a few hours the pilot was able to find a cellular signal and contact his wife. He had gotten out of the plane before it rolled away and tumbled down a steep hillside, which had activated the ELT. He was unharmed, but the airplane was totaled. Our plans shifted from a rescue operation to an aircraft recovery trip.

DJ’s plane, as we would later find it awaiting us.

Although the airplane was essentially destroyed, there were still many components that could be salvaged. However, getting those parts out would not be easy. After all, there is a reason why DJ lands his Cub on a hilltop to access this region of Bolivia. Getting to the plane would require driving 14-16 hours on some rough roads, then hiking 3 hours between 11,000 and 13,000 feet above sea level. A team of mechanics and volunteers would hike in to disassemble the airplane, and the locals would help us get the salvageable pieces to a place where they could be loaded onto vehicles—at least that was our hope and prayer.

The day of the trip arrived, and I got up at 2:15 to be on the road by 3:30 am. It was an early start, but necessary if we wanted to avoid driving the worst part of the road at night. As we left Cochabamba, the road turned from pavement, to cobblestone, and finally to dirt. At times the road disappeared briefly into stream crossings, turned to mud, or became littered with loose rocks, ruts, and holes. Even the good sections required constant attention to avoid beating up my vehicle’s suspension with a constant barrage of potholes, rocks, and ruts.

A typical section of road. Not terrible, but requiring constant attention.

The scenery was amazing!

More beautiful countryside. 


In exchange for this exhausting drive, we were rewarded with the most stunning scenery I’ve seen in Bolivia. We climbed to 15,000 feet, saw herds of llamas, and gazed over beautiful rivers and valleys. We crossed several streams that cascaded down the mountain slopes. We enjoyed good weather and smooth travels, except for the point at which a tour bus was stuck at a hairpin turn in the road. Thankfully, after an hour of maneuvering and moving rocks off of the road, the bus driver was able to continue his ascent, enabling us to continue our journey.

The bus that held us up for an hour or so.

The river crossing that preceded the stuck bus.

As we left the “main” road, it was nearing sunset. That one-hour delay had set us back, meaning that we would face the most dangerous part of the road in the dark. With limited experience in these conditions (and never having driven such roads in our Nissan Patrol), I was a bit on edge, following carefully behind the two vehicles leading the way. Many places were muddy and barely wide enough for my vehicle. Each switchback curved out of reach of my headlights, and I took them very slowly, watching carefully as each new inch of road creeped into my view. Thankfully the car did well, and I didn’t take us over the edge!

Driving this road in the dark was not my favorite. Thank God for safe travels!

A warning to take this road seriously.

Finally, we arrived safely at our destination: a small school house where we would spend the night. The next morning we would get an early start, hiking to the site where a long, hard day’s work awaited us. But that story will require its own blog post. Stay tuned!

The school house where we slept the first and last nights.

To be continued…

Saturday, November 20, 2021

All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go

Over the past few months, I've spent five weeks helping to bring our second airplane project to completion. The airplane came to us disassembled in a shipping container, and it has taken more than a year to completely clean, strip, repaint, and rebuild it. Many people have contributed financially and of their time to help us prepare this ministry tool that will help us reach remote communities in Bolivia. Dave, one of our volunteers, has donated a full year, and this is what we have to show for it: a beautifully refurbished airplane ready for service in Bolivia!

Except for one small detail: the airplane can't enter Bolivia. In October, a law was passed prohibiting the importation of airplanes older than 25 years. Since our airplane is a 1981 model, we cannot take it to Bolivia under the new law.

This was just one more bit of discouraging news for us. I had been looking forward to getting some flight hours in the airplane prior to our return to Bolivia. More importantly, it was going to be a valuable tool for our ministry, especially since our primary aircraft is currently down for repairs.

From our perspective, it doesn't make sense why God would provide the resources to purchase and refurbish the airplane, only to bring us to this point. Although ministry can still take place without aviation, having an airplane multiplies our effectiveness and enables us to reach isolated communities that otherwise are very difficult to get to. Yet, we know that He sees the big picture, and trust that He has a reason for allowing this to happen.

We are praying that the law will be repealed (which, if it happens, will probably take several months), or that we will be able to sell this airplane and put the resources toward a newer aircraft. The Cessna 206 is a very good option for us, but there are other airplanes that will do the job. However, from a worldly perspective, the cost of those aircraft is prohibitive. That said, we would love to see the Lord provide a newer, capable aircraft for the ministry! We still believe that aviation is an important tool for reaching the unreached of Bolivia, and we pray that God will provide just the right airplane. 

Please pray for wisdom as we determine how to proceed, and that the Lord will provide just what we need!

Friday, October 29, 2021

Knowledge Leads to Peace

I opened my Bible this morning to 2 Peter this morning, expecting to read a chapter as part of my morning devotions. Two verses in, I had to stop and meditate on this sentence: 

“Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.”  2 Peter 1:2

That may not sound like a verse that would stop someone in his tracks, but the past two days have been busy and full of stress. I had not been experiencing the peace of God para nada.  In fact, if you have read our latest newsletter, you know that the past few months have been somewhat tumultuous. 

So when I encountered the phrase, "peace be yours in abundance," I immediately took notice. I had been living the past few days under an enormous burden—and all for nothing! The Lord offers grace and peace in abundance; all it takes is to truly know Him! When we truly know God and understand His character, there is nothing we can do except rest in His peace. 

Yet, it can be so easy to take our eyes off of the Lord Jesus, and to forget all that we know to be true about Him. We often fail to look back and reflect on everything He has brought us through in the past. We listen to the voices of the world, rather than turning to Him, listening to His voice through Scripture and in prayer. Take time to truly get to know the Lord, and experience the true peace that only He can offer!

Monday, June 7, 2021

New Videos Posted!

If you haven't visited my Vimeo channel, I hope you'll go check it out. I've recently posted a few videos of my flights in Bolivia, such as this one:

I am still working on my video setup, but I hope you'll enjoy a glimpse into our ministry with ITM!

Thursday, April 15, 2021

ITM Conference, Part 2—The Culture-Transforming Gospel

In the last post, I wrote briefly about the ITM conference that was held last month. One afternoon during the conference I sat and talked with one of our missionaries who lives in San Lorenzo. I had never talked to him before and it was really interesting to get a small glimpse into his life.

Julio is from a Chimane family in the region of the Beni where ITM works. He had a difficult upbringing, moving frequently and often being left on his own. As we talked, one of the things he shared with me was how the Lord has begun to soften his heart since he came to know Christ. In the course of our conversation, he mentioned that in his culture no one sheds a tear when a child dies. The way he described it, the death of a child is not very different from the death of an animal, and in some ways children are, in fact, treated much like animals. 

This got me thinking about the power of God, not only to change individual lives but to change a culture as well. There are many in our society who imagine remote, isolated tribes as living in a tropical paradise. They get angry at the idea that Christians would bring their "Western" religion into these "unspoiled" communities. Setting aside the idea that true Christianity is not Western or American, what they don't realize is that many people who have been isolated from the modern world do not live in paradise. They die of preventable illness, have high rates of infant mortality, and often live with superstitions and beliefs that keep them in bondage to fear—and can lead to tribal warfare and murder. Often, women and children are given little value. Most importantly, they live and die without ever having experienced the light of Jesus and the true life that's experienced in Him.

So, yes, we need to be careful to distinguish between the Gospel and the aspects of our own culture that can easily become intertwined with our faith. But we certainly should not feel sorry or regretful when we bring the Gospel into a culture that has remained in darkness without the light of Christ! 

Books have been written about this concept, and many missionary biographies testify to the power of God to transform lives and cultures. There's no way I can cover the topic in a blog post (and I'm not very long-winded). But even as a Christian, sometimes I can let my culture influence my thinking. My brief conversation with Julio was a reminder of the many people growing up like him in the remote regions of Bolivia—people who are not living in a blissful jungle paradise, but who need to hear about Jesus and are just waiting for someone to tell them!

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

ITM Conference, Part 1—Looking Outward

This past weekend we had the pleasure of participating in a weekend conference with the rest of the ITM family. It was an encouraging time to refocus, worship together, and hear what's going on in the various areas of ministry. This is the first time we've been able to spend time with many of our teammates since arriving in Bolivia in 2019, due to political unrest followed by COVID-19.

Our first year in Bolivia was a difficult one due to the isolation we were forced to experience. Protests, civic strikes, and COVID-related restrictions have kept us at home and out of fellowship for much of the year. It has been easy for us to be self-focused, thinking about our own situation while assuming that everyone else on our team is doing fine. After all, many of them have known each other for years, and those living away from the city are not subjected to the same restrictions that we are. Surely we are the lonely outsiders and everyone else is doing just fine, right?

We realized this past weekend that we are not the only ones struggling and feeling isolated (shocking, I know!). We came here knowing that a big part of our ministry would be supporting the Bolivian (and American) missionaries who are working out on the front lines in the remote communities of Bolivia. But we didn't feel that we were yet in a position to do that well—not knowing the team, still feeling like outsiders, and being limited in our Spanish ability. But this weekend we discovered that those barriers are not as real as we have made them out to be. We had been waiting for people to reach out to us, but maybe we should have been the ones taking the initiative all along.

In just a few days we have begun feeling much more connected to our brothers and sisters who serve alongside us with ITM. We have gained confidence in our communication and realized that the language barrier doesn't have to prevent us from encouraging and spending time with our Bolivian teammates. Our perspective has shifted, as we have begun to look outward, asking how we can help encourage others. And in the process of doing so, we have found that our own needs are being met as well.

Please pray for us as we continue to look for opportunities to encourage our team, and others in our community. We trust the Lord that as we take our eyes off ourselves and serve others, that He will also care for the needs of our family.

There were several other things that stood out to me during the conference, and I hope to share them with you in the coming days and weeks. I hope it will be an encouragement to you, and give you further insight into our life and ministry here in Bolivia!