Thursday, October 12, 2023

A New Semester Begins

Tuesday evening was opening night for the Melbourne, Florida chapter of Wings of Grace. A room full of teenagers and their parents gathered to share a meal and kick off the new semester. It was encouraging to see several familiar faces and to meet several students who are new to the program. We have the great privilege of building into the lives of these teens, not only by teaching them aviation and life skills, but by sharing with them the truth of God's Word and setting an example of what it looks like to walk with Jesus.

I was reminded last night that ministry is really about people. I enjoy flying and maintaining airplanes, but what really excites me is using aviation to serve, help, and minister to others—whether they live in a remote Bolivian jungle, or right here in the United States. As I stood with the other mentors in front of the students and their parents, I experienced a mix of excitement and sadness. I am excited that I can build into these teens during our Tuesday night meetings and by working alongside them on designated service days. But I also felt discouraged that I can't participate in teaching the students to fly, since I still don't have my certified flight instructor (CFI) certificate.

We would like to trust the Lord to provide for me to get my CFI certificate as soon as possible, but as with many things in life, time and money have been standing in my way. I have studied for and passed the two required knowledge tests, but still have a lot of preparation to do before I can take my oral and practical exams. Despite my best intentions, I have found it challenging to devote the time necessary to studying. With an endless supply of airplanes needing maintenance, I have devoted most of my time to fixing them—not flying them—and have not had the time to prepare the lessons that I will need to teach during my oral and practical tests.

Would you pray and trust the Lord to provide the resources so that I can become a CFI soon? During our two years in the United States, I would love to be able to instruct with Wings of Grace Ministries (as we had planned to do). This would not only be an excellent opportunity to disciple and mentor young people, but would also help me to stay proficient as I look forward to returning to Bolivia as a missionary pilot. There is an instructor at Wings of Grace who is willing to help me prepare for the CFI exam, but he has limited time and lives in another state. If I had the funds, I could devote a few weeks to take an intensive course and earn my flight instructor certificate in a very short time. For that to become a reality, the Lord would need to provide the funds or a reduced-cost option. 

We don't make a lot of direct appeals, but the semester has already started and we want to make the most of our time. I have always enjoyed teaching, and being a flight instructor would allow me to continue to train and build into future missionary pilots for the next 20-25 years—even after I am too old to be flying on the mission field myself. But I don't have to wait until then; I can start right now! Please trust the Lord with us, and if you would like to help, please get in touch with us!

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

An Unforgettable Journey: Part 3 (Conclusion)

You know that feeling you get when you're driving on a remote Bolivian dirt road, and you suddenly find yourself at the end of the barrel of a gun?

This is the conclusion of a story from last year, which I never finished telling. You can find the previous posts here (Part 1) and here (Part 2). But before we get to the end of the story, let's back up. Our group had traveled a full day on sketchy Bolivian roads, then spent the next day hiking to the site of the wreck and salvaging as much as we could. We spent that second night with a Bolivian family, and on the third day hiked back to where our vehicles were parked. At this point, day three is just a blur to me, but it's day four—the day that we drove back home to Cochabamba—that really stands out in my mind.

We were up early to get on the road. It was going to be a long day of driving, and we were hoping not to run into any snags along the way. It was hard not to turn heads with airplane parts strapped to our vehicles!

DJ's Land Cruiser, with pieces of his airplane's wing strapped on top.

A warning to passing drivers to be more careful than the guy who was driving this truck.

The drive was going somewhat smoothly, with only a few times that our vehicles nearly got stuck trying to go uphill on muddy, rutted roads. About halfway through the drive, I was starting to feel optimistic. The worst of the roads were behind us, and pretty soon it would be smooth sailing back to Cochabamba. But that feeling of optimism would soon give way to a host of new feelings.

I was second-to-last in our group of four vehicles, and I couldn't see what was going on up ahead. All I knew was that the lead car was coming to a stop. I thought that perhaps it was a checkpoint of some sort, or maybe locals asking for money to allow us to pass through. But without warning, a large group of uniformed men emerged with guns drawn, running past our cars. Had we inadvertently found ourselves in the middle of a military exercise? Wait, no...those guns are pointed at us!

We rolled down our windows, and the men in military fatigues yelled at us to hand over our phones. They asked repeatedly if I had guns in the vehicle and ordered us to exit our cars. Some of us were put in handcuffs, and I was simply ordered to stay near my vehicle. I was forced to hand over my wallet, and my vehicle was searched while the man with the gun kept telling me not to run. I'm not sure where he thought I was going to go, since we were in the middle of nowhere. I would probably get lost and die of starvation out there! I'd rather take my chances on the guy with the gun.

After some time we finally found out that we weren't being robbed or kidnapped. Apparently, two or three police units, along with a couple helicopters, had been dispatched to look for us. Someone had made a false claim on social media that DJ's plane was a drug plane, and that the pilot had died in the "crash". Imagine their confusion when DJ—alive and well—informed them that he was the pilot who "had died" a few days earlier!

My vehicle, with DJ's following behind. I didn't get any photos of the real excitement
because our phones were confiscated by the police.

We were detained for quite some time while the police figured out what to do with us. We suspected that they finally realized they had made a mistake, but what were they going to do at that point? Let us go? Of course not. They did return our phones and our belongings, but instead of letting us go, they escorted us all the way back to Cochabamba. It was slow-going, and it was the middle of the night by the time we arrived on the outskirts of town. 

We pulled off on the side of the road, hungry, exhausted, and confused. As we sat waiting in the dark, we could tell that the police were still trying to figure out what to do with us. All we wanted to do was get home, eat a little something, and go to sleep. By this point, they had changed their story. Now they told us that we had been stopped at a routine checkpoint. They suddenly "forgot" about that social media post they had shown to DJ earlier in the day.

There is a reason why the airplane is such a useful tool out here!
The roads can be quite treacherous.

After several phone calls and much deliberation, they decided to confiscate DJ's airplane to test it for drugs. We would all be free to go home, but not before being taken down to the police station to be questioned. By this point it was early morning. We were escorted by the police back to the station where we were questioned one-by-one. After giving my statement, I was finally free to leave.

It was a crazy, emotional, exhausting day, but I was happy to finally be home with my family. It sure beat spending the night in a Bolivian jail! I can't say that the experience was one that I'd like to repeat, but if nothing else, it makes for a good story! And in case you're wondering, the airplane was found to be clean of drugs. This is what we expected, of course—our only concern being that someone malicious could have planted drugs in the days that the airplane was unattended at the site of the incident. But thank God for his watch and care over us and over the airplane! 

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!