Friday, March 9, 2018

The Value of a Life

For more than a year now, I've been "on loan" to Missionary Air Group in Burlington, North Carolina. My primary focus has been flight training, but MAG also operates three field programs, and part of the goal of being with MAG is to experience what it's like to work in a missionary sending organization. In February, I was excited to have my first opportunity to travel to one of MAG's field programs in Rus Rus, Honduras. My role was to support a team of medical personnel from International Health Services, and to take care of a few maintenance issues around the base.

Two years ago I visited a different village in Honduras, but up to this point the people of Rus Rus have largely been just names and faces in photographs. One of my favorite aspects of the trip was getting to know the Miskito people in person.  After a few days in Rus Rus I finally got over my insecurity about approaching strangers and using my limited Spanish. Interestingly, Spanish is not their first language either, and some of them only speak Miskito (which sometimes made for an awkward moment, when I was not sure if a group was laughing at me, or out of embarrassment, or for some other reason!). I found that most people became very friendly and relaxed when I spoke with them, and were happy to tell me about themselves and to have their pictures taken. It made the visit much more enjoyable when I got in the midst of the people, rather than just hanging around on the fringes!

One day during the trip, I was reading Exodus 30 and verses 11-16 jumped out at me:
Then the Lord said to Moses, “When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the Lord a ransom for his life at the time he is counted. Then no plague will come on them when you number them. Each one who crosses over to those already counted is to give a half shekel, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. This half shekel is an offering to the Lord. All who cross over, those twenty years old or more, are to give an offering to the Lord. The rich are not to give more than a half shekel and the poor are not to give less when you make the offering to the Lord to atone for your lives. Receive the atonement money from the Israelites and use it for the service of the tent of meeting. It will be a memorial for the Israelites before the Lord, making atonement for your lives.”
As a "ransom for his life" everyone was to give the same amount; the rich were not to give more, and the poor were not to give less. That really stood out to me. During my trek from Burlington to Rus Rus I encountered many people, ranging from the sharply-dressed business man who seemed to think a lot of himself, to the elderly woman from a tiny village across the Nicaragua border. That "important" man might scoff at the idea that he was no more valuable than a widow from an unknown village, but the reality is that apart from Christ, we are equally poor and destitute, in need of a Savior to ransom us from sin and death.

I have to admit that I sometimes fall into the trap of feeling pity toward those we sometimes call "less fortunate" (which tends to mean they have fewer material resources than we do). It is so easy for me to unconsciously set myself up just a bit higher than those I've come to serve. Should I have compassion on those who don't have access to basic medical care, or education, or spiritual nourishment? Yes! But the more I interacted with the people of La Mosquitia, the more I was reminded that they are not so different from me. Each one has a unique story and is deeply loved by the Lord. They have gifts, talents, passions, and desires, and we can learn a lot from them!

Of course, I know all this intellectually, but spending time with the people really helped it to sink in. Being part of an aviation and medical ministry, we have very high standards for operations, maintenance, etc, and we follow protocols to make sure that everything is done with safety and excellence in mind. But in the developing world, they sometimes have to do the best with what they have, and so we have to carefully walk the line between telling them how we think things ought to be done, and coming alongside them, supporting them, loving them, and growing the ministry together. MAG temporarily does not have any expatriates in Rus Rus, and I noticed that the people there are taking increasing ownership of the ministry. That's encouraging!

I thank the Lord for the many blessings and resources that I have been entrusted with. But may I never think that I'm more blessed, or set myself up on a pedestal, simply because of the resources I've been entrusted with. Over the course of nearly three weeks in Honduras I came to appreciate anew the fact that each one of these faces represents a person who is known, loved, and valued by God, just as I am!

Rus Rus People—2018

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Honduras Preview!

It was three o'clock in the morning when I dragged myself out of bed on a Thursday morning. That was the beginning of a two-day journey (consisting of three flights and two long drives) that would take me to Rus Rus, a remote Honduran village near the Nicaragua border. I came to Honduras to support an annual medical brigade at the Rus Rus hospital. For ten days, medical professionals from the United States, England, and Canada were here to offer their services.

During the medical brigade, people commonly walk two to four hours (or more) to see the doctor or the dentist. That is a long way for a healthy person, but for someone who is sick the walk is even more difficult. The fact that people are willing to travel such distances demonstrates just how much they need the services that are offered here. I've gained a new appreciation for the importance of the hospital to this village and nearby communities.

In addition to medical services, Missionary Air Group would normally provide air support for the medical brigade. The airplane would be used to transfer patients to other hospitals and to bring the medical teams in and out. This year, there was no airplane in Rus Rus, so we relied on ground transportation. However, a trip that would take less than 30 minutes by air takes four hours by car! There were many times during the brigade that I wished I could just get in an airplane and fly someone where they needed to go. I will definitely go home to North Carolina with fresh motivation to work hard at becoming qualified as a field pilot!

I look forward to sharing more about the medical brigade, including photos and videos, when I get back to the States next week. But for now, I'm going to get some rest!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

A Simple Act of Service

We recently celebrated the life of my grandfather, Edmond Hammitt, and laid his earthly body to rest. Although we will miss him, he lived a full life of 93 years and was ready to cross the finish line. Over the years I have heard many stories about his life, but at the funeral I heard a story I hadn't heard before. I knew that Grandpa had impacted the lives of many people, but this story was unique.

During the open sharing time, a woman (I'll call her Mary; I don't even know her real name) stood up and began by saying that my grandfather was instrumental in bringing her husband into a relationship with Jesus. I wondered if maybe they were friends and Grandpa had the opportunity to personally lead him to Christ. Or maybe he went to the church where my grandfather was an elder. But that's not the way it happened.

One Christmas Eve, Mary was planning to go church but the weather kept her confined to the house. Since she couldn't go out, she decided to listen to a live Christian broadcast instead. To Mary's surprise, her husband said that he would listen to the broadcast alongside her. This was unusual, because he normally would not set foot inside a church, and had little interest in Jesus. But that evening, after listening to the broadcast, Mary's husband surrendered his heart to Christ.

So what did that have to do with my grandfather? Well, although Mary presumably did not know it at the time, there had been a problem with the antenna at the broadcast site. In order for the broadcast to take place, someone had to sit on the roof on that cold Ohio Christmas Eve, holding up the antenna. That person was my grandfather.

It meant a lot to us that Mary recognized the importance of my grandfather's simple act of service. Although he hadn't said a word to Mary's husband, his contribution to the broadcast was equally important as that of the person speaking into the microphone. This story also resonated with us because missionary aviation plays a similar role in the proclamation of the Gospel as that antenna. Airplanes are simply a tool that we can use to carry missionaries, pastors, doctors, and patients to and from remote places. Through the people and the goods that are transported, the Gospel is proclaimed.

I'm thankful for the legacy and the example of my grandfather. My prayer is that I will live a faithful life, worthy of the Gospel and devoted to Christ. I hope that some day, when I go to be with the Lord, it can be said of me that many people heard the name of Jesus—either directly or indirectly—because of my faithful service.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Saved to Die Another Day

"Wait a minute," you might be thinking, "didn't you mean, 'Saved to Live Another Day'?" Actually, no, I didn't! The title of this blog post might seem morbid or insensitive, but please read on!

It's not uncommon for my social media feeds to contain updates from missionaries or organizations doing relief work in developing countries. Sometimes these updates have something to do with lives being saved—often a mother who needed a C-section, a baby that would have died without prompt medical care, or a man who fell and suffered severe injuries. Every life is valuable, and we should celebrate that these lives were preserved.

But there is also part of me that can't help thinking, "What difference does it really make if a life is extended for a time, only for the person to die a little while later?" Whether it's months, years, or decades, the reality is that we can only delay the inevitable. It's not that I don't value each life, but if our acts of compassion only impact people on this side of the grave, our endeavors are ultimately an exercise in futility. Only when accompanied by hope of new life in Christ does this life have true and lasting meaning.

In the church I grew up in, the primary focus of missions and outreach (both local and cross-cultural) was on "saving souls". This was not to the exclusion of ministries of physical help, but the emphasis was definitely on calling people to repentant faith in Christ. The stories that moved us and motivated us were concerned with the lostness of those who were perishing without the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and the fate of those who reject Him.

But this kind of talk seems to have fallen out of favor. It now sounds egotistical and ethnocentric [and since I'm behind the times, feel free to throw in some modern buzzwords here] to talk this way about those who adhere to other "faith traditions", or no faith at all. Who am I, after all, to presume that you are lost and I am found, that you are perishing and I am saved? It's much more comfortable to call the Church to works that don't require these distinctions. Why don't we just focus on good things like education, clean drinking water, social justice, racial reconciliation, creation care, addressing systematic injustice, and ending human trafficking? Nowadays, these are the issues that tug at our heartstrings—and rightly so! The world we live in—one that contains all of this pain and suffering and injustice—is not as it should be.

There is much that could be said about our future hope, which involves the resurrection and a new heaven and new earth, where everything is set right. Delving into that would require a much longer post. So I'll just say this: When Jesus came into the world, He proclaimed that the Kingdom of God is at hand. God is reconciling the world to Himself, and He has called us Christians to be agents of reconciliation. But this does not just mean alleviating suffering in this world. Jesus clearly cared about the sick, the poor, and the downtrodden. But his works of healing were accompanied by a call to repentance and faith in Him.

2 Corinthians 5:16-21 is a "go-to" verse for me, and is one of the passages that motivates me to do what I do:
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
I am thankful to be part of a mission that is passionate about bringing physical help to people in remote places, and that also proclaims the Good News of forgiveness, hope, resurrection, and life eternal to those whose faith is in Jesus. Let me not shy away from sharing this message, even in a culture where it is unpopular. Let me not fail to do good works, but let these good works not be done in vain!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Two Special Airplanes

Each of the airplanes in the photo below has a special significance to me. The airplane on the left represents God's protection and mercy. The one on the right reminds me of His faithfulness and provision for the needs of His children. Through both airplanes, and the stories that surround them, I am reminded of God's kindness, especially as it's been expressed by my brothers and sisters in Christ.

N381MG and N64328, on the morning that we returned N64328 to its owner in Shelby, NC.
If you have been following us for a while, you know that I was involved in a weather-related accident with MAG's training aircraft (on the left in the photo) early this year. The airplane was damaged significantly, and had to be disassembled for repairs. This was heartbreaking, but the outcome could have been much worse. I walked away with no injuries: not even a bruise or ache. I believe this was by the mercy of God. But equally amazing was the grace that was extended to me by everyone at MAG. Not only did they not ground me (as I feared might happen); they supported my family and me through the tough process that ensued, and did everything they could to get me flying again—and flying as safely as possible.

That's where the second airplane comes in. Although everyone at MAG wanted me flying as soon as possible, we had no airplane. Then, through a chain of circumstances involving another organization (Compass Aviation in Shelby, NC), God provided the orange plane in the photo above. A generous friend of Compass, who had no previous connection to MAG, personally purchased the airplane and then made it available to us until ours could be repaired. What a blessing! This enabled me to continue my training and make progress toward my instrument and commercial pilot ratings.

In the meantime, N381MG eventually made its way to MMS Aviation in Coshocton, Ohio for repairs. The team at MMS worked hard to get the project turned around quickly, with the goal of returning it to us by Christmas. Not only did they meet that goal, but they completed the repairs and annual inspection more than two weeks early! I'm extremely thankful for all of my friends at MMS who worked hard to get the airplane back to us so we could return N64328 to its owner, and so I (and the other apprentices coming to MAG soon) can continue to be trained for missionary aviation service.

Yesterday, we returned N64328 to Shelby (well, almost to Shelby—but that's a story for another day). I'm thrilled to have our airplane back, with its updated instrument panel, newer paint, cargo tie-downs, and updated interior, but N64328 holds a special place in my heart as well. I flew many hours (112.6 to be exact, including 178 landings and 22 instrument approaches) and learned most of my basic instrument flying skills in that airplane. But, more importantly, when I see it I am reminded of God's kindness to me, and the fact that I'm surrounded and supported by so many wonderful people.

When I'm worried about how my circumstances are going to turn out—or the future looks uncertain—I need tangible reminders like this. May I never forget that He is faithful. May I always be mindful of, and thankful for, the many people He has placed around me to support and encourage me!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Looking Forward to 2018

As we approach the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018, we have a lot to be excited about! In April we will welcome a new child into our family. I have the opportunity to travel to Honduras in February to support a medical outreach to the remote Mosquitia region. We hope to take a vision trip to Bolivia, and—Lord willing—we will know which organization and field program we will be serving with by the end of the year. In 2018, I plan to finish my flight training and be qualified to begin serving as a missionary field pilot. Next year I will have the opportunity to do my first bit of flying on the field!

The unfortunate reality is that all of these opportunities come with a price tag. If you go back through our blog, you won't find many posts that draw attention to our need for financial support. In fact I even wrote a post in March, in which I shared that I felt compelled not to send out appeal letters at that time. But as we approach the end of the year, facing many extra expenses and dwindling savings, the time has come to present our needs and ask that you consider partnering with us.

Our most pressing expense is for a larger vehicle to replace one of our cars, hopefully before the baby arrives in April. After that, we will have the expense of travel to Bolivia and/or Honduras. In addition to those one-time expenses, we have been experiencing a shortfall of several hundred dollars every month due to an increase in living expenses and the loss of several ministry partners over the past few years.

We are thankful that God has provided for us in the past, and we know He will continue to do so. But His provision always comes through people who are willing to sacrifice some material comforts to invest in the ministry that God has placed before us. We don't take that for granted, and we understand our responsibility to steward the resources He's entrusted to us. But, then again, aren't all of us—at least those of us who follow Christ—called to be faithful stewards of the resources that God has entrusted to us?

As we approach the end of the year, would you prayerfully consider investing in our family's ministry with MMS Aviation and Missionary Air Group? We are nearing the culmination of five years of preparation and training, and it's now—as we are on the cusp of transitioning into the role we've been preparing for all this time—that we are facing our greatest needs. If we're to keep moving forward, the Lord will have to meet our needs in some incredible ways; we surely don't have the means to do it on our own!

For more information on how to invest in our ministry, visit our giving page!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Exciting Family News

We recently finished our October newsletter, and though we had lots to share, one bit of news stood out above the rest: we're expecting another child to be added to our family next April! This was an unexpected twist in our journey, but we thank the Lord for this blessing to our family.

If we're honest, the news of Tara's pregnancy brought about mixed emotions. Tara realized she was pregnant just as we were approaching the one-year anniversary of losing our son Ezra to a miscarriage at 17 weeks. In some ways, the joy of new life was overshadowed by the sadness of having lost Ezra, as well as the reality of how our plans for the next several months have suddenly changed.

But as I sit here writing this post (having just posted our newsletter—and the news of the baby—on Facebook), many congratulations are coming our way. We also shared the news publicly in church this morning, to the excitement of our friends there. I'm thankful for the reminder that this new life is truly reason to celebrate. A lot of things will change for us, but every life is a gift from God, and we thank the Lord for this new addition to our family!

That's the big news, but if you want to know what else has been going on, please check out our latest newsletter!