Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Apprenticeship Complete!

On November 9, I returned from Mexico after completing a three-week internship with UIM Aviation. This experience was also the culmination of my five-year apprenticeship with MMS Aviation and Missionary Air Group. In the coming weeks we'll write more about our future plans. For now, we simply ask for your prayers as we consider a few different options for long-term service. In the rest of this blog post I'd like to share briefly about my time in Mexico.

As I mentioned in my last post, hurricane Willa hit the coast of Mexico very close to UIM Aviation's base in Tepic. Although we felt some effects of the hurricane, we were not hit directly; some nearby towns were not so fortunate. As a result, we had the opportunity to fly several relief flights into the town of Tuxpan after they were able to clear the runway for us.

Clearing the runway in Tuxpan

Many streets, homes, and business were flooded as a result of the hurricane. Many people lost most of their belongings to the flood waters. Clean drinking water was scarce, and the town faces a long process of recovery and rebuilding.
Clif loads relief supplies into the airplane.

As people cleaned out their homes and businesses, much of the trash made its way to the edge of the airstrip. This added to the complexity of taking off and landing safely, along with the vehicles, pedestrians, and animals on the runway.

UIM Aviation partnered with a local church to distribute food, water, and clothing to the residents of Tuxpan. Although we are sad for all who were affected, it's exciting to see the Church in action, helping to alleviate suffering and pointing people to the hope that can be found in Jesus.

In addition to the flights into Tuxpan, I was able to make many flights into the mountains near Tepic. I really enjoyed those experiences, not only as valuable training, but as an opportunity to put my skills to use. I have spent the last several years working toward becoming a qualified missionary pilot-mechanic, and it was exciting to finally fly my first mission flights with UIM.

My first flight into the mountains was to deliver supplies to missionaries that minister with the Huichol people in the Sierra Madre.

Another flight was to transport an evangelical/dental team between mountain villages. Ground travel across some of the valleys can take a day or more, whereas a flight can be made in 15-20 minutes!

One of the short mountain airstrips. It is a one-way airstrip with landings made uphill and takeoffs downhill.
While in Tepic, I helped with the 50-hour inspection on UIM's Cessna 206.

In addition to the flying, I enjoyed interacting with the UIM missionaries, as well as the people that they serve. I enjoy airplanes, and flying in the mountains was great. But when it comes down to it, the ministry is really about people. Even though my ability to communicate was limited, I enjoyed my interactions with them, and getting a glimpse of the Huichol culture.

A Huichol woman and baby from one of the villages in the Sierra Madre.
Some of the Huichol girls from the same village.
After so many years of preparation, it was exciting to finally be making my first ministry flights. Even though I was still under the supervision of a more experienced pilot, I was happy to be a contributing crew member and to be at the controls for several ministry flights. I loved everything about it, and can't wait for the day when I get to do this on a regular basis! Please pray that God would continue to guide and direct our steps, and that He would provide all that we need to finally get to the field.

We'll write more about our next steps in a future post!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018


Last Friday I arrived in Tepic, Nayarit to begin a three-week internship with UIM Aviation here in Mexico. This is the last step in my 60-month apprenticeship with MMS Aviation and Missionary Air Group. If that’s confusing, let me clarify: we serve with MMS, where I did my aircraft maintenance apprenticeship. MAG is one of MMS’s partner organizations, and gives flight training to MMS apprentices. UIM is partnering with MAG to provide field experience through a short internship in Mexico. It’s encouraging to see and experience so much partnership and cooperation between organizations!

So far I’ve made two flights in UIM’s Cessna Turbo 206. It’s a bit different from what I’ve flown in the past, but I’m really enjoying it! Soon I’ll be making my first flights with UIM’s pilot, Clif, into the mountains north of Tepic. I’m really excited about it, as I’ve been working toward this point for several years now. Long before that I dreamt of being a missionary pilot as a teenager, but believed for many years that those desires would never come to fruition. Sometimes it’s still hard to believe that I’m about to make my first ministry flights here in Mexico!

Please pray for safety as we fly this week. Hurricane Willa brought a lot of rain, and that can affect some of the airstrips in the area. I also appreciate prayers for me to learn quickly and fly skillfully, and for Clif as he instructs and keeps watch over the safety of each flight.

Here are a few photos of the time I’ve spent here so far!

Me, with UIM’s T206

The airport in Tepic

Oreflight briefing

Landing in Tepic

Airwork in the practice area

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The End is Near!

...the end of my training, that is! Now that I'm an instrument-rated commercial pilot, I've moved on to advanced training in the Cessna 206. The 206 is an airplane that I will likely fly on the mission field, and it has been a workhorse of missionary aviation for many years. In many ways it is similar to the Cessna 172 that I've been flying, but it is larger and heavier, has almost double the horsepower of the 172, and has a greater load-carrying capacity.

The plan for my training also includes a few weeks in an operational missionary aviation field program. The original vision was for me to spend a few weeks in Guatemala and Honduras with a pilot from Missionary Air Group. However, circumstances have changed a bit, and I am now planning a trip to Mexico in October. I'll be spending three weeks with another organization, receiving some training and experiencing their field operations first-hand. Although this is a slight change from the original plan, it will still achieve the objective of providing me with valuable experience in an operational field program.

The trip to Mexico will essentially mark the end of my maintenance and flight training through MMS Aviation and Missionary Air Group. After I return to the States, we plan to visit at least one organization that we are considering for long-term service. We're praying about a possible trip to Bolivia in December, and considering other options as well. We hope to have a very good idea of which organization we will be serving with early next year.

You may wonder why we waited so long to make the decision regarding our future plans. Well, we had hoped to make some field visits earlier in my apprenticeship so we'd be ready to transition right into our next phase of ministry. However, we were not expecting Aliza to come along! Because of Tara's pregnancy and the timing of Aliza's birth, we had to cancel our earlier travel plans, pushing the decision-making process into 2019.

We appreciate your prayers as we continue to ask for wisdom and guidance. There are many factors to consider, but ultimately we trust the Lord to guide and direct our steps.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

I'm a Commercial Pilot!

On August 10 I reached another milestone in my missionary aviation journey, when I successfully completed my commercial check ride. As a commercial pilot, I have been trained to fly to a higher standard than a private pilot, and am allowed to fly certain aircraft that are being operated for hire. This is also the last rating I'll need in order to fly for most mission organizations.

Last week, I got right into the Cessna 206, which is an airplane commonly used on the mission field. After a couple familiarization flights, I got my high performance endorsement (needed to fly aircraft rated over 200 horsepower), and then flew the airplane to Pennsylvania for a missionary aviation fair, with our chief pilot in the right seat. Over the next couple months I'll receive advanced training, get some flight experience in Central America, and be finished before Thanksgiving.

I appreciate your prayers as I finish my training, and as our family continues to seek wisdom and guidance regarding our long-term plans.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Breaking the Silence

I realized today that we have gone way too long without updating our blog. This might give the impression that nothing has been going on, but that is not the case! We have encountered some challenges and setbacks, but are continuing to move forward in our service with MMS Aviation and Missionary Air Group, and toward a future overseas assignment.

I've been working toward my commercial pilot certificate for quite some time now, which involves both flight experience and ground study. It also requires passing a knowledge test (commonly referred to as "the written"), followed by an oral and practical test with a designated pilot examiner. I'm happy to report that I passed the written test on June 1! Now I just need to meet a few more flight requirements in preparation for my check ride. I appreciate your prayers for provision of the complex airplane that I need to complete this training. Several options have fallen through, but we are trusting the Lord to provide in His time.

Over the past two weeks I have been leading the 100-hour inspection on N381MG, our primary training airplane. Normally this inspection wouldn't take more than a few days, but we found a few small problems that needed to be addressed. One of these small issues, which could eventually turn into a big problem, was a cracked exhaust system. One of the little cracks is shown in the photo below, at the tip of the pen. Can you see it? And why is this such a big deal? In this airplane, the cabin is heated by air that is drawn over the exhaust system. Any exhaust leaks can allow carbon monoxide to enter the cabin, with the possibility of incapacitating the pilot. That is not a good situation! And that's why we perform regular inspections.

In addition to repairing the few discrepancies that we discovered, there are many routine inspection and service items that are done at every inspection. Below is a picture of the 100-hour inspection in progress. This was a great opportunity for me to refresh my familiarity with the "inner workings" of the Cessna 172, and to brush up on my maintenance skills. It was also good preparation for the time when I may be conducting 100-hour inspections on aircraft in the field.

Finally, we are still considering options for service after I am finished with my training here in Burlington. We have several options that look promising, but we're still praying for wisdom and guidance, as there are still some uncertainties surrounding each option. On one hand, some level of uncertainty is almost always present in missionary aviation. But we are praying for sufficient clarity to know which step to take next.

Thank you for your prayers and support as we continue on this journey!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Medical Brigade in Rus Rus, Honduras

In February and March I had the opportunity to travel to the small, remote village of Rus Rus, Honduras. I wrote briefly about the trip in previous posts, and I've put together a brief video that gives a glimpse into the 2018 medical brigade. I'll let the video speak for itself!

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