Saturday, June 1, 2019

We have a house in Bolivia!

Moving to another country is not easy. There are many difficulties, but one aspect of this move that the kids have struggled with is this: not knowing where we will live when we get to Bolivia. This is certainly an opportunity for them to learn to walk by faith in God, trusting Him to provide. But we also know that they have a legitimate need for security. And I think a basic component of feeling secure is knowing that you have a safe place to lay your head at night.

Until this week, we didn't know where we would settle in Bolivia. Yes, we knew we would live in Cochabamba, and that the mission house would be temporarily available for us. But we had no long-term housing arranged. That was okay with Tara and me, but this idea was more difficult for the kids (and for one child in particular, who will go unnamed). We planned to move into the mission home until we could find a more permanent place in Cochabamba, then move a second time into that house.

Well, earlier this week we received a pleasant surprise. ITM has decided to rent a different place to serve as the mission house, and Tony called to ask if we'd like to rent the current mission house. It didn't take long to come to a consensus, and our answer was a resounding, "Yes!" It's a huge relief to know that we have a place to settle in to when we arrive in Bolivia. Not only that, but the kids have actually stayed in this house, so it's a place that's familiar to them. It has sufficient bedrooms for our family, room for an office and/or music room, and space for guests to stay—all things that are lacking in our current house. What a blessing!

It's exciting to see the Lord providing for our needs as we prepare for this move. There's still a lot to do, and we feel overwhelmed at times, but we have confidence that God will provide what we need when we need it!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

A Time of Refining

It's hard to believe it's been so long since I've posted, but to be honest we've been a bit overwhelmed with everything going on in our lives recently. The past several weeks have been filled with organizing, packing, sorting, as well as saying goodbye to people and places, and experiencing many "lasts" here in North Carolina: the last day of school at BCA for Ian and Ella, their last middle school tennis match, their last field trips, last award ceremonies, and final goodbyes to many of their classmates.

There have been difficult moments, especially as the kids ended the school year. While all of their friends are looking forward to next year (especially Ian's classmates, who will be starting high school), our children are leaving everything they know to move to an unfamiliar place. Not only are they leaving people they care about; they are also having to sort through all of their earthly possessions and select the few things that will "make the cut" and go to Bolivia with us. Some things can be stored, but many have to be given away. There are certainly good lessons to be learned in this process, but that doesn't mean it is always easy.

Even though it's hard to say goodbye, we are thankful for the time we've spent here in North Carolina. We know that we have great things to look forward to, and that many of the people we've come to know will be life-long friends.

The process of purging our material goods has made me hyper-aware of the consumerism that is so pervasive in the American culture. I've also been reminded of how easy it is to develop an unhealthy attachment to things, and have made significant progress in breaking that attachment. I'm proud of our kids, who have been learning to do the same thing. There are still several boxes of valuable or sentimental items that will go into storage, but they are learning the value of blessing others with the useful items they no longer need, rather than letting those things gather dust (or worse) in storage. Even though it's hard to let some things go, there is joy in blessing others by giving them away.

As I write this I'm realizing there's a theme here: a tension we are wrestling with throughout these weeks and months of transition. Letting go of the old, yet holding on to those things that matter. Saying goodbye to people and places, but anticipating the good things to come. Filtering out the things that distract and detract from what's really important, while cherishing that which is truly valuable.

Come to think of it, this is not unlike the refining process that God is doing in us. He is always refining us, purging us of old thoughts and habits, and making us more like Jesus. We have desires and habits that distract us, and sins that hinder our relationship with God and others.  These need to be gotten rid of so there is room for new attitudes, habits, and practices that strengthen those relationships. This process is not always fun, but in the end there is great joy! My prayer is that as our family navigates this season of evaluation and purging, the Lord will also be working in us, purifying and refining us to be more like Christ. When we look back at this period of time in our lives, my hope is that we will see the hand of God at work, strengthening us and growing us into faithful disciples of Jesus.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Why Church Planting?

There are many organizations that have current needs for missionary pilot/mechanics. Some of them focus on medical care and relief work. Others focus on Bible translation or church planting, and some do commercial flying to subsidize "ministry" flights. So why am I excited about the idea of serving with an organization that focuses on church planting and discipleship? I'll answer that question, but take the long way around.

The term "Body of Christ" is often used to refer to the Church. There's good reason for that, since the phrase is used in the Bible (1 Corinthians 12:27, for example). I always thought of the word "body" according to this definition:
5 : a group of persons or things: such as
b : a group of individuals organized for some purpose
a legislative body
the university's student body
This makes sense, doesn't it? The verse I referenced above says, "Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." The body of Christ certainly is a group of individuals organized for some purpose. But there is another sense in which the Church operates as Christ's body:
2a : the organized physical substance of an animal or plant...
For about thirty years Jesus physically walked the earth, but as He prepared to leave this world, he made it clear to his disciples that their mission was to carry on His mission. As Jesus' present-day disciples, we are the physical presence of Jesus in the world! For most students of the Bible this isn't really a new revelation. But if we really believed this and lived it out, it would be revolutionary!

Jesus' actions during the few short years of his public ministry included preaching and teaching, but also healing the sick, raising the dead, and advocating for the poor and oppressed. But these were not just random acts of kindness. They were accompanied by a call to reject and repent from sin, and to newness of life in Christ. Jesus was intentional about "seeking and saving the lost" (Luke 19:10). He demonstrated mercy and compassion, and broke bread with the despised and outcast. Yet he never failed to call people out of the bondage of sin and brokenness, and into His Kingdom.

So how does this relate to our excitement about church planting? If the Church is growing and truly acting as the Body of Christ, then we will naturally and organically see an increase in acts of love and compassion to the world around us. So it's not an either/or proposition; we don't need to choose church planting or compassion ministry. It's a both/and scenario! By focusing on the church—bringing people to Christ and then continuing to nurture them as disciples of Jesus—we will also see the Body of Christ responding to the needs in our communities, loving them as Christ loved the world.

My intent is not to downplay the need for compassion ministry. Rather, I want to affirm that it is important. Our desire would be for local believers to come to Jesus, and then to reach and serve the world around them according to their individual gifts and passions. The Church is God's chosen instrument for carrying on His work in the world until Jesus returns, and I'm excited to support the building up of the Body of Christ through the tool of missionary aviation.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

A Family Visit to Bolivia

It's hard to believe it's been seven years since we began the journey toward serving in missionary aviation! With much training and preparation behind us, we are now getting close to moving overseas to serve on our first field assignment as a missionary pilot/mechanic family! For the past couple years we have been corresponding with several missionary organizations that we are interested in. There is one ministry in particular that has resonated strongly with us, and that we have been thinking and praying about. Finally, in December, the timing worked out for us to make a visit with our entire family.

We began our trip on a Thursday morning when we started driving toward Miami. After 11 hours we decided to call it a day and stop for the night in Titusville, Florida. Aliza did amazingly well on the drive down, and the big kids helped out a lot, keeping her happy and well-fed. But after all those hours she was glad to be out of her car seat. Her big smiles won her lots of friends at Cracker Barrel! 🙂 We are thankful for everyone who prayed for us during the long car ride.

Aliza did amazingly well on the long car ride!
We started driving again Friday morning with the intention of stopping to see the ocean before continuing to the Miami Airport. But after contending with the crazy traffic coming into Miami we decided to play it safe and head straight to the parking lot where we’d catch an airport shuttle. Interestingly, the shuttle driver was from Peru and made sure to tell us how much we would love Bolivia.

We got to the airport around 4:15 for a 10:30pm flight, which meant lots of waiting at the airport. Unfortunately our flight was delayed twice, but by 1:00am on Saturday we were finally airborne. After a long drive and more than eight hours in the airport we were ready to get some sleep in the dark aircraft cabin. All was well until they decided to turn on the lights and serve us dinner around two o’clock in the morning. Who needs dinner at that hour? Not me, but I suppose someone would have complained about not getting the meatballs they’d paid for. I would have gladly given my meatballs to that guy in exchange for an hour of sleep.

Happy to finally be en route to Bolivia!
Finally, around 8am on Saturday, we touched down in Bolivia and the kids set foot on foreign soil for the first time! Fortunately our connecting flight was waiting for us (and more importantly for some crew members), so we made it to Cochabamba late morning. Immigration and customs went quickly, and Tony was there to meet us and drive us back to the mission house. It’s a really nice place, and we get a floor to ourselves. It was only the fourth floor, but at 8500’ elevation we noticed those flights of stairs!

Saturday was a rest day, and Sunday we visited the “International Church”. I put that in quotes because the church has evolved from a mostly English-speaking church to a church comprised mostly of Bolivians and other Spanish speakers. A few songs were done in English, but the rest of the service was in Spanish. I was pleasantly surprised that I could understand a majority of what was said, so that was encouraging. After church we had lunch, rested for a while, and went for a walk around the neighborhood.

After a couple days of settling in and learning about ITM's ministry, I had the opportunity to fly out to one of the villages where we would pick up a team that had been serving there for a couple weeks. The morning started early, when I rolled out of bed at 3:30. Cristian, one of the ITM staff, arrived to pick me up at 4:15. That was the first of three stops he was making around the city, and by 5:00 the truck was pulling into the airport, crammed full of adults, children, and cargo.

Getting ready for an early morning departure.
Before the sun had risen, we were taxiing to the other side of the field where we would file our flight plan and completely unload the airplane to be inspected by the anti-narcotic branch of the police. After the inspection we re-packed the airplane and waited to get a report that the weather was clear at our destination. By 7:15 our flight plan had expired and the weather had not cleared, meaning it was time to go through the whole process again. Apparently nothing is easy in Bolivia when it comes to paperwork and bureaucracy!

To make a long story short, the weather didn’t clear and we cancelled the flight. That’s just part of flying in Bolivia during the rainy season. It seems that the old saying is true: “Time to spare? Go by air!” That being said, the airplane is still—without a doubt—the best way to get out to the tribes.

Later in the day, our family had lunch with several families and individuals that serve with ITM in Cochabamba. It was encouraging to hear about the church planting and discipleship that is happening in many small villages in the highlands near Cochabamba. There is also a great need for more laborers to disciple believers in these young churches. We had an opportunity to share about our journey, and our time together concluded by praying for one another. It was a very encouraging afternoon!

Finally, we drove out to see Cristo de la Concordia—the giant statue of Jesus that overlooks the city. By the time we got there it was pouring rain, so we didn’t spend much time there. At the base of the statue is a sculpture of an open Bible with the text of John 14:6; yet there are so many people in this region who haven’t heard about Jesus—the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Cristo de la Concordia
Thursday morning, the weather was looking good, so we tried again for the flight out to the village of Oromomo. This time we were able to make it out of Cochabamba on top of a sea of clouds. As we approached the village the clouds were breaking up, but there was still a low cloud layer that Tony was able to duck under and make a landing in Oromomo. While Tony shuttled the team to a nearby village I stayed in Oromomo where I got a tour from Tito, the pastor of the church in the village. He also explained to me the need for more laborers to reach the many unreached settlements around Oromomo. After seeing the village, I enjoyed a cup of coffee (and a taste of mate) and conversation with Tito and Ramon, one of the team members who had been serving in Oromomo.

One of the things we love about the ministry of ITM is that the staff is multicultural, and most of the church planting and discipleship is being done by Bolivian nationals. There are even short-term teams that come to serve from other parts of the country. As expats, we would be supporting and working alongside Bolivians that are reaching people within their own borders with the Gospel.

Flying to Oromomo at about 14,000 feet.

At the airstrip in Oromomo
Since we had come all the way to Bolivia, I felt that it would be very helpful for our whole family (not just me) to fly out to one of the remote "front-line" ministry locations. On Friday we flew to the village of San Lorenzo to meet some of the Bolivian ITM missionaries, and to see the radio station and Bible school that is being constructed to train tribal church leaders. On of my goals for that visit was for Ian and Ella to get a glimpse of the work that we would be supporting, and simply to see what life is like in the more remote parts of Bolivia. While walking around San Lorenzo and talking with Tony, they also got an idea of how they could participate in the work that God is doing here, especially helping to support teams that come to serve in the tribal areas.

During our visit to the radio station, we had a few moments to sit and talk with Ivan and Cendy, the staff members who run the station in addition to other responsibilities. They were so encouraging to us, and especially to the kids. After we talked for a while they shared some Scripture and prayed for our family. We felt very blessed by them, and would be excited to help support these Bolivian missionaries who have made significant sacrifices to serve in remote parts of their own country.

At the airstrip in San Lorenzo

Walking down one of the main roads in San Lorenzo.

The radio station and one of the Bible school buildings.

We came back very excited about the possibility of serving in Bolivia with ITM. It's not the easiest place to serve, and there would be some challenges. But we know that the Lord will be with us wherever He calls us. We're not making any big announcements quite yet, but we are excited about what lies ahead for our family.

From the window of the mission house in Cochabamba we could see the outstretched arms of a giant Jesus statue. That was pretty neat, but we are thankful that there is a real Jesus who actually holds and sustains all things, and we continue to trust Him to direct our steps, desiring His will to be done in us! Thanks again for walking alongside us on this journey!

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.