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!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Betty Greene Missionary Aviation Scholarship

Earlier this month, I was blessed to be selected as a recipient of the Betty Greene Missionary Aviation Scholarship. The purpose of the scholarship is: to encourage aspiring missionary aviators (pilot/mechanics or maintenance specialists) in their journey; to provide a financial blessing; and to make others more aware of the various missionary aviation organizations, Betty Greene, and the role of missionary aviation. Betty Greene was an accomplished pilot, and Missionary Aviation Fellowship's first pilot. You can read more about Betty Greene here.

I was surprised, humbled, and encouraged to be a recipient of this scholarship. A number of representatives from several mission organizations came to the MAG headquarters in Burlington, North Carolina to present a check and some small gifts, and to encourage and pray for our family. This was a huge blessing and encouragement to us! The photo below shows the group that gathered for the presentation. The organizations represented included JAARS, Missionary Air Group, MMS Aviation, Mission Aviation Fellowship, and New Tribes.

Our journey into the world of missionary aviation has taken various twists and turns, and we can't know for sure where the path will take us. But one thing is certain: the Lord has been faithful through the entire process, and He continues to bring people into our path to bless and encourage us. He's also provided all the resources we need to keep moving forward. We're thankful first to Him, but also to everyone who has supported us as we serve through missionary aviation!

Monday, July 31, 2017

July 2017 Newsletter

We recently sent out our latest quarterly newsletter! If you are not on our mailing list, you can view the newsletter by clicking here.

Here are some highlights from the newsletter:

  • Repairs are underway on MAG's Cessna 172 training aircraft. Please pray for the timely and cost-effective completion of the repairs.
  • The kids finished school in May, then Ian and Ella played baseball and softball for a few weeks. We will be taking a family vacation and ministry trip before they return to school in August.
  • Aaron has been working toward his instrument rating. The book work is mostly complete (he passed his knowledge test last week), and now he is focusing on the flight experience necessary for the instrument rating.
  • We plan to do some Spanish language study over the next few months—at least enough to help us get around when we visit Spanish-speaking countries over the next year. Please pray that we will figure out the best way to fit this into our schedules, and that our study will be effective.

You may also sign up to receive future newsletters.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

One Step Closer to Being Instrument Rated!

Yesterday afternoon, after several months of study, I passed the FAA instrument rating knowledge test! Now that this is out of the way, I can focus mainly on accruing the flight experience required to take my check ride and oral test. For those unfamiliar with what an instrument rating is: it allows a pilot to fly solely by reference to the flight instruments when the weather is not suitable for flying under visual flight rules (VFR). With an instrument rating, a pilot can legally fly through clouds and in conditions where low visibility could cause a VFR-only pilot to become lost and disoriented, as well as conduct certain other operations where an instrument rating is required.

There are several important aspects to becoming a safe and proficient (not just legal) instrument pilot. An instrument-rated pilot must manage a higher workload than a VFR pilot: maintaining aircraft control and situational awareness while following complex procedures, tuning radios and avionics, communicating with air traffic control, navigating, and managing distractions. But perhaps the most basic skill is learning to interpret and trust the flight instruments. Because an airplane maneuvers in a three-dimensional environment (unlike a car, which is stuck in two dimensions), the forces induced can play all kinds of tricks on our bodies when we can't see the ground or other visual references. For example, a steady coordinated turn is indistinguishable from level flight, as far as our vestibular system is concerned. The only way to know the true attitude of the airplane is to ignore what your body is telling you and completely trust the flight instruments. This takes practice and does not come naturally!

Of course there are some spiritual parallels here. As we navigate life, there are countless voices influencing us, from within and from without. If we start listening to every voice that comes our way, we can easily become disoriented—much like the pilot who finds himself in a "graveyard spiral" through the clouds, sensing that something is wrong, but unable to escape because he can't interpret the instruments in front of him. In that situation, the only hope is to draw on his training, ignore everything he is feeling, and focus on the six instruments in front of him. He must then take decisive action, trusting completely that these instruments are telling the truth despite every sensation telling him otherwise.

We live in a culture of subjective, feelings-driven truth. The problem is that feelings are unpredictable and can change at any time. And what happens when my subjective opinions and beliefs conflict with those of another person? Many words have been penned on these topics, and I don't intend to elaborate here. But as I train for my instrument rating, I can't help but think about the parallels to life, particularly as a disciple of Christ. I need to ask myself: am I training myself to know the voice of Jesus by reading and meditating on His words revealed through Scripture? Do I consistently meet with Him in prayer? My only hope if I find myself becoming disoriented and distracted is to focus on the Author of Truth. This is only possible if I have trained myself to hear and listen to His voice, lay aside the countless distractions, and trust completely in Him.