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

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.