One of the fun things about working in Africa is the many varieties of English that is spoken. We prepared to work cross-culturally by learning some of the customs and practices of African people-groups, not realizing that our greatest challenge would be within the expat community. Judith and I decided to learn a bit about the Dutch, Aussies, Kiwis, Germans, Fins and Swedes by watching popular movies from those countries. Of course we know our American neighbors fairly well or Hollywood’s version, at least.
Two of the Australian families recommended the movie “The Dish” which is a very funny movie about a very large satellite dish in Australia used to support NASA during the moon landing. The funny thing about the movie is that the Aussies did not know how to make it work! In a parallel to that story, our local experts have not been able to get a reliable satellite signal for the V-SAT, which is a key element of our Juba operations.
Reliable Internet access is vital for our flight management system as well as for email and for Voice Over Internet telephone (VOIP). The Juba-based families and visiting pilots and support staff are very dependent on Internet for keeping in touch with their base management, family and supporters. Unlike Kenya, where mobile long-distance telephone is cheaper that local calls in Canada, long distance cellular telephone is very expensive in South Sudan and there is no government mail service yet
As you can imagine, after many months of unreliable Internet, we were so excited to a visit from IT specialist, Owen Fuller from MAF-USA. Owen, his wife Stephanie and children Larinda(7), Gabriella(5), Macy(4) and Omri(2) have been serving with MAF Bunia, Democratic Republic of Congo since 2012. Owen gained his expertise in V-Sat and Internet Technologies though his service with the Signal Corps of the US National Guard where he did tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq before joining MAF. In Bunia, MAF provides crucial Satellite-based communications services for a number of MAF partners.
The satellite that our dish was oriented towards was on the same longitude as Eastern Brazil and Greenland or 37deg latitude West. The long low sight line resulted in too much susceptibility to interference. Now, it its tilted skywards a full 70 degrees and is communicating with a satellite that is at 13 Degrees East over Nigeria and is running about four times faster than the older NSS10 satellite. Everyone at the Juba base is now thrilled at how we can now run Skype and receive regular emails with attachments. Flight management and communications with Nairobi has allowed us to increase our confidence in daily operations and weather information is now available through satellite imagery instead of relying upon unqualified verbal reports.
While many people think of MAF as a group of pilots and mechanics working in remote areas., it takes a more diverse group of dedicated and qualified people to achieve safe and reliable operations as well as supporting the families and national staff members who are at the front lines of the work we do. Teachers, IT specialists, project and development specialists, managers, communications, quality assurance and human resource specialists are all working together in service to our Lord. We praise God for people like Owen and others who support the daily operations within the MAF system. A special thanks to Owen and his family for ensuring that MAF and the many partners who benefit from MAF services can stay connected to the people from around the world who support us in our daily endeavors in Christ’s name.