Time well spent.

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A beautiful morning at Kagamuga Airport in Mount Hagen. PNG

If you have the opportunity to look through a pilot’s logbook, prepare for disappointment.  Most likely you will find line after line of entries that state little more than how many hours were flown, on what aircraft and where. I once had the opportunity to read through my great-uncle’s logbook.  He was lost over Berlin in WWII.  I expected many exciting, maybe even terrifying entries. Instead I found just plain entries: hours flown,  aircraft type and distance, albeit with a number of interesting aircraft types from Ansons to Wellingtons and Lancaster bombers.

For many pilots, a logbook represents much more than the number of hours flown and licenses and certificates.  The numbers and odd comment on a line does little to capture the imagination or give meaning to the numbers but for the pilot, the numbers may invoke memories of people, places and planes that are too difficult to capture in writing and are best relived in memory.

maf-png map dupuis maf-east africa map dupuisWhen someone discovers that I am a pilot, it strikes me as odd that the first thing I am asked is “how many hours do you have?” Even the language is strange because pilots do not collected “hours” rather,  they have used them.  Deducted, so-to-speak, from our life as we add up how much of our time we sit looking through the windscreen or at the instruments.  Can you imagine if everyone kept a log of driving miles or watching television or sitting in front of a computer screen?  Despite the life-time of hours spent flying, I have indeed collected many blessings in the form of memories, experience and relationships, while I fulfill a purpose that the Lord has given me … to serve others. I have seen the world from a perspective that can only reinforce the notion that God created it with an imagination (and sense of humour) that is beyond our human understanding.  I am forever in awe of Him and His creation.

Since joining Mission Aviation Fellowship, I have had to work very hard to keep up to the very high standard that MAF expects of its pilots.  There are many younger pilots, with much less time in their logbooks, who are very talented pilots and amazing individuals. The MAF standard goes beyond how well one flies an aircraft.  It is more about how we interact with our co-workers, the people working for organizations we serve, as well as the people that are ultimately the end-recipients of what we bring with the airplane.  That is why we are here: to bring hope and healing to some of the most isolated places in the world using aviation and technology.

Being that I have crossed another milestone of hours in service with MAF, I am placing a summary for those of you who like statistical details. Having an electronic logbook means that there are a few photos and special notations that might not be found in a paper version but it is not practical to show them here. There are many tears of joy and thankfulness wrapped up within these statistics.  There have been great experiences as well as near disaster.  I have seen landscapes that make the spirit soar and I have seen misery and tragedy that can rock one’s faith to the core. Whether good or bad He is always with me; Amen

Flying in Service with MAF began in 2010.  Flight statistics on MAF aircraft follow:

Total hours flown: 2519.8

Total Take-offs: 2157  Landings 2160

Instrument approaches flown: 185  Visual approaches under Instrument Flight Rules: 222.  The majority of flying has been VFR.

Total distance flown: 299037.1 Nautical Miles  or 344125.7 Statute Miles or 553816.7 Kilometers or about 12 times around the earth at the equator.

Note: I do not keep statistics on size of load or how many passengers are carried but the best estimate would be combination of passengers and freight that would equal approximately 1.58 million kg.  Average adult passengers where I have been flying are about 70kg (with carry on bags) and the mix of flights over the past 5 years in a combination of about 50% so that would be about 11285 adult passengers and 790000kg of cargo.  All of this work was done on Cessna Caravans (C208A, C208B) flying at an average speed of around 150kts.

I pray that every mile, every kilogram, every hour be for the glory of the Lord.

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Why Fly Wi-Fi

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Installing the WiFi Bible label

One of the things that I have really come to appreciate as a pilot serving with MAF is the clarity of purpose and direction of the organization.  (Click this link to read MAF’s mission and values). MAF has partnered with organizations over the years that share the same values and objectives.  Soon after we arrived in PNG we learned of a brilliant strategic partnership that is advancing the Gospel to remote locations in a way that could not be imagined by MAF’s founding pilots.

Christian Radio Missionary Fellowship (CRMF) is providing technology that allows MAF to carry a Wi-Fi hub aboard the aircraft fleet in PNG.  Each aircraft has a small, battery-powered device that contains .epub and other versions of the Holy Bible in over 200 different PNG languages (Tok Ples).  It has movies such as “God’s Story” and “The Jesus Film” which can be downloaded from the Wi-Fi hub in less than 2 minutes each.  A variety of music in the Tok Pisin language can also be downloaded.  There are a number of apps including daily devotions and Bible studies in a number of languages.

csm_ModelWIFIBibleBatterypoweredThe most amazing thing is that these resources are free to anyone who has a smart-phone or similar device with Wi-Fi capability.  There is no charge to the end-user as the resources are provided by donors from around the world. In PNG, the cellular networks are growing rapidly and connecting many hundreds of villages that have been cut-off from access to the rest of the country.  Inexpensive smart-phones from Asian manufacturers are becoming more commonplace. We have witnessed first-hand, how the movies, Bible studies and music are enjoyed by many in the community, even those without smart-phones.  During our time in Tsendiap, we watched several families crowding around the tiny screen of a smart-phone watching the Jesus Film in their own language after downloading from the tiny Wi-Fi hub that we brought with us for testing.

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Michael stands next to Wi-Fi equipped Cessna 208with us.

When an MAF aircraft lands at a remote airstrip, a quick wave to the pilot is all that is needed and the Wi-Fi hub is switched on.  A few minutes later, the downloads are completeL all without futher intervention of the pilot.  In a few short minutes dozens of downloads can be completed. The Wi-Fi home screen and instructions make the whole process simple, in any language.

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Judith shares “The Jesus Film” with a mix of adults and children.

The Wi-Fi Bible is quickly gaining in popularity and it is now being tested on some public motor vehicles (PMV’s) which are the mainstay of road travel in PNG.  Wherever the Wi-Fi Bible sign is seen, downloads are available for free.  With growing success, this resource may become a regular part of MAF’s fleet of aircraft in more and more countries fulfilling MAF’s purpose: to share God’s love through aviation and technology

 

 

 

 

Urban Cowboys: Flying in PNG

20151120_103345 (800x276)Touring the Rocky Mountains is a thrill for anyone. As a pilot, flying the mountains and valleys of the massive National Parks of Alberta and British Columbia, was a dream come true. The seemingly endless miles of pristine, spectacular scenery helped to shape our understanding of the passion and artistry of our Lord in His creation. Judith and I were blessed as we tracked wildlife and chased forest-fires through the scenic Rocky Mountains but our life in Calgary, as “urban bush pilots” did not fully prepare us for the rigors of flying in Papua New Guinea.

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Airstrips in PNG are categorized into A,B, C, and D based on difficulty. This B airstrip in Simbai is often obscured by low cloud clinging to the sides of the mountains that surround it. It is a B because it is long, not too steep and generally maintained with markings and windsock.

The highlands of Papua New Guinea has plenty of grande scenery and high mountains equally as daunting as the Rockies but the hundreds of remote airstrips makes flying here far more demanding than flying Canada’s National Parks. In Banff, Jasper and Yoho, there are no airstrips (at least none that can be legally used). Most of the flying we did in support of wildlife research was done on fair-weather days under generally favorable conditions.  We always avoided flying on days with strong winds, precipitation, thunderstorms, snow, icing, turbulence or heavy smoke. The nature of the National Park flying missions allowed us to pick our flying days but that is not so in Papua New Guinea. Unless fog, low cloud or heavy rain is blocking a route, flights continue to be dispatched. If MAF had to wait for fair weather days there would be very few flights, indeed! It is almost always raining somewhere in the country and flights must be dispatched, even when conditions force pilots to fly roundabout routes diligently searching for safe passage. I am not suggesting that MAF is does not put safety first!  There are times when turning back is the wise choice; not every flight can proceed safely and pilots are not pushed to continue when it is not safe. Similar to our experience in Africa, the majority of small communities in PNG are very remote, without road access. They depend on aircraft for almost everything: trade store goods, mail, doctors, teachers, church workers and critical medical supplies.  That is why MAF is here, supporting communities with a holistic approach to its mission and working in all conditions.

Weather was just one factor on a recent route familiarization flight with senior Captain Irwin Hodder at the controls. We were to fly a Cessna Caravan full of medical supplies for clinic in the village of Woposali. We took off with the sun shining overhead Kagamuga Airport in Mt. Hagen. Despite the sunshine, we had to find our way past a wall of cloud blocking the main mountain pass before we could get moving in the direction of Woposali. As we approached our destination we had to work our down into a series of interconnected valleys, barely big enough to turn around. Finally we came upon the airstrip which is the bottom of a deep gorge with high cliffs on each side of the runway.

My job that day was to watch and learn. Next time, I would be expected to do the same. When I first sighted Woposali airstrip, I thought to myself that there was no way that we could get past the scattered cloud that was lingering just above and below the ridge-tops of our intended landing place. As Irwin skillfully maneuvered the aircraft through the narrow passages, we safely reached our objective and were greeted by a crowd of people who quickly carried the metric tonne of medical supplies we were carrying to the nearby clinic.

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Captain Hodder at the controls as we maneuvered in the narrow confines of the valley above the Woposali airstrip.

Returning to Mt. Hagen, I found my self thinking back to the movie Urban Cowboy with John Travolta. The story is about a sub-culture of city slickers who dress up like cowboys and cowgirls. They go dancing, wear big belt buckles just like the ones earned as prizes at the rodeo. The boys ride a mechanical bull trying to be just like authentic bull-riding cowboys.  Little do they know the reality of being a real cowboy: the hours of hard work, the solitude, the sweat, the physical demands, the pain and variety of skills needed to do their job.

In the same way, being an urban bush pilot in Calgary is a far cry from the realities of flying in the bush of Papua New Guinea. Real bush pilots have to endure plenty of hard work in difficult situations in nearly every kind of weather. They must hone their skills of visual navigation and their knowledge of weather patterns and mountain winds just like in the Rockies but PNG bush pilots must learn how to safely fly in and out of hundreds of extreme airstrips that are the most challenging anywhere in the world, some with slopes up to 12% situated in precarious places.  Flying to these remote places demands disciplined decision-making skills in addition to good flying technique. There is much to learn if we are to be useful and safe pilots in PNG. We must become real bush pilots and thankfully, the program has some of the best pilot-instructors anywhere in the world to help us reach the level of skill that we need to fly here.

The lore of bush flying, might attract some pilots to places like PNG to “fly the bush” just as the lore of being a cowboy might encourage urban cowboys to leave the city and move out to the open range. Carrying critical supplies to a medical clinic  and watching the faces of people as they hear the Gospel message builds within us the resolve to become real bush pilots for Christ’s sake. That is the call to MAF in PNG and we so thankful to all of our supporters who are encouraging us, praying for us and enabling us in our quest to reach the isolated, bringing help and hope in Christ’s name.

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The 9% upslopeslope is apparent in this photo of a well-manicured airstrip. There is a medical clinic that supports the surrounding area. Many airstrips in PNG are well maintained by the community to ensure that their air-link is not disrupted.

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A typical mountain strip.  If the pilot elects to abort the landing, it cannot be much beyond this point along the final approach so that the aircraft can still escape to the left.  The terrain is too steep on the right or straight ahead. Once past the committal point, it is land well or land hard; there is no safe abort.

 

 

The meaning of Christmas-A village perspective

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The village of Tsendiapa and airstrip.

We were on the ground after a 15 minute flight out of Mt. Hagen to a small village called Tsendiap. It was to be our home for the next 7 days where we were to learn to speak Tok Pisin and to learn some PNG culture.
There was a crowd pressing against the fence next to the airstrip and a group of people were crowding around Judith and me when, amidst all of the confusion, Captain Mike Vogel leaned over to me and said “well, I guess you are really on your own now…” and as quick as the aircraft had landed it was off again leaving us in the care of a community.

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Click on any image to visit our photo album of Tsendiap

As the aircraft faded into the distance, the silence rolled over us, despite the cacophony of voices surrounding us. People were grabbing all of our possessions, food, clothing and scurrying off to unknown places as we were being shepherded by the local pastor and his wife to where we would be staying. In Tsendiap, there are no roads, no power and no telephone unless you want to walk up to the top of the nearby mountain to pick up a cellular signal from Dusin or Simbai; two slightly larger villages about a full day’s walk away. Both are less than 5 minutes by air. Over the next few days, we really became aware of how disconnected we were from the world that we know. We were really far from a full medical facility if we were bitten by a snake, got sick or injured. We were not physically fit enough to reach any distant village with a medical clinic that had anything more than the most basic care.

It did not take long for us to realize that people in the communityIMGP2399 share. They share food in times of plenty as well as lean times. They share precious resources such as matches, paper, books, Bibles, salt, sugar and cooking oil; every little thing that costs so much to transport to this remote place. Most of all, they share in a common faith in Christ and they gladly share the joy of knowing God with each other and their neighboring clans and tribes. Without Jesus, they would really be alone. They would live in constant fear of death from sickness, accident and injury as well as fear of attack from neighbouring tribes. We were told that in the time before missionaries came, many people feared bush spirits and angry ancestors that were believed to inhabit the thick jungle that surrounds the village causing accidents and mishaps. Tribal fighting was a constant threat and times of peace were rare. Through Christ Jesus, that fear is gone and through the love of Christ, MAF’s aircraft are able to bring both help and hope in those times when someone does get sick or injured or disaster strikes.

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A Child is Born

Despite having more than 5 years’ experience working in the third world with MAF’s aviation ministry, it took only seven short days for us to gain a whole new perspective and understanding of people, community and the power of the Holy Spirit in daily life. We saw how people depended on God’s provision and care. We watched as students departed the Bible College to go out to even more remote villages along barely traveled bush trails in the same way as the early disciples went out to spread the Good News of Jesus. We learned that the only way to really know any person is by meeting them face-to-face and spending some time in conversation. God, in His wisdom knew that the only way we could really know Him is to meet with Him in person. That person is the Messiah, Jesus. He came to be with us: Emmanuel or “God with us” as it was written and we sing in Christmas Hymns.

May the Peace of Christ bring you, your family and your community joy this Christmas. As long as you know Him, you will never be alone, you will never have to fear. Blessings be upon you in Christ’s name.

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The Village Life

IMGP1606Flying over the jungle one cannot help but notice what is obvious for the people living in the remote villages of PNG. If a person needs medical assistance in the bush, time and distance increase the likelihood of a fatality. MAF medical evacuation flights are a necessity in this part of the world as are the vital medical supplies they deliver to remote aid stations.
The MAF-PNG program has a “bush orientation program” for all newcomers. Its purpose is twofold: to learn the culture and the language, and also understand the needs of the communities. With us both flying different aircraft our home base will be in Mount Hagen. Our Bush orientation involved a great deal of planning. Our time away in a remote village without the support of the MAF team gives us a moment to view the world through His eyes, to see things as He does. Our time in Tsendiap was more than a fulfilling of that goal. We were blessed to see the work He is doing each and every day.
IMGP3067We arrived on a Friday afternoon in the community by the only means available; an MAF aircraft. Located only 33 miles NNE from Mount Hagen in the Western Highland Province the flight lasted only 15 minutes, yet we were now a world away from anything we had come to know. Our host for next 7 days is a family living next to the airstrip; local priest and lecturer of the tiny Anglican Evangelist College, Pastor Newton Ekoda and his wife Daisy greet us at the plane along with their two boys, Gerand and Garland. After a short walk from the airstrip we are greeted by other members of the community and are adorned with flowers while some of the students play gospel songs in several languages. Later we learn Daisy is not only the

IMGP2202Sunday school teacher but also the local primary school teacher. Dry season has meant low crop yields. Without regular water and food supplies the primary school students are unable to commute and attend school. Educate is not a top priority when food supplies are low and the rains are very late this year. For the past two years the church has tried to initiate a women’s Literacy Program but without success. Helping to educate the women in the community and raise the awareness of education is difficult when even the children are not attending school. Having visitors in the community reignited the desire for the women’s literacy program so the school supplies of 50+ exercise books, pencils, sharpers and erasers we brought along for the children soon found another immediate use; a different plan than we anticipated but no doubt part of God’s will.
Each morning the sound of the church bells announce its 5:30am; it’s a reminder to thank God for the dawn of a new day.

DSCN1363The dry season allows an opportunity for the women to start their Literacy class on Monday. Daisy volunteered to teach the literacy class and the school supplies are distributed to each lady. All of the women in attendance are married to the Bible College students and are excited to begin their literacy class. Sitting among the 11 woman I am able to assist 2 of them to write the alphabet for the first time. Progress is slow but steady for the few with basic 2 grade primary education. Additional one on one assistance is necessary for the two beginners. So as not to slow the rest of the class we make arrangements to meet at their homes for additional help later in the afternoon.
Pastor Newton and Daisy are generous hosts but our visit is a church-community event. Each day different women share the cooking and by night the meal is shared with different members of the community at the Pastors house. Sitting cross-legged on the floor of the haus-win (an elevated, open patio style shelter), our conversation includes a discussion of Scripture, culture and questions about our home villages and country. Looking around at the faces of the sumatin from Karina Evangelist’s College (sumatin is Tok Pisin for college students) and their expressions while discussing The Word. These men are PNG’s future evangelists preparing for the harvest. The thought reminds me of the Last Supper when Jesus was with His disciples. Even though the disciples spent much time together with Jesus, they themselves had no knowledge of what was to happen nor the understanding of who Jesus really was. This life was the Light of men, soon He would rise from death in the days that followed His crucifixion. Looking around, I see the Sumatin students as Jesus must have viewed His disciples, spending that time together they would reflect back on each and every word He shared with them over their meal. We too learn more of who Jesus is when we spend time with Him, reading and reflecting on His words. It is the basis of any of our relationships when we share time together only then do we learn more about each other.

IMG_0639The night before we are to depart, I visit Annie next door to say my goodbyes. Annie is crying. She explains how the past few days of learning to read has changed her life. Through her tears she says that because she never learned to read she never understood the Bible. Earlier in the week I wrote on the classroom blackboard my favorite scripture verse John 14:27. After class, she went home and asked her husband to read the full chapter. Annie tried reading along with her husband. She gained a deeper understanding of John 14. The tears that Annie was shedding in front of me were tears of Joy.

Our trip in the bush left us filled with hope. MAF aircraft are vital tools in reaching isolated people around the world. Tsendiap is one of those places where God’s work continues to change lives through His Word. Your support of MAF aircraft and MAF families share in equipping these students with Pastor Newton and Daisy’s ministry through Bible education and outreach is just one example of how MAF is fulfilling its mission. Christ is preparing His disciples to go out, 2 by 2, husband and wife, side by side, in the full knowledge of who He is and a willingness to share the message with others.

During our week in the bush, we did a walkabout to a smaller village called Ganjiji. The village is a 1.5 hour walk through jungle vegetation up to a high ridge on the mountain. We arrive in plenty of time to bathe and refrIMGP2603esh in the river before the church lotu (worship service) at 9am. The Sunday worship was followed with a meal after which we had an opportunity to chat Tok Pisin with some of the villagers. A village elder explained to us that Ganjiji had not had a visit from white-skinned missionaries since 1975. “After forty years”, the elder man speaks in Tok Pisin, “we are encouraged we may even be alive to see Christ return as he promised, your visit is a reminder of that hope”. Just before we depart my eyes glance to the middle of the people sitting on the floor. The image remains engraved in my mind: Lying on top of a layer of fresh banana leaves is a baby, quiet, content and naked. By our Canadian standards these people have very little yet they have plenty. These humble surroundings remind me of another time long, long ago. Over 2000 years ago, another child is born into the humble surrounding of a fed trough. Strips of linen which were used for Jewish burial preparations known as swaddling cloth are wrapped around the naked child. This child is our hope, the reason for the season, the only Begotten Son of God, born to die, for us. His life with us and the Holy Spirit He left behind. We celebrate, Emmanuel, God with us. May the truth of that moment dwell with your spirit this Christmas, and the Peace of God abide with each and every one of you into the New Year.

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