The meaning of Christmas-A village perspective


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.


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.


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 Dish

the dishOne 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


L-R Owen Fuller (MAF-US), Phil Buehler (MAF-Juba base), Christian Haak, (MAF-Kenya)

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.


Compare to photo above to see the higher angle

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.


Teaching an old dog new tricks

5y-esuI was honored to be the pilot chosen to fly our newest-to-the-fleet Cessna Grand Caravan which is equipped with the Garmin 600 “glass cockpit”. My mission was to fly the aircraft from Nairobi to Nelspruit Airport in South Africa so it could be painted with the new MAF colours and logo.  Although the aircraft was not “new”, it had been substantially upgraded with the latest in avionics (the instruments and radio/navigation equipment).  The interior was freshly re-upholstered and for all intents and purposes, it was “as new”.  In order to inform the donors and update everyone about the trip and the status of the aircraft, I was asked to provide some information about the new systems and how well the training was going.  I wrote a reply which, for the most part,  I have copied and pasted here.

Dear Kathryn: (MAF-International)

I was the pilot who flew the aircraft down to South Africa for painting.  Prior to the arrival of 5Y-ESU, I assisted MAF-K’s Training Captain with the development of the training program and spent many hours using a Garmin sourced, computer-based, training tool to familiarize myself with the new systems.  In addition to completing the both the ground-based and flight training program, my involvement with developing the training program required learning how to incorporate some of the training tools. This forced me to develop a deeper understanding of the systems that I might have done otherwise. I soon learned that this was to my advantage, being a pilot who had limited exposure to this type of equipment in the past.  Many of the latest generation of pilots will have some experience with this type of avionics or may have learned exclusively on this type of equipment and should find little or no difficulty in adapting to the new equipment.

As I was preparing to go to South Africa, Captain Daniel Lowen-Rudgers arranged for the  “live” exercises so we did the airborne portion of the training and completed instrument approaches at the Jomo Kenyatta airport in Nairobi before heading off to South Africa.  It was when I had all of the components together in one place during my first instrument approach that I learned how overwhelming all of the information available to the pilot really is and that book or simulator practice alone is not sufficient.

The G600 avionics system features multiple displays, terrain awareness and traffic advisories. In addition to the G600 panel, the GNS 530/430 GPS/Comms are more advanced and practical navigation and communication units than the Caravans that we are presently flying.  The primary flight and navigation displays are large, bright and easy to interpret. Even the emergency back-up systems (L3 all-in-one display) is very easy to use and understand.  The traffic advisory system will be a huge improvement in safety, especially in South Sudan where the air traffic is managed without RADAR and many pilots lie about their positions and estimated time of arrival at airports so they can get in ahead of other aircraft.  (just imagine Nairobi, Juba or Kampala road traffic and then picture the same behavior in the sky!)

The biggest adjustment that  any pilot must make is knowing what display and features to use and when to place their focus on the area that is presenting the information that is needed in priority.  It requires ignoring some information at crucial moments during an instrument approach (or other busy activity) so that information is narrowed down to only that which  is vital for the activity.  Given the difficulty in describing to non-pilots the high level of information available at a glance I could express this in a metaphor:  It is like sitting in a library looking at all of the books knowing that whatever I would need to know is at hand.  Now, it is a matter of opening the correct book and getting the correct information.  Fortunately, all of the information is easy to understand because the library is filled with “Flying for Dummies”, “Avionics for Dummies”, “Weather for Dummies”, “Map Reading for Dummies” and any other “for Dummies” books that you can imagine. 

I guess an older pilot like myself; one brought up on what is so fondly referred to a ”steam gauge” technology, is thankful that these new systems are truly designed for “dummies” as I found the transition very easy thanks to a simple but comprehensive training program and related supporting programs.  Of course it certainly doesn’t hurt having highly skilled and knowledgeable training captains and the backing of a motivated and learned Aviation Department team.

 Now that I have gone back to flying the steam gauges again, I long for the day when YESU is in full service here in Kenya/South Sudan.  It is hard to go back to only having a few books available, even for dummies. I look forward to the day when every MAF aircraft is equipped with this “next generation” of avionics.  Safety, ease of use, reliability and cost-effectiveness will prove it to be the way forward.


Capt. Michael Dupuis

P.S.     As you may not know, YESU is the Swahili word for Jesus.  Many of the Bantu languages (common in much of eastern portions of Africa south of Ethiopia) share the same roots so the name was not lost to many of the air traffic controllers south of Kenya who happily called us FIVE-YESU rather than the standard Five-Yankee-Echo-Sierra-Uniform. Not only does the aircraft have great avionics, the registration call-sign is also a powerful witness of who MAF is and what we and most of all, who we do it for!

IMG_0370This photo shows the primary and navigation display.  Note the “synthetic vision on the primary display that gives a three dimensional view of the ground below next to the map (with relief features) next to it.  I think that the letter and photos say enough so I will end this post.  The aircraft will return from South Africa later this week and I hope to add some photos of the new paint scheme.

G600 flight planning

Garmin 530 GPS/Comm with flight plan over Mozambique