Photo evidence of Wild Cessna captured in South Sudan

Not long ago, I posted a photo on FaceBook of MAF’s Cessna Grand Caravan after parking at the airstrip in Arilo, South Sudan.  The photo is somewhat confusing because the aircraft appears to have landed intact in the midst some very colorful trees.  In reality, the airstrip is at the base of the nearby hills and is on open ground and is safe when dry. The photo was taken from a walking path to the village and the point-and-shoot camera was at maximum zoom.

Shortly after posting, I received a comment from a friend, Leighton Jones of Calgary, AB.  Reading his message, I almost fell from my chair in laughter so I am sharing it here for all to enjoy.


A wild Cessna roams the savanna in search of a mate. Usually reclusive, these beasts of burden are occasionally spotted around dirt strips, operating on a steady diet of contaminated fuel, vacuum pumps and oil stolen from the operator’s 1974 Land Rover.

Identification of the young can be tricky at first; however as they transition to maturity, unique markings will develop around leaking wing-tank drain ports. Marking of territory is accomplished before each migration by leaving a small amount of flammable liquid directly under the nose. This may spread to a wider area if windy.

Exceptionally loyal, wild Cessnas and their mates are highly visible at dinner parties, often regaling their audiences of adventures and exploits long past their polite invitation has expired.

Global population of Cessnas is in excess of 100,000 and it is not considered endangered. ~ Leighton Jones

Thank you Leighton.  Fortunately MAF’s fleet of Cessna Caravan’s are not suffering like the Cessnas you have encountered!

The schedule for the short 30 minute flight from Juba to Arilo had us on the ground for most of the day before the return flight in the late afternoon. Judith and I were invited to visit the church and lodgings for the Bible translators while the group of pastors and translators met with team members working in Arilo.  It was an amazing place full of joyful people. Although hard to describe with words, the feeling was captured in melody by Julie Andrews when she sang “the hills are alive with the sound of music”  A better and more robust description can be found in Isaiah 55:12

The mountains and the hills
Shall break forth into singing before you,
And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

As we walked 1 km from the airstrip to the the village we could hear a flute playing; its sound carrying far as it rebounded from the surrounding hills.  Some trees were blooming and the contrasting colours were vivid and alive. It was as if the trees were applauding the music; leaves resonating in harmony with the sound of the flute. We eventually met the young boy playing a four-hole, homemade flute made from a scrap of plastic pipe.  The Lord blessed us on that day with a special memory that will live forever in our hearts.

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One Small Box-Journey Log Reflections

Last month I published a story about how effective the Cessna Grande Caravan is at carrying large loads. The size of a load of cargo is not the best measure of the impact on the community it is reaching. Sometimes just a small parcel or letter can be of critical importance to workers in the field.  I learned my lesson the hard way when I forgot to hand over a small package of mechanical parts for a generator that powered the clinic compound. They had to wait another five days without any power before we were back that way again.  It can be challenging trying to balance the flight plan against the cargo, passenger needs and the ever-present concern over making it back to Juba before the airport closes. Nearly every bit of cargo that MAF carries is urgent or critical for our partners which is always in the mind of the pilots that work in this flying ministry.

Journey Log-Mathiang, South Sudan, May 2012

IMG_0141I was told by dispatch that the supplies were urgently needed in Mathiang and I was to make a brief diversion after dropping off  some passengers at nearby Daga Post, near the Ethiopian border.  The only item I was carrying for the community of Mathiang was one small box weighing less than 2kg.

Christian Mission Aid had organized an eye clinic which often involves the work of several organizations, each with an area of expertise.  We had taken a group of doctors and clinical support staff to Mathiang several days earlier along with several hundred kilos of equipment and another 40kg of forms to record the work being done. The local health administration has very few medically trained staff but many administrators and record keepers.

When I landed at Mathiang, I was greeted by just one staff member who was in a hurry to get the small box and return to the surgery.  He explained that the contents would allow for around 200 eye surgeries to be performed.  When I picked up the group about one week later, they had completed more than 900 assessments resulting in more than 400 treatment and surgeries for cataracts and other ailments.  The group had also made a major impact on the community be teaching simple hygiene using fresh water to clean around the face and eyes to prevent Trachoma and other damaging disease.  It appeared to be an effective campaign.  When I first began flying into Mathiang, the many children that would run to see the airplane were filthy. Their bodies and faces were covered with grey dust from the black cotton soil and cattle dung.  Often, they were surrounded by clouds of flies. Sad television images of flies at the corners of their mouths and eyes does not truly convey the magnitude of filth and health hazard. These children and their parents did not have the cultural understanding or resources to stay clean and healthy.  .  Now, with bore-holes (water wells) for clean, fresh water; soap (when it is available) and community education; the scene is very different. The success of these programs is evident as the news of an eye-clinic brings people from many surrounding villages; even from adjacent counties. Some patients have been known to walk up to five days just to reach the clinic.

IMG_1148Just a few months later, I had another small box to deliver. This time it was to Phom where another eye clinic was being run.  I handed the box over to one of the clinic workers with a clearerr understanding of the huge impact that one small box would have on this community.

These days, whenever I am handed a small box full of supplies for eye surgeries, I place it on the seat next to me or alone in a secure compartment, knowing just how precious it is and to be sure that I don’t forget to deliver.  If anyone is wondering if MAF is making a difference in South Sudan,  just remember that the blind can now see and the kingdom of God is growing daily in this remote and troubled land.

Delivering eye clinic supplies and staff to Phom, Fangak county, South Sudan

Raising the Roof-Journeylog Reflections Oct 2014

Juaibor (2)Juaibor is located approximately 60 miles west of Nile River city of Malakal and about 80 miles southwest of Bentiu in South Sudan. The village is situated south of the Nile river offering a natural barrier of refuge from the fighting that has been raging near the oil fields of Bentiu.  Internally displaced people (IDP’s) from the Nuer ethnic background have been moving into this remote area which is considered traditional Nuer tribal lands.

For several years Mission Aviation Fellowship has been supporting the work of  Christian Mission Aid by flying to this remote community every week (weather permitting) . CMA has built a maternity center and health clinic in Juaibor.  In comjunction with several other partners, CMA is training pastors and facilitating outreach programs in the region. These tireless workers  have to face challenges that could only be overcome through the vital MAF aerial link.  Most of the cement, roofing materials, timber, doors and windows for the clinics were flown in by MAF.   The maternity clinic in Juaibor and another in nearby Keew was opened only months before the political crisis of December 2013.  The clinics have proven to be essential to the health and welfare of these two communities however, each is now in critically short supply of experienced health workers. Government colleges have suspended internships due to ethnic tensions.

Since the crisis, armed conflict has refocused the humanitarian work in South Sudan.  Virtually everywhere the migration of people escaping conflict has resulted in a shift to emergency aid while postponing community development projects. Large-scale migration means that crops are left behind.  Food shortages near resettling camps become critical necessitating aerial food-drops by the WFP to prevent starvation on an epic scale.

Despite the uncertainty and ever present danger of ethnic violence, the local church in Juaibor has been working diligently to rebuild the church building. The roof had collapsed due to heavy rains and lack of proper materials to span the size of building needed to serve the community.  Despite meager financial resources the people of Juaibor have rallied together, determined not to allow tribal issues to over-ride their faith in Christ. With the help of CMA, the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Nairobi , the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan, and MAF,  Juaibor’s church building is nearing completion.  Nuer-language hymn books and the church building will be shared between IMG_6195local congregations from several denominations as well as being used to facilitate pastor training and outreach under CMA’s guidance.

I had mixed emotions as I flew into Juaibor this day.  It brought joy to my heart as I listened to some of the workers singing as they unloaded roofing materials.  The joy was overshadowed by an awareness that this would likely be the last time that I would be here. I  have always been eager to fly into this remote community to support the hard-working and dedicated CMA staff members that I had come to appreciate over the past four years. It was plain to see that MAF flights are vital to their work.  It is amazing to see how the communities of Juaibor and nearby Keew are being transformed by the love of Christ.

At its inception, the new nation of South Sudan was so full of hope. Since late December 2013 it has been full of despair, horror and hardship caused by ethnic and political violence.  After experiencing the hope and enthusiasm of the crowd that gathered to help unload the church’s roofing materials, I rest assured. If the message of the Gospel can transform this remote community then all of South Sudan can become a place of Hope. We will continue to pray for the peace of Christ in South Sudan.

At the time of this flight our term of service in South Sudan was quickly drawing to a close.  Home assignment was only a few weeks away. We have been praying diligently for the Lord to lead us to our next assignment with MAF.  We are so blessed that we have had the opportunity to serve the people of South Sudan through the help of hundreds of dedicated and like-minded people who give graciously to support the flying ministry of MAF.

The conflict in South Sudan is difficult to understand.  The level of violence and cruelty has evolved through centuries of rivalry over cattle, land and water.  Sudan has used these rivalries to destabilize the south during its drive for independence in one of the longest civil wars in history.  Many believe that the Khartoum government is supporting the current round of violence but little direct evidence has been openly debated in the international sphere.  I found a video on YouTube that explains much.  BE ADVISED THAT THE CONTENT IS GRAPHIC AND DISTURBING!

Fully loaded-Journey Log Reflections Sept 2014

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One of many wrecks strewn about South Sudan

Northern Canada is vast with many miles between towns and villages.  Without roads, aircraft provide the vital life link for most supplies and medical services.  In the same way, South Sudan is dependent on aircraft due to a lack of alternative transportation. Unlike Canada, there is a complete lack of adequate road infrastructure, poor communications and almost no regulatory oversight at the few airports. High demand for urgently needed relief supplies puts pressure on air carriers to haul loads beyond the certified limits of the aircraft type.  Almost any visitor to Juba International Airport will quickly observe that too many aircraft are struggling to get airborne. Some barely get off the ground before the far end of the 2400m (7874ft) runway!  It is surprising that there are not many more accidents in South Sudan when it is clear that a number of air operators are flying well outside of the safe limits of their aircraft placing crew, cargo and passengers at risk as well as people at high risk.

Juba has a long runway and has seen relatively few accidents from overloaded aircraft but P1010735increasing traffic and the use of larger transport aircraft will increase the risk of a major accident as margins for error and comprise shrink to zero.  South Sudan is littered with dozens of aircraft wrecks where the pressure to carry heavy loads and fly into terrible airstrip conditions leads to inevitable crashes; some in the most remote places.  Pilot skill, bravery or wishful thinking never wins against the laws of physics.

dispatch team

Dedicated MAF- South Sudan Dispatch Team         (click to enlarge)

Thankfully, MAF has a dedicated team of managers, pilots and ground crew that work tirelessly to ensure that aircraft are operated safely and within the limits of both aircraft and crew.  Despite the fact that nearly every MAF flight leaving Juba is full, careful planning considers the routing, conditions at the destination(s) aircraft performance and weather.  Praise God for the wisdom, skill and knowledge of the pilots, operations officers and dispatch teams that ensure proper and secure loading of passengers and cargo.

MAF partners know that when they are given an amount of freight and/or passenger weight that the aircraft can safely carry for a flight, it will be accurate to the kilo.  Keeping passengers and cargo safe to a from the more than 100 remote airstrips and 5 airports in South Sudan is just one more way that MAF is serving the Lord in the world’s newest country.

How do you spell relief? Journeylog 18 April 2014

IMG_2552The word relief has many meanings depending on context.  In South Sudan, much of the work is to bring humanitarian relief to many isolated peoples.  When pilots come up from Nairobi to take over some flying duties from the Juba-based pilots they are relief pilots.  Sometimes we need an aspirin or acetaminophen tablet for headache relief or, especially in this part of Africa, Rolaids; for relief from stomach upset.  On Good Friday, I was able to get just about every one of these definitions into one flight!

At the furthest single-fueling range of our C208 aircraft lies the town of Renk.  It is about 50 NM further than flying from Calgary to Fort McMurray, in Canada’s oil rich province of Alberta.   Renk rests in the heart of South Sudan’s oil reserves which is still under government control.  The past two weeks has seen fighting between Riek Machar’s rebel forces and the South Sudan national government focused on oil-rich parts of the country. The fighting has resulted in tens of thousands of people displaced, hungry or dead.  It is among people lacking clean water, sanitation, food and security that one of our major partners; Medair is working.  They provide critical relief to many of the recently displaced due to the conflict.  Until recently, the work in Renk was centered around many refugees and returnees that flooded over the border from Sudan once independence was gained in 2011.  Our weekly flights have been bringing medicines, supplies and workers to this isolated region of the country that finds itself sandwiched between Sudan and the opposition-held areas of Jonglei state leaving it without secure road or river access.

With the Easter weekend approaching, reports of artillery shelling and small arms fire put us on alert that Medair workers in Renk were at risk of getting caught in the indiscriminate burning, looting and killing; trademarks of the inter-ethnic rivalries in South Sudan.  Even with our offices closed for the holiday, we were able to respond to the evacuation call and immediately dispatched a Cessna Grande Caravan to Renk.

UN soldiers keep watch as Medair workers board MAF5

UN soldiers keep watch as Medair workers board MAF5

MAF is ready to respond to challenging calls. Only one day earlier, Canadian pilot Ryan Unger diverted his return flight from Kuron to the town of Bor so he could evacuate a group of workers from  Polish Humanitarian Action. When he arrived he found himself taking aboard some unexpected passengers. Four patients who had been shot during protests around the UN compound were taken aboard; some still bleeding through hastily applied bandages. They had to be evacuated immediately to Juba because the hospital in Bor had been ransacked only months earlier leaving only limited capacity for serious cases.  We learned though reports that another 60 people had been killed or injured in the same protest.

The flight to Renk follows along the Nile River which is a breeding ground for thunderstorms this time of year. Both outbound and inbound flights had me dodging rain-showers making the flight a little rough. As my wheels were touching the red gravel runway at Renk, a convoy of vehicles lead by armed UN security forces delivered the Medair workers to the aircraft.  There was relative calm but I could see relief in everyone’s faces as I welcomed them aboard.  Relief …that is what I felt when I arrived home in the early evening knowing that everyone was safe and I could look forward to a few days rest after a difficult week fraught with many challenges.  As happy and thankful that everyone was to get home safely we know that there are those who cannot easily escape the conflict and we pray for their safe-keeping.  May we bring the Peace of Christ and an everlasting Hope when we return once again.

Down on Main Street-Game ON!

Many a Canadian youth has played street hockey on suburban roads.  The familiar cry ‘CAR!’ can put a game on hold IMG_0760 (800x600)in an instant.  Goalies grab the lightweight nets and move them aside so a vehicle can pass safely. As soon as the net or those rough-looking clumps of snow marking the goal are back in place the cry ‘GAME ON’  signals the restart as if nothing has ever interfered with the joy of playtime.

In remote South Sudan villages, the concept of street hockey would seem absurd but soccer, well that is another thing. So is the thought of a vehicle interfering with a game.  There are few vehicles outside of larger towns and those that do venture the pirate-plagued roads won’t risk slowing for a soccer match so games are played in the safe confines of a sports fields or a similar open area.  Aircraft need smooth clear surfaces to land and that is exactly the type of place that a runway (a.k.a sports field) provides.

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looking down main street from the south end

My mission today was to fly to an airstrip about 30 miles from the medical facility at Leer in Jonglei State, South Sudan.  I was to deliver a community healthcare worker and one church worker to Nyal.  The airstrip was on a thin strip of sandy ground that was mostly surrounded by swamp for the better part of the year. They had recently completed a new airstrip on the edge of town but the recent rains had made the black cotton soil too soft for landing. Instead, I was to use the old airstrip which was the main street for the town.  As I overflew the sandy airstrip, there were children playing and people walking about to and from the local market.  Lining up for final approach, I scanned the road (I mean runway) for stragglers. People on the street were moving to the side like the parting of the Red Sea. No sooner had I landed than people were back to strolling about as if an aircraft landing down main street was an everyday occurrence.  For me, landing on main street, in the middle of a small town is one I will IMG_0767 (800x600)never forget!

Photo Album

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the south end of the airstrip heading out of town

Civil war, children and saving lives-Journey Log 27 Feb 2014


Alex and some new friends

A few days ago, I flew into Gumruk airstrip in Pibor county, South Sudan.  This airstrip is unusable for most of the wet season due to flooding so it was almost eight months since I was last here. On that flight, MAF was bringing in supplies for IDP camps that were formed when David Yau Yau’s militia was fighting against the government. Yau Yau had failed in his bid to be elected as the representative the region which, is mostly inhabited by the cattle-keeping members of the Murle tribe, recently .  In the recent civil-war clashes between Riek Machar’s forces and the South Sudan government, the World Food Program stocks at Gumruk were looted and carried away by the combatants leaving the IDP’s to fend for themselves. Also running from the fighting was the teachers, healthcare workers and many other NGO’s who were forced to flee for their own safety.

This flight was carrying medical staff who were there to restart the clinic after more than two month. People were very excited to see the aircraft arrive and a many visited with us during the two hours we waited at the airstrip for the medical team.  Waiting with me was Alex, one of MAF’s flight dispatch team members.  Whenever possible, we will take MAF staff members on flight so they can see, first hand, the impact of the work that they are doing. Like most South Sudanese, Dispatch Team member Alex can speak four different languages but it did not help us to communicate with the children that had gathered around us. The majority of the people in Gumruk lack any formal education and the Murle language is quite different from the Juba-Arabic, Kiswahili, Bari,  English or French that we could muster

New Friends at Gumruk

New Friends at Gumruk

between the two of us. We discovered they had no food, no donkeys to haul water from the river 5km away, no schools and what was strikingly obvious from their thin bodies, no food.  As we enjoyed the company of our new friends, we watched the older boys and young men walking by sporting brand new green uniforms and  toting AK47’s.  They are now part of the new local militia for the area.  It was the first time that I had ever seen child soldiers. Most of the boys were between 13-16 years old, I was a bit stunned by their casual attitude as they carried their weapons like veterans with many years  toting firearms.  The odd reality is that even without civil war, these same young boys would be carrying AK’s to protect their cattle from raiders. Instead of militia uniforms they would be covered in dung and wearing a filthy tee-shirt and worn-out trousers

When the medical assessment team returned they had three patients that needed immediate transport to Juba. Without medical intervention, there was little doubt that none would survive.  I was struggling in my spirit as I strapped in two young girls aged somewhere between 12-13 years.  Both were seriously malnourished. Their arms and legs were little more than twigs and their stomachs distended.  I was shocked to discover that the distention was actually pregnancy!  Children, just children… mothers-to-be, suffering from the ravages of cattle-culture, ignorance and war.  Boy soldiers with nothing better to do, no options, no education, no work…just violence and strife.

Back in Juba at our office, I found myself head in hands, lost in thought.  I have seen many hard things since coming to serve in South Sudan.  Dead and decaying human bodies strewn like cattle carcasses after a drought (which I can’t bring myself to write about) to putrefied limbs from snake bites; corruption, ignorance and spiritual darkness.  The need for the Gospel is so great as it clearly is the only way to overcome these things.  Humanitarian aid alone, somehow seems to only prolong or aggravate the agony or give false hope in faint doses.  It is only the hope of Christ that will transform a society…people…to begin caring for one another instead of fighting over meager resources while at the same time destroying the same resources for everyone else.

It was Alex that brought me back to reality as I overheard him talking to another national staff member.  He was saddened by what he had seen and disappointed that many of his countrymen were suffering so badly but he said ‘today we were flying for life, just like it says on the MAF logo’.  Indeed we were and so we shall continue so long as we have supporters that want to spread the love of Christ to a land in such great need!  Amen.

NOTE: Out of respect to the pregnant girls and for fear of the reaction of the boy soldiers, I did not take any photos except with a few children that came to visit.  Alex, who is featured in one photo has been with MAF in Juba for several years.  He is a flight dispatcher and handles the passenger check-ins for us at Juba International Airport.