Saturday, April 30, 2011

Fear...And What To Do With It. Part I

Fear strikes me as one of the most profitable psychological responses God has given us.  I can't imagine trying to cope in this broken place without it.  As an aviator, fear often keeps me from doing something really stupid.  The mountains of Papua are littered with the wreckage of aircraft whose pilots were not afraid when they dearly needed to be.

Fear Deficiency

But it also seems to me that our emotions, corrupted by the fall, don't always serve us in the way they were designed to.  I end up fearing the wrong things.

Take people, for example.  I'm not afraid of people.  Except when I am.  If I'm not walking in communion with God, I'm far too concerned about what people think of me.  I particularly don't like it when folks are mad at me, or worse, have a firm conviction that I'm an idiot.  Fearful of these things, I tailor my actions to avoid anger and ridicule.  I may actually do the right things, but I'm motivated by the wrong thing: fear of man.

I'm still leisurely making my way through the book that the good doctor Luke has written for us.  In chapter 12, Jesus gives us some explicit guidance on fear.  Apparently there are things that we should not fear, and things that we should fear...and like the aviator, fearing the right things will keep us from doing something stupid with catastrophic consequences.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Houdini Pig

It's 8:00 a.m. and I'm in my second village of the day, the Ketengban community of Okbap, 6,000 feet above sea level. On the way in, Okbap's radio operator asked me to do a shuttle over to the large government center at Oksibil.  I agreed to help out.  I'll take some passengers to Oksibil and there pick up a load of medicine to bring back for the clinic at Okbap.

Because of a 10:00 a.m. wind curfew at Okbap I've got to keep things moving.  A bunch of strong Ketengban guys jump into action to help me load the airplane.  We stick one large and very dead pig in the back, and then throw in the passengers' baggage: an assortment of 10 or 15 nokens (net bags) full of sweet potatoes, fruit, pots and pans...honestly, I was in a hurry and didn't pay too much attention to the content of the nokens--just standard Papuan baggage.

I get the passengers in their seats and their seat belts on.  One passenger will sit beside me up front, and the remaining three in a bench seat directly behind me.

I'm airborne after a short takeoff run down the 20% slope that the Okbap community have carved out of the mountain to serve as their airstrip.  Soon I'm at 9,500 feet  negotiating the Abmisibil Pass.  The wreckage of a Twin Otter passes off my left.  The smooth air is suddenly broken by a shock wave of turbulence...I yank the power back to slow the airplane down and take a glance behind me to make sure my passengers have retained their breakfasts.  To my horror, where there were three passengers, there are now only two.  I'm getting older and stupider, but I could have sworn I took off with three people in that seat...yes, in fact, I remember now, the passenger in the middle was a little old woman.  She's gone.  As I'm beginning to think through how on earth I'm gonna explain this one to the guys, a wizened little head pops up from behind the bench seat and gives me a broad smile.  The incredulity on my face must have translated and one of the guys still in the seat yelled above the noise, "A pig got loose so she went back there to hold on to it."

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Recently my friend Mike, who works among the Yali people of Kosarek, forwarded me something he had written up after his last flight with me.  I thought this worth passing along.  Don't worry...I don't scare all my least I don't think so.


This past month, I made a trip into Kosarek for a couple of weeks without the family. As the plane was approaching Kosarek, I was listening on my headset to the exchange between the two pilots in the front of the airplane. The senior pilot began saying, “I think this altimeter is off.” Having absolute confidence in our pilots, and having made this trip many times before, I was not at all concerned… until we made our final approach to the airstrip. The approach into Kosarek means heading directly toward the face of a mountain that rises about 1,700 feet above the airstrip, and then making a U-turn across the valley to make the approach for landing (the picture below shows the plane on take-off going toward the mountain). As we kept getting closer to the face of the mountain (certainly closer than I had ever been before) the pilot kept voicing his suspicion about a faulty altimeter. Finally, as we were (what felt to me like) about “arms-length” from the trees, the pilot confirmed, “Yeah, this altimeter is definitely wrong.” In my mind these two things did not sit well together, and as my heart pumped the adrenaline through my body, I wondered how many times those exact words had been someone’s last! Of course, we made it to the ground safely, and being safely on “terra firma” I mentioned to the pilot that I had never been so close to that mountainside before. After a little friendly teasing, he apologized and explained that he had simply followed protocol for a suspected faulty altimeter. By finding a benchmark at a known altitude, and then getting as close as safely possible to compare the altimeter reading, he could check for sure whether the altimeter was faulty or not.

Taking off at Kosarek...towards Mike's mountain...the benchmark.
This made Amy and I reflect on sin.  Of course, our ultimate benchmark needs to be what is right according to God’s Word. A benchmark on a mountainside can only be set by using an accurate altimeter. If a pilot were to check a faulty altimeter by using a faulty benchmark, he may think his altimeter was accurate. The results could be disastrous if he were forced into the clouds, assuming his faulty instruments to be accurate. We often end up playing too dangerously close to faulty benchmarks, set by defective morals, all the while trying to stay an "arms-length" away. The problem with these dangerous benchmarks is that we may end up finding ourselves “in a fog,” with danger much closer than we realize (1 Tim. 1:18-19).  Though many of our Papuan friends are professing Christians, they still await God’s Word in their language, so that they can understand the one and only accurate benchmark for their faith.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Have I said it before?  I love this job.

One reason is the incredible variety in the types of missions we fly.  This day’s mission?  Fly some ministry colleagues from our home base in Sentani up to Nipsan, where at 5,300 feet above sea level they will get a much-needed break in the cool of the mountains—away from the heat of the tropics and demands of ministry.

The weather is perfect, the flight uneventful, the landing doesn’t break anything important, and we’re soon parked at the top of the steep airstrip at Nipsan.  The beauty of the valley is breathtaking and I’m reminded why our family has so enjoyed the breaks we’ve taken up here.   Vertical limestone massifs tower all around us.  Here and there, the sheer cliffs are split as if with an axe, and from these clefts plummet some of my favorite waterfalls in all of Papua.  Idyllic hamlets—groups of four or five huts—cling to slopes surrounding the airstrip, smoke from the overnight fires still drifting through their grass roofs.

One of the many ridge top hamlets surrounding Nipsan

Monday, April 11, 2011

Where I Come From

For a couple of years, this picture was the desktop on my computer.  I put it there so that every day I would see it, and remember where I come from.  A couple of my friends thought it was to remind myself of the days when I still had hair...what do they know?  This was the village of Bokraha, in the Terai region of southeast Nepal where we lived much of the time in my early years.

For a kid, life was good.  I remember being able to get through my schoolwork by late morning (it was that, or Mom just wanted me out of her hair) and it was the great outdoors for the rest of the day.  Life was also bone simple.  To be sure, we kept up with the Joneses, but in the context of a remote village in Nepal, that meant a house with mud walls (really) and a thatch roof.  Actually, we raised the bar for the Joneses having water in our house--it consisted of a single pipe sunk straight into the ground topped off with one of those old fashioned cast iron hand-operated water pumps...but we had indoor plumbing.  Pretty sure Dad took some flack for that from some of the hard-core missionaries.  

Sunday, April 10, 2011

One Flight...

...many pictures.  A single flight to the interior villages of Papua holds hundreds of unique images.  Here are a few we captured on camera from a flight last week.

Jerrett Roy
Catching our own silhouette framed in a rainbow.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

You Can Hurt Yourself Here

Once in a while I get tasked with landing at a brand new airstrip and checking it out for our team.  A few weeks ago, I needed to check out an airstrip that has been in service since the 1960's, but it was new to us--none of our pilots had been there before.

Another mission aviation service operates in and out of the airstrip regularly, so I picked the brain of their chief pilot and anyone else who would talk to me about the place.  I also got my hands on the 'strip chart'--a document that shows how the runway lays in relation to terrain, details a bunch of numbers like elevation, width, length, slope etc, gives a textual description of how to fly the approach, and has notes on hazards unique to the airstrip.

Perusing the strip chart for this place was a bit like reading the warning label on a chain saw.  The message that came through loud and clear was: you can hurt yourself here.  Blind approach (video here), an early committal point, dogleg for takeoff, slippery when wet, bad downdrafts and a 9:00 a.m. wind curfew.  Translation: you fly a long portion of the final approach without being able to see what you're landing on, the airstrip itself is crooked, and the place is closed for operations after 9:00 because the mountain winds create turbulent conditions that can place undue stress on a pilot's adrenal glands.

I arrived overhead early in the morning when the air was still smooth and the overnight fog was just burning off.

Monday, April 4, 2011

This Is Gonna Hurt...Part II

Here's one who paid the ultimate price.  Were you to speak with her now, I doubt she'd express any regrets.