Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Chickens (Back To Pipal Part II)

Kept bumping into chickens the other day.  

The first one was me.  I've long tried to maintain the right dose of coward in my soul... tends to aid longevity in this line of work.  First landings at new airstrips may seem like the kind of thing missionary pilots live for, and to be sure, they are momentous occasions.  But this particular missionary pilot is getting old enough that adrenaline has lost much of its novelty and elevated risk gives me heartburn.  That said, at some point somebody has to go break these places in, and so, after getting a good look at the airstrip on 6 May via helicopter (see previous post), it was time to go back in to Pipal in something with wings attached to it.

Eight days after the helicopter foray I was once again overhead Pipal.  Mark Hoving was along as an extra set of eyes to help identify those "that looks dumb, let's not do it" scenarios.

We took our time flying test approaches and mapping out what altitudes to use over various landmarks along the approach path.  The airstrip is located in a tight little box of a valley that allows you in, but at about a half a mile from touchdown becomes so tight that you can't turn around and get back out.  We needed to make sure that we were spot on passing that point of no return.  

Below is the runway chart that came out of all of our buzzing around that morning (thanks to Courtney Zehr for his charting wizardry).

After satisfying my inner chicken, we finally jumped in with both feet, flew past the committal point and landed.  Parking on the tiny flat spot carved out at the top of the 15% slope we were soon surrounded by a throng of Ketengban dancing away in their Sunday best. What a party.

Welcome to Pipal!
A bit hard to see, but note the Bird of Paradise plume
placed in Mark's hat to honor him as guest.

Laitus is Pipal's chief.
It took awhile, but once the hubbub died down we proceeded to install the runway markers.

Looking down the newly-marked airstrip at Pipal.
With our work done, we all head off to feast.
One thing you learn quickly about Papuans is that they really know how to party.  I think Jesus feels so at home with them in that regard.  They prepared a feast to mark the important day in their community's history and Mark and I had the privilege of sharing it with them.  Pigs are slow-cooked by super-heated rocks in a manner similar to a Polynesian luau. Tender and delicious.  This is also where I met the second chicken of the day.

Mark and I were given the assignment of finishing off this massive pile of pork.
We did it great harm, but ended up taking probably 40 pounds of meat home with us. 

The chicken was all ours as well... I stayed busy with the pork.
I'm privileged to know many followers of Jesus in the West who keep very loose hands on their possessions, giving generously.  We operate millions of dollars worth of aircraft that remind me of that fact every single day.  

Papuan followers of Christ will not be outdone.  As we were preparing to get back in the airplane to leave, Paulus, the man who has spent his life bringing the Gospel to this remote area, presents me with a gift of a chicken (this one very much alive and feathered).  When I think about the percentage of this man's material wealth that he gave me so freely, I am ashamed at how painfully I part with much, much less.

As a filthy rich missionary, I could do nothing but graciously accept the incredible gift from my even richer Papuan brother... who sleeps under a grass roof deep in the Star Mountains.

The Third Chicken

Has not God chosen those
who are poor in the eyes of the world
to be rich in faith
and to inherit the kingdom
he promised to those who love him?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Make Friends With Helicopter Drivers (Back To Pipal Part I)

A year after hiking into the airstrip site at Pipal (full story here) we were finally able to get it open for service this past month.

A report filtered out of the jungle that the Ketengban community in Pipal had finished the work required...the airstrip was now landable.  

Having not been on the ground in Pipal for twelve months I wasn't particularly excited about the first landing on the unproven airstrip.  What fun, then, to hear that Helivida, one of our partners in ministry here in Papua, were going to have a helicopter in the Pipal area.  I jumped at the chance to not have to choose between a couple days of tough hiking and scaring myself in the airplane.  Helivida graciously agreed to let me bum a ride.  

And so, in early May, I found myself looking down at the same river, the same terrain that had taken five hours of hard slogging to traverse on foot back in April 2012.

The helicopter made the exact same trip in, get this, four minutes.  That's one minute of flying time for every hour and fifteen minutes of walking (and this particular walk--perhaps because of this particular walker--involved multiple falls, spills and losing my footing crossing rapids.)

Thanks Helivida!

Sunday, June 16, 2013


This little guy tried to get a free ride the other day.  My colleague Brian found this green tree frog in a fresh air scoop on the airplane we were readying for flight.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Eight Years Later

Eight years ago I flew a man named Melky from our base on the coast across the high mountain ranges into the small village of Langda.  Graying at the temples, this grandfatherly guy clutched a newborn baby boy to his chest.  An unwanted child.

As pilots in Papua, we're often privileged to enter into the critical scenes of the dramas happening around us.  The vast majority of time, after playing our cameos, we exit stage left, move on to another play and don't get to see how the original story turns out.  Occasionally there's an exception.

A few months ago I was back in Langda.  The fog was rolling in fast and I needed to unload my cargo and get out of there as quickly as practical.  Two passengers wanted to come out to town with me, one of them a familiar face.

"I want you to meet someone," Melky says to me.

I'm a bit hesitant, glancing nervously at the wall of fog to the south as Melky disappears into the crowd at the edge of the airstrip.  Moments later Melky reemerges with a little boy in tow.

Do you remember?  
In August 2005 you flew us in here.  
My wife and I have been raising him ever since.

These are the people I choose as my heroes.  Anonymous, little people, doing much harder things than I, sacrificing so much more...doing it cheerfully and taking the time to thank others who have played bit parts in their dramas.