Saturday, March 26, 2016

Gabon Ministries Update- Easter 2016

Ok- so this is going to get a bit wordy, but hang in there with me...

Since August of 2008, our hearts have become intertwined with our friends in Gabon.  We went there with the hopes of bringing an aviation service that could enhance the work of the national church.  Over the past 8 years, we've had our share of ups and downs (pilot humor- sorry!), but we're blessed that the aviation program is steadily maturing into a strong role of service.


One of the best aspects of our time in Gabon has been watching the maturity of the national church.  Just prior to our arrival, the main force of international workers had transitioned out of the country.  They were no longer needed- the national network of churches were planted and growing and now new Gabonese disciples were seeing a second generation of Jesus-followers rise up in their faith communities.  Trained pastors were leading churches and seeking the Lord for future ministry.  Only a limited number of international Alliance workers stayed behind, mostly involved in specialized, medical work through the Bongolo Hospital.

These departing missionaries were doing ministry "for" the people when they arrived, but as the worked progressed, it became a shared journey- they were ministering "with" the Gabonese.  That's healthy marks of sustainable, international work.

From time to time, I reflect on this aspect of the aviation program in Gabon.  In the first chapters of work, it's been a "for them", approach.  This is simply by necessity- in this region of the world, there simply are not the local resources and capacity that can foster a small, humanitarian-style, aviation work.

Is it possible to move to a "with" approach in the aviation program?  Yes- and we already do, in some ways.  When our flights delivered mosquito nets to the town of Oyem, in the North, it was a local church pastor the went with the flight and delivered the nets- we simply facilitated that.  When our flights performed a medevac flight of badly injured women from the town of Makokou, in the East, to the Bongolo Hospital, it was a Gabonese nurse that joined the flight to supervise the transport- we simply facilitated transport.  As the airplane transports visiting medical professionals to training programs, they are equipping Africans, largely from the central African region, to be the ones to give care, in the name of Jesus, to their fellow Africans.

That's a start, but a fully developed "with" program would be one in which Gabonese empowered in all facets of the work- piloting and maintaining the aircraft, dispatching, administration- the whole thing.  Are we there yet?  Not by a long shot.  What will it take?

First and foremost, it will take a shared vision, not just a foreigner transplanting a their vision, even if sent from a broader family of people.  It will be local leadership seeing the value and taking a role at the helm of the ship.

Last month, as Sean (MAG CEO) and I met with the national Alliance leadership in Libreville, they affirmed the role of aviation in serving the growing vision that they sensed the Lord revealing to them.  The church is putting greater emphasis on community health education and care as a practical way to demonstrate the Gospel message in every corner of their country and beyond.  As we looked at the map of Gabon, they pointed out the regions where there still is no local faith community and where they are called to go.  MAG just happens to already have a curriculum of health care training, primarily focused on first responder and flight nurse care.  This training will allow more "with" ministry in our aviation program.

They also have renewed effort behind the social work campus being developed on the outskirts of the capital city of Libreville, known as P-K-27.  They have appointed a pastor (and good friend!) to head this work and released him to visit all the churches to share the vision.  There is a runway, hangar, and classroom space planned there.  This is a great environment for more "with" ministry.

Pastor Jacob (pictured) is a wonderful man of God who realizes that it's not about him- but about the community of faith, coming together, listening to God's heart, and working in a unified way that is attractive to a world looking for hope.

Pastor Jacob (center) went with us to visit Hope House, as well.  On the left is Mama Natalie and Pastor Israel, who are the "parents" of over 50 children under one roof.  On behalf of the national church, Jacob facilitates the Hope House sponsorship program, through E4 Project's help.  When we first met Pastor Israel in 2008, it was always a struggle to keep the children in proper facilities and eating well- so much so that he was working 2 other jobs, at times.  Now, he no longer needs to do that- a testimony to the national church being committed to setting a vision of healthy partnerships.

Then, it was on to Hands of Grace, sewing and craft ministry, also under the oversight of Pastor Jacob, and also supported through an E4 Project partnership.  These ladies our FULL of JOY!  An Alliance church from Ohio (New Bremen) has a very special connection with this ministry.

After some time in Libreville, it was time to hit the road, 550 kilometers South to Bongolo Hospital... about a 9 hour drive.  We were really missing our airplane which was not flying due to a scheduled maintenance event.  In our Cessna 207 aircraft, it's only about 1.6 hours!

Bongolo Hospital continues to grow!  Here is their newest project, an expanded eye clinic!

On average, 40,000 patients are seen at Bongolo per year.  Many will come into the emergency room (pictured here) to be greeted by our teammates, ready to care for them with compassion and love.
As with most African medical facilities, family members come to keep the bed sheets clean and the patient fed well.  Here is one of the four areas at Bongolo where food is prepared on fires.

Left to Right:  Rob P. (Gabon base manager), Sean D. (Missionary Air Group CEO), Pastor Serge B. (Bongolo Hospital Director), and me.  Speaking of "with", ministry, a core piece of the work at the Bongolo Hospital is training.  Since the campus is basically a small city, there are wide array of jobs once done by foreigners, now with Africans at the helm. For this to happen, on going training is essential.  Serge affirmed that aviation is a key part of the services at Bongolo for the future as well as how happy he is with Rob's teamwork.
Henrika at the controls!


One of my favorite flights in Gabon was when we flew our "Hope Flights"- medical transport for some of the at-risks children from the Hope House to Bongolo.  On one flight, Henrika was my co-pilot (see picture).  At the time she was a 15 year-old aspiring pilot.  I had to ask the question, however- what chance does Henrika have to enter into the field of aviation?

With the arrival of Missionary Air Group to support the work and implement their core value of engaging nationals through training and equipping, we have the first step toward our "with" phase.  With the momentum that is building with the national Alliance church in Gabon toward a social works campus that includes training facilities, we sense that we are on the cusp of great collaboration.

I've chatted with a number of mission aviation organizations about how they are doing at ministry "with" the people in the countries that they serve.  There are some that endeavor to make it a priority, however, they are very few.  Resources are scarce and staffing is a major need.  AMB in Gabon is no different.


As mentioned, with the desire of the national church to have community based health education and care along with MAG's curriculum, we're seeing steps on how to see more Gabonese involved with the work.  After this step, we wonder how the next step might look to have Gabonese working in the hangar as technicians and in the cockpit as pilots.  It seems like an impossible dream, but then we see how far this program has come and know that, as the Lord provides open doors, it can be possible.

In the region, we are inspired by other, like-minded, aviation programs.  I invite you to watch the following video about a training program in Ghana for women.

As I watch this story of Africa's first female pilot, Patricia Maluwi, I'm inspired and hopeful for young girls like Henrika.

Missionary Air Group has been asked to develop a missionary pilot apprenticeship curriculum (the first of its kind!) to help with one of the biggest problems facing missions today- college debt.  Many young people are graduating with the degrees and training necessary to be deployed to the mission field, but, along with it is a load of school loan debt.  Until that debt is payed, living abroad and serving in missions remains out of their grasp.  Many get other jobs to pay off the debt, but by the time the debts are paid, many have lost the fervor and vision.

In the mission aviation field, young people can graduate with upwards to $100,000 of college debt.  I know because I was one of those people- my flight training ended in 1993 and I couldn't consider mission work until 2006.  MAG's innovative apprenticeship program provides the aviation flight training through a sponsorship program in partnership with Mission Maintenance Service Aviation (OH).  

Could this apprenticeship program be the model for the next step in Gabon?  I'm hopeful.

Where is Henrika?  She's almost through high school... ready for the next step in life.  We are praying with her and we are ready to see how we can help MAG in this development.

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