Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What's up with us this week

We have taken a week to drive down from the city of Libreville (where Alace runs the guest house) to the Bongolo Hospital. I will be doing some work at the hospital's airstrip to prepare it better for flights. we pray that those flight begin soon! Pray that the machinery works well and that I am able to find an "airstrip caretaker" to hire.

Also, our 14 year old, Joey, will be doing some translating for doctors in the eye clinic! There was a long line of people there this morning. Pray for Joe to translate well.

Megan (12) and Sam (10) are taking part in a VBS program for the expat children of the station. There are 7 kids in all.

A colleague of ours has inspected an aircraft for us in OK this past Thursday. We are continuing the search for just the right aircraft for us. Please pray for wisdom. The airstrip at the hospital will be regraded and packed by the end of July, so we need an airplane soon!

Thanks for your prayers!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

We're the Straw's!

April 2019

Steve and Alace Straw have been official workers with the Christian & Missionary Alliance for over 25 years.  Steve is a 9000+ hour commercial pilot and Alace's expertise is in the area of member care.  This summer, after some fund-raising and some language skills brush up, they'll be back to operational work, living at the Bongolo Hospital, in Gabon (Central Africa).

Additionally, Alace serves on the ICC (Inter-Cultural Course) staff at JAARS.  The Straw's have been focused on international ministry full-time since 2007 when they started an aviation service in central Africa.  Prior to that, they were in local church ministry in the US for almost 15 years.  Their prayer is to equip Jesus-followers to thrive in cross-cultural ministry, taking the Gospel to the remote people of the world.

Steve and Alace have three children- all graduates of Rain Forest International School in Cameroon.  Sam, their youngest, is in college in San Diego.  Megan, their middle child, just got married and she, and her husband, John, live and work in Chicago.  Joe, their oldest, is a Moody Bible Institute (Chicago) grad and he, and his wife, Laura, also live and work in Chicago.

Africa Air Medical Transport Project from Stephen Straw on Vimeo.


Flight Global Interview – October 2013

(Some or all of the following will be appearing online and inside the back cover of "Flight International"- a monthly aviation periodical. If I can find it online, I'll add the link.)

FG:  When did you decide to work in Aviation?

SS:  The aviation "bug" bit me as a teenager during a flight in a '48 Taylorcraft taildragger, piloted by my older brother.  Early, on a clear, crisp fall morning in Pennsylvania, before I had to be at school, we lifted off a grass strip and toured the skies above Happy Valley (State College).  I was hooked!  It was like the world below had come to a complete standstill to make way for this surreal experience. 

FG: Where were you trained and educated?  What degrees or ratings do you hold?
SS: I have a B.S. in Aviation Technology from LeTourneau University (Longview, TX).  There, I received my Airframe and Powerplant maintenance certificate, as well as my flight training as a Commercial, Instrument single engine and flight instructor ratings.  Later, I completed multi-engine training.

FG: What was your first aviation job? What jobs did you have after that?
SS: I was free-lancing as a flight instructor after college.  Then, there was a job opening with one of the companies whose airplanes I used to wash.  I could hardly believe that I was a bonafide, salaried pilot of a Cessna 172, patrolling pipelines and power lines from Texas to Ohio on a weekly route.  I enjoyed pipeline flying for many years, building over 8,000 hours, covering routes from Wichita Falls all the way to Bangor, Maine.  

FG: What is your job title now and what are you duties?
SS: For the last 5 years, I have been a bush pilot in central Africa for Air Calvary, starting an aviation service for a remote jungle hospital with a hard-working Cessna 207.  I've been the only staff, so on any given day I do anything from fly the airplane to reservations to maintenance with a whole lot in between.   Another pilot-mechanic arrived, so now I'm "program manager", concentrating on future growth.  I've also worked with the few other general aviation supporters to form "Aviation Générale du Gabon". 

FG: What is a major project or mission that you’ve been working on lately?
SS: A core objective to our work in Africa is to equip locals to fill any of the roles of the organization.  We envision a day when Africans are equipped in roles as bush pilots, mechanics, dispatchers, flight nurses- any aviation related task the program calls for.  In order to do this, we have a "brainstorming team" and have started to prepare a dossier for the government that proposes a training program.  It's hard to imagine, but, I know it will be a bigger challenge than these past 5 years. 

FG:  What’s the most difficult part of the job?
SS:  One word- "AvGas".  International airports in the central African region rarely have it and, when they do, we pay between $15 and $20 a gallon.  While we wait for the funding of our own 20 foot shipping container of drums of AvGas, we have relied upon a third party and paid dearly- most recently paying $23.50 a gallon.  However, we appealed to the government (an oil producer) and they had 30 barrels shipped in for us on their dime, with more promised for next year.  This was such a huge blessing. 

FG:  What is your favorite part?
SS: By far, the most rewarding part is when you know that you've made a difference in a life.  Last year we were called to assist with the transport of 5 young children who were injured in when there school transport van was hit by an SUV, killing some of their classmates.  They were in a town that you can only reach by boat or air.  We arrived, loaded the children, a nurse and a doctor, and got them to medical care.  Late that evening, I rolled out a barrel of AvGas in front of the wing, struggled to get it upright, attached the hand pump, climbed the ladder, and, as the sun set, I pumped the fuel and reflected on all the hard work and many, many people that have collaborated to make moments, like that med-evac, possible.  I was so thankful for the great privilege to be there in those moments when it all pays off and lives are touched. 

FG: Least favorite part?
SS:  Since we are such a small operation, there are many roles to juggle.  The one role that I struggle to maintain, but simply must, is that of promoter and fundraiser.  There is a constant need to update websites, blogs, and newsletters.  In one sense, I love to tell the stories of the way our aircraft service is making a difference.  In another sense, I'd rather be out there coming up with the new stories!

FG:  Where is your base of operations?
SS:  Air Calvary is a non-profit with an office in Crowne Point, Indiana.  The program in Gabon is the only full-time work that Air Calvary sponsors.  The one-aircraft hangar that is our base is at the Bongolo Hospital's airstrip in the village of Lebamba, Gabon.  We've kept the 2400 foot strip certified as a public airport- one of only 12 in the country the size of Colorado.

FG:  How is your work funded?
SS:  Air Calvary is supported by generous donations of private individuals and organizations, mainly from the US.  We exist to serve critical transportation needs to underserved people as an expression of God's love.  We fly in mainly in Gabon, but have also flown in Cameroon and are investigating expansion into Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville).

-End of Flight Global Article-

(Fall 2013 "About Us" Info)

My name is Steve Straw. My family and I moved to Gabon in August '08, laying the groundwork and starting up an air service for the Bongolo Hospital (C&MA) in the south of the country. We have a good relationship with the government and we keep the hospitals airstrip certified, year after year, open for public use.  

From 2006 to 2008, we contemplated an aircraft for the mission and decided on a Cessna 207.  After friends, family, and consultants looked at over 10 aircraft, our friend, Frank G., found our aircraft in OK- in the process of refurbishment.

Here's Frank checking out the C207 in OK.

A little background- I am a pilot/mechanic (LeTourneau Univ. '93) and an ordained pastor (C&MA). I have about 9,000 hours of flying (mostly pipeline inspection in the US) and have been picking up some fill-in flying, here in Gabon, with an agricultural company (Beechcraft Baron). In the summer of '07, I passed the mechanic and pilot technical evaluation with MAF (Missionary Aviation Fellowship) in Nampa, ID prior to a year of language school in France (Albertville). We are the only full-time missionaries with a non-profit from New York called Air Calvary. We are members of MSI (Missions Safety International) and IAMA (International Association of Missionary Aviation) and are part of the regional accountability program with MSI.

Our home church, that cares for us so well, is York Alliance Church (York, PA) and we receive great support from all over. Churches, social groups, individuals, foundations, and more have supported this effort- mainly from the US.

December 2009- Cessna 207 arrives... finally!
By the way, our aircraft, freshly refurbished, showed up in Gabon, after over 40 hours of being "ferry flighted" in December of 2009 (see picture).

As you can imagine, the learning curve has been very very high for us and we are taking all the advice and input that we can. From 2008 to 2013, it was a one man show, with more personnel planned to arrive once the program took on wings.  In 2013, we were blessed to get a veteran pilot/mechanic, Rob P., on loan from JAARS/SIL (read more).

Family in 2008.
Heavier aircraft maintenance has been accomplished in Yaoundé, Cameroon, a 2 hour flight from our Libreville base, with another missions organization there.

Our family loves life in Gabon. With the beach only a 5 minute drive away, we always have a cheap way to go have fun and relax. In 2008, when we moved to Gabon, Joey was 14, Megan 12, and Samuel 10.  As of fall of 2013, Joe is now a Freshman at college in Chicago, Megan is a high school senior, and Sam's a sophomore!  Time flies!  
Family in 2013.  Time Flies, eh?

At the start, we homeschooled the kids using "Switched on Schoolhouse" along with other missionary kids.  Two years after, in fall of 2010, Meg and Joe headed to boarding school at Rain Forest Int'l school and Sam followed the year after.

Upon arrival in Gabon, Alace, my wife, started to learn and take over as the director of a 5-room guest house (http://lbvguesthouse.blogspot.com/), so we got to meet great people who usually doing humanitarian work in the name of Jesus.  As of July 2013, we celebrated 20 wonderful, adventurous years together. 

At our home, you can expect to find our 4 pets- Fougamou (cat), Dixie (cat), Cheetah (turtle), and Tozer (puppy). I wish I could say that they all live in harmony... maybe someday.

In August of 2013, with the addition of another teammate (pilot/mechanic Rob), I was able to transition to focusing on the role of "Program Manager" and take a breather from the day-in-day-out op's that was heavy lifting for the previous 5 years.  Additionally, we were able to respond to a need for dorm parents at my children's school in Cameroon.

In addition to dorm "dad", I am undertaking a research project (topic: mission aviation and local training) as well as spending time at our partner's hangar- SIL Cameroon, to further develop a partnership there.

We appreciate your prayers and encouragement! You are part of the team! We truly can't be here without our supporters who contribute every last dime for this effort. We have been "off the grid" and living on other peoples' generosity since July of 2007. We are so very grateful.

Would you please consider joining our support team?  CLICK HERE to donate!

A very big "MERCI BEAUCOUP" from all of us to all of you.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Patience, Complaining, and Thankfulness

Our family arrived in Gabon at the end of August, 2008. We came to do what we've committed our lives to, no matter where we go- being an expression of the love of Jesus Christ. One of the ways we were planning on doing that here was using my skills as a pilot and administrator to start a medical air transport for the Bongolo Hospital.

So, we've been here for about 10 months and I have flown exactly ZERO flights for the hospital.

I was chatting with a doctor from the hospital the other day about my frustration and I said to him, "imagine if you had arrived in Gabon, after years of training, language school, fund raising and anticipation, and then you went 10 months without performing ONE medical procedure. Not only that, but after 10 months, you still had no clear idea when you will start!" The doctor's eyes got big as he imagined this. "Wow"... those were his words.

Do you see how good I am at throwing a pity party for myself? Yes, it is unfortunate about how things don't go our way, sometimes. Yes, we have our plans in mind and timelines and expectations and ... When it all comes tumbling down around us, we can't avoid the fact that we've been created as emotional people. The feelings start... sadness, pity, despair, hopelessness... I happen to be good at being a cynic when things aren't going my way.

Usually, while I'm sulking in my cynicism, God comes along and shakes me with something. Today it was an email and news of the death of the father of dear friends of mine.

I had a great start to the morning- some exercise, walked our dog, Tozer, (more like "pulled") through the neighborhood, had some coffee and mango yogurt (good stuff), and headed to the office to check the email. One of the messages in the "Inbox" was simply titled with this man's name. If you've seen those types of emails, you usually get a sinking feeling.

I read the email and my fears were confirmed. "Sonny Boy", as my friends called their father, had enjoyed a round of golf, gone home to mow the lawn, and then, as he relaxed on the back patio, had a heart attack and died.

I feel so sad for my friends and their sweet mother. I used to sleepover at their house as a teenager. It was a big deal to have soda (or "pop" for all you Ohio folks), and we almost always were treated to a glass at their home. It was a fun and safe place. I remember a painting of an aircraft on their wall- a Piper J-3 Cub. I asked about it one time and found out that their father, Sonny Boy, had been a commercial pilot, but had to stop due to health concerns. Not for just 10 months or another period of time- but no flying for good.

I think about this, today. Sonny Boy was never cynical; never complained; never threw pity parties; never, as far as I knew, questioned God to a point beyond the amount trust he had that the Lord had something "better" in mind for him. In fact, there wasn't a time that I can think of when Sonny Boy didn't greet me with a smile and a warm hello. Their home was a safe place, full of fun.

My perspective needs this check. No doubt, flying was a passion of Sonny Boy and, when it was taken from him, there was a deep grieving internally. Years of training, dreaming, working... for what?

As a follower of Christ, we have confidence that each moment of our life is a precious opportunity for us to reflect our Creator to this broken world. Whether we are constructing buildings that will someday fall, or adding knowledge to our brains that may someday succumb to the travesty of alsheimers- all things in this world are empty and should not be invested in... except people.

Sonny Boy understood this. He did not live a life of bitterness toward God for things that "should have been". Inwardly, privately, I'm sure there were times of deep grief and questioning. However, I never witnessed anything but Christ-likeness on the exterior.

So, I could build a beautiful building, career, family, reputation, skill set, etc. If I've neglected the investment of people and built my identity around things that, eventually, will fail, then it's been all for not. I pray that we all continue to have Sonny Boy's in our lives to remind us of these things. We can have alot, and do alot, but if we "have not love, (we) gain nothing" (I Corinthians 13:2).

So, I'm thinking of complaining a little less and being thankful for the patience that is being grown in me (I hope!) and thankful for the wonderful opportunity I have to rub shoulders with all kinds of people who are investing in me, and me likewise. This can happen- airplane or no airplane. Thank the Lord!

And "thank you Lord" for allowing me to know your treasured child, Sonny Boy.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

New puppy! Meet Tozer.

Meet our newest family member, Tozer.
Here he is doing his best impression of a guard dog
outside Steve's office.

He's fitting in well, even with our two cats, Fougamou and Dixie.
Sam and Joe are doing their best to keep it "one big happy family".

Here he is with Alace and his brother, Titus, with his "mom", Meredith B.
We had fun at the beach with them.

"Brothers gotta hug!!!"
What's a trip to the beach without a nap?

Megan's very happy with her new pet.

Adorable... now.
Tozer's mom is a German Shepherd/Doberman mix.
His dad is a rottweiler.
He's gonna be a big kid!

Tozer will be a great help with security issues at the Guest House campus. We were happy that we found out about him soon after moving here. The Guest House was only without a guard dog for about a month. The whole family is pitching in to make sure he's well trained (we previously trained 2 seeing eye dogs).

Hope House Orphanage crisis

This past Wednesday, we had our weekly time over at Hope House. We were joined by a group of young women and a young man who are in Gabon for the summer as interns with the Short Term Missions Office (STMO), under the direction of Tim and Meredith, our good friends. We usually stay from 3pm to 5pm doing a mix of singing, sharing, retelling Bible stories with a skit, playing games, and hanging out. There are usually about 20 children there, however, in the past couple of weeks, about 6 more street kids have come to live there. They have run out of beds and are forced to share.

Seeing children in need of a simple thing like a bed and meals grips your heart. Add to this the fact that these lovely children have been abandoned by their mothers, their fathers, and extended family. Weekly, I fight the feeling of not wanting to make the trip there because I know what I'll be witnessing when I arrive.

Despite these things, here are the children, week after week, with smiles on their faces, ready to welcome us in and participate with our plan for the afternoon. We all laugh, and play, and sing, and enjoy one another. Many weeks, we will find one or two of the children, sitting at one of the desk/chairs, their head down, sleeping from exhaustion. I think it's safe to say that this is a result of poor sleeping conditions at night and, perhaps, lack of nutrition.

What can we do?

I've recently heard about a book called "The White Man's Burden" by William Easterly. The subtitle reads, "Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest have Done so Much Ill and so Little Good". Bottom line, he says that our perception of what will effectively aid a situation is usually way off. He also says that we're much better at "business" ventures than providing aid. He says, "…the West spent $2.3 trillion on foreign aid over the last five decades and still had not managed to get twelve-cent medicines to children to prevent half of all malaria deaths. By contrast the global society can deliver 9 million copies of a Harry Potter book to customers on a single day." That definitely makes you think. He suggests we put a "business" mind to our aid ventures. People running a business get to the grassroots and find out what the REAL needs are locally and find out how to meet them.

So, I give pause to my "knee jerk" reaction of "let's go buy more beds, let's get better food, let's..." What would be the right solution?

On top of that, Pastor Israel, the "father" of all these children and local church pastor, told us this week that the owner of the house intends to sell the location to someone who will most definitely be taking down the building and constructing a new home for themselves. He was not sure when this would happen, but the guess is that they will not wait too long- probably soon after the elections take place in a couple of months. WOW! The challenges are mounting.

Please pray for the Hope House. Our God is not surprised by any of this. We know He is a loving and caring God. We know that he loves each one of these children. As Tim said to Pastor Israel, this is a great occasion for the Lord to use His Church to provide for the need. We have a "rough draft" of some ideas to link the Hope House ministry more effectively to the local churches. The answer is there.
Perhaps a number of families will step forward to adopt each one. Perhaps a local church would provide the land a build a house or two for the children and adoptive parents. We will see.

Isaiah 59:1 "The Lord's hand is not so short that it cannot save; Nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear."