Monday, October 26, 2009

Aircraft Commissioning

A gathering of 200 showed up on a wet day to show support to the effort to bring health and hope to Central Africa. We had several speakers. Here is Rev. Don Pullen, who has visited Gabon and, without air service, had to endure the 11 hour car ride to Bongolo Hospital in the interior.

It was a great time to touch base with many supporters! I wish I had much more time. So many people were there to express their support and love for the program and our family. We are so blessed! In this photo are some of our more fanatical supporters- Steve and Judith (Meredith B.'s parents) who have been to Gabon to visit our gang.

Here I am with our pioneering, visionary, Air Calvary leader, Brock Barrett! Brock is one sharped dressed man with a huge heart and willingness to take on God-sized projects like this one. We are so very blessed to have Brock and the Air Calvary team who constantly tends to our needs and dreams big dreams with us.

The main thing I had to express that day was how thankful I was to our God that He has allowed us all to join together in this expression of HIS great love for a region of our globe. Our family is so thankful that so many have joined us in prayer and financially- despite a major, world-wide, financial crisis. Amazing! I said it this day and I'll say it again here- Hollywood couldn't come up with a script like this!

Pastor Brian Kannel, our M.C., directed us in the final act of gathering around the airplane (a "fill-in" Cessna 206) and praying for the start of flights and a new chapter in ministry in Gabon. Pastor Brian is from our uber supportive home church- York Alliance. They have spearheaded intercession for our family and ministry from the very first step. We are so blessed.

I returned to Gabon with a new sense of focus and drive. This was just the encouragement that my heart needed as we had hit some difficult periods at home and delays with the aircraft refurbishment. We were all reminded of the humanly impossible odds stacked against this effort, but how our great GOD had supplied all of our needs along the way. We are in awe of His great works.

See all 35 photos with captions: CLICK HERE

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Passing of a Friend

Here, while in the US, I was told the sad news of the loss of a friend and world class pilot, Ron Royce, on Thursday, October 22nd. No matter where I seemed to travel in the world, at the mention of this saint's name, smiles come across faces and stories are recounted of the blessing of this man's life.

We are praying for his wife, Loretta, and his children and families.

I had the great opportunity of taking some training flights from Ron prior to my trip to Nampa, Idaho where, because of his training, I was able to pass their evaluation.

Here is an article recounting some preliminary findings: CLICK HERE

Plane crash victim a legend among pilots

By John Thompson
Elizabethton Bureau Chief

ELIZABETHTON — News of Thursday’s crash of a single-engine Cessna 206 has reverberated all over the world. That is because one of the two men killed in the crash was a legend among missionary aviators who fly in and out of some of the most remote airstrips in some of most difficult terrain in the world.

Ron Royce, 70, was described as an exceptional pilot by Joe Hopkins, founder of Mission Safety International. MSI is an agency established to promote safety in the mission fields and in missionary aviation, but the organization is not participating in the federal investigation of Thursday’s accident.

“He was the tops,” Hopkins said of Royce. “I knew him for 40 years.” He said Royce served as chief flight trainer for Moody Bible Institute’s missionary aviation school during the years it was located in Elizabethton. Stories about Royce are frequently told on missionary landing strips all over the globe.

Although he was 70 years old, Hopkins said Royce appeared to be much younger and kept himself in great shape.

“He flew with hundreds if not thousands of students,” Hopkins said. He said not only was Royce a great teacher, he also had a fun-loving and people-loving personality that made him popular with his students and allowed him to maintain close relationships with many of his former students even though they were spread all over the world.

Darrell Carver was one of those students. He arrived in Elizabethton for a meeting of the board of directors of Mission Safety International on Thursday and got word of Royce’s death later that day. He had planned to pay a call on Royce after the board meeting.

“He was a guy who loved people and was totally dedicated to his work. He was a natural teacher, a natural instructor. He had a great joy for living, he loved to laugh.”

Carver said one Royce technique he remembered was when the instructor turned the table on the student in a role-playing game. He said Royce would play the student and ask all kinds of questions that students had probably asked him. After the student playing the instructor answered, they would have a laugh and then he would have a serious discussion on the problem. It was a teaching method that obviously stuck.

When Moody left Elizabethton a few years for a new flight school in Spokane, Royce remained in Elizabethton and continued to teach missionary aviators. He provided specialized intensive training, similar to the training he was apparently conducting with Adam West, 38, the other victim of Thursday’s crash.

Not as much is known about West, except he moved his family from Wisconsin to East Tennessee recently to take specialized training with Royce.

Investigators from the Atlanta regional office of the National Transportation Safety Board were at the crash scene Friday morning to begin the job of determining the cause of the crash. The investigators will take all the wreckage to the NTSB facility in Griffin, Ga. Special attention will be given to the aircraft engine.

NTSB spokesman Butch Wilson said his initial observation was that the plane was heading west and was descending into the tall trees on the side of the ridge. He said his initial observation was that the propeller was not generating power at the time the plane crashed.

While that could indicate an engine problem, Wilson said there could be several reasons the propeller was not generating power and it does not by itself mean the engine failed.

The plane was a 1977 Cessna 206. Wilson said the log book was found with the plane but the fire had damaged the document. He said his investigators will be checking with the recent providers of maintenance on the plane to help determine its condition.

Wilson said the large amount of flames immediately after the crash were fed by the 90 pounds of aviation fuel the plane was carrying.

Hopkins said it was not unusual for the planes to be heavily loaded during a training session. Missionary pilots routinely carry large loads into primitive runways, but Royce was known to be a meticulous and careful pilot who taught his students the safe way to fly into some of the most dangerous places.

“He was rock solid,” Elizabethton Airport Manager Dan Cogan said. “He could fly the box the plane came in. That was the level of pilot he was. He was legendary as far as missionary pilots are concerned.”

It was because he was so good and so meticulous that news of his fatal crash has shocked so many in the missionary aviation community. MSI helped to spread the word of the crash by linking Thursday’s Johnson City Press article to its Web site.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Refurbishing moving along

ASIC is doing a fabulous job with the interior.

In these photos you see that they have done all the interior plastics on all the doors and walls.

Also notice the durable vinyl flooring that they have fitted well with the seat tracks. This is held in place with velcro strips, so it's easily removable for cleaning.

This week, they'll be finishing up the headliner- you can catch a glimpse of the unfinished headliner in a couple of the photos.

With the interior, we had a choice of going with a gray color for the interior plastics to match the vinyl, but we stuck with the more generic creme as it is easier to clean as well as the scratches showing less.

The long fuselage will give us plenty of room for our stretcher, cargo, and, when we need it, all 4 rows of seats.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rien est Perdu

(translation: "Nothing is Lost")

Our Gabonese business agent, pastor, and friend, Ferdinand Sangoye, has a great message that he shares in local churches when he has the opportunity. It's a message of redemption called "Rien est Perdu" - nothing is lost. He reminds everyone that God doesn't make mistakes and there is nothing that HE can't use.

So, here are a couple "Rien est Perdu" moments in life recently for me:

1) Hope House Powerpoint presentation- I put together a powerpoint presentation for a national conference of pastors to highlight the needs of the Hope House orphanage. It was a big opportunity for us to gain support and make a call for action! So, I put together a slideshow complete with a tear-jerker song in French called "Listen to the Cries of the Children". When the day came, we started the powerpoint, only to find that, in the room full of natural light that couldn't be blocked, no one could see the images and we faded the music and stopped the presentation after about 30 seconds. Bummer. Well, Pastor Israel, the Hope House director, did a fine job of verbalizing the needs and opportunities for others to support. I was a little dissappointed that we couldn't use this presentation. HOWEVER... I left the disc with Pastor Israel and JUST DAYS LATER he was invited to make a presentation to the National Assembly, a large governmental congress, and he was able to use the presentation! Rien est Perdu!

2) Road Trip car problems- One of the reasons that we are here in Gabon is to assist in overcoming barriers, like poor roads, through the use of aviation. We have experienced these roads first hand, have had many flat tires and have employed the 4 wheel drive often. It is a challenge. On our last drive down to the Bongolo Hospital from our home in the capital city of Libreville (a 10 to 12 hour drive), our rear shocks completely failed about 3 hours away from the hospital and we were limited to about 60 kilometers per hour the rest of the way. We pulled in after dark and crashed at the homes of our friends, the Kelly family. We had planned to continue from the hospital another 3 hours to the beach for some R&R, but the road would be no better, so we thought we were sunk. HOWEVER... Tim Kelly said that he had just replaced the rear shocks on his car... THE SAME MODEL CAR!!! He had kept the used but not unuseable shocks on his shelf for some reason. So, the next morning we put them on my car and were able to make it the rest of the way. RIEN EST PERDU!!!

Good Quotes

"It is a dangerous busines to arrive in eternity with possibilities which one himself has prevented from becoming actualities. Possibility is a hint from God."

Soren Kierkegaard

"Success is going from failure to failure with great enthusiasm"

Winston Churchill

"Humilty: Not thinking less of yourself,
but thinking about yourself less."

"It is impossible for me, my God; let there be an end of my flesh and all its powers, an end of self, and let it be my glory to be helpless"

Soren (again)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

C'est la vie!

Hey everyone...

The family and I are having a relaxing Sunday after our worst week in Africa yet- no joke. I hesitate to ever use superlatives or to label things as "good" or "bad"... however... in my "humanness", that's just how it felt this past week. Health issues, computer issues, car troubles, electricity stuff, and more. Of main concern is Joey- he has been dealing with a dramatic reaction to eating a mango. We're told mango's bring out the worst in those that are allergic to them, and Joey is certainly feeling it.

Today's issue is that I could'nt seem to get the 3 photos (above) to upload to this blog from my son's MacBook. They show some of the most recent work being done to the aircraft- the new Teledyne-Continental IO-550, 300 horse power engine that's installed with the new 3-bladed Hartzell prop. The folks at ASIC in Oklahoma are doing a great job.

Added to the "challenges" of the past week, was receiving two emails with "not-so-great" news regarding the aircraft.

The first was from the pilot that we had hired to fly the aircraft to PA for Saturday's commissioning ceremony. He had to cancel due to a dilemma in his schedule. This led to sending out many emails trying to locate a pilot. However, a day later, we received the 2nd email from our colleague, Frank, who had flown in to OK from CA to give us an update on how things were going.

Frank said that we could stop our search for a pilot because, even if we found one, our airplane is most likely not going to be ready to fly in time for Saturdays' event. This was the straw that broke the camels' back for me. This, on top of all that was happening was very difficult to swallow. After all that we had down to insure that our event would work and the aircraft would be ready, things popped up- more so than we had already given room for.

I reached out to our home church for some perspective and my good friend, pastor Brian, saved me from sinking any further into my dissappointment. He reminded me that our commissioning was more about launching this effort and its' impact on the lives of people through a time of prayer and, although having the aircraft there would be nice, it wasn't necessary to reach the objective. So... this helped. I had tunnel vision on the airplane (you can tell from reading this blog!) and had started to forget the bigger picture. Thanks Brian!

I have much to update this blog about. Here are some blogs that I'm putting together:

> HOPE HOUSE orphanage- we assisted the children in finding a new house to live in for this school year.

> NATIONAL CHURCH SYNOD- I had the privelege of addressing all the pastors and delegates from all the C&MA churches of Gabon. I gave them an overview of our program and asked that they join me in praying for maximum impact.

> HOMESCHOOL- Homeschool has begun slowly. We love our program (Swithched on Schoolhouse), but it's not compatable with MAC's. We had to do some fancy footwork to get it going. It's still not 100%, but the kids have started. Also on their schedule: modern dance (Megan), soccer (boys), cooking class (all), swimming (all), guitar lessons (Joe & Megan), harmonica (Sam), and continued hanging out with the Hope House kids.

> GUEST HOUSE- Alace continues to do a fabulous job directing our 5 bedroom, 9 bed guest house. We are also constantly doing maintenance and dreaming up upgrades. We've just got the go-ahead to add a game room under our terrace. It's just dirt under there right now, so this will be a better use of space.

So... we'll get some photos posted of all that and more as we are able.

I (Steve) look forward to seeing many of you in less than a week!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

MAF- Kinshasa Visit

The first week of October, I had the great opportunity of visiting the Mission Aviation Fellowship base in Kinshasa where they have a fleet of 3 aircraft- a Cessna 206, 207, & 208. Pictured above is the Cessna 207 having landed in an interior village. As you can see in the background, many come out to witness the landing. MAF goes in and out of short, unimproved airstrips providing critical resources to natives and international workers.

Here's Captain Nate showing me how it's done in the C-207. These MAF guys are pro's. Nate kept his cool dealing with all the normal pilot stuff as well as taking care of the passengers and arranging all the details with the cargo. It's a big job and he pulled it off with class.

Here were some of the spectators in the town of Samendua. Each village has great respect and admiration for the aviation program that provides a life line, both physically and spiritually, to their village.

On another day, I was able to fly in the C-208 (turbo prop "Caravan") with captain Dave. Again, I was treated to observing how a pilot can be a servant of the Lord.

To see all 18 photos with captions, CLICK HERE

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Centre Daily Times article

I'm pretty sure that the Centre Daily Times will remove our article from their website someday soon, so I've done a cut 'n paste job here. Enjoy!

Saturday, Oct. 03, 2009

A call to serve: Family moves to Africa

- For the CDT

State College native Steve Straw says he and his family moved to the west-central African nation of Gabon last year to try to put into practice their prayer to be a blessing in everything they do.


Photo provided

The Straw family, from left, Megan, 13; Alace; Joseph, 14; Steve; and Samuel, 11, takes frequent trips to the beach.

Straw, 39, has been working to locate, purchase and refurbish a small plane that will serve as Gabon’s first air ambulance. When the plane arrives in Gabon later this month, he’ll be its pilot.

The plane will make possible trips and supply deliveries between the capital city of Libreville and the country’s main bush hospital, Bongolo Hospital, in southern Gabon, near the Republic of Congo border. It’s a journey that today takes 10 to 12 hours over terrain only a four-wheel drive vehicle can maneuver.

With nurse strikes at clinics and hospitals closer to Libreville, Bongolo is the best chance for medical treatment from western-trained professionals, Straw said. Without any reliable way to reach the hospital, many Gabonese today die from malaria and other treatable illnesses. In addition, Bongolo two years ago opened an HIV/AIDS clinic. Regular delivery of antiretroviral medication is key to treatment.

Straw and his wife, Alace, 37, with their children Joey, 14, Megan, 13, and Samuel, 11, moved to Libreville last year to assess Gabon’s runways and work with the New York-based charity, Air Calvary, to launch the service.

Straw, who lived in State College until he was 19, is a pilot and mechanic who spent years patrolling oil pipelines in Texas and York. He’s also a pastor, raised by parents in State College who have traveled around the world to take part in missionary efforts.

When he learned in 2005 of the opportunity to pilot a medical services plane in Gabon, it seemed a natural fit.

“We saw the project in Africa as a possible further blending of our desire to bless others in a practical way, using the tools God had blessed us with,” said

Straw, a member of Missions Safety International and the International Association of Missionary Aviation.

The Gabon air ambulance service is the most ambitious project yet undertaken by Air Calvary, a charity established in 2005 that specializes in arranging air transportation for health clinics and other outreach activities in remote parts of the world.

“It’s very satisfying, personally, to be involved in this kind of effort,” said Air Calvary President Brock Barrett, a former Army helicopter pilot. “We hope that we can run a quality and a safe program and have a real positive affect on the quality of life of the people in Gabon and the wider region.”

Barrett, who communicates with Straw daily about the project, calls him and his family “heroes” and “pioneers.”

“They have the courage to step out there in faith, and all that hard work and risk is coming to fruition now, as we expect to begin operations here very shortly,” Barrett said.

Along with work on the flight project, Alace Straw runs a guesthouse for international travelers, and the children sometimes serve as interpreters, after the family spent almost a year in France studying Gabon’s official language.

Libreville offers many amenities not found in more rural areas of Gabon. Steve Straw said the family usually gets 24 hours of electricity and 20 hours of water each day. The city of 600,000 doesn’t have much of a middle class, he said --just mansions along the ocean coast and small shacks elsewhere.

The Straws take frequent trips to the beach and find the Gabonese people friendly and welcoming, Steve Straw said.

They have

State College native piloting air ambulance in African nation

learned a lot about living in Gabon, including how to do laundry. At first, the Straws hung their clothes outside in the sun. But they soon discovered a worm that attaches to the clothing and can get under the skin.

“We sent a clothes dryer with Alace’s parents,” said Steve Straw’s mother, Mabel.

Mabel and Dick Straw still live in State College, in the house where they raised Steve and his three brothers and three sisters. They and several of their children and grandchildren have traveled on mission trips around the world.

“They’re all reaching out to help less fortunate people,” said Mabel Straw. “We’re just blessed that God has given us the health

“We are ready for a long-term investment here, should the Lord direct us that way,” he said.

Straw’s parents express pride in their son’s work and plan to be in Harrisburg on Oct. 24, when a sendoff for the airplane is tentatively scheduled.

“We’re excited about it,” said Dick Straw. “The church in this area and the neighborhood are very supportive of him.”

“We’ll be there with bells on,” said Mabel Straw. “Maybe we’ll crawl on the plane and go with them.”

For more information, visit or Steve Straw’s blog at

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Full Court PRESS!!!

They're at it again... paparazzi! The presses are buzzing with new articles about our project! We are so thankful for this coverage.

The latest news is in Steve's hometown newspaper, the Centre Daily Times. You can read the article and see the pictures if you CLICK HERE.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Oh yeah! Why didn't I think of that!?!

For this chapter of our project, I spend a lot of time emailing- asking advice, learning, coordinating, and more.  My eyes go buggy looking at the screen.  For the last couple of days, I've been trying to find a solution to our need for a certain type of radio you need in Africa, called an HF (high frequency) radio.

So, today, when my friend Egmont called and said that it's been a while since we had gotten together, I thought, "Why not right now?  I've had enough of sitting and jamming out emails!".  Egmont was out at the airport checking out the process the mechanics were making on his Beechcraft Baron, so I said I'd meet him there for a lunch together at the Aero Club.

We met and chatted about our lives lately.  The conversation came around to my current need of an HF radio and all that I have been doing to figure out how we were going to get our hands on one and get it installed in the airplane.  To this Egmont said, "Well, didn't the other airplane have an HF radio in it?".   Oh yeah!  Why didn't I think of that!?!

The "other" airplane that Egmont refers to is an airplane that had been donated to the hospital, years ago, but ended up crashed into the jungle (pilots were ok).   The wreckage now sits in the hangar at the hospital's airstrip.  Egmont was helping me to remember that we already have an HF radio and all the associated parts to mount on our aircraft!  DUH!!!

We were ready to invest about $4000 to $6000 in a new unit and installation!  So... I'm thrilled for Egmont's reminder and I'm very glad that I took a break from all the busy work to spend time with a friend.


The York Daily Record (PA) has released the news regarding our Open House and Commissioning Event on October 24th, 1-3pm, at the Capital City Airport in New Cumberland, PA.

Here's how it reads:

Plane commissioning: The Straw family, who moved from York County to the west African nation of Gabon as missionaries, recently found a Cessna 207 plane for their air ministry.

Supporters and others can see Steve Straw, the plane and witness its commissioning 1 to 3 p.m. Oct. 24 at the Capital City Airport in New Cumberland.

Straw, formerly of York Alliance Church in Spring Garden Township, is working to get his ministry serving a rural hospital off the ground.

His hope is to shuttle medical supplies, visitors, government health officials and work crews over the distance between the capital city of Libreville and Bongolo Evangelical Hospital.

Here's the link to the article.

Also... thanks to an unbelievable airfare rate found by a travel agent and thanks to the fact that Lufthansa, who recently started service to Libreville, is now undercutting the competition with low fares, and thanks to a generous supporter who is paying half of the cost, STEVE WILL BE AT THE COMMISSIONING EVENT!!! I hope to see you there!!!

NOTE: A donation of T-Shirts with our Logo (in French) was made, so we are offering these T's at the event for a suggested donation of $15 each. These proceeds will go to support our live-saving program.