Friday, January 22, 2010

HAITI- Air Calvary Responds

Our aviation work in Gabon is sponsored by Air Calvary, a non-profit from New York. In fact, our family is the only full-time work of Air Calvary. Their main thrust, until we came along, had been helicopter pilots doing short term work in the Dominican Republic (DR) and Haiti, mostly. When Haiti was devastated by a hurricane in 2008, Air Calvary (AC) responded with a team that rented local helicopters and flew in critical aid. Now, with the recent earthquake that brought this poor nation to its' knees once more, AC is again on the ground and in the air there with a bigger response. There are 5 helicopters being dispatched through AC in the DR and Haiti at this time. Below is an update from our director and co-founder, Brock Barrett:

Dear Team,
Helicopteros Dominicanos (Helidosa) desires an exclusive partnership with Air Calvary to handle all of their Haiti missions! Also, Helidosa has reduced their Haiti mission pricing such that we are better able to fill their flight schedule. Haiti mission requests are coming in steadily. Those who may be available to assist with operations planning in the Dominican Republic and/or Haiti, please advise.
Thank you for your prayers and support!
Lord lead us in greater service,

Here is a link to a new YouTube video of 3 of the helicopters landing at a staging area in the village of Christianville, Haiti.


Thursday, January 21, 2010


Turtle Camp! brings out a wide array of emotions, like JOY (above)...

... or sometimes FEAR!!!
(Note: this is the ferry ride across the bay at Libreville to Point Denise- base camp for the journey to find the elusive, leather-back sea turtles. $22 round trip per person.)

The ladies (Alace and Leanne) were in charge of the tent.

(Note: Don't let this good looking tent fool you. It leaks like a sieve. We would discover this at around 3am the next morning in a downpour.)

Bury someone in the sand... check!
Here's some of the crew: Allison, Andrew, Megan, Emily, and Taylor (being buried).

It is true that you, yourself, must be elusive to find the turtles, as these ladies demonstrate (Leanne and Alace). More important than head coverings are the RED lens covers for your flashlights. White lights confuse the turtles.

Also, you must wait until nightfall, preferably around midnight, to begin the trek to find the turtles coming up on the beach and laying their eggs. Here are some of the crew relaxing and waiting in front of the Maringa Hotel along the beach. After a whole lot of waiting, if you stay patient, it just might happen! You just might see...

Last year we walked 2 to 3 hours and saw nothing. This year, after about 30 minutes of marching down the beach, we happened upon another group that had spotted this momma leatherback, high up on the beach dropping eggs into a hole she had dug. We were only permitted to take pictures after she was done and back down at the waters edge ready to slip back into the sea.

Thar she goes! The conservationists working there took measurements of her length and width and tagged her with a metal looking thing. She did not like that... I wonder what she would have done had they asked her for her weight!?! It really was fascinating to watch.

Hospital Shuttles Commence!

"Getting UP to business"

This past Monday really marked the beginning of "normal" shuttles to the hospital. We departed Libreville for Bongolo with 4 passengers- a daughter of one of the missions' workers and her husband, along with an eye clinic patient and her chaperon
. It was smooth sailing- we cruised above a scattered layer at 5500 feet with an overcast layer higher above. That helped to keep things cooler. We descended with no problems, swung a little wider out on base leg to over-fly the hospital for passengers to see and snap photos, and then it was the turn to final and safely down on the airstrip. We actually had some relatives on the side of the runway jumping and waving as we landed. Good times.

After landing, I stuck around the airport for a couple of hours with Tim K., a miss
ionary who helps me a lot, and our two airport workers, Nicolas and Brice. They will be helping us at the airport on the days that the shuttle arrives. Together, we cleaned up in and around the hangar and then we shifted the old, wrecked airplane (Zenith CH801) into the corner. This gave us just enough space to move the Cessna 207 inside. We have about 2 feet to spare on either side of the wing and about 5 to 6 feet of free space in front and behind the airplane. The hangar is a perfect fit! This is the first time we've had the airplane in the hangar there- it felt better leaving it secured in there and it looks great too!

I also spent some time chatting with Nicolas and Brice about what I expect of them- an orientation of sorts. I told them that our objective at the airport is to work together to be a blessing to those that are coming and going. We want to lift up the name of JESUS! The missionary, Tim K., has been a great support for me. Tim's family always has their home open for my overnights and are giving me rides to/from the airport even though it seems their car is about to fall apart. Great folks.

Tuesday, we did some more work at the airstrip hangar in the morning. The main project was fighting the battle against the hundreds of wasps that had taken up residence there. We made a quick stop by a Lebanese-owned store on a corner in the town, bought some flying insect killer, and then it was on to the battle. There were three of us holding cans and Tim K. was playing supervisor and never moved far from the hangar door area. Our plan was simply this- spray a nest and RUN!!! That went on for about 1/2 an hour and most were gone. During that time, Tim would occasionally yell our one of our names excitedly or sneak up behind us and pinch the back of an arm or leg. NOT FUNNY! This led to
more running and a yelp or two. More good
times. The only wasps that remain are high up in the rafters, and I'm fine with that.

After that project and one or two more, we went back to Tim's for a shower and a quick lunch prior to the flight home. We took off just past 2pm with 3 hospital workers that were headed to Libreville for an HIV/AIDS conference where they have been asked to make a presentation. Our flight took us right between two nice thunderstorm cells (complete with lightening), but it was very smooth and we were making great time, until...

Eighty miles out from Libreville I contacted the approach controllers. Up until then, I had been making regular announcements on a frequency set aside for pilot to pilot communications and on the frequencies of a couple of the airports that I passed. On those frequencies, there had been no responses from airport personnel or other pilots operating close to us. I heard a couple other pilots check in- both were helicopter pilots operating out near the coast... oil company operations, for sure. So, with the Libreville controllers and the other frequencies, I check in with the following information: Aircraft Registration / Aircraft Type / Airport of departure / Time of departure / Current location / Altitude / Destination Airport / Estimated time of Arrival / # of passengers / # of crew / Fuel remaining (time to burn what's left in your tanks). So, it's alot of info. Libreville controllers also want to know who the operator of the airplane is so they know who to charge for the services. So, we tell them "Aviation Medicale de Bongolo". Typically, I owe about $5 per flight for the services of the controllers. Not too bad.

Oh yeah... "until"... Yes- we were making record time on our flight until we got about 10 miles out when we were cleared to a point about 6 miles from the airport, but told that I should be expecting to "hold" at that point. Sure enough, upon announcing my arrival at that point, I was told to go into a holding pattern and that that airport was currently "closed". So, because a governmental VIP was either coming or going from the airport, we spend the next 10 minutes making some wide circles over the south east corner of the city before being cleared to land. Up until the point of the "hold", we were on schedule for a total flight time of about 1 hour and 36 minutes! The fastest time prior was 1 hour and 42 minutes. So... oh well... maybe next time.

Next flights are next Monday and Tuesday. Monday- down to the hospital with 5 passengers; Tuesday- flying back to LBV with only 2 passengers at this time. We really would like to see at least 4 in the airplane each flight. We've got flights lining up through April, so things are moving! Our next deal will be to start thinking about growing out team. Office help followed by another pilot/mechanic within a year or two, if things continue on course.

We are growing a charity fund to pay for life-saving air evacuations. I hope that it grows fast- we have some donors interested and am waiting for responses. The flights so far have been great- getting people and things to and from the hospital. The flights are making a big difference, but I think the air evacuations will bring a whole new level of satisfaction as we have this as the heart of the effort here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

PRAYER... Essential

This story is long overdue... it's been sitting on my heart and challenging me in my priorities.

You may remember that, on this journey to provide air service to and from
the Bongolo Hospital, we had to have the airstrip at the hospital certified by the government. This happened in early December. Readers of this blog will remember those pictures (the "Iwo Jima" re-enactment?) and journal entries that led up to that moment. Well, I have, until now, left out an important sub-story surrounding those events.

It started the day of the
government inspection of the airstrip when I decided I wanted to drive out to the airstrip early in the morning to guard against any last minute issue that might have popped up. As I drove to one end of the runway and turned around, something caught my eye on the ground. It was two bills of the local currency, Central African Francs, that equaled about $15. I looked around for signs of anyone who had recently passed, but I saw no one and judging by the dampness of the bills, they had been there all night, at least. So, I put them beside my on the seat of the SUV and got the clear impression that this money was meant for someone that God would put in my path that day.

Fast forward about 3 hours, after the inspection, when I'm sitting at my friend's (Tim & Amanda) dining room table checking email back at the hospital compound. A Gabonese man approached the house and asked if he could wash my car that obviously needed washed after the 10 hour road trip from Libreville the day before. I recognized this man as "Fidele" ("Faithful")- a man that had once worked as a lawn mower on the compound. Fidele had been relieved of those duties when he developed a heart problem and almost died a couple months before. I was there the weekend that he was in the hospital and amazed everyone by surviving the procedure. He is not at full health, but can do some simple labor tasks as he would still like to do what he can to provide for his family.

Immediately, when Fidele asked, the $15 dollars came to my mind. I felt the Lord
was telling me that here was the person who that money was meant for. So, I said, that he was welcome to wash my car- normally a $1 to $2 payment in the local economy. I couldn't wait to see the look on his face when I gave him the $15! A great smile would follow... Probably some cool story too... like... how his power or water service had been turned off because he owed $14.95 and now this was the answer to his prayer. Certainly, the Lord had put this all together to impact Fidele's life and cause him to walk away smiling and singing "Go Tell it on the Mountain" and retelling the story for days! The anticipation was almost too much to bear. I kept a close eye out the window on his progress, waiting for the moment to come.

Was I in for a surprise...

As Fidele finished, I was out the door, one hand in my pocket on the cash. I had it planned out. I'd tell him my story, give him the money, and then listen with excitement as he recounted his woes and how this was the answer. Well, I did my part, but, Fidele had other ideas. As I handed him the money, he took it and simply put it in his pocket with nothing more than a smile. WHAT!?! Are you kidding me!?! Apparently Fidele had not gotten the script on this. Maybe he needed a little reminder of the $14.95 need in his life.

Before I could properly conjugate a french verb in my mind and get it out of my mouth, Fidele was ready to move on to more important things. He said to me, "Pastor, can you pray for me?" What occurred to Fidele was that the most important thing... the most valuable thing... the thing that could have greatest eternal impact... the one thing that was the "life-changer" for him in that moment was prayer. Communicating with the God of the universe is, for Fidele, priceless.

Think for a moment about a task that you can preform for a client, a boss, etc. Now think about being paid 15 times more than you expected. Would you not be captured by that? Or would you, like Fidele, keep perspective, slip the cash in your pocket like it was your car keys, and stay focused on more spiritual matters? I'm not going to lie and tell you I could. However, after what Fidele demonstrated to me, I'm challenged to do just that.

Jesus spoke the sermon on the mount hundreds of years ago, but Fidele was living it out right in front of me. It was that part where Jesus had just gotten done teaching on how to pray (The Lord's Prayer) and fast, when he said...

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,
Where moth and rust destroy,
and where thieves break in and steal,
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,
where moth and rust do not destroy,
and where thieves do not break in and steal.
For where your treasure is,
there your heart will be also."

If you ask me, Fidele doesn't have a heart issue. I think his heart is just fine- treasuring the things of eternity.

I, of course, told Fidele that I would love to pray with him. In the best French I could muster up, I prayed a simple prayer. As I started, Fidele fell to his knees and lifted his hands up as an outward expression of the attitude of his heart. Humbly approaching the throne of His loving Father. I was moved to tears and humbly reminded how quickly I get captured by the things of this earth... the things that I invest in that will have zero eternal dividends.

Thank you, Fidele, for pointing Jesus-Followers, like myself, back to the things that really matter.

With this in mind, we ask that you join us in conversation with our Heavenly Father.
There is so much to be thankful for as things literally get off the ground, here in Gabon!

Please pray for the following:
- growth of a charity fund to assist in paying for flights for emergency evacuations
- growth of discipling relationships among the expat community
- plans for our trip home to build our prayer support team
- 2 upcoming "lift-off" ceremonies where church and government leaders will be invited- one in the captial city of Libreville and one at the hospital's airstrip.
- We are still trusting the Lord for a project coordinator for the construction of a new home for at risk children- Hope House.

Join us in praising God for the following:
- We found aviation fuel for $5 cheaper a gallon! That reduces the aircraft's hourly operating cost by $75!
- A new air compressor and generator were recently donated to assist in making the hangar at the hospital's airstrip outfitted properly for the various aircraft maintenance.
- Praise the Lord for the 5 privately owned helicopters in the Dominican Republic that were loaned to Air Calvary short term pilots to start relief flights in Haiti. Today, our small organization had aircraft airborne simultaneously in 2 different continents, expressing the compassion of Jesus through the tool of aviation.
- Praise the Lord for the wave of support and activity surrounding our first wave of flights. Patients, medical workers, supplies, medications, and more are now moving efficiently and expiditiously to and from the Bongolo Hospital and, soon, people in life threatening situations will be impacted by this move of the Body of Christ to have the hands and feet of Jesus come to them.

We can't tell you how we appreciate your prayers! This is the key to any and all work that is done with eternal impact!

Monday, January 11, 2010

News and Notes

YES! I found aviation oil! Cameroun! There just so happens to be a friend of ours driving down from the town of Yaounde, Cameroun on Monday. He knows the pilots and mechanics who fly for JAARS that are based there. They have agreed to help me in my urgent situation by selling me about 20 quarts of aviation oil.

I also had a meeting with the Belgium agricultural company BIG BOSS and his right hand man. They stated their support for our program, again, and the they will help with our needs for aviation fuel and oil. This was good to hear as we had based a lot of things on having a supply from them. They will be putting in an order soon and they know what my needs are. They said that I can pay as I go, which is great. Paying it all up front would simply not be possible for our little program.

Megan prayed with a girl to receive Jesus as her Savior last night! It was great! It's an American girl whose parents work in LBV and whom comes to youth group. Megan was very excited about the whole thing, as she should be. We are so thankful that the Lord is using our whole family in this call to Gabon. What a blessing.

Friday, January 8, 2010

STATS from Holiday flights

Here are some stats from our first set of flights over the holidays:

> 20 Passengers!

> Fastest time between LBV and Lebamba: 1 hour 42 minutes!!!

> Airsick baggies used - NONE!!!

> Cargo: Car parts, textbooks, personal mail, business mail, visitor baggage, medical test kits, refridgerated lab stuff, eye clinic equipment, tennis racquets, toilet seat, folding chairs, a ladder, shipment of beanie babies, 14 pizzas, and hummus!

> Jungle survival bag - UN-USED!!!

> Total flights: 6 (2 LBV-LEB, 2 LEB-LBV, 2 aerial tours)

> Weather: Perfect except for one cloud with SNOW!!! NO JOKE!!! ...ask Tim K.

So, we are starting to put together our first set of "real" flights. It looks like that will start on the 18th and will be at least weekly for the time being. We also have to schedule and plan a kick-off ceremony for Libreville and down at the hospital. More to follow!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Life Changing Deliveries... keep 'em coming!

Dr. Wendy H. explains more about the impact of our delivery of the sensitive equipment to the eye clinic at the Bongolo Hospital:
"I used the laser again today - it's actually a combination SLT (glaucoma) laser and YAG laser. The SLT is the portion that we used last week, and today it was the YAG. The YAG is used after a patient has already had cataract surgery but the tissue around the lens implant begins to opacify with scarring. The YAG is able to open up the scar tissue and restore a clear visual axis without a single incision :) .This patient's name is Samuel, and he's a retired evangelist. He kept telling me that he needed to see so he could read his Bible and share the gospel with others - he probably said that 10 times today. God has helped him recently with this, as we took out the cataract in his left eye last week and it sees 20/20 now; and the right eye, which had previously had cataract surgery and was seeing 20/100 or worse, just had the YAG laser done today and should see better shortly. We took these pictures today."

I'd say that's one happy customer, huh?

With your partnership, lives are being changed. We are so grateful. Thank you for your continued prayers and support.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

2nd Arrival at Bongolo Airstrip

After taking Dr. Chris L. (opthomology) and Shawn A. (project specialist) back to Libreville, Tim K. (Bongolo Station Teammate) kept me company for the trip back to Bongolo. No doubt I'll have solo flights in the future, but for the first few legs back and forth, I like the idea of having at least one other in the aircraft with me. I was happy Tim was able to come.

As we lined up for final approach, we noticed that the center of the runway was dotted with something white! Had someone nicely painted a centerline for us!?! At about 2 miles out, we could tell that someone had moved one set of runway side markers to the center of the runway! As you can see, they are tires painted white. This made our 30 meter wide runway 15 meters wide. As you can see, there was enough room, and plenty to spare, for me to land. So... why were these markers moved? Read on to find out...

On this trip, we thought it would be fun to do some pizza delivery. Over 14 pizzas were delivered to the team in Bongolo!

More importantly, the 5th and last piece of equipment came for the eye clinic. On the first flight down, we brought about 200 pounds (4 boxes) of equipment for the eye clinic. It was laser equipment that was quickly assembled and put to work on the patients. This equipment is very fragile and would not have been able to make the bumpy ride down by car to the hospital. This is the type of thing we are thrilled to be a part of. How cool.

So, what were these tires doing in the middle of the runway? Well, today (Sunday) we woke up early and went out to move them back in place. We came to the end of the runway and, as we progressed down to the first tire, we noticed, at the far end of the runway, a pickup was "slaloming" around the tires! As they approached, I motioned them to stop. They were Chinese, of all things. Most likely, they are associated with the road crew and appeared to be using their free day to learn how to drive clutch on the runway. I said (in French), "This is not for a car. This is for the airplane", while motioning to the airplane. They both said "Ok, ok" while smiling. I'm not sure if they got it. We got all the tires in place and then noticed that they were at the other end of the runway, practicing backing up. Oh well.

Friday, January 1, 2010

1st Flight- Game Changers


As we pulled up, we had a welcome from over 30 very excited supporters from the local community and hospital supporters.

It was really true! After an hour and fifty minutes, we had made the voyage from Libreville to Bongolo Hospital! We were very excited!

Did I mention that those waiting were excited!?!

For those of you that follow this blog, you'll remember an entry called "Game Changing Flights" regarding the difference that a couple other pilots were making. I ended the entry saying that we hope that the aircraft will come soon and we, ourselves, can be part of making similar impact. Well, read this from Dr. Wendy H., ophthalmologist at Bongolo Hospital:
"I just wanted to say thank you again for bringing our eye equipment last week! We used it right away- on Thursday we did a laser treatment on a patient with glaucoma, a disease where the elevated interocular pressure slowly causes blindness. This laser treatment will help to bring down the eye pressure and preserve the patient's vision. Without Air Calvary, it would have been tough to get the laser without too much jarring, but everything worked just right on Thursday after you brought it down with such conscientiousness."