Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Fueling Progress

Subtitle: Counting the Costs

As crowds of people were following Jesus one day, he turned to them and spoke of consider the costs involved with following Him (for more on this, read Luke 14). When setting out to do any work, we consider the costs.

In our program, our desire is to ensure success so that the prog
ram endures. Costs have to be built in to the program and covered by the activity that we do. It's not an easy thing to put numbers down on paper and make projections for a pioneering project. No one has ever done a project like we are building here in Gabon.

At the start, we made very conservative estimations regarding this one question- "How many hours will our aircraft fly in one year?" With that number in mind, we could start working toward finding the HOURLY OPERATING COST of the airplane. Bottom line... if the propeller is spinning, we're funding the work.

We set out by asking our primary user, Bongolo Hospital, what they projected the need at. They responded that we would have so many people requesting our services that we'd be turning people away. That's a nice sentiment, but we need numb
ers, people! We thought that saying we'd be doing two weekly round trips, from the capital city to the hospital, was conservative. From there, we went to another level of conservative and said, "let's go with about 1.5 trips weekly, and plan to fly 48 weeks out of the year". With that, we set the number of annual flight hours at 250.

With that number (250 hours), we could now get an hourly rate for all the costs we pay annually, flying or no flying. Things like, insurance, airport fees, training, safety, etc.

Other things, like fuel, are simple math. Our airplane will b
urn an average of 16 gallons every hour and the fuel here costs (I hope you're sitting down)... it costs an average of $16 dollars a gallon! [NOTE: By comparison, 100 low-lead fuel (aka. "AvGas") runs for about $4.50 a gallon in the US.]

So, here's what we came up with for our expenses:

Fuel 256.00
Oil 2.00
Maintenance* 20.00
Engine reserve** 55.00
Prop reserve 11.00
Insurance 35.60
Airport fees 1.00
Training 4.00

Safety 4.00

TOTAL 388.60 per hour

(* Maintenance labor is free- that's what I provide. However, we still have an annual inspection that we'll have to fork up money for.)

(**After 1700 hours of operation, our engine will need to be replaced. We're planning on a nice turbo-prop conversion, so we're setting aside more than average.)

Our hope is that we can provide our service to as many people that we can, and make the costs as low as possible so that no one is excluded due to price. Along those lines, we have funds to assist those who need a helping hand as well.

Getting our hourly costs down is another way to bless those that need to use this service. It would reason that we should try the best we can to attack the area costing us the most- FUEL! With our current rate, fuel accounts for about two-thirds of our costs!

Our current source is purchasing at the international airport or through a private business here. Both pay incredible taxes and fees and end up costing around $16 a gallon. So, I set out to contact our "sister" organizations to find other options.

One sister organization has enough of a structure that they have a team in the US that can send them fuel using shipping cont
ainers. I started dialoguing with them over a year ago, kindly asking if we could make use of this system and purchase fuel from them. They quoted me their price and, after adding in some hypothetical numbers for Gabon customs/port costs, I was able to estimate a price savings of almost $10 per gallon!

Now, after plugging in this new, conservative number for fuel cost in to our hourly operating formula and recalculating brings us to about $240 an hour! That's astounding! Think of the many more people that this program will be able to assist as a result of the cost savings!

Is there a "but" in this story? Well, yes. However, it's not an insurmountable "but". We need to get an exoneration from the government for this shipment of fuel. So now, we are working to find permission from the powers that be so that, when the shipment arrives at the port here, we are not heavily taxed. Fuel almost always has a 100% tax on it. Yep, that's right- whatever we'd pay in the states for it... double it. Sure, even then we'd be saving money, however, I am praying that we receive an exoneration.

Some things to keep in mind:

> We need an exoneration for the fuel
> We would have to purchase a 20 foot container all at once- funding needed in advance
> From the time that we order to the time it ships is approximately 3 months
> Our aircraft is set to return to service around August
> There are 78 barrels in the shipment
> One barrel of fuel represents one round trip flight to Bongolo Hospital

As we do not have the exoneration at this time, it is premature to launch publicity to raise funds regarding the fuel purchase, however, it's a great time to ask for your prayers. This is a very important work and this situation has the potential for great impact in expanding the work.

If you want to get additional info on this, shoot me an email:

Expat Roller Coaster Life

Living outside of your home culture is tough. We've all heard the term "culture shock", but I think we use it with so much familiarity that we have taken the "shock" out of it. I mean- "shock" is, well, shocking. There's trauma involved, right? refers to shock like this-
1. Noun
a sudden and violent blow or impact; collision.

So, you would think that "culture shock" is a one time event... "one and done" type of thing. Well, it definitely is not.

Extended living outside your home culture leads to multiple levels of culture shock. It's what I would refer to as "Roller Coaster Life"- there are ups and downs and you live in the paradox- wanting more / wanting it to stop / h
aving the time of your life / hating it / wanting off / being sick- all at the same time. Almost every emotion lurks very close to the surface and you can be a moment away from being set off.

In our pre-trip training, we learned that culture shock is "A normal and natural growth or transition process as we adapt to another culture".

Even that explanation details a "process"... and every process has a beginning and end. Well, I submit that some culture shock is enduring for those that live with one foot planted in the world of "the natives/nationals" and one planted in an the world of "the expats". Being positioned in this "in-between world", as we are (not fully working with one or the other, but both), it's necessary to wear multiple hats and switch them frequently- sometimes switching many times on a daily basis. It's a challenge.

Each group (nationals & expats) have their nuances, leading to handling situations very differently. How you set up a meeting with a national is not the same way you would with an expat. Greetings are different. How you handle "goodbye's" is much different. If you're not careful and you're wearing the wrong hat at the wrong time, you could inadvertently offend.

Now, let me note this... The nationals (and most expats?) that we work with realize that we are different (skin tone may have something to do with it!), and don't expect us to get everything right. They are super generous and gracious. I know of many times where they could have chose to be offended, but have taken the higher ground. I think that many national
s, in many worlds of the country, are very forgiving. They don't expect perfection, but, as time goes on, I think many of us expect our friends who are foreigners to adapt and start to "get it". We hope that we are on our way to "getting it" here.

So, back to the pre-field training. They told us that you basically have 3 choices to make:

Choice A: Fight or Flight (aka. "The Isolator")- Marked by rejection, insulation, regression, hostility, anger, disgust, disapproval, disappointment, ec. You have a "castle mentality", you dream of your home country, you don't develop local relationships, only go out when necessary.

Choice B: Understanding (aka. "The Cosmopolitan")- marked by curiosity, optimism, empathy, acceptance, humor, education, etc. You adjust & enjoy national and expat cultures, and move freely among both cultures.

Choice C: Defection (aka. "The Fugitive/Transformer")- marked by criticism of expat community, complete acceptance of new culture, rejection of old culture, adopt dress/food/speech, no plans to return to home cultural. You have little desire to be with other expats.

I would say that choice B is the most like where we are. Our "new normal" is a "roller coaster life" where we accept that days have any number of surprises in store. This realization doesn't make it any easier, but it helps to set expectations. Expectations are a big deal- if you don't set them well, your in for a horrible, frustrating, very no good day. So, to quote the final words of a recent movie, we're seeking a daily, mindset that"plans (expects) to be surprised".

I actually have started days with a my agenda on one side of my desk, full of the things that I planned for the day, and on the other side of the desk, I had a blank paper where I logged what actually transpired for the day. Some days would end and I would only have accomplished one of the items that I had planned.

Does stuff like that happen in our home country? For sure. The difference here is t
hat those type of days are more of the "rule" than the "exception". It's our new normal.... the "expat roller coaster life".

Here are some of the challenges (the "new normal") that have us holding on for dear life recently:

> Joe and Meg (our kids) away at boarding school
> Our team mate, Celine, in Kenya for brain surgery
> Our team asking me to add duties to his already full schedule

> Primary and backup airplanes down for maintenance
> Protecting our home "space"

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I grew up going to Hershey Park, an amusement park founded by the famous candy company in Pennsylvania. Almost every summer, we'd drive the 3 hours and ride the "Super Dooper Looper" and "The Comet". I'd ride them multiple times and never got "used" to it. It was never "normal" (who wants a "normal" roller coaster!?!). I did my best to keep my arms held high in the air, like the cool kids. It was awesome. I enjoyed it and grew close with the friends that I took the ride with.

The deal is, none of us can stand to be on a roller coaster for much longer than the 4 or 5 minutes that they last. It's an assault on your senses. You need some down time. Just like expats (missionaries, embassy workers, humanitarian workers, etc.) need a healthy dose of margin. That margin is a challenge to find. Without the margin, the roller coaster continues, on and on, passing the "loading station" without ceasing. What began as a great idea turns into a nightmare.

So, above all, I pray for you to find margin on the roller coaster that you've chosen to ride, so that each time on board you enjoy it and can be like the cool kids- smiling and laughing with your arms held high.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Jungle Love

We're having a great time in the jungle on our spring break. Here are some photos so far:

We had a large group with a lot of stuff,
So we swapped our Nissan Patrol for
our Business Agent's van.

Our traveling companions,
Dan and Alicia L.

Here's our crew! Happy to be together
for Spring Break!

When you arrive in the jungle, there's
an indescribable desire to grab a
machete and go "hack stuff"!

Father-Son bonding as we clear the old
trail to the water hole and then blazing
a trail to the Louetsi River behind the
Thelander house.

Bamboo out the Wazoo!
Anyone ever seen "Lost"?

After hacking and hacking for a couple of hours,
We started to make out the river!

After making it to the river's edge,
we saw a tree limb suspended out over
the river.

Here's the view from the limb! Spectacular!
A small lagoon is to the right of the photo...
The Thelander Lagoon!

Here's Dan and I "out on a limb".
You may notice that one of us seems to have
survived the trek in better shape!

Our City- Libreville

I thought you might enjoy getting a look around the city where we live. I found it on YouTube. It was very nicely done with traditional music. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

N207FD repair pictures

Some photos just in from the team at MMS Aviation, hard at work on N207FD.

Monday, March 7, 2011

DIY Reading Glasses

I want to highlight a new work of OSPAC, one of the social programs of the national church here in Gabon. Thanks to a gift from a private donor in the US, a very simple reading glass making apparatus was donated. It is a program started by "Glasses For Missions" that assists people to make very inexpensive reading glasses. Here in Gabon, our new program director is Joseph, a longtime team mate working with OSPAC. Thanks to our photographer (and Envision intern) Olivia B., we have the following photos showing some of the process. Enjoy!

Olivia, enjoying the finished product.

Joseph, sporting the fruit of his labors.

Puddle Jumping

Our good friend, Egmont, is enroute from the US with a Piper Cheyenne- 7 seat turbo-prop. He is flying with the former pilot, David. Here are a couple pictures of a couple of their stopovers. First in Bangor, and then in Goose Bay.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Painfully Good

Yikes! It's really hard to go to the dentist and have a drill running in your mouth and be completely at peace about it... but... you realize it's all good- sometimes "painfully good".

Well, as you watch the video of the technicians at MMS Aviation drill away at N207FD, our airplane, you may get the same vibe. It's painful to see the airplane being pulled apart, but... it's painfully good. The work that they do will be top notch and will ensure that our aircraft is back in the air and performing at the peak of its' ability. Enjoy!