Monday, March 19, 2012

Prayer Retreat

Annually, our team of international Alliance workers gather for a prayer conference.  This year, the team that put together the program intentionally went with a "stripped down" agenda, leaving lots of time for people to informally interact and time for the Holy Spirit to set the pace.  In the words of one long-time team member, "this was the best prayer retreat ever!"  WOW!  I agree.
We had a Friday full of prayer- the focus being on reconciling our vertical relationship with our Heavenly Father.

Saturday was a day of relaxation and fun.

Sunday, we finished up our time with a morning worship service (including foot washing) and then an afternoon prayer time.

We are truly blessed to have such a wonderful team to serve along side of.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Fueling Progress.... Progress???

I want to give you an update about the AvGas exoneration efforts:

As many of you know, the type of fuel that we use to preform our humanitarian/medical flights in Gabon is a fuel that is very difficult, if not impossible, to find.  The only way that we can get it at this time is by paying $17.50 a gallon to a local agricultural company.  By comparison, you can purchase this fuel in the US at about $4.00 a gallon.  We’ve done our homework and, if we get this exoneration from paying all the shipping port fees and taxes, we can take shipments of 4200 gallons of AvGas, at a time, and it all can work out to a cost of about $8.50 per gallon!

This savings means that many more people get to use our services and we can maximize the potential of our work.   

A few weeks ago, we received a letter from the customs (douane) office that our request for an exoneration from all the taxes and fees at the shipping port had been denied.

As you can imagine, we were very discouraged.  However, we are very determined and started to think of options.  One option was to go through the political channels and keep making requests with the health minister and the commerce minister. 

Another idea was to take our request to the First Lady- Madame Bongo.  She has visited the Bongolo Hospital recently and is frequently leading efforts in education, health, and conservation efforts in the country. 

So, Pastor Sangoye, our business agent, and I went to our knees in prayer.  We made our initial appeal to all the government ministers, in writing, almost a year ago and, now, it seems that we had hit a dead end.  However, as we say, God is Big!  He knows what we need and when we need it.

Later, on the same day that we received our denial from the customs office, I received a call while I was reading before bed around 10pm.  It was Sangoye and he was excited to tell me that a friend of ours that was previously working for the health minister is now working on staff for the First Lady!  He wanted me to know that he had already gotten the ball rolling- he told her, our friend, of our plight and they started putting a dossier together.

Now, a week and a half later, the dossier is being handed to the First Lady with our request.  Our request is simply for her to use her authority to supersede the denial of the customs agent and save us about $8,000 in port fees and taxes with an exoneration.

What a great answer to prayer that, the very day that we prayed for an open door with the First Lady, it happened!  


About a year ago, when we started down this path, we were given a verbal response from a government minister that our request for an exoneration was simply a formality and that we would only need to put it in writing.  After quickly getting it in writing and doing our part to circulate that information to each of the offices involved, we received additional verbal approvals that this would not be a problem- our exoneration document would be forthcoming.  Knowing the huge impact that it would have with our program, we shared the good news with our board and started to put together our “Fueling Progress” campaign to fund the first shipping container full of fuel barrels.

In the weeks to come, we made several follow-up visits to get our document, but there was always a delay, for some reason.  People on vacation; the document was in another office getting a signature; etc.  In September, we started the funding campaign to great success- out of the 78 barrels, we currently have sponsorship for 65 barrels!  However, prior to using those funds, we will need to see the exoneration document, have it physically in our hands, and then show it to the port agents to make sure that it is all they need for the fuel to be released from the port without taxes and fees. 

The holidays came and went and we put on another push to visit offices in January and February.  However, it seemed that, after months of going down that path, we found that this was not working.  This was verified by the denial from the customs director.  I’m still unclear how our request got from the offices of the health and commerce ministers to the customs office, but, at least we had this response to work from.  

That may sound counter-intuitive, but, when you can show that you’ve been denied and then you persist, it is a sign that you have worked hard, struggled, a are very serious- a necessary thing to demonstrate before getting approval, sometimes.  Nothing has come easy for many people here, so it seems that, if you can prove that you’ve been on a difficult journey, you are more likely to be shown some grace.  For that reason, the document from the customs agent could prove to be a blessing in disguise.

Please pray with us.  We were given verbal approval with this exoneration from multiple government offices, but when push came to shove, the actual documentation has not been provided.  Now, we have a ray of hope.  Thanks for your prayers. 

-         - Steve

Monday, March 12, 2012

Air Evac- National Park Worker

At exactly 2:32pm yesterday, I received a phone call from a Wildlife Conservation Society who is working at a Gabonese national park named "Lope".  She had a very ill co-working needing an evacuation.  About an hour later, I was in the air, on the way to the park.  

Here is what the "Guide for Africa" website says about Lope:   "Covering an area of 4,910 sq km, Lope National Park was the first protected area in the country following the creation of the Lope-Okanda Wildlife Reserve in 1946. This massive wilderness and one of the biggest National Parks in Central Africa, s situated in central Gabon and has a predominantly rainforest terrain. To the north the park are the last remnants of grass savannas created during the last Ice Age.
Lope National Park’s fauna is typical for central Africa forests punctuated with a few hills and patches of savanna. OgoouĂ© River, running through the north of the park with wonderful trees gently rolling down to the rivers edge, habours a wide range of birds and giant mammals (63 species of mammals)."

The earth/grass runway is along the brush at the center of this photo.
 Landing there, only an hour later, I was met by two WCS vehicles and several of their workers- one of them obviously the one in need of evacuation.  He was very weak and walking slow with assistance to the aircraft.  I had prepped the aircraft for an option of having him lay down, but he preferred to sit.  With he and his chaperone loaded, we bid everyone good bye and were on our way back to Libreville.

Upon arrival at Libreville, a waiting ambulance was granted access to the ramp and the patient was loaded and taken away.

And... that was that!  It was 20 minutes after six pm and I was standing on the tarmac thinking that, for our first emergency medical evac, that went amazingly well.  By the grace of God, with your partnership (praying, giving, encouraging, persevering, etc.), the collective body of Christ moved in a way that has never happened before in this part of the globe.  In under 4 hours, we were able to move a very ill person from, literally, the middle of nowhere to a capital city and a care facility of their choice.  In my book, it was an amazing experience and one that I'll remember for sometime.

We've transported many sick people in search of treatment previously- that's not what made it amazing.  However, we've never responded to a request "outside" the system that we operate- a system of faith-based entities such as local clinics, the hospital, and local churches around the country.  

It's our hope that these type of services can continue to be offered and more so in the future, with more and more local believers getting involved.  It's a unique opportunity to preach the Gospel and live it out for the world to see.  I know many of you do this in your homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, and more.  We're in this together to show the world that there is a God that loves them and wishes to do the impossible through their lives.

What is more amazing than transporting an ill person from a remote place to medical care, is the supernatural transportation that God has done for us in taking us from a place of death to life, through Jesus.  May the Lord grant each of us a role in these types of evacuations often.

I called our patient today, to see how he is doing.  He says he is in good hands and receiving good care- feeling much, much better.  He asked if I can come pray with him.  We ask that you would pray with us as well.

Yesterday, as the sun set and I refueled the airplane, I was filled with gratitude at all that the Lord has done to bring flights like this to reality.  If you've been with us from the start, you know that we've had our share of ups and downs... times when it felt that the blessings were "arriving"; other times when it felt that they were "departing".  We know that, through Christ, we've been eternally blessed and that doesn't come or go, however... yesterday had a vibe that the blessing was definitely in "arrival" mode.  

- Steve

WCS Link

Gabon National Park Link

Sunday, March 11, 2012

All Work and.... Some Play

South African Sight Seeing

Our 4 door jelly bean Chevy.
As I said, since Egmont's company was footing the lodging, meals, and airfare for me, it only took a bit more personal cash to have Alace join me on the South Africa trip.  It was a nice mini-vacation after a very busy schedule these past several weeks.

In between multiple trips to the Lanseria Int'l Airport for all the pilot stuff, we were able to enjoy some time roaming about.  Here is a link to all the photos LINK.  Here's a taste of some of them...

South African Pilot Eval

Every year, Gabonese civil aviation mandates that pilots take a re-certification flight on each aircraft make and model that they wish to continue flying in the year to come.  Even very similar aircraft- like a Cessna 206 or Cessna 207.  You must be re-evaluated in each.  Since my Gabonese pilot license is issued in reference to my FAA license, there is some gray area as to which regulations over-rule the other, but it's better to play it safe.

To maintain my privileges in flying the Beechcraft Baron, I traveled to South Africa along with my friend, Egmont.  With my travel, lodging, and meals being paid by the owner of the aircraft, it wasn't much more out of our pocket to have Alace come with me to enjoy a week in a new country she had never visited.

Here are some of the photos.  See all the photos CLICK HERE 

Egmont flies for an agricultural company that likes to keep me on standby as pilot on their Beechcraft Baron (6 seat, twin engine aircraft).  Most days, Egmont is flying their other aircraft- a twin engine turbo prop aircraft- a Piper Cheyenne.

Our check pilot, Anton, owns the Gryphon Flight Academy.  Some of their students fly for the regional airlines in Gabon!  Small world.

Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork...

Preflight, preflight, preflight...

Finally... up, up, and away into the South African skies!

Lanseria International Airport

Anton, our instructor.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Flight Pics- 29 Feb

Here are some photos taken by Wes M.- an architect that teamed up with a group of engineers to come consult the local churches of Gabon in their ambitious, God-sized project called "COSAC". The flight was a chance for their team to get a "bird's eye" view of the property about 10 miles outside of the city, in a developing area.  Enjoy!

Have you ever seen a more beautiful aircraft???

Some sights on the way to the property- here's part of the estuary near the port of Libreville.

One of the many logging operations near Libreville.

Here is the property- to the right of the power lines.  It features access to an inlet from the ocean.

Add caption

Here is where the final of the "Cup of African Nations" soccer tournament was played.

Final approach, runway 1-6, Libreville.