Sunday, April 29, 2012

Yesterday's Flight

 Come along for the flight!

The most beautiful airplane on the ramp!

Blastoff from runway 1-6 at Libreville Int'l airport.

Up, Up, and Away!  Across the "estuary" is Point Denis.
We were packed full with medications and equipment for the Bongolo Hospital!
My co-pilot (and photographer) for the day- Hannah T.- one of our teammates in Libreville.

Cruising to Bongolo at flight level 0-7-0 (7000 feet above sea level).

Below were the roads that we were avoiding... 8-9 hour drive turns into a 100 minute flight!

Throttle (black control), Propeller (blue), and Mixture (red)... set for an economical cruise (saving fuel!).
Ngounie' River... part of the Ogooue River system, one of the largest on the continent!  According to wikipedia, "All three species of crocodile, for instance, occur in the river: the Nile crocodile, the dwarf crocodile, and the slender-snouted crocodile."

15 minutes prior to landing we pass the regional capital of Mouila.  The airport in the photo is the closest any regional airline will get you to Bongolo.  From there, it's a 2 hour drive on some "challenging" roads.

Under the clouds, it was a bit more hazy.  However, it's still a nice view of the savannah.

Closer to Lebamba (the town where Bongolo is located), there are some great improvements to the road.  Here is one such stretch- decending out of a small mountain down to the bridge across the river.  If you ever come to Bongolo and take an inner-tube ride down the river, this is the bridge that marks the end of your 3 hour ride.

As usual, on arrival, we do a promotional "fly-by" of the hospital.

Then, it's a quick left turn to join the "right base" for runway "zero-niner" for the Lebamba/Bongolo airstrip.

After off-loading all the meds and equipment, it's a quick turn around with loading of the luggage, pre-flight briefing, prayer, and getting that passengers settled in for the return to LBV.

"Au Revoir" to the Thelander crew... Luke and Sarah are my best "ground handlers"!!!  Always asking if they can help.
Door to Door service with a meal en-route!?!  Quel Service!  The team today is from Ohio- one spouse and 3 medical professionals that taught Africans for their two week stay.  Jack (L) and Bill (R) have been to Bongolo multiple times.

For the return, we mostly stayed below the cloud deck around 2500 feet, to do some sight-seeing.

Before long, we were on the left hand "downwind" in the traffic pattern at LBV international.  We were initially told to enter a holding pattern to wait for a Boeing 737, but I "encouraged" the tower controller to allow us to do a short approach.

The tower controller was very accommodating and we quickly turned on "final" for landing in front of the 737.  It wasn't one of my better landings, but we were down and off the runway and in our parking spot by the time the 737 touched down.

A great flight!  Come check it out sometime!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Hope Happens! (Part II)

More miraculous stories from Bongolo Hospital:

Eight year-old Leticia’s story is even more amazing.  Her mother brought her to the hospital in early February with a CT scan showing a tumor filling most of the right lobe of her liver.   Dr. Keir Thelander operated on Leticia with a visiting surgeon and several of our residents.  Near the end of the  4 hour procedure, during which the surgeons removed the entire right half of her liver, the small bile duct from the remaining left lobe was injured.  Dr. Keir was able to repair it and leave a soft plastic drain in place. It immediately began to drain bile from the liver to a sterile collecting bag.  Leticia did very well post-operatively, but by two weeks she was draining 400 to 500 cc of bile a day.  This could not go on indefinitely.
During her hospitalization, both Leticia and her mother prayed to receive Christ.  The sparkling joy of this little girl after she received Jesus was extraordinary.  Visiting her when we made our daily surgery rounds was the brightest spot in the day! 

About a month after her operation we decided to take Leticia back to surgery  to stop the leak.  We knew this would be extremely difficult and dangerous.  That weekend, however, her drain unexpectedly fell out, even though it had been sutured to her skin!  The surgical team received the news with deep foreboding.  Nevertheless, that night Leticia did fine, and in the morning the nurses reported that nothing was leaking from the hole in her side where her drain had been!  On rounds she smiled and insisted that she was pain-free and hungry!  A follow-up ultrasound showed no bile collection outside of her liver.  Two weeks later she was totally asymptomatic and doing well, so we discharged her from the hospital, acknowledging that the Lord had done something extraordinary to preserve her life.  This week she came back for a follow up visit, and again appeared to be in perfect health.  The pathologist who reviewed the liver tissue from her tumor reported it was a “hepatic sarcoma,” a rare tumor in children that usually recurs.
Cases, like this one, encourage us to trust God to help us with difficult and complex operations, even though our resources are small. It is a privilege to help these who come to us, and to share with them the love and light of Jesus before it’s too late.

What Happens at Bongolo Hospital? HOPE HAPPENS!

Here are some great stories from the staff at Bongolo Hospital:

Mercy and Miracles

Sidi, a lovely young Gabonese woman from Libreville, came to our hospital in late March complaining of a large, painful abdominal mass in her abdomen.  Doctors in the capital had ordered a CT scan that showed a massive tumor growing out of her left kidney.  Her family could not afford the $ 5,000 fee for the surgery. We agreed to operate on her for $350, hospitalization included.  

We were quite concerned about the planned surgery because the tumor was large and appeared to be stuck to several critical structures. Sidi and her mother are believers, and they had such a wonderful confidence in God that it was clearly visible on Sidi’s face as she lay on the operating table prior to surgery.

That sense of peace remained, despite my warnings about many possible complications.  God helped us wonderfully, and the surgery went exceptionally well. The tumor came out in one piece and did not appear to be invasive. We are waiting now for the pathology report .  

Two days after her operation Sidi was walking around the hospital grounds in her street clothes! A few days later she attended the Bongolo church’s three-hour service. A week after her operation she and her mother traveled to Libreville in a minibus.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

SIL Cessna 207 Turbo Prop Almost Home!

You can see the large supplementary fuel reservoir behind the pilot seat. 

Start up and taxi for departure from the N52 "JAARS-Towsend" airport in Waxhaw, NC (U.S.A.) on April 18th, 2012
Up, up and away!

Route of flight:  N52- CYYT (Newfoundland)- LPPD (Azores)- GMMH (Western Sahara)- GLRB (Liberia)- DGAA (Ghana)- FKYS (Yaounde, Cameroon)
Bon voyage Captain Tom and Bruce!

The final leg to Yaounde will most likely be tomorrow.  You can follow on the website:  CLICK HERE

Quest for the Fuel Exoneration Continues...

Behind the big walls are the offices of the first lady of Gabon. Sangoye and I went there on Friday morning to ask her to consider a partnership with our efforts to import the 100 low-lead fuel we need, but can't find in country from traditional suppliers.  We have only found it from a private business at a cost of about three times of the current U.S. cost.

While waiting, we were offered a coffee- delicious espresso!  This is a shot down the hallway we were sitting in.  Everyone was very nice and professional.  Every desk was outfitted with 27" iMacs- very nice.  Unfortunately for us, we were told that our already thick dossier was not quite thick enough.  We needed to come up with some additional documents.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

My Neighbor's Airplane

The much anticipated Cessna 207 Soloy is on it's way to Cameroon to the SIL Aviation base in Yaounde!!!

I'm very excited for my good friends there.  Here is the link where you can watch their progress online:


The Cessna 207 "Soloy" means that it has been converted from a piston-powered engine to a turbine (turbo-prop) engine!  From 300 Horsepower to 412 Horsepower!  This was a conversion that we were hoping (and still hope) to do for our Cessna 207, but at the time of our program's launch, we did not have the funds available for the high price tag.

Since I plan to have 3 to 4 visits to the SIL hangar in Yaounde per year, I'm going to do what I can to become very familiar with there Soloy program.  In our hourly operating costs currently, we are setting aside funds to pay for 1/2 of a future conversion for our Cessna 207.  We'll see how the Lord directs our paths on that.  Please pray! 

For more info on the "Soloy" conversion, CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Open Wounds

subtitle: Quarantine For the Good of Loved Ones

Over dinner the other night with some Gabonese friends, we learned about a situation with a woman, whose husband is becoming weaker and weaker and is leaning on her more and more.  After 20 years of this, she is ready to walk out on the relationship.  They have 4 children together.

At first blush, we would say to her, "Listen- you have made vows to this man to be his wife for better or for worse.  You must stay with him.  God will bless your faithfulness in your marriage commitment and God will be your strength and sufficiency."  But wait... there's more...

This man has another wife (something allowed in this country) and does not lean on this other wife near as much as our friend.  Also, this man has tested positive for HIV.  Now, he is asking our friend to be a faithful wife and sleep with him at night and expecting her to have sex with him.  He says, "It's not good for a husband to be infected without his wife infected too". 

There's no good side to that statement.  Even the best interpretation of that statement- that he wants her to become sick so they can die together- is sick and wrong.  What may be the more accurate interpretation is that he doesn't want people seeing him suffering from HIV and then see his healthy wife and then wonder, "where did this guy pick up the virus?"  You see, it implicates more than his physical sickness- a moral virus.  He's attempting to dodge shame.

This year, as I read through the Bible (trying a little bit everyday!), I am reading in the French language ("Segond 21" version).  Today, I'm really stretching my vocab in reading about flesh wounds, rashes, and leprosy in Leviticus chapter 13.  This is detailed info for how a faith community should deal with people that are sick with open sores- not my most favorite part of the scriptures, but interesting.  At the end of this chapter, it instructs a person with an infectious wound to dress in a peculiar way (torn clothes; a covering over their lower face) and to remove themselves from others- to the outside of their village.  If anyone approaches, it is their responsibility to warn others of their condition.

On top of all pain from their physical wounds, now they are instructed that this will be their lot in life until they are better- ouch.  Can you imagine thw isolation?  Can you imagine the hurt and pain of the distance? I can only hope that these wounds would heal quickly.

Why would they do this?  A sick person would do this for the good of their family, friends, neighbors, community... they would do it because of a greater concern and love for others.

So, that brings us back to our friend and her HIV infected husband trying to infect her too.  I'm not going to try and convince you that I have all the answers here.  Certainly, there is a strong case to call this a twisted form of abuse and the husband has, with this action, undermined any sense of divine covenant in this marriage.  It's him that is bringing this covenant to and end, in my mind, not her.  Even simply for the sake of the four children, she needs to do all that she can to stay healthy.

As we ate our meal that night, I asked our friends what role the church plays in this.  They said that, normally, the church would be very involved, but the couple is not engaged in that process.  They are removed from a faith community in this.

In reading the scriptures, it seems that, in the passage referenced, the church would instruct the person who is sick and in danger of infecting others to remove themselves (change their behavior) to the extent that it would be a threat to others.  This would be their responsibility.

WAIT!  Don't hear me say that this man should be dropped off at the outskirts of Libreville.  Hardly.  Certainly, in this day in age, we have the means by which we can safely interact with people that are infected with a wide variety of sickness.  Only in very rare cases do we actually have to take extreme measures (think- "bubble boy") and quarantine someone.  In the case of HIV-AIDS, there is no reason that great care can't be given.  Face to face, with a personal touch, we can appropriately express our care, compassion, love, and friendship.  We can journey life together- shoulder to shoulder.  In fact, here in Africa, when we do our mobile medical clinics, we spend time dispelling myths about the WRONG idea that we need to quarantine HIV infected people. So, this is not what I'm saying.  No need for torn clothes and facial coverings!

WHAT I AM suggesting is that, the way in which we interact with one another... what we choose to DO and what we choose NOT TO DO... will give testimony to our Great God.  In this case, the husband's covenant love for his wife... the love that says he will honor her more than himself...  this love will motivate him to behavior that is life-giving... not life-taking.  So, there will be something missing from his life (sex)- just like those infected with sores, back in the day, who were missing a part of community life.  However, because of this sacrifice, others are kept healthy and not burdened so as to remove their impact on the community when they become sick too.

Sometime we talk alot about community and how we handle one another in the context of "normal", healthy situations.  However, what about how we handle messy situations?  I propose that it is in these situations where our Christ-centered lives have more opportunity to shine in a dark world (think- Mother Theresa).  In these difficult situations, whether we are the "healthy" ones or the "infected" ones, we both have opportunity to chose behavior that reflects "Kingdom of God" values of love and compassion for others- greater than love of self.

 Jesus replied:  
"‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart
 and with all your soul and with all your mind.'
This is the first and greatest commandment. 
And the second is like it: 
‘Love your neighbor as yourself.' "

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Today's Flight

Ngounie River near our halfway mark- the Fougamou airstrip.
Great flight today.  Beautiful weather back and forth to Bongolo from Libreville.  Flight level 070 on the way down, and then kept it down at 025 for some sightseeing on the way back, following the Ngounie river.

To Bongolo:   two docs and a wife from Ohio who will be joining in the training of African surgical interns (PAACS program).


From Bongolo:  Bongolo’s HIV/AIDS clinic directing doctor and 4 young medical students who were visiting Bongolo, overnight, from Schweitzer Hospital.  On the way back to Libreville, we dropped off one of the med students at Lamberene (FOGR), where Schweitzer hospital is located.  He caught a cab from there.

Next scheduled flight is about 10 days off.  Will give me time to spend at civil aviation- they have not renewed our flight permits, despite my having asked for it about 3 weeks ago.  So, this is one of those cases where I’ll be babysitting the paperwork through to completion.  C’est la vie.

Also on the docket is the renewal of the airport certification at Bongolo, and then setting up the next “Operation Runway Rehab” events.  Sometime this summer, the leadership of the national church would like to have a ceremony marking the work of AMB- so that is on tap as well.

Have a good week,


Sunday, April 8, 2012

EASTER Newsletter!

Happy Easter!  The Savior, Jesus Christ, is RISEN!  HE IS RISEN INDEED!

As we celebrate the supernatural event of Jesus' victory over death in His resurrection, we have also resurrected the Straw Family "Air Mail" newsletter after a 3 month break.  Do you receive our newsletter?   This picture (to the left) is just a bit of the first page of it.  You can read it all by clicking HERE.

If you would like to receive the newsletter in your email inbox, you can do so on the right hand column of this blog by simply entering your email.  About every other month we will send you a quick summary of how the Lord is directing our paths.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Tuesday's Med-Evac

Monday, I got a call from a woman whose husband was very ill at Bongolo Hospital.  He would need to be put on dialysis quickly- a service that Bongolo does not offer.  So, they were looking to get him to the capital city, Libreville, where he could receive that care.  They asked me how much it would cost to air evac their loved one out.

I cringed at the question because I know that the average Gabonese person can't afford the $1500 in operational costs that it takes to get our Cessna 207 to and from Libreville.  So, I deflected the question a bit, by saying "Ca depend"- it depends.  Which is, indeed, true.

We have built up a small account called "emergency air evac", but it was really to be used in certain situations- namely for families that truly can't afford the service.  So, a bit of quick investigation was in order.  After a couple of phone calls to personnel at the hospital, I concluded that this family was a family of means and would gladly be able to cover the operating costs.  So, we had stumbled upon one of the 5% to 10% of the Gabonese population that could make the contribution!  I explained the costs involved and the contribution program to the family, they understood, and everything was put in order.

Tuesday morning, after refueling and thorough pre-flight, I was on my way, climbing to 7000 feet for a smooth ride in the calm morning air.  As is always the case in Gabon, there was some mist and fog laying in patches below and, today, there was some scattered cloud cover between 2000 and 5000 feet.  If I wanted to keep the trip back turbulence-free, I might end up having to climb up to 8000 feet- the appropriate altitude for the route that would keep me above the clouds that were sure to be climbing higher as the morning turned to afternoon.  However, climbing to altitude with a weak air evac patient in an unpressurized aircraft can turn fatal.  I began to hope that the bases of the clouds would cooperate for me to stay at a lower altitude for the way home.

Touching down in Bongolo, I was surprised to find that an additional three people would be coming on the flight- three additional family members.  So, laying the patient down and putting the seats to the side would not be an option.  Rather, the patient was loaded in the chair behind the co-pilots seat and he would lay, sideways, into the lap of his daughter, seated behind him.  In the third row of seats was another daughter and a sister of the patient.  In the co-pilot's seat was a brother.  The man was severely week and seemed to be in and out of consciousness- eyes rolling backward from time to time.  He seemed close to death.

After a passenger briefing (in French) and a prayer shared with about a dozen others who had gathered under the wing of the airplane, we were ready to go.  The on-lookers were moved out of the way, the vehicles cleared from the ramp area, and we started up and taxied into position.  We lifted off about half way down the 830 meter strip and gently turned toward Libreville.  We stayed at 2500 feet initially, and then, to keep terrain and cloud clearance, we later went to 4500.  En-route, I learned interesting things about the patients' brother who was sitting next to me.  Notably, that his eyesight was pretty poor as he pointed at a passing skift of cloud and said that I should look out for the other airplanes.  After initially laughing, I quickly stopped and then thanked him as I realized that he was not joking at all.  Oops.

About 40 miles out of Libreville, I maid contact with the Libreville control tower and let him know that we were on an air evac operation.  He gave us priority and, as we neared the airport for landing, he had the arriving Air Ethiopia flight make a turn in holding, so that the way was clear for us.  NICE!

We touched down in Libreville to a waiting family SUV and more family members.  They gently removed the patient and were on their way to the central hospital of Libreville.  There I was, alone with the airplane at the end of another successful air evac.  

It is a great feeling of success as our team (this means YOU), works together to bless others in the name of Jesus.  We serve a Heavenly Father that wants to interact, personally, to each person in the world.  His preferred way to act is through YOU and I as His hands and feet.  This med-evac service may be one "hand" that demonstrates the love of God for people, but it is at the end of an arm that makes it all possible.  Together, we are the body of Christ, and in word and deed, we are doing a remarkable thing that points back to the Father.  It's great to be with you in this.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Spring Break- Pitstop at Bongolo

On the way to and from Panga, it's always a good idea to stop off at Bongolo for some good times with our team there.  That's exactly what we did, and here are some photos (see all the photos HERE):

100% Jungle at Bongolo!  Lovely!

Esther H. welcomed us with her great smiles!

The accommodations were very nice.

The resident apple pie guru was there to do her magic!

Our new friends from Holland were kind enough to share living space with us in the "foyer" house.

Spring Break in the Middle of Nowhere!

The kids have been back for a few weeks from Rain Forest Int'l School (Cameroon) and we are making the most of it!

Here's some photos and a video (see more pics- CLICK HERE)

Untitled from Steve Straw on Vimeo.
This is the view from the back porch of the cabin where we stayed.

From the cabin, it's just a quick 5 minute walk down to the beach.

Beach Picnic!  Here's Joe and Timmy V.  Another family whose kids also attend RFIS were able to join us at Panga.

After a bit of work, we constructed a jungle lean-to for a little more shade!

We had the beach to ourselves!  There wasn't another sole around the whole 4 days that we were there!  Unfortunately, there were no elephants or jungle buffalo to watch.  A couple monkeys, though.