Saturday, May 30, 2015

Time, and Steve, are FLYING!

It was great to reconnect with my friend, Michael, today.  He's a fellow pilot and, like me, has a
"heart" connection to a special African country- Gabon.  It's where he is from and where some of his family still live.

Michael currently lives in the US and is working in the New York City area.  He is a member of the Paramus Flying Club and made me a VERY happy man today by coming over to PA and taking me for a spin in the club's Cessna 182 powered by a diesel engine.

With only a couple months left in our time in the US prior to redeployment to Africa, it was high time I made it back in the air.
Joe came along for the ride and DJ duties!  The intercom had
bluetooth capabilities.

We met at "Capital City Airport" (CXY)- where I used to be based
when flying a Cessna 182 patrolling oil pipelines.

After a thorough preflight and passenger briefing, Michael deftly
headed us out to the runway for a southerly departure.

We headed South for a flyover of the York area. Next to the church, between
two pine trees, you'll see our current home, next to I-83.

Airborne "selfie" at 2,500 feet!

A wider shot from above "Leader Heights" interchange of I-83, looking North.
(from Michael's iPhone)

It's great to have connections with people that cross continents.  I enjoy chats with Michael discussing how the tool of aviation can be used to inspire people- especially in Gabon!

A shot from Michael's trip home- high above the clouds.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Married to a College Student

Alace has been accepted to Liberty University online studies toward finishing her college degree in counseling!!!

If you know Alace, you know her heart for people to be well cared for and thriving as they live and work wherever they are planted.  More specifically, she has first hand knowledge of how challenging it is for individuals and families to follow their God-sized dream and maintain health in an international, cross-cultural context.

Alace has a vision to serve others and coach them to grow where they are planted.  Workshops, consultations, sharing a cup of tea, a Skype chat, or whatever.  She wants to be a resource to enhance the lives of international workers.

This is a big step of faith for us in that we don't have a budget line item for the entire financial need this represents.  However, she signed up for her first two classes and the funds were provided!!!  Step by step, we'll move toward accomplishing her degree with perseverance.

I'm so blessed that I get to walk this journey with Alace.  When we were married, we signed a blank contract with our Heavenly Father to have a life-time adventure that points people towards Him and that we'd be quick to share any resources that we were given to steward.  We call that "blessed to be a blessing" living.  Alace has done that with so many of you that read these words and she does it with me on a daily basis.  I can't wait for the day when she gets her degree and can be further poised to demonstrate God's love to a broken world in greater ways.

Giving Wings to the Word

For the next several days, AMB service will be facilitating a vital link between linguists working to collaborate on bringing the written word of God to remote language groups.

Here is the schedule:
A picture from yesterdays flight to Bongolo from Libreville.
Efi on the left and Rob at the controls of the AMB Cessna.

TODAY-  Cameroon Team Leader, Efi, speaks to Gabon national leaders in Bongolo

Friday-  Efi & Pastor Jean-Marc (Gabon leader of translation efforts) fly to Franceville to meet Pauline (British int'l worker organizing local translation teams).

Saturday-  Efi, Pauline & Pasteur JeanMarc use ground transport to travel to the remote village of Leconi to meet leaders from one of Pauline's teams.

Sunday-  After worship, the group returns to Franceville by car; then Bongolo by airplane
Pauline- translator in Eastern Gabon

Monday-  Efi & Pastor J-M (& possibly Pastor-President) fly to Libreville for a visit "Alliance Biblique" (Bible resource facility) & Assembly of God church leaders.

Tuesday- Meet with all church leaders in the afternoon.

Wednesday-  Efi flies back to Cameroon. 

For those of you who pray, please support this work in prayer for safe travels and strategic collaborations.  These efforts dramatically enrich the communities they serve through literacy and language development that actually change the way that people feel about their people group.  They are better able to sense that perhaps there really is a loving God that cares deeply about them, no matter how remote they live and how obscure their language is.

Here are a couple of resources of interest:

How do international workers representing the Gospel impact the world?  CT magazine released an interesting article regarding some research pointing toward the positive results behind efforts that, sometimes, get a bad rap.  CLICK HERE to read more.

Also, below, I'll plug the Wycliffe Bible translators video regarding the critical nature of their work.  I've posted it before, but it is great to give another look at it:

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Top Ten List- Goodbye David Letterman

Last week, a well-known late night TV talk show host, David Letterman*, retired after over 20 years.  His last show was reportedly watched by 13.7 million people. 

In this post, I'll tip my cap a bit to The Late Show in publishing a TOP TEN list.  It comes from my good friend, Jon Egeler at Mission Safety International

For longer than Mr. Letterman has been behind his mic, MSI has done an outstanding job at calling mission aviation agencies to the highest level of safety and vigilance in their commitment to serve worldwide efforts to express the love of our Creator God.  

In 2014, they reviewed their data from recent years and created the MSI Top Ten items that lead to mission aviation mishaps.  Here, listed in reverse order, is their list (drum roll please):  


This has become a growing concern, especially with the transition to using JetA-1. Not only are we having to learn new procedures and ways to ensure the quality of the fuel, but microbial growth and contamination is a big concern in the hot and humid environments where many missionary aviation programs operate. In addition, many programs are now using both JetA-1 and AvGas, and there have been way too many close calls and even serious incidents when aircraft have been mis-fueled with the wrong fuel. This has been especially true with fuel stored in remote locations. 


As the costs of operating aircraft have risen dramatically, especially with the increasing use of turbine equipment, it is becoming apparent that the old way of using donated aircraft and having flight and maintenance personnel on support is not sufficient. Every flight program we have visited in the past 5 years is under financial duress, often at an extreme level. This results in cutting corners so as to cut costs, and becomes very risky. The most tempting things to cut are training, safety programs, and main-tenance. However, any airline can tell you that if you start cutting there, the end is not far away. If we are to survive long term, and do things well, we must find new ways to cover the costs of operations. 


Another item that seems to be way too prevalent is in the area of aircraft discrepancies. Most organizations have a formal system of recording aircraft discrepancies that occur during operation. However, there seems to be almost universal hesitance to use the formal system. Usually, the reason given as to why something was not written up in the formal log is a fear of grounding the aircraft. Most commonly, there is a lack of understanding of the system, and an informal “unofficial” system exists to pass the discrepancies to maintenance. Unfortunately, the informal system is very imperfect and not robust, and we are finding many unresolved serious discrepancies in our audits. 


This is common in service industries and organizations. The oft stated “we are here to meet the needs” just doesn’t cut it. Goals and purpose need to be well-defined, stated clearly, and understood by the whole team. If they are not, it becomes very difficult or impossible to set priorities, decide how to best use resources, and evaluate your performance. Without the focus that clear goals provide, we tend to become overly busy, stretched thin, and try to do too many things. This results in high stress, burn-out, poor performance, low standards, and little margin. These all increase risks dramatically. 


This seems to be a prevalent problem, as we replace vacancies in personnel positions with whoever is available or convenient. In missions, we have lots of movement, with people being reassigned or going on furlough or home assignment on a regular basis. Too often, there is not much of a master personnel plan, or a strategy to teach and train future managers and leaders. This results in poorly run operations, which increases risk considerably. Poor management has very long-reaching implications, including not setting proper priorities, poor use of resources, not setting and maintaining high standards, improper supervision, and potentially increased turnover rates. 


We are seeing an increase in people not conforming to or complying with established procedures. Sometimes this is due to a lack of understanding of why the procedures exist (a training failure). Sometimes (thankfully more rarely) it is because the individual simply doesn’t agree or want to do it that way. Combined with a lack of accountability, this can be disastrous, as we repeat the same mistakes others have made, with tragic results. The lack of accountability is quite common in missionary aviation, where we often are operating with only one crew member, and supervisors are rarely on-site. 


Defined as landing approaches that do not meet the criteria of being on the proper airspeed, glideslope, descent rate, lined up with the runway, and configured properly for landing at a pre-determined point on the approach. If the approach does not meet the criteria by the pre-determined point, a go-around is initiated. Unstable approaches introduce so many variables that the likelihood of a hard landing or runway excursion or overrun increases exponentially. The vast majority of missionary aviation accidents occur on landing, and based on the data we have been able to gather, a high percentage of those happened after an unstable approach. 


This is also a natural human tendency that will occur if we allow it. More and more we are seeing pilots and mechanics who are satisfied with “good enough”, and only trying to meet the minimum legal standards. Rather than setting very high personal standards, they are letting the standards be set for them, and doing just enough to get by. Striving for perfection in what you do, and achieving excellence as a result, is a foreign concept. This often leads to complacency. Complacency is the state of reduced attention or vigilance that often occurs when people get over confident or underestimate risks. It is most common when someone has done something successfully many times, and they begin to let their guard down. It can also occur when someone does not fully appreciate the risks, perhaps due to inexperience or lack of knowledge. Complacency poses a great risk because it reduces our ability to successfully handle the unexpected, and we often end up doing the wrong thing. 


This is a common human condition, if we allow it. It occurs when we allow ourselves to be distracted or unfocused,and we lose sight of what the top priorities should be. We stop paying attention to detail, and things slip through the cracks. It can also occur when we become complacent or relax too much, and therefore is often closely related to the next category. This category is a high risk in missionary aviation because we operate in a demanding environment with many variables that can easily distract us. In addition, we are often operating with not much extra margin, so the consequences are severe. 

...and the number one greatest concern in mission aviation is...

#1: Inadequate Airstrip Conditions:

The vast majority of missionary aviation accidents occur on landing, and airstrip/airfield conditions are a very strong causal or contributing factor in a great number of them. This category can be referring to the runway surface conditions, obstacles and clear areas, approaches, markings, charts, incursions and security. As we operate bigger and more expensive equipment, the consequences of even minor incidents has risen dramatically, and we must do a better job of evaluating and proactively eliminating or managing these risks. 

Thank you, MSI, for collecting this data and bringing it to our attention!  It's a great thing that the majority of mission aviation agencies are members of MSI and are regularly audited by Jon and his team.  Our audit, in Gabon, just happened in September of last year.  We'll report more from that soon.

*Little known fact:  In 1993, David Letterman was invited to the marriage of Alace Catherine Morris and Stephen Craig Straw.  There was no response to the RSVP.  Pretty rude, if you asked me.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Going Back to Africa

The tickets are purchased...

Cameroon- Just North of Gabon
Things are beginning to come into view for our next chapter.

As you can see, our destination is "Yaounde" as in Cameroon.  There will be three passengers- Sam, Alace and myself.  Each has their work cut out for us:

Sam... Senior year at RFIS!

Sam- Hamming it up for prom pics
After a great year in the U.S., attending Dallastown High School (honor roll!), he's ready to reconnect with his buddies at Rain Forest International for his senior year.  At breakfast on Friday, I asked Sam what advice he would give another mission kid coming back to the US and he said... "make friends right away".

Sam actually got this great advice from another MK and really took it to heart.  Upon arrival in the US last year, he started to dive right into connecting with old friends and new.  We're so proud of how he has transitioned and stayed so flexible.  It's not an easy thing for a teenage guy.  He's done it with grace and class.

Highlights from his year in the US:  Attending high school with 1800 other students; Homecoming dance; youth group leadership; driver's license; part time job; prom; honor roll student!

Alace... back to College!

As funding permits, Alace will be enrolling in counseling courses with Liberty University (on-line) to be more equipped in the area of member care.  She senses a need and desire to serve in the
Alace with our good friend Leanne
international worker environment in the area of counseling and care for individuals and teams.  This will take much of her time in Cameroon, but she looks forward to assisting as a volunteer at RFIS and being a small group sponsor for teenage girls again.

Highlights from this year in the US for Alace:  Having all he kids around more often; the "Homeyness" of the mission house; writer's conference; connections with old and new friends; after dinner relaxing around the outdoor fire pit; time with extended family; refreshment & renewal.

Steve... expanded role with SIL (JAARS)

I've been asked by JAARS to be program manager of their base in Cameroon on top of my role in Gabon.  This is something that I'm very happy to take for various reasons.  First, the base in Cameroon is where our Gabon aircraft comes for major inspections and maintenance- serving them will be a great way to give back.  Secondly, it is a larger program (3 aircraft; associated staff) where I can learn skills on serving a bigger team.  Thirdly, as our work in Gabon expands, this experience will serve me well.
Steve (middle) on a summer '12 visit to the Cameroon
SIL hangar

SIL has three aircraft- a Cessna 206, Cessna 207 (with turbine engine), and a Robinson 44 helicopter. There are about 5 international families and 5 or 6 national employees that support the work.  The base in Yaounde is home to the Cessnas and there is a remote base (Banso) where the R44 is based.  I'm really looking forward to serving the team to the best of my ability.

More details...

We'll be living on a compound where many Wycliff Bible translators live.  There is a daily shuttle to and from RFIS for Sam.  It's not far from the airport base and I (Steve) have a bicycle that will serve as my normal transport.  There is also a truck for our family use.  Our address will be:

Straw Family - SIL
B.P. 1299

We'll pass along more information on phone numbers, etc. when we get them.

NOTE:  We're still serving through the C&MA with "marketplace ministries" and you can support us through the same avenues (CLICK HERE to support).  We keep in regular communication with our Gabon team and serve in consultation roles and service rolls.  Steve continues to serve the team in Gabon as their container coordinator, translating documents and assisting the team's business agent in Libreville.

Thank you all, as always, for your support and encouragement.  This is an exciting journey!  We see how the Lord has worked with all of us, together, to establish a new work and, now, to strengthen it into the future.

Our chief pilot, Rob, continues to perform well and reports having all the support he needs with my assistance from a distance.  Alace and I look forward to visiting Gabon a time or two this coming school year to check in on the work there in person.

If you have any comments, concerns, or questions, please don't hesitate to ask.  Use my email:

Please don't forget to remember Joe and Megan in your prayers.  Joe will be starting his Junior year at Moody Bible Institute and Megan will be going into her second year at Nyack College in New York.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Better Together- IAMA Conference

May 11 to 14, I attended the conference gathering for the International Association of Mission Aviation with more than 70 other colleagues from the field.  It was hosted at MMS Aviation in Coshocton, OH- an organization that is a very good friend of our work in Gabon.

An aircraft hangar- the coolest place for a conference!
There were great daily challenges from God's Word, several spotlights on member organizations, vendor presentations, and discussion from the floor all focused on spurring each other on to effective work for the Kingdom worldwide.

It's encouraging to be around so many that sense the critical need for creative logistical solutions to express the love and kindness of Creator God.  There was a great vibe in the conference and a ton of networking going on.

Some new friends with partner "Missionary Air Group"!

Here are some of the presentations over the course of the 4 days:

   - "Alternate Approach to Pilot/Maintenance Training"

   - "Top 10 Safety Concerns in Mission Aviation"

   - "Alternate Means of Funding"

   - "Aircraft Tracking"  (impressive technology at V2 Tracker!)

   - "The Need for Leaders"

The common theme that came out of the conference was "collaboration".  IAMA states that it exists to bring together organizations in the spirit of professional collaboration.  The environment at the conference backs this up, for sure.  All the presentations were stellar, but the comment that I heard again and again was that we all wanted a bit more free time to be able to connect with one another informally.  Isn't that the kind of conference you want to be at if you HAVE to be at one?!?

One of the attendees spoke about the wide diversity of the organizations represented there and said that his organization might not smile upon some of the collaboration he was doing with those from a different theological "stripe".  However, he said he was there, despite those reservations, because he valued the overall impact of linking arm and arm with others that were like minded.  

The bond that brings over 70 organizations together as members of IAMA is this: there is a Loving God who wants to use His Children to creatively express His Love to every Tribe, Tongue, and Nation.  This is true relief work.  This is true community development.  This is true compassion. 

Philadelphia Visit... A very full day!

6am:  The Straw family of 5 start rotating through our
ONE bathroom for our allotted shower time slot.
7:20am:  We're on the road, headed East on route 30 then
on to the PA Turnpike.
9:30am:  After a bit over 2 hours on the road, we arrived at Christ Community Church
in Plumsteadville, PA, welcomed by Pastor Tom, his sweet family, and the very friendly
Church family.  Despite some technical difficulties, we had a great worship service. 
Joe and I were rocking the African threads!
NOON:  Did someone say "POTLUCK"?!?
Great decor!  A+ to the planning committee!!!

2pm:  On the road again... South to Philadelphia center city for sightseeing.
3:15pm:  Found parking, loaded up $5 of quarters for 2 hours of parking; and...
We found a friend!!!  Our dear friend, one of our "kids" from the York Alliance
Youth group, Nina!!!  She LOVES Philadelphia!!!
Lots of walking around, sightseeing, and delicious food!
5:15pm:  Near City Hall we bid "a Dieu" to William Penn and Nina and were
on to our next venue...
6:30pm:  PPL Park for the Philadelphia Union versus DC United!

We met up with 6 great friends, all of whom had come to visit or spend
longer stretches of time in Gabon, serving the team and making
friends with our national church friends there.
9pm:  As the game was finishing up, the sun set, but the visiting
and catching up with friends kept on strong!
Just before the ref blew the final whistle, a young player, a Philly
native, Zach Pfeffer, scored the winning goal sending the crowd into
After dealing with a little traffic, we were back on route 30 for an hour
and a half, back home and to bed... a long day, but full of great

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Keep 'Em Flying

In the 1940's a cultural icon, "Rosie the Riveter", was born.  It symbolized the US female workforce that kept the war machine of WWII moving forward.

It was a rallying cry for everyone to take a serious look at what their contribution to an important, critical task could be.

We have TWO ITEMS that we'd like you to consider:

FIRST:  We have a GREAT OPPORTUNITY to buy LOW COST FUEL!  Out of the blue, a French company contacted us.  They'll be doing aerial mapping in Gabon will soon have a surplus of 35 to 40 drums of Aviation Fuel (100 low-lead) when they're done with their project in a couple of weeks.

We've passed the first hurdle- the fuel drums have cleared customs! Thank you for praying about this!

Now, the second hurdle- the cost.  It's a steal of a deal at $7 a gallons- we've paid up to $23 a gallon in the past, so we DO NOT want to miss this opportunity.

We will need a total of $14,760 to wire to the French company in a couple of weeks.  Normally, we would have a portion of these funds, but we just paid an unusually large shipping fee for our last load of fuel, and have not had time to replenish those funds.

Would you please consider your role in this need over and above your commitment to your local faith community?

SECOND:  This year, our program has zeroed in on one specific project to fund, called "Adopt-A-Prop".  

BY MID-AUGUST, we'd really like to have a new prop to put on our airplane when we pull off the old one for reconditioning in the fall.  Otherwise, the aircraft will have to be parked, and out of service until the old one comes back, 3 months later (best case scenario), and put back on. 

With a new prop, we'll be able to keep the aircraft operating and making an impact with no interruptions.  Plus, when the reconditioned prop returns, we'll have one on hand for the next scheduled switch.

Could you also give some thought to this need?  We've split it up into 4 sponsorships to cover the $12,000 cost- one sponsorship per each of the 3 blades ($2900/ea.) and one for the prop hub ($3300).  One blade is already sponsored!

Aviation is not cheap, and we do what we can to be economical without compromising safety and effectiveness.  Thank you for believing that the investment pays in eternal dividends. Many of you have joined us in the understanding that there are unlimited, creative ways to demonstrate the Love of God to a broken world.  Together WE CAN DO IT!

FOR CONTRIBUTIONS:  Please visit and enter "Gabon Airplane" in the prompt for "give to international workers and Special Projects".  Then, email "" to let me know which fund you'd like to give towards.  

Thank you so very much!