Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Sam- Our Grad!!!

Our third kiddo has done it!  We're so proud of Sam!  2016 graduate of Rain Forest International School, Yaounde, Cameroon.

Here's Sam at the front entrance of the RFIS campus, Yaounde, Cameroon.

Our handsome young man!

The evening of his graduation held at the Catholic University in Yaounde.

The alumni soccer match, the day after graduation, with brother Joe (far left), and 3 or the 7 children from our friends, the Carlson's.

Sam's graduating class- all 13 of them.  The morning of graduation at the Senior Breakfast with their families.

Sam with his buddy, Nathan.  Sam and Nathan will be moving into an apartment together in San Diego (USA) and starting their college classes at a local community college.  Neither has an idea of what they would like to focus on in their studies, so this will be a good time to take some cheaper classes, have a job (Nathan's family has a company there), and ease into life in the US of A.

Please pray for these guys!  Keep in touch with Sam at his email:  epicthesam@gmail.com

We especially thank the ladies at State College Alliance Church (PA) who have sponsored Sam throughout his years in Africa with birthday wishes, Christmas gifts, and lots and lots of encouragement and prayers.  This has really blessed Sam... and his parents!

Monday, June 13, 2016

MAG Special Assignments

In my last blog, I detailed the work that lies ahead for me to get "back in the saddle" and ready for flight operations.  While I'm working at this task, our new aviation team, Missionary Air Group (MAG), has asked that Alace and I pitch in.  Here is an overview of what those roles will be at this small, but rapidly growing, organization:

Chief Pilot:
I've been asked to give oversight to all MAG flight operations- Gabon, Guatemala, Honduras, and the US!  This means policy setting, writing operations manuals, pilot flight checks, and lots of traveling.  At this time, MAG has at least one aircraft in each of the countries listed, and plans for more.  Wherever they have an aircraft, you'll typically find at least two pilots and their families.

The SIL Cameroon Aviation Team!
Team Care:
As you know, Alace is studying for her degree in counseling (Liberty Univ. online) and is now officially a Junior!  I like to tell people I'm married to a college Junior.  Anyways... MAG has asked Alace to put her people skills to work, serving their teams at each of their bases.  This will range from personal, one-on-one time, as well as workshops and team building for every age.  Steve will pitch in as needed- this is an area that we are really looking forward to develop.

Flight Training:
MAG has been asked to develop a mission pilot apprenticeship program- the first of its kind!  This is in response to a CRITICAL NEED of the industry- a shortage of missionary pilot/mechanics trained and ready to go to the field.  Many of the young people that catch the vision of serving in this field go for their training, but our saddles with working off a load of debt that comes along with it.  MAG's model will be a DEBT-FREE training, where private funds carry the trainees through to the end and then right on to the field.  This is an exciting program!  The first candidates arrive at MAG near the end of 2016.  MAG would like me to assist in a portion of this training when the candidates move through to the advanced stages.

This is an exciting chapter for Alace and I.  We see that the Lord has directed our journey to include experiences that lend themselves to these roles.  Additionally, these very roles are the ones that our maturing work in Gabon desperately need, or it will be soon struggling to continue.  Up to now, our Gabon work has not had a recruiting and training piece.  Without additional personnel ready to take up the work, all the years of preparation and launching of AMB will not be able to continue.

We look forward to continuing on this journey with all of you.  Your support, in prayers and finances, are still critical for us to continue.  We would also love to hear from you regarding your current chapter of life and what we can do to share in the adventures.  Please reach out to us at gabon.pilot@gmail.com or acatherine72@yahoo.com.

Back In The Saddle

In my SIL office,
Most recently, I've been benefitting from roles that have really stretched and strengthened my administrative and leadership abilities.  This included things like forming policies, leading teams, collaborating with other leaders, setting strategies, planning budgets, reviewing finances, coordinating recruiting, executing audits, serving our users, and more; all while serving my team by listening to their input and making sure they were taken care of.  I've really enjoyed this chapter of management development.  The team in Cameroon was so patient with me and really rallied around my leadership.

One thing that all this kept me from was duties as pilot.  So, now I'm looking to knock off some of the rust and get back in the saddle.  Here are some of the things that I'll be doing:

Keeping things straight!
Bongolo Airstrip windsock refurbishment,
circa December 2009.
Knock off the Rust:  
In some ways, once you've accumulated lots of flying hours (I'm almost at 10,000 hours), there is some truth to the adage about "it's just like riding a bike"- there are some things that just become part of your muscle memory.  However, since flying is done in a very unforgiving environment, you can't take anything for granted.  The veteran pilots have to be every bit as sharp as the new pilots.  So, to get my brain back in gear, I'm doing a lot of review on a wide variety of flying material.  A good resource that got me going was a flying refresher video that Sporty's Pilot Shop produced.  If you are interested, here is the link: CLICK HERE.  It covers topics such as certification, weather, airspace regulations, medical requirements, new technology, flight planning, and more.

Biennial Flight Review:  
I call this the "Filth" review ("BFR" still works!), because it's when you need to uncover all the bad habits that you've formed as a pilot- a pilot confessional of sorts.  The BFR is a pilot review, every 24 calendar months, mandated by the FAA in their regulations, FAR 91.56.   Another instructor spends time interviewing you and then observing a flight with you to make sure that you still have mastery of the information and the performance necessary to be a safe pilot.  Again, there are some great resources out there to explain these things and assist someone to get ready.  Here is one of them:  CLICK HERE if interested.

Instrument Proficiency Check:
The FAA also mandates that, unless you have been flying a lot in the clouds with a recent history of conducting landings in poor weather conditions, you have to stay sharp on your skills as an "instrument rated" pilot.  This means spending some time reviewing applicable procedures and operations in poor weather conditions with an examiner, perhaps some time in a flight simulator on the ground, and then some time up in the air with the examiner.  Again, the purpose is to show that, as pilot, you show mastery of the aircraft in a safe, effective manner.  One nice pilot has posted videos of his IPC evaluation on YouTube.  Watch it HERE.

2008 trip to Nigeria in a twin-engine, Beechcraft Baron.
Reinstatement of Flight Instructor Certificate
 Once upon a time, I was a certified flight instructor (CFI).  I got to the point where I was so busy doing other types of flying that I never thought that I'd be training others in the near future.  That was very true.  Now, that day has arrived!  As you know, I feel passionate about being able to invite others into aviation as a means to express God's love and compassion.  I'll need my CFI for that.  As a means to reinstate, I'll be adding on the "MEI" to my old CFI.  This is the Multi-Engine Instructor certificate.  Since I have my Multi-Engine rating as a pilot, I want to ready to instruct others at the highest level of training that I have.  Here is a video of a young pilot practicing his ability to teach his flight instructor how to do a take-off:  VIDEO.

As many of you know, AMB is now part of the Missionary Air Group family, based in Burlington, NC.  It really is a great fit- MAG's focus is to deliver health care to people in the margins of life... and they use the tool of aviation to accomplish this!  So, the MAG aviation procedures are based largely on the standardization received through training at MAF (Missionary Aviation Fellowship) based in Nampa, Idaho.  So, for me to be an effective part of the MAG team, I'll need the same.  Here is a video overviewing some of that training:  CLICK HERE.  For me to assist in keeping the MAG team sharp (this includes myself!), I'll need to, not only take this training myself, but master the teaching of this training.

With the help of very generous supporters, we'll be able to accomplish this in the coming weeks and months.  Thank you for standing strong with us and sharing this journey!!!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Straw Family Update!

So, "what are the CRAZY STRAWs doing this summer?!?"  I'm glad you asked...


Sam is wrapping up his high school career this week!  We are so very proud of this young man!  Despite a life-threatening bout of malaria several weeks ago (Read More), he has really enjoyed his school year- participating in sports as well as being the student council vice-president.  (ps. Sam would like all his adoring fans to know that he HAS registered his graduation wish-list on Amazon.com- CLICK HERE)

Sam's Plans:  With no clear direction on a field of study or career, Sam has wisely decided to take
some community college courses, get a job, and re-enter life in the US with a fellow RFIS graduate, Nathan.  Nathan's parents have some properties in San Diego, where they can live cheaply.


Megan wrapped up her Sophomore year at Nyack College, still working toward a degree in social work.  She was also working as a nanny to help make ends meat.

Plans:  This summer, Megan is working with our home church, York Alliance (PA), in their children's ministry, as well as looking for some part-time work.


Joe & his girlfriend, Laura (also a Guinea intern!)
As many of you know, Joe is finishing his Junior year at Moody Bible Institute (Chicago).  Actually, he has already done 1/2 of his senior year so that he has time for a 6 month internship in Guinea, West Africa.  At Moody, he is studying Theology and has a great job in the computer services office.  He's learning a lot and honing his skills with photography and videography.

Plans:  Joe's internship with Envision (C&MA), will be working with missionaries who run a youth center in the capital city of Conakry called La Zone.  They do English classes and other events to draw students into an environment where not only get great education, but see and hear about the Gospel.  Joe will use his tech skills to develop promotional and educational tools for the center.  He is seeking people to help fund this trip, so please consider this opportunity to partner with him.  Here is his latest update:

Some of Alace's ladies in Cameroon.

Alace has really enjoyed CONNECTING this year.  If you know her, you know this is her specialty!  People... relationships... going deep.

She took a break from her college studies (counseling major, Liberty U) for a couple modules since we were traveling quite a bit.  We enjoyed the conference in Thailand, and then our visit to Gabon to check in with the work we oversee there.

Plans:  Alace will be back into the books as her modules will restart later in the summer.  We'll be reconnecting with some friends in the US, get Sam settled into San Diego life, and then spend time in North Carolina (Burlington) as Steve does some aviation training and she becomes the team care person for Missionary Air Group (MAG)!  She is really excited about this new assignment!  More to come on that.


Steve has really enjoyed the challenge of being the aviation manager for SIL (JAARS) in Yaounde this year.  It took some getting used to a larger team and fleet of aircraft.  This was on top of his work as program manager for the Gabon work, where pilot Rob is on site, keeping operations moving along.

Plans:  Since Steve has been mainly in administrative roles recently, it is time to get recurrent so that he's ready for the cockpit again.  There will be a time of training in the US for a few months as well as time spent in a standardization course to prep him for his new role with MAG as chief pilot.  He'll give oversight to an even bigger team of pilots and aircraft fleet.  More on that to come, as well.

God-sized dreams are still a big part of what we're being called to.  Along with the national Alliance church in Gabon, a dream is starting to become a reality.  At the end of this blog, you can watch a video describing some of this ambitious project.

In short, for June and July, will be mainly in PA visiting family, friends, and enjoying connecting with our home church, York Alliance.  In August we'll start looking at the MAG program in NC, pilot training and member care, as well as getting Sam to San Diego for college.

Wings for Africa from Stephen Straw on Vimeo.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Life in the Fish Bowl

This past year, we've had a great time living in Cameroon, on assignment to serve with SIL Cameroon.  Steve has continued to serve the Gabon work as program manager, but has added the same responsibility with the SIL program, here in the city of Yaounde.  

We've been living in a second-story apartment, with Sam, that everyone refers to as "the fishbowl" since it is the most visible living area on the compound where many expats live.

At night, when we're at the dinner table in the front room with the light on and curtains open, all those passing on the road have a very nice view into our world.  Most of the traffic on the road is foot traffic and, with a very large church down the street, there are times when it is VERY busy.

Another aspect to being right along the busy road is the dust that is RELENTLESS in finding its way into our apartment, settling onto and into everything.  It's at its worst during dry season at the height of Harmattan.  When the winds sweep through the neighborhood, a vortex of sorts moves down this street and, as you can see in the picture, comes to the bend in the road, above which sits our window.  I'm sure some of the wind bends around the corner, but it SEEMS like all of it swishes up and over the fence and into our apartment.  I've actually been sitting at the table and witnessed a wall of dust shoot across the room before I could get to the window and shut it.

There are really good parts to life in the fishbowl.  Most all of our visitors look out of our window and remark how you can really see well and know what's going on around.  Also, we get treated to the cool winds (dust free!) during the non-dry season.  Our friends living on the ground floor, which is most of our compounds residents, don't feel these nice breezes so much.

We also have a nice view looking into the compound on the other side.  A small balcony overlooks a portion of the property and, as you see in the picture, we have some friends who really appreciate that view too.  Sometimes I like to come out to the balcony and address my people below.  I have to say, I don't always feel the respect coming back my direction!

This morning, at our church, International Christian Church of Yaounde, our preacher spoke from Matthew 5:13-16...
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.
Simply put, our preacher said, it should be "See me; Praise Him".  We've been in the "fishbowl" apartment this year and it has gone very quickly.  As our family likes to pray, we endeavor that the blessings God has graciously allowed us to experience are channeled through us and continue to bless those around us.  This is our version of "See me; Praise Him"- the blessings that we are able to impart from God to others are part of the evidence this world is desperately looking for... a connection to the love of our Creator God through Jesus; the dignity that brings and the response of a redeemed heart to have purpose in every breath, every thought, every word, every action.

So, in reality, we are all in a fishbowl, unless you are holed up in some closet somewhere.  No doubt, your life is intersecting with others on a daily basis and they may be catching glimpses into your world.  

As you read some of our stories shared in these blogs, I hope you are encouraged on your journey and we are all in the "See me; Praise Him" flow of life.

Ps. If you're interested in a bit more info on life in Cameroon, our two friends, Laura and Emily, who live on our compound with their young families, have put together a series of very entertaining videos called "Bama Meets Britain".  Here is one of them.  Enjoy!