My day started with grasshoppers. Thousands of them. Tens of thousands perhaps. When it rains in the desert, the earth comes alive. And it did last night. A short burst of gentle rain just hours before my pre-dawn preflight brought a small plague of critters with it. The aircraft parking area at Lokichoggio was peppered with them and I walked with care to my plane. A massive halogen lamp illuminated the mine-field of grasshoppers as they cast unnatural shadows on the slick black pavement. It seemed a shame to step on any of them, but it could hardly be avoided. I cringed with each crackle and pop under my boots, and whispered a few quick apologies as if it made any difference.
I might have looked ridiculous goose-stepping around the plane in the darkness, but I was the only one there. I had been determined to be the first one “off” that morning, ahead of all the other pilots. All the other planes, (and there are many at Loki, northern Kenya’s gateway into Sudan) sat silently waiting for their crews while I startled the morning air with my engine start, sending a hundred bugs hurtling backward.
Some of the beauty of an early departure, especially on a cloudy morning, is in being among the first to see a new sunrise. It does not rise so much as you rise to meet it, breaking out above an overcast to find a golden world of cloud and light. The sky is crisp, yellow fading into blue, and you can take refuge in knowing that there are twelve more hours of light ahead until the earth spins the sun out of sight again. And with light there is hope. Always. It somehow seems important here on the “dark continent.”
I engaged the autopilot to finish the climb while enjoying the view outside. It was then that I noticed my stowaway. A single brown grasshopper, no doubt hopped aboard unintentionally in a spastic leap away from my shoe, sat atop the instrument panel, facing forward, looking out the window. It seemed awestruck, lost in the moment and (dare-say) the beauty of our sunrise, even as I poked at it. If he had a jaw, I imagined it agape as he tried to comprehend how he ended up here above the cloud, thrust forward at a 180 miles an hour. Jonathan Livingston Grasshopper. We shared a brief moment together, admiring the glory of a new day, absurd as it may sound. He captured my curiosity enough to write about at least. But I had a big day ahead of me, and after turning my attention to it, I never saw the little critter again.
The day progressed quickly. The challenge was simple: Pick up four people from three different locations in the bush and bring them back to catch a connecting flight at 4pm. It was a busy day, and much too long to write about in detail. Some of my passengers were with an organization called Servants Heart. I recognized some of them from flights in and out of these same places over the years. I have always liked the name they gave to their ministry. It is the sort of thing you would like to be a part of just because of the name. These are some of the tougher missionaries I know – kind of like the “special forces” of the missionary endeavor. On our way out of the last airstrip I leveled off for a long leg to our next stop and listened to their conversation. It was a long and animated string of stories, of hardships both physical and spiritual. The accounts of spiritual warfare, the stuff of fiction novels and raised eyebrows among some Christians, seemed far too real to be anything else… about missionaries who had done “battle” with the local witchdoctor, and about witchdoctors who had lost. The shadowy miracles, and even less perceptible mighty hand of God, wove throughout the stories and lives of these folks. As I listened, I was reminded of another world, right there in front of us, but beyond our sight. The world apart from my aluminum airplane and the smell of Sudan. A world of spirits and souls, where a battle rages, and those who dare run to the fight come back with tales of war.
Peering into that reality for a moment made me feel small. Like a grasshopper looking above the clouds for the first time, realizing that the world was way bigger than he ever knew.
“He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.” Isaiah 40:22