(2 long days in exquisite detail – welcome to my office)
Tuesday morning, 4:30 am, I jump out of bed just minutes before the alarm clock sounds. A flight uniform and a well worn pair of boots are laid out from the night before and I get dressed like someone who has plodded through this morning routine a thousand times. I grab an overnight bag, stuff a passport into a zippered side pocket on my cotton khakis, and spend a few moments sitting in bed next to Renee. She is half awake, half asleep. She too has done this many times—placing her hand on mine, saying all that needs to be said without saying a word. I caress her hair, kiss her forehead and whisper an “I love you.” Out the door and through the cold morning darkness I drive my twenty-year-old jeep to the hangar, thinking through the two days ahead. It’s at this moment, on every single early morning drive, that I entertain two distinct, opposite feelings: I hate this, and I am apprehensive about the day ahead. I love this, and I can’t imagine why God has graced me with such a privilege—to pilot missionaries into the deep, dark, far reaches of Africa. Behind me are my wife and two precious children. Before me are two thousand miles of war, poverty, unbelievable need, treacherous jungle airstrips, and bad weather. Just another day (or two) on the job.
The Caravan is an amazing airplane. It stands tall and looks tough. It can do the work of three of our smaller Cessnas put together. Back in the pilot’s seat again, just a few turns on the adjustment knobs, and it fits like a glove. I take a few minutes to look over the emergency checklist, reviewing what I am expected to have memorized, and realize that it’s all still there in my head. The question every pilot asks is “will it be there in my head when I need it?” I honestly don’t know, and so I drill through the procedures again.
“Five Yankee Sierra Papa Kilo, cleared Nairobi-Entebbe level one-two-zero, State House Departure, right turn.” With my clearance in hand, I roll out onto the spacious runway here at Nairobi’s Wilson Airport. Now 6:45am, much of the city is still asleep and the sun is just cracking a beam above the horizon. In eleven hours I plan to arrive at a tiny grass airstrip in the geographic center of Congo, and essentially the absolute center of nowhere. Power up and we are on our way. There will be three intermediate stops picking up people and cargo at some places, dropping at others. The logistics for the day are complicated. I have a list of contacts, frequencies, and code-words on my lap board. With it are reminders to calculate estimated arrival times, fuel loads, weight limitations, and to secure military and government permissions before continuing beyond certain points. The first stop is Entebbe International Airport in Uganda. There I will refuel and pick up three Congolese pastors and doctors, and a load of supplies.
At twelve thousand feet, I level off and set the autopilot which promptly fails and disconnects. I try again and have to troubleshoot for a few minutes. Resetting the system with the circuit breakers seems to do the trick and the autopilot finally snags the controls out of my hands, steering a course to Entebbe. The morning is cool, and calm, and actually quite beautiful. I can see Africa’s two highest mountains out opposite sides of my airplane—Mt. Kenya on one side, Kilimanjaro on the other, separated by two hundred miles of clear skies. This is the part of the day when I am happy to have crawled out of bed early, before the sun, and to have embarked again on a mission that is both challenging and rewarding. I briefly think about the house I do not own, the empty stock portfolio, and the best years of my life being spent on something seemingly outrageous… and I smile.
Congo is at war. It is a low-tech, brutal civil conflict which has continued for decades and flares up at sporadic intervals. It is a fight for power and control over the nation’s rich natural resources, and it is a fight of age-old ethnic hatreds. The anarchy in the east had escalated in the past several months, and I had been flying there regularly during this time—first to evacuate people and then to support the church-led humanitarian effort for tens of thousands of displaced people. I’ve flown in doctors, medicines, blankets and tarps. The airplane has saved lives, sometimes pulling out families at the very last minute. Our once busy little hangar at Bunia now houses two tanks and is aerated with bullet holes. The runway is lined with high-caliber antiaircraft guns—an intimidating sight for a little civilian Cessna on final approach. Those flights were weeks ago though. Bunia is now closed to our operations. Today I will overfly the area to the north, but I cannot even consider the airport as an alternate landing site. Two days ago there were reports of Russian Mig fighters in the area. The hydroelectric dam at Rethy, once a beautiful mission station just north of Bunia, was reportedly bombed. I mentioned this to my passenger, a long time missionary. He shot back a look of surprise… “I built that dam!”
Three hundred and sixty-seven nautical miles into Congo is a place known as Bili. I pretty much know it as a short, slanted, undulating strip of dirt in the vast, thick rainforest. I’ve spent a few uncomfortable nights there in the past, sleeping in the shed under a mosquito net and counting the hours till morning. The eighty-five year old Norwegian missionary lady who lives there is simply known as “Madame” in this French speaking country. She’s tough as nails and has weathered more than one rebel insurrection in the country, refusing to evacuate when others had gone. Approaching Bili now, I have some trouble finding the airstrip. It’s the end of a dry season and all around are burning fields and plumes of white smoke which smear the sky. I circle once overhead and line up for landing. The Caravan can be a bit of a trick to land right on a spot, but I can’t afford to miss this one. The uphill plot gets very rough about one thousand feet in from the end. If I roll that far, the plane will launch back into the air over the various humps and smash down even harder as the airspeed bleeds off. Just last week this airplane came to Bili and afterward limped home for an unscheduled inspection of the landing gear.
Eighty knots turning final, bleeding down to seventy five, and setting the power for four hundred pounds of torque, I make a small adjustment in altitude and then raise the nose slightly for seventy knots exactly. No slower than seventy, I tell myself. The airstrip looks like a little brown postage stamp on a million square miles of flat monotonous jungle. It seems to come up fast. I now see the detail in the treetops below my feet, descending as close to the trees as I dare, aiming for that perfect spot. My eyes dart back and forth from the spot to the airspeed back to the spot. Over the last of the trees I power back very slightly, miss my mark by about fifty meters, and plant the main wheels nicely down. Back to idle power and into “Beta” with the propeller in one swift motion, the blades go flat and put a ten foot spinning disk in front of me now acting as a brake instead of propelling the plane. The deep Beta makes a really cool whooshing, ripping sound and I feel the rapid deceleration as the nose wheel slowly drops to the ground. Then I’m on the brakes and I hit the first hump. The plane does a bit of a whoop-dee-do and I loose control for a moment. The runway gets progressively narrower as I roll toward the top. After the “hop” I’m back on the brakes hard and the plane is now stopped. I spin it around and taxi slowly back to the end where a crowd of people and two rusted out Land Cruisers wait for me.
It’s hot. I’ve barely just arrived, and I’m already drenched in sweat. The equatorial heat mixed with the rain forest humidity mixed with the energy needed to jump around, unload the plane, climb up on the wings to check the fuel and keep back a crowd of wide-eyed children causes the perspiration to literally flow down my forehead. I quickly adopt the “pilot in a hot climate” position. Head bowed slightly so sweat can simply drip off and not run into the eyes, I have to look up at people with wrinkled brow and a bit of an unintentional “what are you looking at?” look on my face. It’s all part of the job. I also unbutton the top button (not the very top one… only a dummy wearing a necktie would ever button that one from the start) on my white pilot shirt. This action, inexplicably, brings laughter from the crowd of children. I have no idea why. My white pilot shirt, by the way, is not white anymore. It was when I left home this morning, but I have since checked the oil a few times, loaded eight hundred pounds of dusty boxes, shaken a few dozen dirty hands, and spilled on myself a bit of Coca-Cola and a splash of jet fuel. I have also, I admit, succumbed to the temptation of wiping my dripping head on my left shirt sleeve. God bless Renee for washing these things.
The people at Bili are wild. They crowd the airplane leaving me a two foot corridor to maneuver around it. In the business of unloading the back cargo area inside the plane, I pause a moment and look up into a wall of humanity—a hundred wide, white eyes, a mass of dark bodies dressed in rags, and the strong, earthy smell of a forrest dwellers. It is all too easy to see right past people like this. They can be annoying and ungrateful. They laugh at me and ignore my requests to please not touch the million dollar airplane. They can be violent; right in front of me, two women break out in a genuine fist fight as the crowd laughs and cheers on. I shake my head and think “what a mess.” Then I look at the eyes again and realize that these people are pretty much just like me. I pick a man indiscriminately from the crowd and imagine that he is my lifelong best friend. I wonder what his hopes and fears are. I wonder if he knows about Jesus. Compassion always wins out over my disgust. I thank the Lord for that. People can be hard to love. Including myself.
At Bili they speak French, Norwegian, and a local dialect. I don’t. This is no small problem as the military commander comes out to scold me, and the missionaries are confused about what cargo is supposed to get off at their station. I begin to understand the chaos unleashed at the Tower of Babel, as well as the value of being Italian. Gifted with a natural ability to “talk with my hands,” I successfully signal my way out of untold sticky situations. It’s amazing what you can communicate with hand motions and sound effects. It’s also quite entertaining for the crowd, who are seemingly looking for reasons to laugh at me. My work finished here, I shake a few more filthy hands and wave good-bye. The engine starts hot, but within limits and I begin to run through the checklists for the next leg. It’s about three o’clock now and I’m starting to feel tired. Fatigue and heat and a marginal airstrip don’t mix well, so I take my time and grind through the procedures, forcing myself to think clearly, speaking aloud the checklist items and important performance numbers. I taxi to the top of the airstrip, intending to takeoff downhill, opposite the direction I landed. It means I will have to roll through many of the humps and rough spots this airstrip is hated for, but they are generally more acceptable on takeoff than landing. At the top I apply full power, and basically hold on. The Caravan shakes and shutters and breaks ground about one third of the way down. I’m glad to have Bili behind me.
Likati lies forty-five minutes ahead, further west and deeper into the center of Congo’s rain forest. Heading west all day, I’ve had strong tailwinds, and thereby not burned as much fuel as planned. Having too much fuel is usually not a problem. But tomorrow I have to get off of Likati with a sizable load of passengers and baggage… and the fuel I don’t need is going to weigh me down and lengthen the ground roll at another airstrip which is already too short to begin with. With this in mind, I level off quite a bit lower than I normally would in order to burn fuel inefficiently for the next forty-five minutes, hoping to waste a little and lighten up. I set the autopilot, and amazingly, it works. About this time I discover that I brought entirely too little water with me on this trip. My one liter (what was I thinking?) canteen is nearly empty. So is my stomach since I forgot all about my peanut butter sandwich and homemade chocolate chip cookies. I can’t bear to eat them now though, not without water. Since 4:30 this morning I’m running on a cup of yogurt and about a liter of water. Some might think that this is not so smart. And they would be right. But somehow, flying around out here, there always seems to be more important things to do than eat. And people wonder how the pilots stay so skinny.
I follow the Global Positioning System to a set of reliable coordinates for the Likati airstrip. Half way along the route we pass over a wide twisted river flowing slowly through the jungle and breaking off on tangents here and there, rejoining miles downstream again. The river is practically the only safe place to put the airplane down if I had to. Most of the time however, there is neither a river nor any clearing in sight. The mileage ticks down on the GPS and there’s no sign of Likati. This is my first time into the station and I don’t exactly know what to look for. Two miles, one, point six, point three… and there below me is a bright green jewel of an airstrip tucked neatly in the towering canopy of the forest. I circle round once to get a lay of the land and make an approach. Once again the runway looks a lot shorter when I turn final. It is nearly four o’clock now and the afternoon air is smooth, hazy, and comfortably humid. It’s pretty, and I enjoy the short approach to the runway, as if my whole day has been looking forward to these last ten seconds—a perfect approach, a perfect touchdown on the soft green grass, power back, a whoosh into Beta with the prop, flaps up in one smooth motion with my right hand, click-click on the switches with my left. The plane decelerates smoothly. I kick the rudder and swing it around to park for the evening. There are missionaries off the side taking pictures, and, like always, kids gathering. “Base base, mike delta on the ground… goodnight.”
Here I am. Eleven hours after my morning drive to Wilson airport, I am taking a walk down the Likati airstrip in central Congo. I may as well be a million miles from home. Walking and talking with a missionary who used to live here, I find that this place is much like everywhere else in the country. It bears the scars of many conflicts and the remnants of some forgotten, glorious past. They used to build big in Congo—wide streets and fantastic promenades through beautiful towns, large houses with high ceilings and double wide mahogany doors. Arches and statues and fountains in choice places. There are cathedrals in the jungle, now overgrown with vegetation and infested with bats. One might stumble upon such a sight and wonder what ancient civilization worshiped here, and wonder how they became extinct. But is hasn’t been that long since the Belgians left. Since that time, for decades, both civil strife and civil war have dominated life, leaving the land to revert back to the wild. The streets have disappeared into the rain forest just like the cathedrals. The houses and buildings still stand, sort of, but they have been looted of anything valuable: Electrical wire, screens, window panes and roofing. Strangely though, this place could be every bit as beautiful without the buildings or roads. It is green and wet and full of life. Farming is relatively easy, and a little stability is all one would need to carve out a simple life of contentment. But Congo has not seen stability in a long while. Peace, by far, is the rarest commodity. As such, the missionaries have been driven out many times over the years, their homes plundered along with the development projects they started. There are no permanent mission personnel at Likati anymore. The group I’ve come to pick up only stayed a week to consult on some agricultural and medical projects, and now they are ready to leave again. Internal violence and a loss of outside help have left these Congolese among the poorest, most desperate, most forgotten peoples I have ever seen.
That night, under the sickly light of a single fluorescent lamp wired to a car battery, in a large, bare house of high ceilings and chipped tile floors, I dine with seven Norwegian Baptists of various ages and backgrounds. Some of the visitors were missionaries in other countries. Some were born here. All come from a church in the far north of Europe with a big heart and many willing hands to help the people of this region. I exchange some short sentences with one of the visitors. He is a large, gentle European man with small glasses and a straight smile. He sighs and looks away for a moment, “These people have nothing,” He states plainly and then pauses, “except full churches.” His sentence is a revelation that catches us both for moment. “In Norway we have the opposite,” he says with a short laugh and shake of his head. I start to respond and find no words. I pause to think, and smile. True, these people have genuine and immediate needs, but perhaps those empty-churched Norwegians are poorer than they believe themselves to be. Perhaps many of us are. As is commonly the case in my flying ministry, I am both encouraged and dismayed at what I encounter. The suffering is often more than one can bear, but the faith shining through it, at times, is more than one could imagine.
I am fading fast through dinner. One of the Norwegian ladies repeatedly reminds me and everyone else that the pilot always needs a good night’s sleep… I think she is a bit nervous about the flight tomorrow. I accept the invitation to retire early and get some rest. I peel off my sticky, soiled flight uniform and pile it in a corner of a tiny, dark room on the other side of the house. The room is empty except for a low bamboo cot, a bed sheet and a mosquito net. It’s perfect. It feels so good to finally lie down. As my body surrenders and sighs, my mind replays the day. I realize that I’ve forgotten the rudder lock on the parked airplane now sitting on a lonely airstrip a few hundred yards away. I calculate the likelihood of a thunderstorm blowing through tonight added to the fact that I’ve left my flashlight in the plane and probably can’t find my way, and decide it will be OK to just leave the plane be. I start to fade to sleep.
Somewhere in the distance I hear singing… or is it in my dreams? The strong, sweet melody gets closer and closer to the house and I stirs me fully awake. I’m not dreaming. I get up and amble out the double mahogany front doors onto a huge concrete porch and into the weighty darkness of the jungle beyond it. Everyone else is outside too, and a choir from the local church is marching single file from the darkness to the stoop. They are no more than ten men and women, in step, in harmony, singing so loud, so clear, and so beautifully that I can hardly tell from which direction the music comes. The Congolese are renowned for their music, but I have never before heard them sing. In the distance to the north is a thunderstorm—so far off that the lightning comes without the thunder. The sky is ablaze. And with each flash I see a choir of hands raised to heaven and the silhouette of palm trees against the tangle of the jungle canopy. The air is thick, but cooling, and the breeze feels good as does the cool concrete beneath my bare feet. The people are singing so loudly that I feel it as well as hear it. The song is all octaves at once, sharp, clear, passionate, and harmonious. It is more of a prayer than a song—a petition from the dust of the earth to the king of the universe, offered with angelic praise. I absorb the moment, all my senses heightened, knowing that I will probably never be able to explain it to anyone. I just stand there in the darkness and smile and, for the moment, can’t think of anyplace in the world I would rather be. A Canadian missionary standing next to me translates… “God help us here in Congo. Without you we would die. Without you we would be lost. Don’t forget us here in Congo.” I believe all of heaven heard them.
Wednesday morning I wake up as well rested as could be expected from a night on a narrow bamboo cot. I put on a clean set of clothes and a pair of well-used gold captain’s bars for my shoulders. My first thought is that, if everything goes well, this day will end with me lying in my soft bed, next to my lovely wife, appreciating both of them more than I did yesterday. My second is the morning departure here from Likati airstrip. There are nine passengers and some baggage to lift out of the short grass strip. I will be the first to try a takeoff at this weight here, and I have given the problem no small amount of thought. Yesterday I paced off the runway and had a good look at all the other variables: A soft surface, the length of the grass, slope, wind, and menacing obstacles off the ends. I ran the numbers on the performance charts and picked an abort point for the ground roll. All that I needed now was to apply a near-perfect takeoff technique and be able to make a split second decision if things went awry. Five years of missionary flying and takeoffs still raise my heart rate a bit. They are among the most dangerous things I do, which most people find surprising. Landings with horrendous, gusty crosswinds into slippery, mud-encrusted runways… piece of cake. Heavy takeoffs on short strips… I’m thinking how nice it would be to settle down as a banker and work at a desk and wear a tie.
Poised at the end for takeoff, the runway once again looks shorter than it is. I review my power up procedure aloud… “Fifteen hundred pounds, check temp and release the brakes. Inertial in and torque to red line, check Ng and temp. Looking for fifty knots at fifty percent, rotate at sixty-six… Vx is sixty-eight.” I finish the pre-takeoff checklist and swing the power lever forward. The jet engine spins up to thirty-eight thousand RPM, the power turbine, in turn, rises to thirty-one thousand, and the giant propeller geared to it all grabs the misty morning air at nineteen hundred. The blade tips cause such a sharp drop in pressure that the air around them condenses into a cloud, and the prop appears to be “smoking” as I shudder and accelerate down the runway. The takeoff goes well. We break ground at about seventy percent of the runway and clear the trees at the end by a hundred feet. On the company chart that takeoff will be reported as “comfortable.” It’s a relative term.
Our next destination is Zemio, a mission station in the Central African Republic (CAR), a country to the north of Congo. It’s only an hour flight from Likati, but once again, a world away. On Saturday, CAR had a political coupe. A formerly exiled military commander and his loyal following of troops took over the country while the president was away on vacation. On Monday they dissolved the constitution. It’s Wednesday, and I just want to stop in and get some jet fuel. Not knowing the situation at Zemio specifically, I try the radio in order to raise a single missionary woman living there. But the radio is silent. Somehow, in arranging a time to connect with each-other, we mixed up our time zones and missed our chance. The morning quickly becomes tense as I have to consider returning to Likati. In about ten minutes, I will have to turn around in order to have enough fuel for a second try at Zemio later in the day. There is no fuel anywhere else out here.
Continuing on too far towards Zemio will commit me to land there… Which, if things have gone badly in that town, could land me in a jail in a country without a constitution. I decide this is not worth the risk and start a radio barrage on several frequencies to find out if anyone has heard from Zemio. 800 miles away in Nairobi, our Operations Manager gets on the radio and supports my decision to turn around. Just then a voice squeals over top of him, “Break break, Mike Delta this is Tango Sierra. I just spoke to Whisky Alpha and everything is OK at her location.” Instant relief. I thank the missionary friend in Uganda who relayed the message for me, and we make a straight line for Zemio Post.
Just a few miles past the border, which is a river, we arrive overhead. It’s another new airstrip for me and so I circle around one time and take a look. This area is much drier and we are no longer over jungle terrain. Southeastern CAR is arid savanna much like Kenya. There are hills at the west end of the strip and the wind favors landing over them. It’s a long dirt runway—although I’m not entirely sure where it begins—but I don’t need much space to make a landing. We touch down smoothly and roll on down to the end. I’ve arrived before our missionary friend and the fuel she is bringing out. I take my time with the shutdown checklist, stalling a bit as some of the French speaking soldiers move toward the plane. I’m going to need some help with the language. I shut down, get out, and open up the plane. I shake a few hands, and sporting a practiced “bonjour” quickly continue on around the plane before a conversation can get started. From behind the plane comes creeping the saddest looking Land Cruiser I’ve ever seen. In the bed are three beat-up fifty gallon drums of jet fuel—a beautiful sight. The fueling is a hot and sloppy exercise. I climb up on the wings and hold a hose through a small filter and into the filler caps. On the ground are a few volunteers pumping the fuel with gusto, using a questionable old hand pump that looks to be of same vintage as the Land Cruiser. This takes about thirty minutes, with barrels rolling to and fro and plenty of spilled gas leading to some very slippery descents from the top of the wings. Having fuel in the tanks again feels good. With it I have the ability to fly right out of Congo and into western Uganda. As much as I love these trips, it’s always a relief when Congo is behind me.
The military post at Zemio is inadvertantly camouflaged. I follow the missionary to the main “office” and don’t even see the building a hundred meters off the airstrip until I’m on top of it. Once a neat concrete complex—painted brightly no doubt—it is now worn and weathered, the color of the earth. We walk past a few men in tattered fatigues, holding rifles polished with wear, right up into the Commandant’s office. He hardly looks like a military man. His uniform is no better than the troops, except that he has a torn insignia safety-pinned to his chest, displaying rank I assume. The missionary chats in French, I nod and pretend to understand, and the big man looks over my paperwork. From a creaky drawer in a humble little desk sitting cock-eyed in the room, he produces a little rubber stamp. The power of the rubber stamp cannot be underestimated here in Africa. It alone can grant my freedom or ruin my day. The sun rises and sets by decree of the rubber stamp. I’m lucky today and get a big inky “whomp” square down on my declaration form. In the center goes the loopy signature of a poorly dressed government official who probably sits around all day practicing his loopy signature. He peruses over my CAR flight permissions issued by an authority which no longer exists and seems satisfied. Then, just when I think I’m in the clear, he asks for some of my fuel. With plenty of translation going both ways I try to explain that this is jet fuel and it won’t work in his motorcycle. He seems to get the point. “Can I have some for my lamp then?” I smile at his persistence. He’s actually a pretty nice guy and I’m happy to drain a little to light his house.
Thirteen thousand feet, autopilot engaged, it will be three hours before we arrive at Arua in western Uganda. Smoothly above the clouds we fly—seven sleeping Norwegian missionaries, one Congolese pastor, and a Canadian agricultural economist beside me. It’s about noon, and I expect to get home around seven. Feeling tired already, I strike up a conversation with the missionary to my right. We talk about Canada and America, about politics and economics, and we talk about what works and doesn’t work with ministry projects in Congo. We educate each other for a few hours, trading flying lessons for economic theory in the third world. At Arua I take on another barrel of fuel and swallow a glorious bottle of chilly Coca-Cola. One hour to Entebbe International Airport where we add six hundred liters of fuel for the final leg home and where I wash my hands for the first time in a long while.
On the ramp at Entebbe are 747s and elegant, widebody Airbus aircraft from Europe. My humble airplane is parked nearby, utterly dwarfed. I often wonder what the airline Captains think when they see me—dirty, tussled hair, four gold bars on my shoulders, filing a flight plan at the briefing office. Do they wonder where I’ve come from or can they imagine where I just spent the night? I occasionally look up at the jumbo jets and think “I could be flying one of those.” I could be clean-smelling and well groomed, flying in comfort and spending my nights at the Grand Regency. But would I be content? I don’t know. Maybe. One thing’s for sure—I would be a lot chubbier.
Perched on the northern curve of Lake Victoria, we depart from Entebbe right over the water and make a quick left turn for home. Flying east, I will fight a headwind all the way. At the end of a very long day, the wind will ultimately determine if I land by sunset or not. If I can’t, I will have to file an IFR flight plan with Nairobi and make an approach to the international airport. Either way, I will be closer to home. The two hour flight over the lake and into western Kenya is slow and quiet. We are all too exhausted to converse so I slip in a CD and turn up the volume. Leaving home makes coming home all the sweeter. It’s one of the hidden perks of being a pilot. I think about Renee and the kids and how nice it will be to sleep-in tomorrow, have a normal breakfast, and relax for a day. Flying out here I encounter a world of broken hearts and dashed hopes—a world where the rages of sin are not concealed by fine clothes, promising careers, or trips to the mini-mall. It is from this world that my home welcomes me. I wonder if Renee knows what a fortress of goodness she cultivates within the walls of our little apartment, and that whenever I point my airplane home, I am running there for refuge. Five minutes before sundown, my wheels squeak onto the pavement again at Wilson Airport. I am so very tired.
I cut the fuel as we pull up to the hanger and the engine spools down with a sigh—the Caravan looks as worn and ragged as I do. I gather my things and start for home. After a few steps I stop, as I often do, and turn to look upon the airplane that just carried me two thousand miles for two days in four countries in Africa. It really is quite beautiful. I think about all the places this airplane has been, the things it has seen, and the immeasurable difference it’s making in the broad work of “making disciples.” That feeling of being blessed comes over me again and I thank God for letting me do what I do here. And I wonder how I can ever stop doing it.