Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
We are excited to welcome into our family John Harrison Daniel, but we're just calling him Jack!
Because of complications, we flew back to the US late February and Jack entered the outside world on Leap Day.
Thanks for your earnest prayers for him and me. We are putting his story and updates on a new website, with the hope of giving thanks to God for how he has already worked in Jack's life.
Please feel free to come over and sign the guestbook!
Saturday, December 10, 2011
As the caravans unload, I realize this ramp is the end of the line for them, but for me it’s the beginning.
Thirty five nautical miles away thousands shelter under trees, wanting to escape the violence their own country inflicted on them. Last week our airplanes brought the four-wheelers as close as possible to the refugees. A team from our partners, Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian international relief organization, hit the ground and rode in to meet and begin caring for the war weary people. Many were tired, drinking brackish water, and boiling leaves and grass for sustenance. They grouped together under the trees living on the little they brought. The relief effort initially consisted of survival. Our partners drank the same water and lived on crackers until additional food could be arranged.
In two days they cleared a drop zone. Meanwhile, several of our team DC3 began practicing air drops with the DC3 near our main base at Nairobi. After good results, they rushed to the drop zone. Over the next four days they dropped over 40 tons of food, shelter material, and cook ware.
I met up with them on their second to last day. Our partner organization wanted to slash out a new airstrip near the refugees. I guessed this was to deliver various supplies (water bottles don’t survive air drops well), and provide better evacuation options. Once I landed, I would jump on a four wheeler with them and explore the options.
I asked questions about the airstrip idea, and it seemed daunting, to say the least, and the reason for the airstrip was not clearly defined. They wanted me to rotate out a couple staff members, and bring one in.
I left my bags in the small metal box of a room on the UN compound that I was sharing with the SP guy there. Several staff members with the UNHCR wanted to talk to the Samaritan’s Purse guy. They had discussed amongst themselves how many refugees had arrived, and also debated how much food SP had dropped. We smiled at the thought of these guys sitting in meetings debating the work SP had down. Most of the HCR staff was eager to get in, but were waiting on travel arrangements and permissions.
One of the staffers looked at me and told me “We looked at flying with you guys, but after talking to Juba, they said we aren’t allowed to.” I shrugged. No need to tell him we serve only the mission and church community. I thought it was interesting the UN also prevented it from being an option.
“You know, there was heavy bombing in the area today.” One of them said.
“How far away from the drop zone?” I asked
“About 25 kilometers. In the world of aerial bombardment, that’s not very far.”
I had heard this earlier today, but was not sure how accurate it was. I began pressing for details. Finally, I decided to send a text message to our operations in Nairobi. It started a chain reaction, and several international calls were made back and forth to determine our next step. I went to sleep under the AC unit in our box, and wondered how the next days would unfold.
I was told early the next morning that none of our airplanes were cleared to fly and wait for further advice.
We loaded the three tons of bags into the DC3 so it was ready for its first run that day, and then readied the 206 for its flight. And we waited, talked on the phone, and waited. At one point the local army said the bombing was insignificant and was not a problem for us. It’s been going on for weeks. It looked like we would be able to go soon. Then, another phone call changed that. Another army division commander said we needed to stay on the ground RIGHT NOW. So we went back to waiting.
While sitting inside the DC3 fuselage, we talked about the Russian made bombers who had wreaked devastation on the darker citizens of this country for decades. One of our pilots said he had seen some of their pilots: all were from eastern Europe doing the bombing runs as a job. I thought of the Russian crews that fly for the UN, in Russian made hardware, and wondered if they knew these bomber pilots. Even worse, if they had done both jobs.
The next phone call told us we should unload the DC3. I needed to take the 206 up near the drop zone and rotate the staff members, so one of the guys up there could fly out on the DC3. I received a long text message spelling out the conditions that must be met before I could fly. The trickiest was communications with the other airstrip. They relied on Sat phones, and our cell phone coverage fluctuated constantly. I finally got through, got an update on their airstrip, weather, and situation on the ground, then explained the signal I needed for “It’s safe to land.”
I went with the staff member in the 206, and scanned the skies constantly for other aircraft. When we arrived over the airstrip, I established communications with the guy on the ground. My instructions included: “You cannot get stuck!” I thought of Pieri a few weeks ago, and the frustration of being able to get airborne because of the patches of mud on the runway. I landed softly, let all three wheels roll for about 50 meters. The 206 barely decelerated. I powered up and went around. After the next landing, I shut down, unloaded, swapped out passengers, and ten minutes later headed skyward and back to the waiting DC3.
After landing, I turned into the parking area. As I shut down, the DC3 right engine began to start. I let my passenger out so he could make the run over to the waiting airplane. As I secured my plane, I watched as the massive tailwheel airplane began rolling out of the parking area. I realized suddenly I was alone, doing something I barely knew any details about, in a new place, and my colleagues were strapped in together, in the mighty beast rolling down the runway.
The rest of the afternoon I stayed with the 206 at the airstrip, waiting for word to do the next flight. While waiting, I have seen a lot of different caravans come and go. Most are flown by very cautious pilots, abusing their aircraft and making good money while wearing spotless shirts. Some of the older aircraft are flown by less than sober crew, also making good money. I watch as they talk on their cell phones as dozens of people unload food, medicine, and sanitation supplies from their airplane. Their hearts don’t seem to be in it. I guess we are all here for different reasons.
Then I think of the screaming marauder a few dozen miles north of us, dropping incendiaries on unarmed and starving people. I imagine those pilots are also well paid, and have some how justified their job to the remnants of their conscience.
After explaining that we should not worry about what we wear or what food we eat, Jesus made a pretty conclusive statement: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I get up off the 206 tire and try to tuck in my muddy brown shirt, while stretching my legs. A brilliant shirt seems petty in light of the large group barely surviving 40 miles away. I’m not sure what treasure may be waiting in heaven, but I do hope I can meet some of the refugees there one day. That’s the best pay anyone could ever fly for.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Turning left past Lodwar, I exhale. The trip becomes easy. Smooth roads and three hours of high speed driving will take us to our home, at least our home here on Earth.
Racing into the setting sun, I silently run some numbers. It is 3:15 pm, so we should arrive in Loki before 6:30. Sunset is probably around 6:50, so we should have time to make it before dark, even if we have a short stop along the way. I settle into my seat, slip my used crocs off my dirty feet, and press harder on the gas pedal.
My clothes sport a fine coat of dust. The same dust clings to my face, collects where the skin around my eyes crease together and add to the discomfort of hot dry air around us. Air conditioning would be nice, but whenever I hit the button, the engine shudders and an overwhelming groan rises out of the pounding steel and aluminum in front of me. Still, with my sunglasses on and a fake Indiana Jones hat on my head (father's day gift), I feel great on this homeward stretch.
Home! It seems strange to drive to Loki and equate it with returning home. But it's true. The thought rings in my brain "Where is home? I guess it's a place I have never seen."
The needle rises above 100 kilometers per hour, and as it rounds near 110, the car lurches. I let off the accelerator, the engine picks back up. I must not have felt that. Did I feel that? No way. I fixed that problem already.
FIve minutes later the problem reoccurs.
Do we head back to Lodwar? We just can't turn around. I can't imagine the phone call telling everyone we will be delayed again until we sort out the issues with the car.
On the other hand, if the car dies between Lodwar and Loki, there aren't any comfortable sleeping options. Plus, roving bandits may take it upon themselves to help lighten our Land Rover's load considerably, hopefully leaving us unharmed. But they sometimes shoot first and take things later.
As we speed on, I think about the previous four days.
Before we left Nairobi, Breanna sent me a text message saying the car wouldn't start. I called her while away on a retreat. It seemed a mystery. The glow plugs that heat the engine before it can start only turned on for a split second. Also, the starter didn't even turn. However everything else electrical worked. I asked her to call an AIM AIR mechanic, Nate, who lives in the neighborhood. He couldn't figure it out either.
When I return to Nairobi, I try in vain to repeat the problem. I check all the connections on the battery and the starter. The shop washed the engine the same day Breanna had the problem. So, I decided the contacted must have had moisture in it, preventing it from powering the starter. The problem refused to reoccur, and I figured we could still travel without a starter if it was absolutely necessary. So, we scrambled to get ready the next day. We hadn't packed, planning on a day to fix the car.
We left in the afternoon, and drove into the night for our first stop. Three hours from Nairobi, as I inched over four small speedbumps, the car died and refused to start. This time the starter turned but extremely slowly. I popped the hood, and began looking for problems. I flagged down a passing car and asked for a jump. Still, the starter turned slowly.
It began to rain. The good samaritan said my jumper cables were bad because they did not create sparks when we attached them. I wasn't sure. My battery seemed completely charged, and therefore, the cables did not arc when connecting the two batteries. The eager helpers removed the battery from the other car (after untying the long pieces of timber tied on the roof and over the hood). They held their battery delicately next to our battery, connecting them with two end wrenches. Still no sparking and the starter barely turned the engine. We tried roll starting, but even as fast as we could push it, it would not turn the engine. I realized something serious had happened that prevented the engine from turning. Breanna called our host for the night and asked if he could come get us.
He arrived, but did not bring a tow rope. We unloaded everything from inside and on top of the car, then loaded it into and onto his car, in the pouring rain. We arrived at our cabin around midnight, then I went with him to tow the car in. It rained most of the time.
The next day I tried starting the car. As the starter turned, a squealing noise began. We isolated it to the alternator. I removed the serpentine belt, and tried cranking the engine again. It turned over quickly, like a champ.
A mechanic helped me remove the alternator, and we took it into the small town. We were in a rural area. In fact, we planned to stay out here and relax for a mini one day vacation before heading back home. The one day would probably not be enough. In town we went to a small shop. More like a closet, actually. The alternator repairmen shared the closet with a shoes salesman, and a leather worker. I wondered if my alternator would come back with the same parts that it had to begin with.
The repairman disappeared for hours. He eventually returned with alternator rotor removed, and the problematic bearing off and in pieces. He struggled to remove it, and in the process chipped part of the rotor. I bought the "nearly same size" replacement bearing from a nearby shop, then insisted a welder fix the chip in the rotor. Finally, the repairman "delicately" tapped the bearing into the alternator housing.
"How long will this last? Could I make it to Mombasa?" I asked.
"Sure, it will go," he replied.
"And South Africa?"
He smiled… "Oh… no that is too far!"
With my repaired alternator, under a questionable warranty, we returned to install it in the car. Everything ran fine. The alternator charged the battery, and engine turned normally. I had a brain wave: Drive to Nakura National Park, like we wanted, look at animals, and test the repair of the car at the same time!
So we packed a lunch and loaded up. The sun shone brightly, the road carried us smoothly, and I smiled widely. Half way into the hour drive to Nakuru, the car hiccuped. It became frequent, until, about 15 minutes from Nakuru, it died. Grace immediately started wailing. She has a ways to go to becoming a true Land Rover kid, apparently.
I figured this problem must be fuel related. However, fuel spurted from the pump just fine. We limped into Nakuru, and I called a mechanic I trusted. He listened to the symptoms and instructed me to replace the fuel pump. I decided to ask a local mechanic to find a fuel pump and fuel filter and save us time hunting them down. It was almost closing time, and I didn't want to risk being stuck because we went to the wrong shop.
Together, we found replacement parts. He installed them for me, and it ran again. However, as he finished, part of the manual primer for the pump fell off. He showed me, and said we have to replace the pump… again. That means coming back tomorrow.
Another test drive, I guess.
The vehicle ran great. The next morning we left early, drove the hour to Nakuru and then drove around the game park. We saw wonderful sights. A lot of flamingoes, a lot of zebra, cape buffalo, and rhinos. As we headed out, we saw giraffes. Everything was going well again. Then we drove back to the mechanic for the replacement pump to be put on.
The car ran well the rest of that day, and almost the rest of the trip. Early the next morning we packed up, cleaned up, and headed north for Turkwell Dam. After a night there, we drove across the roughest road of our trek and towards Lodwar.
The road from Kitale to Lodwar continues to deteriorate. It offers the choice of a ribbon of tar in the center laced with small craters, or wide sandy shoulders sculptured into a washboard that pounds and pounds at any speed over three miles per hour (5 kph). The washboard becomes bearable again at around 30 miles per hour (50 kph), but the sand shoulders have eroded through time, and worn deep ruts into the edge. You usually see the rut just after the point you can practically slow down on the washboard.
The two younger kids loved this road, and I'm still not completely sure why. It had to do with being tossed in the car on a wild ride and not having to stay in their seats like on the high speed highways of the US.
Up front it was more like a 50's era black and white comedy, with dry humor and no laugh track:
Breanna (with a vibration induced vibrato): So, what do you think if we paint the walls first, then invite people over for dinner?
Continuation of sounds of gravel hitting the side of the car and tires pounding on the sand
Jerry: Ahh! I hate that!
I gear down and ease out of the hole we just rammed through.
Jerry (speaking slowly, while focused intently ahead): Sorry, I can't really hear you. What did you say?
And after Lodwar, the washboard ended, and as I already described, our problems resumed.
I tell Breanna my plan…
These symptoms are different than the fuel pump problem. (Although, in my mind I am angry that I may have bought a counterfeit fuel pump that already died). I think we probably picked up bad Diesel in Lodwar (actually sounds like a good rock'n'roll song title). We have an extra fuel filter in the spare parts bag. If this problem persists, I will change out the fuel filter and see if it can get us to Kakuma, at least. It's a town made famous and large because of the nearby refugee camp built for the lost boys and others from South Sudan.
I pray fervently for God to take this problem away (I forget to add 'not my will but yours be done').
Five minutes later the engine dies, and we coast to an agonizing stop. I expect one of the girls to wail about more car problems, but instead it is silent except for tires crunching over gravel.
"Why are we stopping?" Grace asks
"Something isn't working with the car, and Daddy's taking a look."
The something of course, would be our engine.
We are just outside of a small village, so at least civilization is close. I disconnect the fuel line to the fuel filter, and decide to crank the engine. Instead of the starter turning, it is completely silent.
This isn't a fuel problem.
With my back to the sun, I ask Bre to turn the key. I try to listen to the click of a contacter. Instead, I see it. A faint wisp of smoke rising behind the engine on the firewall. I look at the source up close. A wire had been added by someone in a hurry, and they secured it a cooling hose and also to an angled piece of metal on the firewall. As the cooling hose vibrated, it moved the wire against the angled metal. The insulation had worn through, and the bare wire now made contact with the electrical ground- a short circuit. The smoke and hot wire gave me evidence of that, and I guess the wire was added with the alarm system by the previous owner. It disabled the engine, even though the engine never had a computer controlling it, the alarm must turn off the fuel solenoid and turn off the glow plugs.
I rejoice quietly and thank the Maker of all. He chose instead of a smooth ride, a way forward through the bumpy challenges. I move the wire away from the offending metal, then secure it. I ask Breanna to try starting it again, and sure enough it runs immediately. And it runs for the rest of drive to Loki. I now have an alarm system to get rid of. Oh, and an extra fuel pump that I now realize worked fine the whole time.
Irony strikes me thick and heavy as I realized the washboard pounding prevented us from being stuck. That wire was probably shorting out quickly, then bouncing away before it could shut us down, and we never even noticed, not until we hit the smooth road.
Obviously, we prefer the smooth roads, smooth flights, smoothies (or Sonic's cream slushes during their happy hour from 2-4 are an acceptable substitute), and all our favorite things. However, I've seen God use the washboard ruts on a hot sandy road to lead us where he wants us to be.
So here we are, wiser with regards to our vehicle, and ever more dependent on His plan. And thankful just to be home … this side of Eternity.
Thursday, June 02, 2011
One of my fellow AIM AIR pilots put this on his blog. It's well written and worth pasting here:
On slight addition I have to throw in, I understand that when the LRA was started, they were told if they followed the ten commandments, they would be invincible. How they justified their barbaric actions in light of this is beyond me. But it's always amazing how any group of people trying to satisfy an old Law can justify their sinful actions and believe they deserve a reward for doing so.
Also, last year, two of our pilots attended the first graduation of seminary students from a Bible school in an Ugandan refugee camp. Because of the LRA presence, citizens have relocated to refugee camps to be protected by the Ugandan defense force. While their lives remain on hold, they decided to start a Bible school, and the first four pastors graduated last year.
(You can read more about the US troops coming here).
OK, here goes. Sit down and enjoy:
An apology, but not really, an anecdote, and a confession ... and why not? I can't sleep anyway.
Last week I returned to Nairobi. Two weeks of house projects in Loki came to an end, and I fell back into the warmth of my family, and the normalcy of life that could be anywhere, but it must be with them, together.
I also got back in the saddle: the thinly padded left seat. A first flight that allowed me to remember all I forgot. After all, the past four months I had commanded only a GMC van.
Reine put me through the paces, reassuringly, as he does best. We turned, and slowed, stalled, and climbed.
"Let's see a soft field takeoff on the grass."
The grass runway was new to me. I looked it over from inside the Cessna. The northwest end gently rose from the edge of a ravine. Distance markers every 50 meters lay slightly obscured by long grass, and in the distance a fence ran across the far end.
Soft field technique, as you know, breaks free from the draggy surface the aircraft was slogging through. Once the wheels seperate from the earth, and slowly spin down to rest, the aircraft accelerates easier. It's not ready to fly yet, but if I keep it down near the weeds, it can build speed safely.
Reine wasn't satisfied that I kept it in "ground effect" long enough.
"Don't be afraid of that fence!"
The tall grass below housed a lot of small birds that rose up beneath us. Evidently they weren't alone in the grass. My next departure, I stayed low, slowly milking the flaps up, back into the rear of the wing. In front a gazelle, or was it an antelope, turned down the runway and bolted ahead of us. As we caught up to him, I eased back to clear the fence.
My base check came the next day. They feel more like an exam, but with opportunities to learn. Once I completed the base check, I could start operational flying again.
We went back to the same airport and the same grass runway. My short field takeoff scared up the same poor grass grazing animal. He looked beautiful running in front of us when I glanced over the cowl.
I told our chief pilot, who conducted the base check, "I hope he doesn't have a heart attack."
This past week gave me a chance to discuss public relations. Living in Loki makes it harder to listen to AIM AIR's heartbeat, and then relay that to the rest of the world.
Last week I looked at the AIM AIR calendar with a manager much much my superior.
"Next year have more smiling babies and less guns!" he advised me. I laughed, thinking of what to say.
"I'm serious. More smiling babies."
I felt a twinge of guilt and a little defiance. When I laid out the calendar, I liked the idea of certain themes for each month. May was about war torn countries. A picture of burned out tanks sat above a close up shot featuring the Caravan throttle quadrant, weather radar, and avionics. Grace took that picture last year on a flight back from Loki to Nairobi. Knowing that makes me smile whenever I see it.
On home assignment I saw the calendar a lot while visiting people. As I looked at it over their dinner table, I realized a theme of instability and war was probably not the best thing to look at for a whole month. Maybe smiling babies would be better. The previous calendar, which was really great, had a lot of kids in it. That was before I took the helm.
I will always struggle with what to share as a person, and also what to share as AIM AIR. The gritty truth involves guns, but I don't see them as often as I think about them. In the same vein, not all babies out here are smiling. I wrote an article last year during a tough week. In two sentences, it boiled down to: "Are we making a difference? Doesn't look like it, but we must be and I can't wait to see it." The funny thing is I thought the group asking for it scrapped it completely. When I showed up at their office this last furlough, they showed me their newsletter, with the article on front and back pages.
"It's basically your newsletter!" They told me. I guess it did make it in after all.
I love to think of us as swift messengers to speed the Gospel. Surely the hope from the Good News needs to be reflected back home. But I also think the Gospel contrasts better against a human reality.
So my half hearted apology is for the month of May on the calendar. I hope it wasn't a depressing month for anyone, and for my last post talking about Sudan's struggles. I find I paint the dark grey backgrounds much more than I paint the shimmer of hope in the foreground.
I sit up high quite a bit, usually just under the clouds, and well above the trees. From above, when I spot the smiling kids, the rejoicing mothers, the passionate missionaries, and the soulful pastors, I promise to point them out. If I can just get these wheels out of the mire and break free
Sudan. The name brings strong feelings to many people. For fellow Christians in North America, images and stories of persecution and hardship for fellow Christians come to mind. Sudan has ranked among the highest countries for persecution according to several lists. For those who live in Europe or the Middle East, the memories of Sudan's struggle revolve around oil, resources, and moving the southerners out of the way.
Many missionaries received a wonderful surprise this January when a historic vote did not turn into bloodshed or signal a resumption of civil war. For AIM AIR, it meant a busier schedule as we support renewed and additional thrusts into what will soon be the Republic of South Sudan.
But, the honeymoon may be soon over.
When sharing with many people over the last four months about why we do what we do, I typically mentioned Sudan's bad roads during the rainy season, and Kenya's bone jarring and robber strewn roads in the north. However, highway robbery has hit south Sudan in a big way recently. One tribe in particular reigns with terror over a section of highway from Lokichoggio to Torit. At least two mission agencies do not allow their workers to drive that route now.
A friend tells me there is increased crime in the cities, like Torit and Juba. Most of the criminals, in a bizarre twist, are educated, most likely educated abroad as refugees, and have returned to Sudan. Perhaps their taste of western culture leaves an empty taste for materials and possessions now that they are back home, and they choose crime to obtain them.
He told me about a mechanic who used to work in Loki, and now opened up a shop in Eastern Equatoria. While driving, he picked up another Sudanese man. As they drove, the passenger brags to the mechanic that he killed a woman. Not only that, he has a tongue in his back pocket as a trophy. When he pulled it out, the driver stopped the car and beat him within an inch of his life. He hauled him off to the police.Through several days of turture, the murderer told them that government officials in Khartoum had sent 120 people down to the south with instructions to kill randomly any southerners. Unfortunately, most of the victims end up being women.
Finally, corruption continues to flourish, and finances remain mismanaged, misappropriated, and mysterious. Most government workers are paid weeks late. One government worker clocks in, then rides his motorcycle taxi around all day collecting fares. He returns to the office and clocks out. Eventually he will be paid, but today he needs the fares to make ends meet.
Other people not even living in Sudan are on the government payroll. Cousins, nephews, and uncles of policemen, government officials, etc. come to visit from abroad, and ask to be paid a salary. The payroll grows to include their names, and they return home to the US, Australia, or wherever.
My friend jokes, "South Sudan doesn't have social security. You don't need it. They'll pay you for not even working."
Our fellow missionaries and pastors face unusual and tough challenges. The days of direct oppression and opposition from the north may be over, but new and strange hurdles emerge. Please keep all of us who work for the Good News in this soon to be new country. We need creativity to work around these challenges, wisdom, a sense of humor, and constant reminder that God knows and has a plan.
Also, the border areas between north and south are flaring up. Certain towns have been bombed, and tension continues to escalate. This month AIM AIR's flights, in partnership with other Christian organizations, included surveying internally displaced people along soon to be border, and delivering relief supplies. Please keep those areas in your prayers, too!
Saturday, April 23, 2011
Isaiah: yeah, because them live on a ranch.
Grace: You wouldn't want to ask if there is something to do... You know cause you might end up mucking a stall, or something.
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Thursday, April 07, 2011
Breanna's sister found Grace's birthday plans on the floor of her room, and I asked Grace if I could share these on the blog:
After careful analysis, the major groups are: Cake, Place, People, Decorations, Wrapping Paper.Tomorrow we hit the road again, but today we celebrate 8 years of bubbly life.
Cake is Tres Leches (checked), Cat Shaped (x-ed out)
Place is obvious,
People: Family (checked), Friends (x-ed out)
Decorations: Animal Plates (maybe), Floating Balloons (maybe)
Wrapping Paper: Animals (checked), Cats (maybe)
Grace told me she thought she would get in trouble for wanting so many things for her birthday. I think she handled these expectations quite well.
Birthday pictures to follow.