Saturday, December 10, 2011

Three Pilots

The white shirt sports blotches of brown and a black line along the back of my neck. Despite washing it in the sink last night on the UN compound, it lacks the brilliance of the other pilots on the gravel ramp. I watch as four pilots open the pod doors of two caravans, and a line of seven UN and Red Cross land cruisers slowly advance to retrieve the supplies. I sit down on my main wheel tire, next to the “baby airplane” the 206. A full load sits behind my pilot seat, ready to be flown, then carried on four-wheelers to our drop zone. Sacks of grain, beans, and lentils, a box of supplies for expectant mothers, a nutritionists supply set, bottled water and boxes of soap all wait with me for the “OK” to depart.

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.


I sighed.


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

Reposted without permission

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:

In the wake of Rush Limbaugh’s bone-headed characterization of the Lord’s Resistance Army as Christians fighting Muslims, I thought I would present some basic info on the history of this group. AIM AIR (out of our Entebbe base) does a considerable amount of flying for organizations working in areas in northern Uganda, DRC, CAR and South Sudan that are consistently terrorized by the LRA. A while back, I spent three days in Congo as we delivered tons of relief supplies to villages that had just suffered the horrors of LRA attacks.

First and foremost, the LRA is not a Christian organization. It is more correctly a militarized Satanic cult. The group began as a rebel group made up of northern Ugandans fighting oppressive regimes of the main (southern) Ugandan government. The group ended up being led by Alice Lakewenya, best described as a witch doctor, who told her followers  she had cast certain spells that made them invincible, which was shortly proved false as they were utterly defeated by Ugandan forces. The group then became led by the now infamous Joseph Kony in the late 80′s. At best, Kony is insane, but I suspect he is possessed, with some of the defected LRA soldiers still being convinced he has special powers.

The LRA’s technique of gaining foot soldiers by abduction, usually of small boys who are often immediately forced to kill their parents, has been going on for over two decades now. This as well as other horrific things take place routinely to the people in these villages that are completely unprotected by their own governments, which all cannot control these far corners of their countries. The result is a huge area in the heart of Africa where death and horror has become common place. The spiritual oppression in some of the villages I was in was almost palpable.

Obama recently offered the help of military ‘advisers’ to try and capture Kony and shut down these LRA cells (which is why Limbaugh made his ignorant claim). The US has tried to help before (shutting down Kony was a personal goal of the Bush administration). However, the operation was botched by bad weather and bad timing and Kony escaped after potentially being tipped off as he monitored his short-wave radio. It is hard to image just ‘advisers’ can turn the tide against a wild man who has lived in the bush for almost 30 years. The troops of the countries involved are under-trained, under-armed and often ill-motivated to fight such a notorious, and elusive enemy. I’m not sure what prompted Obama to act now or in this way, but I guess we’ll see how effective it is.

Please keep this part of the world in your prayers. Pray that the Church would be a bright light in this overwhelming darkness. Pray that evil will be thwarted and the suffering of all of these people will end.


Below is a tracking map that gives an idea of the scope of these attacks both in time and geographically:

Also here are some links to more info on the history of the LRA:

Great overview by Enough Project (.pdf)

BBC profile on the LRA

BBC FAQ’s about the LRA

Extensive Newsweek article on Kony

Enough Project questions effectiveness of only ‘advisers’

Breaking Free

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

Southern Discomfort

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

On the ranch with Izzy and Grace

Isaiah: I bet the kids here are never bored.
Dad: really?
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.

- Posted using BlogPress

Location:Satanta, KS

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Birthday Plans

Today is, of course, Grace's Birthday. She proclaimed everywhere we have stopped "I am going to be 8 on April 7!" It's a big deal, and to celebrate in America is the best part.
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:
Birthday Plans Front

Birthday Plans Back
After careful analysis, the major groups are: Cake, Place, People, Decorations, Wrapping Paper.
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)
Tomorrow we hit the road again, but today we celebrate 8 years of bubbly life.
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.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Why we are here

Into later and later hours, our white truck bucked, shuddered and groaned. Dust coated everything inside and congealed in my hair or settled on the floor. Constantly discerning whether the punishment inflicted on the vehicle bore excessive, I pushed on into the rushing hours of the late afternoon. Hostility surrounded us, beating down from a fierce sun, watching us blow past small, dung covered houses and scarce vegitation, and creaping up inside us as fear of the unknown beyond the next hill or curve.
We had a late start because of the catastrophic and unexpected departure of the rear "propeller" shaft last Sunday. When we returned to Loki I began searching for a replacement rubber coupling.

A missionary friend in Loki had a Discovery II parked in storage. However, he was away on home assignment. I asked Oliver, who was with the same mission group, if I could borrow a part from the stored car. He seemed reluctant, mainly since the owner was away and really valued the vehicle. "It's kind of his Golden Calf car!" Oliver said with a rushed German accent and the start of a gravelly laugh.

We agreed to just look to see if the parts would interchange between the two Land Rovers, then worry about permission if needed. The parts seemed identical.

Oliver called around to find information on the owner's location. We quickly learned many Discovery owners carry an extra drive coupling (for good reason). We started arranging for someone's extra part to come up in the morning on the AIM AIR flight. Then Oliver had a great idea:

"Maybe he keeps a spare also in this vehicle?"

Sure enough, a search through a cardboard box in the back produced a used but intact part.

"Wow, this must be God's provision!" Olly remarked.

I agreed. My euphoria went with me back to the house. I couldn't believe I found this part in Loki. Oliver didn't think the owner would mind me using the spare, and I promised to replace it with a new part.

We planned to leave in the dark hours of Tuesday morning. That would get us to Nairobi by Wednesday night. We would have two days to take care of immigration issues and wrapping up paperwork to end our first term.

Monday I installed the part. After wrestling all day with the "propeller shaft" (drive shaft in American) and the rubber coupling, I realized the severity of the dry rot in the used coupling. It functions like a universal joint that cushions the jerkiness of the drive train. That means it twists as it makes up the angle between the rear differential and the propeller shaft. Several cracks appeared to grow as they went through this twisting action. I guessed the owner removed the old coupling out of concern it might break apart, but kept it as a spare to get to nearest town.

The good feeling left me. I thought about it for a long time and decided I didn't want to depend on a part of unknown quality for the long trip to Nairobi. As a second confirmation, on the way to to our own farewell party, I took a detour on to the highway. At high speed heard an ominous rumble coming from the rear of the car.

On Tuesday, I told Sammy in Nairobi what the car needed, and he arranged for it to come up on a scheduled commuter flight on Wednesday morning. We packed the car, cleaned up around the house, worked on a few minor problems, then on Wednesday morning I took the propeller shaft off again. The part arrived at 10:30 am, and I installed everything by 11:30. We loaded up the car including our German Shepherd, tied the tarp down on the roof rack, locked up the house, and said good bye to Jon and Ginny, our co-workers there. By 1pm we were driving out of town.

We hoped to make it to Lodwar on smooth roads, then try to reach a town called Marich Pass that night. It would become dark before reaching Marich, a plan I did not relish. The drive to Lodwar went well, except when driving over broken patches of pavement I heard gravel hitting the front wheel wells. This made sense at the time, since kids like to fill the potholes with gravel and ask for hand outs as you speed past.

Breanna wanted to pick up Turkana baskets in Lodwar, since they make great gifts. While in Lodwar I noticed the gravel sound continued whenever we went over a bump. While Breanna talked baskets, I rooted around under the hood and around the car, determined to find something loose. I tightened the mount for one of the front shocks, and tightened up the roof rack.

We left Lodwar later than planned and headed out into the punished desert highway. I knew half our drive would be in the dark, but did not want to arrive in Nairobi any later than tomorrow. As the road deteriorated, the same creaking and pinging sound kept repeating itself over each bump. I figured it must be a cosmetic piece of sheet metal, since everything on the frame had been tightened and checked.

An experienced missionary described the road from Lodwar to Marich Pass as "a wide enough ribbon of pavement to hold the potholes together." The technique is to drive on washboard shoulders until they become unbearable, then swerve onto the road and avoid the craters up there. You tend to alternate back and forth, attempting to decide whether top or side brings less pain. As the car pounded on, I calculated I needed to average around 60 km per hour to stay on schedule.

The washboard seemed almost unbearable at 30 km/h or less. At that speed the whole car bounced into the air, my vision blurred, and steering became difficult. Around 60 - 80, everything settled down, though I knew the suspension was taking a beating. The challenge became controlling the car at that speed, and slowing before hitting the ditches or large holes in the road. Usually I could not see them in time, and everything went bang as the springs hit bottom, the load inside shifted, and the wheels sprung back into the car.

The worst pain on this road, I decided, was knowing what was happening to the car.

The sound in the wheel well grew worse after each large bump. We stopped at the edge of a small town, and I jumped out to look around for its source. I found a large crack in the thin metal body around the bolt that holds it onto the robust steel frame. Night quickly approached, and I did not know what town would have an adequately skilled welder. So, after two hours of road pounding since Lodwar, we turned around.

The kids expressed sincere displeasure. The oldest sobbed quietly, coiled in her seat like a seasick landlubber, while the youngest howled and whined like our often hungry pet cat. I think he was copying  his middle sister, who did the same performance.

Invariably, they had picked up on my dour mood and quiet apprehension watching pale headlights pierce the empty landscape. A shadow sometimes was just a shadow, but then a shadow was a cavernous hole that shook the wounded the car. We arrived at Lodwar, tired, worn thin, with a creaky vehicle. We found two rooms to stay in, and soon everyone was asleep. I laid on my bed, mentally planning the next morning. I would find the welder a missionary recommended, and also address a loose bolt in the roof rack and dust cover that fell off a front wheel. We were way behind schedule, but hopefully we could make it to Nairobi late Friday, and still accomplish a few necessary things.

Olivia, back on the road after sleeping in Lodwar
And the kids would be in good moods and enjoy the scenic drive. And they were, and the rest of the drive went without incident. Isaiah and Grace stood up facing backwards and pretended to ride a roller coaster.

We arrived in Eldoret at night. I took a bypass road that ended up being fairly deserted, instead of the main highway I thought it would be. Fortunately we had no incidents with breakdowns or break-ins. And a house that we thought would not be available became available because a lady found out we were coming. She made up fresh beds for us by candlelight since their power was out!

We rolled into Nairobi just after lunch time Friday. I set up a time with a mechanic on Saturday to look over the car, then took care of financial obligations and paperwork at the hangar.

We were going so slow in some areas, Isaiah was able to help me drive

Grace, Kili, and not so good vibrations
On Sunday, we loaded up again, this time with another family, and headed down to the coast for a week in a house we are sharing. We planned to spend a week away before coming on home assignment to put together a scrapbook and presentation to share with friends in the US. The road to the coast is beautiful and smooth, and we went almost the same distance as the previous drive in six hours instead of two days.

Breanna: Queen of the Scrapbook!
So what do I share with friends, both one on one, or in an auditorium over the next four months? One thing comes to mind, which I told Grace as she bawled and whined that night returning to Lodwar...

"Do you know why God chose for these things to happen?"

Grace paused, then said quietly, "No..."

"I don't know either, but I think part of it is to show us why we are here. The roads are so bad and getting much worse. Think of missionaries who are really sick or need to get to the city quickly, taking these roads would not be a good idea. That's one reason we are here... to help them when needed."

She remained quiet, but I know it penetrated her thoughts, and I won't be surprised if she brings it up again.

One of my greatest joys comes when the kids grasp another reason why we live where we do. I hope this trip made it a little closer to their reach.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Referendum Day

We planned to drive friends from Loki to Kakuma to vote in the South Sudan Referendum. 60 minutes later we sat down on the gravel shoulder seeking shade by the car.

The rubber coupling that attaches the drive shaft to the rear differential tore in two. The drive shaft fell onto the highway as we sped along. It scared a group of Turkana women and boys walking along the highway carrying water.

I pulled over, looked under the car, saw the missing shaft, and began walking back. The group met us, one boy holding the shaft in his hand, like a walking stick or a dead animal. He resisted my efforts to take it ... I think he wanted compensation for carrying it, but all I could say was Ajokenoi ... It means hello, thank you, and goodbye.

The group followed us back to the car. They didn't offer to help out. They wanted a lift. We tried to explain the car wasn't going anywhere. I kept saying Ajok. Not much help.

They also asked for our water and water containers.

I kicked myself for leaving tools behind for this "short" trip. I decided to use rope I brought to secure the rear drive spline and limp home using the front drive shaft.

As I got the rope out to begin tying, one of the teenage boys indicated he wanted it. Our friend, Chris, remarked: "Turkana road assistance. They come when you break down and ask for things. It's better than in Taposaland (just over the border in Sudan). They come with guns and just take what they want."
I immediately felt encouraged.

My attempt to drive with the front wheels failed. Even with the centre diff locked it would not move the car. This concerns me even now. Maybe a Discovery doesn't really lock the centre diff?

We tried calling our friends. The cell network gave us an error. I kicked myself for not bringing my sat phone.

I remembered that sometimes the diff lock takes awhile to engage. So Breanna sat behind the steering wheel, and Chris, Tabitha, and I pushed the car while in gear. It doesn't work. We tried going backwards. Then forwards. I tried to peek under the car while jogging beside Breanna, to see if the spline is behaving itself and not chewing up my rope. I almost tripped.

We stopped. I shot an SMS off to our friends. Help is on the way. We received an SMS from John, another Sudanese friend who just arrived at Kakuma to vote. He reported very long lines at the polling place.

I realized at this point that Kakuma was not happening today. Bre and I wanted to see the crowds and atmosphere as thousands of united Sudanese came together at the refugee camp. They wanted to express their voice for their freedom, by leaving a fingerprint in the SEPERATION box on the slip of paper they were given. But that was not our fate today.

Few cars travelled this road. Most who did blew past us without stopping. One overloaded hatch back stopped. I told him our friends were coming. I asked him where they were headed.


I looked inside. At least five or six passengers sat squeezed inside, all Sudanese, on their way to vote, probably their first time ever.

Tabitha, Chris' wife who is from Sudan, had said "These people are not good. In Sudan people would stop and help, not drive by or try to take things."

I told her the last car was going to Kakuma.

"See, they are Sudanese. They stopped!"

A Turkana lad came out of the thorny brush through the shimmering heat towards our car.

Breanna sat against the left front fender reading her kindle. I sat next to her, then Chris and Tabitha on the gravel next to me, by the rear tire. Their daughter, Hope, stood on a seat in the car, dressed in one of her best outfits. She was upset our portable DVD player stopped. The battery died.

Breanna has tutored Hope a few days, and often commented about how smart she is. She soon started finding other ways to pass the time.

The lad arrived at the car. He asked some questions I don't know. The problem with saying "ajok" is that people think I know what they are saying.

In Swahili he asked, "Is the car not going?"

I said "It is very bad."

Then he tapped the rear tire with his walking stick and pointed to his sandals. I guessed he wanted to make new sandals from the tire rubber. I told him no. He walked around the car to see what else he can ask for.

Soon he has left.

Then a military truck pulled over.
"What is wrong, man?" a Kenyan soldier asked.

I ran over and tell him.

"We could tow you to Kakuma if you have a tow strap."

I kicked myself for not having a tow rope.

I said thanks and goodbye, then walked back to our lonely car and my passengers sweltering in its shade.

"You know, these people here are good people!" Tabitha said.


Our friends arrived in a white Land Cruiser and towed us to Loki. The makeshift tow rope broke twice.
John arrived in Loki before us (his matatu passed us on the highway from Kakuma).
I focused on getting the car going, which is another post. Chris, Tabitha, and Hope took a matatu two days later.
The car problem set us back a day and a half for driving to Nairobi to get ready for home assignment. But we later realized, and thank God, that this was a blessing. The rubber coupling shredded itself before we left on our big trip, and we were at a place where friends could easily come. I now know to look at this Mickey Mouse part often to make sure another shredding doesn't leave us stranded!

- Posted using BlogPress

Location:Loki on the way to Kakuma

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Urgent: Prayer Needed for Sudan

We urge you to pray fervently starting now, for the week of
 referendum voting for southern Sudan. Pray for peace, for
 protection of the helpless and boldness for the Church in this pivotal time

The great divide across Sudan is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. Southern Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.

Jerry's flights take him into southern Sudan about 90% of the time, so you can understand why this referendum vote will potentially impact our lives, but especially ministry opportunities for the missionaries, pastors, relief & medical workers AIM AIR flies.

As for us personally, we have offered to take newlyweds Chris and Tabitha, he's an Australian and she's from southern Sudan, to Kakuma, about an hour from Loki. The refugee camp there is where Tabitha is registered, along with all the other southern Sudanese refugees in the area, to vote in the referendum beginning on Sunday. Jerry and I are interested in taking pictures, gauging the  mood and seeing the Kakuma camp up close for the first time.

Below are some faqs from BBC you may find helpful to guide your prayers

Almost four million people have registered to take part in Sunday's referendum on whether Africa's biggest country - Sudan - should split in two. The vote was a condition of a 2005 deal to end almost two decades of conflict between north and south.
Why do some southerners want their own country?
Like the rest of Africa, Sudan's borders were drawn up by colonial powers with little regard to cultural realities on the ground.
Southern Sudan is full of jungles and swamps, while the north is mostly desert.
Most northerners are Arabic-speaking Muslims, while the south is made up of numerous different ethnic groups who are mostly Christian or follow traditional religions.
With the government based in the north, many southerners said they were discriminated against and north and south have fought each other for most of the country's history. Southerners were also angered at attempts to impose Islamic law on the whole country.
Sudan's arid northern regions are home mainly to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in Southern Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own traditional beliefs and languages.

Who will vote?
Only southerners are eligible to take part in the poll, which means most people think the outcome is bound to be independence.
Nearly all of those who registered already live in the south - the hundreds of thousands of people who fled to the north during the war seem to have either gone home to register - as they were urged to do by southern leaders - or not bothered.
But at least 60% of registered voters must take part for the referendum to be valid - with low literacy levels and little history of voting, this may be more difficult to achieve than the simple majority needed for a verdict either way.
What happens next?
Voting lasts for seven days.
Assuming that the verdict is to secede, Africa's newest country will come into being on 9 July 2011 - exactly six years after the peace deal took effect. Then the hard work really begins.
Is Southern Sudan ready for independence?
To be brutally honest, no.
After years of warfare and being ignored by central government, the country-to-be which is larger than France and Germany combined has hardly any roads and not nearly enough schools or health services for its population of roughly eight million.
The SPLM former rebels who have been running the region since 2005 have at least gained some experience of governance.
They have lots of money from the south's oil fields but their critics say they have so far wasted much of it on the military and not done enough to raise living standards in one of the world's poorest regions.
Most people assume the new country will be called South, or Southern, Sudan but this has not been officially decided. Other suggestions are New Sudan or even Cush, after a biblical kingdom in the area.
What will happen to the north?
The immediate priority for the northern government will be to keep hold of as much of the oil revenue as it can, as most oil fields lie in the south.
Sudan exports billions of dollars of oil per year. Southern states produce more than 80% of it, but receive only 50% of the revenue, exacerbating tensions with the north. 
There is a dispute over one oil-rich area - Abyei - which is to hold a separate vote, possibly later this year, on which country to join. The north may also earn revenue from piping the oil over its territory to Port Sudan on the Red Sea.
In terms of ordinary people's lives, both sides have agreed to let all Sudanese - in particular the many southerners in Khartoum - choose which nationality to take.
But President Bashir's announcement that he will implement a stricter version of Sharia in the north if the south secedes may prompt even more southerners to leave the north.