Medical evacuation flights really hurt during my first term. Once turned loose with an airplane in the jungle, I felt I had to be both counselor and pilot. During orientation phase I could busy myself preparing the airplane to receive the patient. The instructor pilot handled talking with the village, the family, and supervising gentle loading.
Once on my own, however, I carried the full burden. Bleeding, broken bodies themselves didn’t make me squeamish—physiology fascinated me. Trouble was, empathy sometimes threatened to overwhelm me. After loading a patient, I’d pray with him or her and the family members. Tuning into their pain, their confusion, and their fear often opened some deep emotional gate. I thought it was up to me to comfort the family, encourage the patient, even to know how to treat them. My inability to do any of that made me feel useless as a servant of Christ.
I’d choke up, unable to speak. My eyes would fill with tears, blurring my vision. Occasionally I’d have to sit for minutes in the pilot’s seat pretending to deal with technical matters, while I composed myself enough to fly safely.
During our first furlough I prayed a lot about that (and other field life issues). After some weeks I felt the Lord asking me, “Did I call you to be a counselor?”
“No,” I answered.
“A doctor?” he continued.
“A pastor perhaps?”
“What did I call you to do?”
“Fly airplanes,” I answered.
“Exactly,” he affirmed. “If you’re trying to do someone else’s job, who flies the plane?” He showed me I must remain faithful to my calling and leave space for others to be faithful to theirs.
Back on the field a few weeks later, I tried a new procedure. When retrieving a patient, I talked with the family, prayed for the patient, then reached up to my mental control panel and turned my internal “Emotion” switch to the “Off” position. After that, I served best by forgetting about the patient and focusing on my job, flying the airplane.
That not only helped me minister more effectively, it made me more aware and more thankful for God’s people answering His call in whatever role he assigned, be it preacher, doctor, mom, dad, pilot or donor.
Jim, thanks for your article. As a psychologist who is hoping to serve someday as a volunteer, helping pilot, I really appreciate the struggles you shared about how to balance these two very different roles and skill sets with which God has blessed you. I often wonder how pilots “compartmentalize” their compassion/empathy long enough to complete the complex mission.
At the moment, my two careers/pursuits are very separate; but one day, I’d love to merge them. Only God knows what that will look like?.
Thanks again for sharing.
Dana, compartmentalizing—empathy, judgment, compassion—turned out to be one of the most important skills I learned. When confronting gross injustice and suffering every day, that ability makes the difference between caving and serving.
Always amazes me how God combines the most unlikely things—even complete opposites. That, of course, confirms once again that His thoughts and His ways are indeed far above ours. God bless you as you continue to follow His leading. It will definitely lead you to good places.
Allo Jim, ty for sharing.. How can I join in?
The very best help is to pray for MAF operations around the world.