The young man stands in the shade of the wing of the MAF airplane. The airport ramp is hot and dusty. He waits in a new safari hat and quick-dry adventure wear for the flight to Uganda and then on home to Europe.
Nearby, the hulk of a Russian cargo plane deteriorates in the equatorial heat; the blades of its propellers curled from a ground strike that ended its usefulness years ago. The airport terminal’s faded paint announces you are in Bunia, Democratic Republic of Congo, home of a large UN peace keeping force. Tribal conflict and suffering have long characterized the region.
When you step off the tarmac you have left the only pavement in this town of nearly one hundred thousand people. Skirting the ramp are a dozen humanitarian planes serving various NGO projects throughout northeast Congo.
The young man in safari wear came on contract to fly for one of the air groups. He had arrived the day before, surveyed the airport, driven in to town and decided to return home. This kind of change of heart is not unusual here.
Since the 1960s, MAF has supported the work of mission and humanitarian groups in this area in good times and bad. Evacuations and air ambulance flights saved hundreds, probably thousands of lives. Medicines, vaccinations and epidemic kits flown in to small grass airstrips have saved many thousands more.
Why do MAF pilots stay, when others leave? Is it because the missionary families view their service as more than a job? Is it because MAF staff are more thoroughly prepared to face the obstacles of living in developing countries? Or, is it because the pilots and families have a bigger picture in focus?
Whatever the reasons, it’s clear that––to the MAF people living and serving here––it isn’t about them, it’s about others. As they meet the people and see the needs, they respond with compassion. And they stay.