How God provided for and confirmed a young boy’s calling so he could serve the Congolese people
By Jennifer Wolf
Twelve-year-old Jacob O’Brien walked through the double doors at MAF headquarters in Nampa, Idaho, with his junior high class. There in the lobby was the steel frame from Nate Saint’s airplane, recovered years after Saint and four other missionaries were martyred on “Palm Beach” in Ecuador.
Jacob knew the story of Nate Saint as part of MAF’s past, but until that tour in 2009, he hadn’t realized there was still a tangible need for pilots to serve overseas.
He already wanted to be a pilot, so when he found out he could serve God and love people by flying airplanes, he was thrilled.
“From that point on, I was confident that’s what the Lord created me to do,” said Jacob.
Jacob started praying for an airplane when he was 14 years old. Since his dad was an airline pilot and a flight instructor, it was Jacob’s dream to have his dad teach him how to fly. But you can’t just rent an airplane and bring along your own flight instructor, explained Jacob.
The family spent over a year making offers on aircraft in their price range, and they all fell through.
Then one day, Jacob’s dad had finished his flights and was riding home on a return trip, still wearing his uniform. The woman seated next to him asked how long he had been with the airline, and were any of his kids interested in flying?
When he told her his oldest was, she immediately whipped out a business card and wrote a name and phone number on the back.
“You need to call Bob,” she said. “He’s going to want you to use his airplane to teach your kids how to fly.
“Bob’s my husband,” she explained when he gave her a quizzical look.
Jacob’s dad did call Bob and was told: “We’ve got you on the insurance. We have keys being made. I’m so excited for you to use our airplane to teach your son how to fly!”
“I-I don’t know what to say,” Jacob’s dad responded.
“You mentioned to my wife, Linda, that you love the Lord,” said Bob. “Did you know that the Lord is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we ask or desire? This is God’s abundant provision for your son to learn how to fly.”
Jacob went on to get his private pilot’s license in that airplane.
“That’s one of my favorite stories to tell people because it just stands as a pillar of God’s faithfulness in my life,” Jacob said.
After high school, Jacob headed to Moody Aviation, where he met Tara, who also had a heart for missions. They were married, and, after graduating, they started the process to join MAF.
Calibrations and Confirmations
In July of 2019, Jacob and Tara were at MAF’s U.S. headquarters, preparing for a maintenance internship.
Jacob completed his technical evaluation at that time, and they both went through candidacy classes. They renewed a friendship with another couple from Moody, Ben and Anna Samuelson, who were also preparing to serve with MAF.
In October, Jacob and Tara headed to Africa for their one-month internship with the MAF team in Kinshasa, in western Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
“I had lots of expectations going into it from what people told us … how the traffic was crazy and … I was just amazed to see how larger than life everything was there,” Jacob said. “As far as confirming calling, it was everything I expected.”
Even the problems the couple encountered served to affirm their calling.
Tara, who spent many of her days at home with their 9-month-old daughter, says it was often dark and rainy. They lost power and their food spoiled in the fridge.
“I had no food, no water, no electricity, and I wasn’t sure what to do,” said Tara. Is this what being a missionary is really like? she wondered.
Even though she didn’t love the situation, Tara says she couldn’t imagine herself anyplace else.
“I think that will be one of those moments that I look back on for my full time as a missionary, knowing, Where else would I be, Lord, besides exactly where you’ve told me to be?”
The O’Briens returned to the U.S. and were officially accepted as MAF missionaries. They were assigned to the West DRC program. The Samuelsons had been assigned to the East DRC program. Once each couple had found enough prayer and financial partners to join their team, they were ready for the next step: language school.
The plan was for both families to go to school in France. But a month before they were supposed to leave, COVID-19 restrictions shut down that option.
“We were all kind of shocked when the regional director recommended we relocate to Dakar, Senegal,” Jacob said.
But at least they knew they’d be going together.
From the time the families boarded the same overseas flight to Dakar to the time they left the country for their assigned programs, they were practically inseparable.
“They’ve been our sanity partners in a lot of interactions,” Jacob said.
The families lived in the same apartment building and saw each other daily. They learned how to get around a new city, how to grocery shop, what they could cook, and where to take the kids to play. They learned a new culture and a new language, with the challenge of parenting two young children each.
“Our two-year-olds went to school together for the first time, so they’re really close,” Tara said. “It’s going to be kind of new for them to be apart.”
Tara was looking ahead to when they would say goodbye and leave for their MAF bases in January 2022.
Even with all the hard goodbyes, first with their families in the states, and now this one—each of them knows in their heart it’s not without purpose.
When Tara peeled off their family verse, Ephesians 3:20, from the wall of their Dakar apartment as they were packing, she knew this promise would continue to hold true in their new home.
Serving with Purpose
Earlier this year, Jacob drove through heavy traffic until he reached his destination: the MAF WDRC hangar in Kinshasa. He was finally going to carry out the dream that God had planted in his heart nearly 12 years ago. Soon he would be flying the sick and injured, medical personnel, evangelistic teams, Bible translators, Sunday school trainers, and many more.
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*Photos courtesy of the O’Briens and Samuelsons.
This story appeared in the Vol. 2 2022 edition of FlightWatch. Read the entire issue here: