When Eric Fagerland started thinking about what he would do when he retired from the Air Force, his thoughts did not wander to a life of cruising, or settling down near Hole 18 somewhere along the Florida panhandle. Instead, he imagined flying off into a different wild blue yonder … with Mission Aviation Fellowship.
A fan of MAF since his childhood as an MK (missionary kid) in Burkina Faso, West Africa, the thought of serving as a missionary pilot has always intrigued him—as does returning to Africa. And his wife Lynette has always wanted to work with children in Africa.
“Independent of each other, we’d already thought of these kinds of things. So that’s what started the draw, I suppose, that made us start investigating MAF.” They contacted MAF’s recruiting department to find out what steps to take from MAF veteran John Hook, pilot-turned-recruiter.
With the two of them on the same page, the next step was to see if their daughter, Erika, would be “on board” with the idea. This needed to be a family decision.
“We thought it would be smart/wise to not completely take the leap of faith and sever all ties and head on out,” said Eric. “We have a daughter who is 12 years old, so we thought we’d bring the family out there, see the conditions—see if this is just a crazy idea we have or if it’s a God-led direction we’re supposed to go.”
They made plans for a vision trip to visit the MAF program in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and spent about 10 days there.
“A lot of this trip was about getting into the details, schooling options … everything from driver’s training, how do we get groceries, if we do homeschool, what’s the internet connectivity like? We wanted to see for ourselves, but also within the context of being here with a 15- or 16-year-old. What’s this going to look like and feel like?” said Eric.
Since returning from the trip, Lynette says her daughter has been talking about going back. “She’s definitely talking very positively about it,” said Lynette. “She can’t wait to get a dog and a cat…. even when we were over there, she was taking an active interest in learning French.”
While they were in Kinshasa, they were able to get to know the other MAF families. In fact, they were able to bless the team in a variety of ways. One staff car had a failed starter; the Fagerlands were able to pick one up at the last minute and hand-carry it in their luggage.
The Fagerlands stayed with the Frey family during their visit. Lynette and Erika brought all sorts of crafts and games and entertained the Frey’s two-year-old daughter, Ruth. “It was such a blessing to me as we had just returned to the field with a new baby,” said Jocelyn Frey.
And Eric helped the team by working in the hangar.
“I painted walls, cleaned out the grease in the tool cabinet, set up another cabinet and put all the nuts and bolts together. I was the ‘grease monkey’ there for a couple of days,” said Eric. “In that sense, I got to see the operation from the maintenance side of things, and some of the initial take-offs.”
After being invited to a Bible study in the Frey’s home, the couple was introduced to a Belgian couple who run an afterschool program for orphans. Lynette could picture herself helping with their ministry and was excited about that possibility.
As far as whether there were any concerns about living there or making a move overseas, the couple was not deterred.
“You have the standard third-world issues of electricity being plus or minus sometimes. We have seen and experienced a lot worse living conditions,” said Eric.
“It was way better than what we expected,” added Lynette.
The family has already had an overseas move, and some experiences will transfer well to Africa. “We lived off base … You know, the heating, the plumbing, the electricity didn’t always work,” explained Eric.
“And he’d be gone for months at a time, and me with a newborn baby. We had no electricity, no hot water. I feel like we’ve already roughed it,” added Lynette.
With just shy of three years to go in the Air Force, and after confirming this is what God wants for their family, now they can start to prepare.
“This trip was mainly to see if this was the direction we were headed before we get out of the Air Force and start selling everything,” said Lynette.
“This was the Are we crazy trip?” added Eric.
While not every family considering a move to MAF will be able to take a vision trip, for those who can, it’s a great way to gain a realistic perspective of what serving with MAF will look like in a particular country.
Now the Fagerlands can say without hesitation, “thumbs-up” to moving forward with MAF.