One family’s faithfulness leads to lasting transformation in the Congo
As the passengers stepped off the MAF airplane, a large crowd welcomed them with joyful singing and clapping. Then they walked along a dirt path to the village of Mbongo in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
It was 2017, and Dan Grings, a third-generation missionary, had traveled here for the 100th anniversary of his grandfather’s arrival in what was then the Belgian Congo. This was one of the places where his grandfather had brought the gospel and planted a church, and where his grandmother had died in 1933.
Iwungu Mission Station – 1964
After the country gained independence from Belgium in 1960, a rebel group began terrorizing villagers and missionaries. Winifred Grings, Dan’s mother, knew from the horrific reports reaching them that the danger was drawing closer to their home at Iwungu.
Seven-year-old Dan Grings watched a small red and white MAF Cessna 185 buzz overhead. The pilot dropped a small object with a white bandage attached to it. One of Grings’ siblings retrieved it and brought it to their mom, who read the message written on the bandage.
“Prepare immediately to evacuate… Helicopter coming… Irene is dead…*”
Irene was Winifred’s sister who lived at another mission station 35 miles away.
The Grings family was evacuated, but they would return. And MAF would continue to play a crucial part in their lives and ministries.
Karawa to Gemena – 1966
The little airplane bumped along until it came to rest near two brothers standing by a dirt airstrip in the village of Karawa. The boys were leaving boarding school to visit their missionary parents. Normally, they traveled two hours by truck on a rugged road. But on this day, they were thrilled to be flying with Mission Aviation Fellowship, which had recently come to their area. Their pilot, Gordon Fairley, had been part of the elaborate effort to rescue over 100 missionaries two years earlier.
As the airplane landed after a 20-minute flight to Gemena, one of the boys, 10-year-old Dan Carlson, thought he might want to be a missionary pilot when he grew up.
Yasa and Kinshasa – 1980 to present
An MAF Cessna Caravan soared over the vast terrain of the DRC. In the distance, dark clouds were building. The pilot, Dan Carlson, pointed out two storms on the radar to his passenger in the co-pilot seat, Dan Grings.
“We’re going to try to go in between them,” Carlson said.
Carlson was flying the Grings family to Yasa, their former mission station. As they bounced around, Grings looked over at Carlson.
“He was cool, calm and collected, as always—with a little bit of sweat on his brow.”
They touched down on the airstrip and the Grings family unloaded a moped and several bikes, They rode the rest of the way to Longa, to visit and encourage believers they had worked with for 13 years, who had been through the civil war of 1997.
That was one of many flights with MAF.
“While Christine and I were raising our family, I could not count how many times we used MAF,” said Grings. “MAF helped us get out many times, what with evacuations and troubles in the country and medical emergencies, and even for the birth of our first daughter.”
And then there was the flight to Mbongo for the 100th anniversary of the gospel reaching that village.
Grings finished leading chapel and stepped outside. He wondered why there were no other churches or sects here, leading to syncretism—blending the gospel with animist beliefs—which plagued many Congolese villages. Grings approached an elderly man and asked why that was.
“Your grandfather taught us about Mbombianda, the Creator, and his Son, Jesus Christ,” said the man. “We have the Bible, we have Jesus. We don’t need any other religion.”
“It was neat to get back and see the truth of the gospel, knowing the power it has to change hearts, and to see what God is doing with his Church and his people,” said Grings.
Speaking of MAF’s faithful supporters, Grings says, “They’re part of this, even though they can’t see all the lives it touches in Congo and has touched over the years.”
*An excerpt of the note as seen in the book We Two Alone, by Ruth Hege.
This story appeared in the August 2020 edition of FlightWatch: