The war shut down almost everything. Our host country, Ecuador, and its neighbor, Peru, fought over a portion of their common boundary. Understandably, the Ecuadorian military prohibited all civilian flying, including ours. No food to school kids. No medicine to health promoters. Neither preachers nor teachers to fledgling believers. The worst? No emergency evacuations. The sick and injured lived or died without our help—except for our radio system.
The government did allow (but monitored) all MAF communications with jungle villages—weather reports, flight requests, and medical consulting. The doctor assigned by the Ministry of Health camped at the radio in our hangar, diagnosing and prescribing treatments possible within the villages’ limited resources.
Then it failed. The MAF repeater connecting us with village radios went mute. We exhausted every remote control option until only a physical trek remained. Easy in principle, daunting in execution. The repeater sat atop a mountain 6-hour’s climb from a jungle airstrip.
I appealed to the Army base commander for a single round-trip flight authorization.
“Not possible,” he asserted. “But …” he continued thoughtfully, “we could fly you there in our helicopter.”
The next morning a guard escorted fellow MAF pilot, Dave McCleery, and me to a shiny Aérospatiale Gazelle helicopter. The helmeted military pilots, dressed in Nomex flight suits and gloves, were already strapped in place. The crew chief opened the aft door, helped us stow our tools, and invited us to sit.
As we settled in, the crew progressed through pre-start checklists. Clean. Crisp. Impressive. Our hands automatically probed for seatbelts while we watched their professional ritual. Our fingers found only smooth seats. More probing. Nothing. We turned, thrust hands down the seat sides and back. Still nothing.
The crew chief on the ramp saw our search, walked close, shouted through the rear plexiglass, “Don’t worry. Nothing’s gonna happen!” He smiled knowingly, gave us a thumbs up, then returned to his position. Dave and I looked at each other, realized we couldn’t find seat belts because no one ever installed them.
We completed our repair mission and, indeed, nothing happened. But it reminded me, neither hubris nor hope can substitute for God-based faith. Nor do they allow us to escape our fallen world. Bad things happen to good people. Made me appreciate MAF heeding scriptures like Proverbs 22:3, “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.”