How a lifelong relationship with MAF missionaries and God’s calling are bearing fruit in a young Haitian man’s life.
On a Sunday in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Zacharie François got a call from one of the MAF pilots at the hangar. The starter generator on the Cessna Caravan was smoking.
Zacharie, the first Haitian to graduate from the School of Missionary Aviation Technology (SMAT) in Michigan (2019), was then working as a maintenance specialist with MAF Haiti. In fact, at this time he was serving as the interim director of maintenance.
“They shouldn’t smoke,” Zacharie explained. “If it smoked, something arced inside. Given that the starter-generator is connected to the engine’s compressor shaft, a current may have made its way through there and welded the bearings, thus seizing up the engine; and that is not good.”
“We’re going to ground the aircraft,” Zacharie told MAF pilot Eric Fagerland. “I’m going to come in at six. We’re going to take this thing apart…”
What did Zacharie find when he took apart the starter-generator? First things first: How did Zacharie come to be serving with MAF in Haiti?
The Road to MAF
“Due to my parents’ work, I grew up around MAF families. And because of that, I’ve known about MAF my entire life,” Zacharie said to a crowd of donors and guests at a special event at MAF headquarters in September 2021.
“I was never really interested in becoming a pilot or mechanic for them,” he continued. “But all that was going to change after my first flight.”
In May of 2013, close family friend and MAF pilot Will White prepared to take Zacharie on a flight. The sun was just rising and God was painting a glorious white-orange sky as Zacharie boarded the small MAF airplane. He was about to gain a new perspective.
Up until that point, Zacharie’s view of Haiti had been limited to the capital of Port-au-Prince—a city of 2.7 million people—where he’d lived his entire life. Then, as 16-year-old Zacharie peered at the rural parts of his country from the air, he experienced a rush of emotions.
Two things struck him on the way to a remote village:
“One: I realized how poor my country was, but I knew the potential that exists within the land of Haiti,” Zacharie told the guests. “And two: I realized that mission aviation can make a difference. It can actually change the ending for so many isolated people.”
After that flight, Zacharie’s heart was moved to want to become a missionary aviator—he had his doubts, though. On his own, he couldn’t see a way to make that happen. But after he graduated from high school, God nudged Christine Harms, one of the MAF wives, to approach him—a friendship was formed, which eventually led to him becoming an aircraft mechanic apprentice with MAF.
In this role, he had opportunities to ride along on some flights. On one medical flight in particular, he and the pilot waited at the airstrip for the paramedics to return from transferring a patient to the local hospital. In the meantime, the local children had come out to see the airplane. They had a lot of questions, which Zacharie happily answered. But one six-year-old boy said something that broke his heart.
“Haitians can’t fly this thing,” the boy said. “They can’t work on this.”
Zacharie tried to tell him there were Haitian pilots and mechanics.
“Not Haitian, can’t be,” the boy replied, and the other kids around him echoed in agreement.
That six-year-old’s comment stuck with Zacharie and served to cement his calling to become a missionary pilot/mechanic. He began to see how God could use his upbringing.
“I grew up in a Christian home, and I was able to hang out with missionaries from different countries,” Zacharie continued. “But I also lived with the struggles that other Haitians were living with—my parents are from a poor family.
“Our heavenly Father allowed me to grow up in this environment, so he could use my story to inspire others to seek a deeper, more meaningful relationship with Him.”
An Extra Pair of Wings
“We have some big butterflies in Haiti,” Zacharie laughed as he shared in an interview with MAF staff what he had found when he opened up the starter-generator of the Cessna Caravan.
Somehow a large butterfly had made it through a little hole located behind the propeller, through a spinning fin, all the way to the back of the engine and the starter.
Zacharie knew he would need to explain to Nampa (HQ) that a butterfly had destroyed this very expensive part and could have potentially destroyed MAF Haiti’s turbine engine—a half-million-dollar engine.
So he took a photo of the butterfly. And because of Zacharie’s discovery, butterflies are now “a thing”—something that’s covered during MAF’s maintenance standardization classes.
“Upon further inspection, it was determined that no damage had occurred to the engine, Zacharie added. “We praise God for such protection and give thanks that we had the funds to buy another starter-generator.”
Zacharie was much like that butterfly that found itself in a seemingly impossible place. But as you know, nothing is impossible with God, and Zacharie was proof of that as he shared with the crowd at MAF headquarters in 2021 about the milestone he had just reached.
“Two weeks ago, I started my flight training at SMAT,” Zacharie said as he began to tear up.
The crowd cheered and clapped, then he concluded: “And yesterday I had my first flight as a student pilot.”
At the time of this posting, Zacharie is finishing up his last quarter of flight training. He is the first foreign student to be admitted to SMAT’s flight program and expects to graduate this August. From there, he will return to Haiti and continue serving as an MAF mechanic while adding to his flight hours before he goes through MAF’s technical evaluation and flight standardization; once he passes those he will be accepted as an MAF Pilot.