MAF pilots take a treacherous trek to provide a missionary with a much-needed vehicle
“The lore with MAF pilots was, you got a cup of coffee with Merrill if you came to the airstrip,” said MAF mechanic Roger Clark.
And it was true. MAF pilots always looked forward to visiting with Merrill, a missionary with Africa Inland Missionary (AIM) in a remote mountain village in Lesotho. Merrill lived right by the airstrip, a five-minute walk away, and she always had a cup of coffee and cookies waiting for the pilot.
A few years ago, Merrill moved to an even more remote village. Her new home is a 40-minute walk to the airstrip—where she goes regularly to meet the plane that brings in supplies.
“She would send mail out. We would bring in food, gas … anything you could need to live in a village we would bring to her there,” added Clark.
Getting to the airstrip and carting things home in backpacks was not easy for Merrill. After living and serving in the mountains of Lesotho for 18 years, her hips are so wrecked she has to rely on crutches. The MAF pilots who fly out there wanted to help so they devised a plan.
Chief Pilot Danny Hulls spearheaded fundraising efforts to purchase a four-wheeler for Merrill, so she could easily get around on the rugged mountain paths. The project was especially poignant to him as the majority of funding came from memorial gifts in honor of his mother, Cheryl Hulls, who passed away a year ago February. Other gifts came from former Lesotho missionaries who knew Merrill, and from her supporting churches in South Africa. Once the funds were raised, Danny and the other pilots traveled to South Africa and purchased a Yamaha Grizzly 350.
The only question that remained was how to get it to Merrill, who lived a good eight-hour drive away now—half of that on paved road, the other half on dirt. The four-wheeler was much too big to fit in one of the 206s. The only way to get it there was to drive it.
So Danny, Roger, Melvin Peters, an MAF Canada pilot, and a visiting friend with a sense of adventure, set out on two motorcycles and the four-wheeler loaded with supplies. They brought along their own stuff as well as some food for Merrill.
Some of the dirt paths were pretty treacherous, and, of course, there was a breakdown along the way—a problem with the radiator on one of the motorcycles. But finally, the group rolled in shortly after dark, headlamps and headlights barely making a dent in the darkness.
The team gave Merrill some lessons so she could maneuver her new four-wheeler safely. And of course, being MAF pilots, they had modified it. The guys built a large cargo box to attach to the back, so she had a way to carry her supplies from the airstrip to her home. They even added a place to store her crutches.
Since she’s been using the four-wheeler, Merrill says her hips are hurting less.
Danny, Roger, and the other MAF staff are glad they’ve been able to support Merrill all these years as she lives among the Basotho people and leads them to Christ. Whether it’s installing an antenna for the HF radio, which she uses to communicate with MAF, or a solar panel installation to charge the radio’s battery … MAF pilots and mechanics have been there to help with odd projects and offer encouragement.
And the pilots made sure to include a coffee bar on the four-wheeler. Well, not exactly, but they did add a drop-down table to the cargo box, along with a 12-volt takeoff from the battery and a travel kettle so she can once again make coffee for the visiting pilots.