Big Bird in the Jungle

Editor’s note: John and Margie Fairweather served with MAF for 40 years, spending most of their time on the field in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). John recently shared about his experience of working with an isolated village to build an airstrip.

One year, the local Bible school we worked with quite often took a group of students to the remote village of Ngokopo to do some ministry. Getting there required a two-day drive followed by two more days of traveling on foot or on a canoe.

During the team’s time in Ngokopo, one of the village leaders asked the team leader if there was any way they could get the ndeke monene — or “the big bird” — to come to their village, which was located along the river in a dense vegetation. They had seen MAF’s planes flying overhead from time to time and wanted to know what it would take to get the “big bird” to land in their village. MAF then came down and determined the best location for the airstrip with guidelines for what would be required to land there.

What followed was an incredible task: clear an area large enough for an airplane to land — an area covered with trees and enormous anthill mounds. For weeks, the villagers worked hard to not only clear the land but remove enormous stumps and nearly-rock hard anthills.

After months of work, the final inspection was ready.

I flew over the strip a few times and determined that it was long enough, flat enough, and firm enough to land on. Then I landed.

People began whooping and hollering before crowding around the plane to see the ndeke monene up close. They touched the wings softly, almost as if they thought they would be feathers. It was incredible.

The village leaders greeted us with a feast that included an omelet from eggs that most definitely didn’t come from a chicken. There was so much pride and joy among the villagers for what they had done in being able to get MAF to come there.

It was so satisfying and rewarding to know that these people weren’t so isolated any more. What once took four days of travel to reach now took just 40 minutes in an airplane.

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