I loved flying Ecuadorian jungle kids. They reveled in life, not yet acquiring their elders’ stoicism. At the village airstrips, girls moved in tight, giggling knots. Boys ganged, separated, then ganged again at each new wonder. They spoke whisper soft, peering, pointing, touching tentatively, watching me for any sign. In the midst of adult conversations, my raised eyebrow snapped their extended hand back to side. But at my smile, pointed fingertip on fuselage became flat palm rubbing cool aluminum, with far away looks asking, “What’s it like to fly high and fast and far?”
Inside the airplane they still spoke softly, but with eyes dinner-plate wide. Most had seen airplanes, but never ridden in one, never moved faster than a run nor higher than a tree. Engine start always brought their attention forward. Lighting off 300 horsepower shook the whole plane, but their only moving seats had been tippy dugout canoes. There, they floated upon the powerful river, but here they sat within the beast wondering, “Is it going to eat me?”
Leaving Earth, faces and hands plastered against windows, some pointing at river bends maybe recognized, others at occasional village clearings amidst the sea of trees. Most fascinating to them? Looking down upon the tops of flying condors and parrots.
When we climbed above clouds, faces changed from amazed to mesmerized as we soared in a never imagined realm—deep blue above, brilliant white below, only occasional holes revealing the dark land hidden beneath, a distant home temporarily set aside.
Of course, not all kids enjoyed idyllic flights. Some rode in agony as patients crushed by falling trees, slashed by errant machetes, or bitten by venomous serpents. A few left life while still in the air, but thankfully most survived—even impossible ones tied to life by only the thinnest thread. Like the snake-bitten 12-year-old girl, swollen, mottled putrid black and green. On the 30-minute flight to Shell she alternated between comatose and violent thrashing. Finally on the ramp, I carried her from airplane to a car pressed into ambulance service. Amazed she still lived, I set her across the back seat, sure it was the last leg of her one-way journey to heaven. But a few days later she sat in our hangar, on a too-high bench, swinging her legs, smiling as she waited for her flight home.
Jesus talks about kids. He says things like “care for the least of these,” and “don’t hinder them coming to me,” and “their angels behold God’s face.” So flying those exuberant packages of his ideal attitude still ranks at the top of my honored-to-serve list.