The Beast that Opened Eyes

Airplane that flew the generator

Airplane that flew the generator into Zappallo Grande

As the small pickup backed towards the plane, my confidence wavered. The truck’s rear springs compressed completely. The tires rubbed wheel wells at every bump in our grass ramp. In its bed a diesel powered generator hunched like a docile beast whose size and weight substituted for ferocity.

The HCJB mission hospital in Quito ran a research clinic at Zappallo Grande, a village in Ecuador’s coastal jungle. Previously, a 12- to 18-hour drive positioned the doctors for an additional four-hour canoe trip to reach the village–if the river cooperated. Now, we fly them there in 45 minutes.

Thursdays we delivered the team to Zappallo where they focused on finding a treatment for River Blindness (Onchocerciasis) — a disease spread by fly bites that causes total, irreversible blindness in millions of people worldwide. Sundays we brought them back. While there, the doctors radioed us when they were ready to collect patient blood samples. If the weather looked good, we approved the collection. Forty-five minutes later, we arrived with ice-filled coolers, packed the samples, and flew back to Quito. A waiting car delivered the coolers to the lab.

Generator similar to the one delivered to Zappallo Grande

Generator similar to the one delivered to Zappallo Grande

The system worked well, but one day I asked the director, missionary Ron Guderian, “Is there anything more we can do to help?”


He laughed and said, “No. Unless you can fly a generator there. It would really accelerate our work, but it’s too big for the canoes.”

“Let’s take a look,” I said.

I measured the monster and over the next few days visited equipment dealers in Quito, searched the web and finally calculated that it weighed 850-900 pounds. If I left all extra seats and fueled for a one-way flight plus reserve, I’d be within both the airplane’s center of gravity and weight limits. I could refuel for the return flight from our cache in Zappallo.

So, we drug the beast from a groaning truck bed into the airplane. After securing the load, I pushed the tail of the Cessna 206 down to the ground, then let go. This test alone wasn’t enough to determine the aircraft’s center of gravity, but offered a good confirmation of my calculations.  The tail rose quickly. Nothing left to do but recheck the weather and fly.

That generator dramatically improved the Zappallo clinic’s research. Ron estimates that they developed a River Blindness treatment two years sooner than their highest hopes.


  • Dianna G says:

    Love the story … now I know what this curious title means. So is there now a cure for river blindness?

    • Jim Manley says:

      No one has found a cure that restores sight yet. However, the treatment Ron’s team developed, prevents the condition from getting worse. If it’s administered early enough, no damage results.

  • Karen says:

    Dr Ron Guderian…we are with MAF because the Lord called us here, I know, but we…I…am in missions because of this legendary missionary doctor. We had the privilege of working with him twice in Zappallo Grande. Tim was smitten by the airplanes immediately; i was a much harder sell… Dr Guderian and his work was the initial peg that God carefully knocked into my heart to wedge it toward eventual willingness to serve.

  • Jim Manley says:

    I had no idea you and Tim were ever in Zapallo. What brought you there? When were you there? Despite how many times I hear it, I am still amazed at God’s creative ways of imparting vision.

  • Karen says:

    Two short mission trips (1989 and 90) sponsored through our home church of Old Cutler Presbyterian in Miami, which also supported Guderians. Dr Ron came through Miami fairly regularly when he traveled so that i had been absorbing his riveting stories for a few years by the time the church sponsored a work team, and i told Tim that we Had to go. But these were ‘short term Only’ experiences in my mind then, and i still did a fair bit of kicking and screaming along the way before getting on with MAF in 1995, but i have always acknowledged these trips to work for Dr Ron as my missions ‘ground zero’. Each time, we took overland transport one direction and flew with MAF the other. The second time was with Gene. 🙂

  • Jim Manley says:

    In my case, I was the kicker and screamer. But the Lord managed to get through even my thick head 🙂

    Your Zapallo trips were just before I moved to Quito. Sorry I missed you two, but clearly God was working. Thank you both for responding.

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