On Approach

A unique perspective on how MAF donors support the “long approach” to Bible translation


Story by Gene Arnold, MAF staff on-loan to Moody Aviation Institute’s missionary aviation training program in Spokane, WA.


This season I am teaching instrument flight to our senior class. Instrument flying allows a pilot to navigate through the clouds and other weather without seeing the ground, except for the moments of takeoff and landing. As amazing as blind navigation is, the moment-by-moment control of the airplane is even more critical. The reason for this is that once humans are in flight, our bodies are completely incapable of telling the difference between gravity and the other forces associated with motion. In short, without seeing the ground, we can’t tell which way is up! Students learn to read and trust the instruments even when everything inside them is screaming that some other direction is up.

Luke Nelson, left, after he successfully completed the Commercial check that Gene Arnold gave him last week. Luke and his wife, Amy, are scheduled for a technical evaluation and interviews with MAF this summer. Photo courtesy of Gene Arnold.

Recently, my students proved this to themselves as we flew from Spokane, WA, to Lewiston, ID, to Moses Lake, WA, and back to Spokane on instruments. Throughout each flight, the student piloting the plane wore a hood on his or her head, allowing a view of the instrument panel only. There was a lot of joy in the airplane when I let the student look outside a few seconds before landing and there was the runway right in front of us! I think you can see there’s a spiritual lesson here, too. Just like with instrument flying, when we set aside our natural inclinations and trust the truth set before us, we can arrive at the right destination.

After a long trip

When the trip is long, it makes that final approach to land even more joyful. In a way, this happened recently in Papua, Indonesia. Let me set the stage with a little background.

In 1956 missionaries Gordon Larson and Don Gibbons hiked into the Ilaga Valley in what was then Netherlands New Guinea. The valley was shared by two tribes, the Dani and Damal. Gordon Larson turned his focus to the Dani, and Don Gibbons to the Damal. They had worked toward this event for three years, but God had been at work even longer.

Although Don didn’t speak any Damal, God prepared a translator in the form of the Damal chief’s son, Sam, who had studied in the Indonesian language at the government school. But even more significant, years before, God had placed the thought in the heart of Sam’s father, Chief Den, that someday someone would come to give the Damal people the key to heaven. Over the months, Don Gibbons learned enough of the Damal language to present Bible stories and the gospel. Finally, Chief Den became convinced that this gospel was the key to heaven he had been looking for. He and his people were animists, believing that spirits lived in everything around them and influenced all aspects of life. For this reason, all the people kept fetishes designed to appease these spirits, but in a great act of faith, Chief Den led his people in burning all their fetishes.

Historical photo of Beoga airstrip in Papua, Indonesia served by mission aviation fellowship charity

Gene grew up in Papua (then Irian Jaya), Indonesia, where his parents served as C&MA missionaries. He and his family visited the Beoga airstrip (shown here) several times. “Although it’s now paved, not much else has changed with the runway Don built on an old landslide,” said Gene. “Pilots will understand how challenging this airstrip is: Elevation – 5,600 feet; length – 1,857 feet; slope – 12%; surrounded by mountains that rise as high as 16,000 feet.”

Don and his wife, Alice, built their home in a place called Beoga, deep in Damal territory. There, supported by MAF, they lived for the next decades and continued to teach the Damal. They also started to translate the Bible into the Damal language. The Damal received these early portions of God’s Word gladly.

In turn, they preached it through their villages and then to the neighboring Dani and beyond. Eventually, the Gibbons retired and have now passed away, but others continued translating the Bible into Damal. At last, a few months ago, the translation of the entire Bible into Damal was completed! This has been a long approach and was celebrated with great joy!

Gene and Jen Arnold with their sons, Andrew (left) and Nate (right).


  • HOWIE PRICE says:

    Awesome story. Thanks for you for all you do to bring the Gospel to those remote areas of the world.

  • Trevor Benjamin says:

    Amazing life history of commitment and dedication.

  • Dave Overby says:

    Praise the Lord for the faithful work of so many changing “the outcome” for the Damal people. Thanks you for all that you’ve done. Dave

  • Ruth and Joe Baxter says:

    joeruthbaxter@neo.rr.com We so thoroughly enjoyed this MAF story of Gene’s appointment to teach and train our students at the Moody Aviation Preparation in Spokane, Wa. We are very familiar with Spokane, Wa., Lewiston, Id., & Moses Lake, Wa. My parents settled in Spokane, Wa. and my uncle lived in Moses Lake, Wa. We were missionaries serving in Quito, Ecuador, S. A., with Radio Station HCJB for 39 years-l964-July 3, 2003. My husband, a printer at Imprenta Vozandes, and I worked in our Hospital Vozandes Hospital in surgery, sterilization, delivery & recovery. Sundays we did hospital visitation and visited every room, and the different divisions of the hospital with such great JOY as our chaplain would go with us. We were introduced to the need of a printer and a nurse by Dave and Carol Osterhus, MAF serving in Shell Mera and took Nate Saint’s place. Carol was a nursing classmate of Ruth’s in St. Paul, Mn., where we met Dave and were involved in their wedding. It was the most exciting years of our lives and now we are retired here in Mansfield, Ohio, and keep in close contact with retired missionaries and missionaries still on the field. We have a missionary son, Johnny Umble training in Spokane, Wa., with the Moody Aviation Training, and we pray for him and his parents Randy & Melanie & family serving with Wycliffe in Mexico teaching at a missionary school. We were at Moody and Joe’s best friend, Frank Gibbs, also an MAF pilot who visited us in Ecuador and did teaching, with his wife, Jan, now retired but served in various fields wit teaching. We THANK THE LORD FOR GOD DESIGNATING SPECIAL INSTRUCTORS TO SERVE IN VARIOUS CAPACITIES TRAINING FUTURE MISSIONARY PILOTS. Your son’s name is Nate, could he be named after our dear Nate Saint, one of the five missionaries who gave their lives in reaching the (Auca) Indians. His widow, Marjorie interviewed us for missionary service and Ruth worked with her at HVQ. We met all of the five missionaries wives on a flight going to Quito to visit their husband’s graves on Palm Beach. MAF pilot Dave Osterhus, took us out on a trip to visit Palm Beach on one of our visits to Shell Mera, Ecuador, S. A. We hold the ministry of MAF dearly in our hearts and are ALWAYS IN OUR PRAYERS. BLESSINGS. Ruth and Joe Baxter

    • Gene Arnold says:

      Ruth and Joe, Thanks for your encouraging comments. It’s good to read how God used your own mission service. He calls each of us to unique roles that He fits us for and allows us to participate in His great plan.
      Yes, John Umble is one of our students here. I was able to help welcome him when he arrived at our school a couple years ago. I look forward to being part of his training as he moves into flight.
      We named our son “Nathaniel” for its meaning: “gift of God,” but we clearly had in mind Nate Saint, and another dear missionary friend, Nate Ost, when we named him.
      Thanks for your prayers. Gene

  • George Cook says:

    It’s so wonderful to hear stories of how MAF supports efforts like this (Damal and Dani) to get the word of God into the hands of others! Thank you for your commitment and service to the Lord Jesus!

  • Nancy Jones says:

    Thank you for helping us to understand the work being done.

  • Fran Carlson says:

    Wonderful stories if God’s intervention, calling, caring, direction, strength, knowledge and many more blessings in these lives!

  • Mary Reyes says:

    Thanks for your service and sacrifice to make it possible that others come to know Christ in their tongue and so much more of your care. Blessings Maryhelen 😎🌻

  • Phyllis Beiter says:

    Don Beiter went to Mission Aviation at Moody when it was in Chicago! He graduated in 1959.
    I also went to Moody Missionary course at that time and graduated in 1958 then went to the then Dutch New Guinea to serve in a tribe. Don’s assignment after graduation was with Mission Aviation Fellowship and also to Dutch New Guinea, and he was my pilot!! After a year there the Lord had led us to be married together! Betty Greene, one of the MAF founders was there flying for a few months, and knew me, so passed me to be an MAFer!
    Then we were assigned to one of the Dani tribe towns, Wamena, and so Don was then one of the MAF pilots who flew regularly for both the Gibbons and the Larsons among others! We were there all through the 1960s and our 4 children were born during that time. Two of them, Jean and John, went to Moody Bible Institute after high school for awhile, and one, John, served 3 years in Africa as an aircraft mechanic with Airserv. Our son Paul served on MAF home staff for a year doing aircraft mechanics, and for a few months in Africa with another MAFer rebuilding one of the MAF planes that needed it!
    Don and I retired from MAF in 1996 and did volunteer work for them for a few years after that. Don is now in Heaven, the Lord having taken him when he was 90 a year ago. So he will be seeing the Larsons and Gibbons as they all serve the Lord there!

    • Gene Arnold says:

      Phyllis, thanks so much to you and Don for stepping out in faith those many years ago and opening the work in New Guinea (now Papua, Indonesia). I rejoice to seen how it’s grown and blossomed over the years, with mature churches sending out their own missionaries now. This fall we will have the privilege of receiving some Papuan young people from those churches into our mission aviation training program. They hope to take the skills they’ll learn back to their home and continue to carry the love of Jesus to others who have not heard yet. Gene

  • Jim Turner says:

    I savor these stories from Papua NG. My father spent a year there parachuting out of planes to free the people from one yolk of evil- the Japanese empire. Now MAF continues the battle flying to free them from the ultimate evil. God bless all of you.

  • James Delbert Kuehl says:

    The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM) was working in Papua
    New Guinea in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. A number of tribes
    became Christians.
    My dad, Dr Delbert Kuehl, was one of the senior directors of TEAM at the time. Once a year MAF would fly my dad to visit the tribes. These tribal people would be looking for the “Chief White Man.” My dad would always comment to me on the skills of the pilots as they landed on the primitive dirt airstrips and the happiness and joy of these new Christians in their new found faith. I thank God for the missionary translators and the MAF pilots that made this possible.

  • Such encouraging words we are new to supporting MAF. I’m glad I took the time to read the story and comments. I will share with others. Heavenly Father protect all the MAF family and keep them encouraged as the spread the Gospel of Jesus.

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