Greetings from Africa. Our family is doing well. Zach just had his 4th birthday and Amelia is counting the days to her seventh. Goodness, our kids are growing fast. I remember the day we took Zach to the post office in New Jersey to get his passport. He was the youngest applicant they had ever seen… just 2 weeks old. He bears little resemblance now to that little scrunched up infant in the photo. This month Renee and I mark eight years with AIM AIR. I’m not sure what it means, except that we are somewhat amazed we have made it so long. Deep down, there is a subtle suspicion that we are not really cut out for this. But I also suspect this feeling is common among missionaries, which probably says something about how God works. One thing is for certain, we wouldn’t be here without you all. So thanks (again.)
Our months have been busy as usual – in the air and at home. Renee and I converted the larger bedroom in the house into a classroom for Amelia, and school started right on schedule. Amelia is digging deeper into the basics – reading, writing, and math – while Renee has introduced social studies and Bible into her coursework. I’m supposed to do science, but every attempt ultimately digresses into particle physics with me, so we usually just pull up rocks in the back yard and look for bugs. One thing is for sure… school is fun. At least, Renee and I think so.
Zach is growing more and more into a little boy – complete with sound effects. He’s recently mastered the art of what we call “the cute look.” It’s irresistible and gets me into all kinds of trouble. “Honey, why is Zachary eating ice cream at 10pm?” I have some defense in the the good name of “quality time with the kids.” Who could deny a dad that? For certain, my time at home grows more coveted as our kids grow older. I spend about two months each year on safari flights, sleeping somewhere away from my family. And the overnights are getting harder for me.
It’s not just being away, but being so far away. And not necessarily far in distance, but in situation. My nights out with the airplane are in strange and serious places throughout the region; Where wars and genocide have taken place, where children die and families are reduced to refugees. The overnights present a stark reminder that every day is a gift and I often fall asleep with a pervasive, simple gratitude for my wife and kids and all the other things so easily taken for granted. Renee and I sometimes connect in late-night SMS messages via satellite phone – from the wilderness where I lay my head to the city where she sleeps. And hidden in those cryptic text communications about how the kids are doing and when I think I’ll be home, there is the question that missionaries are not supposed to ask… “is it worth it?”
This tension in missions between the “calling” and the cost is ever present… in our SMS relays, as the topic of our dinner conversations, and left unsaid in all the sober, early morning goodbyes. And instead of trying to find an answer to the whispered “is it worth it,” we have learned to ask ourselves this: “Are we honoring God here and now, in what he’s given us to do?” Wrapped up in that question is the elusive secret to contentment. In it is the strength to do extraordinary things, as well as the grace to do humble ones. Somewhere in there is the “how” as to how we have made it for eight years in Africa, and the answer to everyone’s other question, “how much longer do you think you will serve there?” And, of course, wrapped up in the question is a whole world of awesome ministry.
We continue to be blessed by the work God has given us here. Thanks for venturing with us, through the deep blessings and the hard questions. May your Thanksgiving day be rich with His perspective.
Mike and Renee
A new Sudan?
Early this year the government of northern Sudan signed a peace agreement with the rebel army of the south. This, after nearly 20 years of civil war. They were calling it “New Sudan,” even issuing license plates under the name. Almost a year later, I can see some change in the Sudan. The two armies are hardly fighting anymore, and aid agencies are moving in in droves to bring development to a land which cannot even be described as under- developed. Our service to missionaries and Christian aid workers in the region has also increased, but we are operating there with cautious reservation. The country is saturated with weapons, and land mines. About two months ago, the leader of the new southern government perished when his helicopter crashed in neighboring Uganda. Since then it remains to be seen if the country as a whole will take a turn for the worse, or continue on toward peace and some semblance of progress. For now, mission work is on the rise, and we are glad to be the ones making it happen. Our flying in Sudan remains something we don’t publicize too widely, but my experiences there continue to be the same – fraught with mud and chaos, long days, and many frustrations countered by the occasional moment of triumph when I see God at work. Please keep praying for safety up there, and for the people of Sudan.
The reluctant chief pilot
I’ve held this position at AIM AIR for over a year now, and it doesn’t look like there’s any end in sight. I’ve come up with a few creative ideas to get me out of it, only to be met with shaking heads and admonitions about how good the challenge is for my managerial skills. Nevertheless, I continue to do the job as best as I can, even if I don’t look the part yet. The administrative duty has been a stretch for me, and in some ways, this has been my toughest year at AIM AIR. The team may not see it, but Renee certainly does. The stress has been accumulative, permeating
our home life as well as taking away from my desire and ability to write or do other creative things which I’d prefer to do. However, the burden of administering this complicated flight program is shared by the team, and my job as chief pilot is just one of several demanding roles. I miss the days when I was just an indian… but I don’t think I’ll see those again at AIM AIR. Right now, we are in the throws of training three new pilots, and in January, a fourth. This is encouraging because AIM AIR has not had a large influx of personnel since the year Renee and I arrived on the field with two other families. Please pray for wisdom for me as I head up the integration of all these new guys… they are, in large part, the future of our ministry.
All the variables
And speaking of the future, it is as uncertain as ever out here. AIM AIR is facing some changes ranging from a third Cessna Caravan coming to join our fleet next year, to the possibility of a larger twin-engine turboprop along with it. We are also considering what the future of our ministry will be in the bases outside of Nairobi, expanding the base which currently serves Sudan, and looking at a potential new one inside the country. All the growth complicates AIM AIR’s administration, which is, already giving me back pain. But seeing new tools and ministry on the horizon is exciting even if it will bring some hard work. However, there are some troubling variables on the horizon as well. One is a new set of aviation regulations that Kenya is drafting which, in their current form, could shut us down. The other is the implementation of a new taxation on missionaries within Kenya that could make it financially impossible for us
to live here. Both of these issues have the potential for sending us home, or amounting to no issue at all. I expect we will know sometime next year. Until then, we continue on in a strange mix of planning for the future and wondering if there
is one. God knows, and in Africa, I have learned that that is enough. Please pray with us for patience.
View from the ground
Renee and I wonder sometimes what it would be like to switch roles. If she could spend her days as I do, thrust into the chaos and challenge of missionary work in the bush – and I could stand in her shoes as a mother, teacher, and support to a battle-weary spouse. We are both up for the idea, if only it could work. I could use some time to mend, and Renee longs for the sense of purpose I carry home from my adventures. Thinking about the role- reversal, however, quickly leads me to a not-so-surprising conclusion – that Renee has the harder job of the two. Her job is demanding, but offers little challenge, or sense or reward. Being a pilot here is all about new challenges, being a pilot’s wife is about patience… or better stated, long-suffering. Renee’s sacrifice in supporting my role is not lost on me, and I appreciate her more every day.
When you pray for us as a family, and as a team, remember to pray for Renee. Our ministry here would crumble without her steadfastness, without her gentleness and care. Maybe one day God will provide a way for us to make that role-reversal in some form or another, with me on the supporting side, with the view from the ground. But I already look up to Renee… I don’t think that fact will ever change.