Why are we here in East Africa? Why are we doing this? The process to get here has been long and at times very frustrating. All the prerequisites and hoops that have to be jumped to be ready to do the job we were sent to do. I have asked myself this question many times along the way. I have questioned the process and why all the different steps and training.
I am nearing the end of all the certification and training requirements to operate here in East Africa. Part of this is to do operational route checks to the different areas we operate and serve. I did one of these route checks this week and saw firsthand why I had to go through all the training and prerequisites. In the areas and conditions we fly this training is an absolute necessity to operate safely and efficiently.
Most importantly I saw and experienced why we are here. We are here to serve and bless those who are here serving and blessing and ministering to the people of East Africa. We are here to provide safe reliable transportation of people and supplies to the farthest reaches. We are here to encourage and fellowship with our fellow missionaries who are living and ministering in some of the most remote areas of this continent. These missionaries have answered God’s call to share the Gospel to the remotest areas of Africa. Hot, dry, dusty, barren locations in the middle of nowhere. But this is where a lot of African people live. This is their home and livelihood. This is where their ancestors have lived for decades. So this is where we go to share the great news and love of Jesus Christ.
There are mission stations scattered all over Northern Kenya, what we call the NFD (Northern Frontier District). Every 1 to 2 weeks we do a scheduled circuit of these AIM and other mission stations doing medical and evangelical ministries. These stations are a base for the missionaries who then travel and work in the surrounding areas. There are no paved roads out here. Most the roads are single track and most the time very rough and rutted. During the rainy season which can last for months, they are washed out and impassable. Travel to Nairobi is a multi-day adventure at best, if possible at all. So this NFD run is a life-line to these missionaries.
I wanted to share a glimpse into one of these NFD runs.
I arrived at the airport at 7 am to start preparing the airplane and cargo for departure. We knew from the day before that the airplane was going to need a repair before we could take it. It had come back late the day before with a failed vacuum pump. The maintenance crew here in Nairobi is fantastic at keeping this equipment in top shape. They had arrived earlier and were already in the process of replacing the pump so that the airplane would be ready for an 8:30 am departure.
Cargo out of Nairobi consisted of vehicle parts, a generator, medicine, medical supplies, groceries and 2 pails of chlorine. Most of these stations are in very dry areas with no means of growing fresh fruits or vegetables. They mostly live on rice, beans and flat bread, so any type of fresh produce is an amazing treat. The chlorine was for a swimming pool at one of the stations. This was one of the hottest locations we visited and that pool gets lots of use by the missionary kids and adults alike. There were no passengers on this first leg.
Our first stop was in Wamba to drop off a set of truck springs for a pastor’s Landrover. These roads are so rough the vehicles take a beating. The area had recently gotten a heavy rain and the airstrip had areas of standing water and mud on the approach end and middle. After a low pass we picked an area that was suitable to land, came around and landed. Our pastor was there waiting and extremely grateful for the delivery of his parts. We calculate very carefully every take off and plan abort points according to conditions. We had to take into consideration the standing water and mud for this takeoff. With a strong wind in our favor we easily made our calculated performance numbers and were on our way.
The next stop was to drop off the medical supplies and generator in Sedar and pick up 3 passengers and an infant. One of these passengers had been a missionary with AIM for a number of years and is now training pilots to come out. He is here with a short- term team and had spent several days in the bush. We were bringing him back to Nairobi. The other two and infant are missionaries with AIM and had been at a regional missions’ conference in Kurungu and were headed home to Karabara.
Karabara is 45 minutes north by air and up at 4400′. The runway is on the side of a hill with a pretty good up-slope and drop off on the approach end. The wind was whipping through there making the approach a little challenging. We dropped off our friends and their infant along with groceries we had brought from Nairobi. They are in a very remote area doing a fantastic job ministering to the people in the Hurri Hills area.
After careful calculation, we determined that with the winds as strong as they were, an uphill takeoff was our best option. We easily made our numbers on takeoff and were off to our next pick up with one passenger on board. This next stop was a short hop back down to the desert floor to Kalacha where we were picking up a passenger who had been working as a short term missionary helping out the station there in Kalacha. She was headed back to Nairobi to catch a commercial flight back home. We were also carrying some cargo and finances for the station. Yes, sometimes we are also the Wells Fargo non -armored money truck.
With 2 passengers back aboard we were headed to our last pick-up in Gatab. Gatab is a “special procedures” runway on a plateau. It sits at 5200’ with a drop off at both ends. Winds can be very strong here and they were. This airstrip requires additional special training and a check out by our chief pilot before operating here. Since this was my first time landing here, I did not make the landing but observed how to approach it. I will return at another date to get a full check out on this strip. In Gatab we picked up a young German couple who had been out here for several weeks working with missionaries from their home church in Germany. With our last 2 passengers on-board we headed back down to the desert floor and the shore of Lake Turkana. We were also bringing down fresh fruits and vegetables to the mission station which is a huge treat for these missionaries. It is hot and dry and almost impossible to grow anything.
With weight restrictions and the short runway coming out of Gatab, we had to be light on fuel in order to take-off. There are no gas stations or fuel trucks in these parts of Kenya but we do have fuel stored in several places with longer airstrips. We were only 10 minutes from one of those stashes of fuel. A quick stop to fuel and drop off the produce and we were on our final leg back to Nairobi.
Back across the vast desert plains, climbing in elevation to the Aberdare National Park full of forest elephants, past Mount Kenya and over the sprawling tea fields leading into Nairobi. It was a race against time to beat the 6:30 pm sunset, the limit for landing piston engine aircraft in Kenya. It’s much cooler up here in Nairobi. We sit at 5,500′ above sea level and really appreciate that cool air after spending a day down on the desert.
So again, why are we here? We are here to serve Christ. We are here to serve the Church of Africa. We are here to serve our fellow missionaries who have given up so much to reach the people of East Africa with the good news of Jesus Christ. We are here to serve those who serve. We are a life line to these servants in these remote areas. I came home hot, tired, satisfied, and reminded why God has us here.