After several years of prayer and hundreds of donations we have our fourth Pilatus Porter airplane! We also have a replacement for the airplane that crashed last year. Both planes arrived within a week of each other; one from Switzerland, the other from Nepal. These airplanes are really needed because the last of our piston powered Helio Courier airplanes have been retired from service. (see previous post)
The year was 1976, a baby boy was born in Albany, Oregon unaware of the world around him. His parents no doubt wondered about what he might do when he was grown… That same year (1976) SIL aviation imported there first airplane to Indonesia, a Helio Courier PK-UCA. This aircraft along with 3 other Helio’s (that arrived later) have served the isolated people of Papua and supported the scripture engagement movement. 36 years later that aircraft is set to be retired and was last flown by that baby born on the other side of the world in Oregon over three decades ago.
That baby was me, Courtney Zehr, and it is a real privilege to be the last Helio pilot serving the people here. These last several months I have been talking to the local people in the villages about the Helio aircraft. Many of them tell about how it was the first airplane they ever saw, or how they have grand memories of riding in it when they were kids. Many times they tell me about some of the pilots that use to fly here and what an impression they made on them. In one high mountain airstrip the Helio would have to circle several times as it climbed to get enough altitude to clear the mountain passes. While this was a laborious task for the Helio and pilot at such a high altitude, the villagers loved to listen to the plane circle as the engine noise would echo through the valley. They described it as beautiful music and they could tell the specific Helio airplane by the sound of its engine. They determined that one plane in particular had the best “voice”. Today our much more efficient Pilatus Porters that carry twice the payload can climb to altitude with out circling, clear the pass and are gone but with no music for the villagers to enjoy. And that’s kind of what it feels like as the last Helio retires. The new aircraft are better in almost every way and will serve the people well for years to come. But there is a music about the Helio that will be missed, not just its distinct noise of its engine but a sense of what the aircraft has been used for and what it has helped accomplish for the Kingdom. The Helio has served well!
The other week I had to overnight in a village because of heavy rain at my home airport. While there I got to play with a Kuskus (pronounced coos-coos). It is a lot like a possum and is unique to Papua. This one was raised from infancy so it is tame and very friendly. The lady that owns “staf listrik” (its name) works for a government agency that does community development project in remote villages. She and her Husband live close to us in Sentani, so the following Saturday they brought over Staf List for our kids to play with. They loved it and now they want there own!
We have had a great time reconnecting with our friends and family during our brief return to America. We have been so encouraged to see how many people are backing us up in prayer and partnering with us to enable our ministry. Several times as we shared in churches people we didn’t even know would come up to us make a point to tell us that they had been consistently praying for us. We are ready to return and get back to supporting Bible translation knowing that we have an amazing team of partners that not just enable us to be there but that are walking with us.
We have also really enjoyed a lot of things about being back in America. Going to football and baseball games, the Oregon coast, celebrating the girls birthdays, the Holiday seasons with family etc….
Thanks to our good friend Abe we were able to update our website. We have added a photo album page and a links page. We also now have a feature for you to leave your comments to our posts. This new site is powered by Word Press and is much easier for us to manipulate. We will try and keep this Blog more up to date with this new software.
The Helio airplanes that Courtney flies are being retired as we are converting to a more efficient turbine aircraft fleet. This week Courtney made the last flight in UCD. Praise God for the years of service that this aircraft has provided! Below are some pics from the last flight.
Some flight photos from February 2011
To go to the mountain airstrips you want to leave early so you can get your flights done before the winds pick up. We were scheduled to depart at 6a.m. but due to various reasons we were delayed until a little after 7. I was riding along with a pilot who has flown out here for many years and has a heart to really minister to the people. Our plan was to fly out some supplies and bring back 4 people. En-route we received an important request. The night before, a lady had died while hiking from one village to another. The hike was over very rugged terrain for about 60 miles!! The pilot knew the husband of the dead lady as he had worked for several years in Sentani (the city where we are living). He was a really close friend that had returned to his village in the mountains to get married and live out his days there. He had only been married for 6 months when his wife died on the trail. While en-route we called our flight planner and got approval to change our plans and help return the body to the village. To the people here it very, very important to be buried in your home village and for the relatives to touch the body before it is buried. So we landed at our original destination and picked up our passengers and then flew them to another airport and dropped them off promising to return for them later. We then flew to another airport to pick up the body. (we didn’t take the original passengers there because it is located in really rugged terrain and it was very likely that the wind would be to strong for a safe landing by the time we returned from delivering the body). After we shut down and got out, the husband and the pilot were hugging and weeping for a very long time. There were about 150 people standing around all looking very sad and touched. We then flew to our forth mountain airport to return the husband, another family member and the body. There was some concern for the husband’s safety because if the dead lady’s family blamed the husband for her death his life would be in danger. But he was received well and the in-laws did not blame him. As the pilot prayed for them, I had a very strong sense of the Holy Spirit moving. We then returned to pick up our original passengers and return back to Sentani. After reflecting on the flight we realized that if we would not have been delayed we probably wouldn’t have been able to help because we would’ve already been returning with our passengers and not been able to re-route. I have been working on getting here to fly for over ten years, this was my first flight in a Pilatus Porter and my first time to see the tiny challenging airstrips the pilots all over the world go gah-gah over. That part was fun, but honestly I could do the same thing in back country airports in Idaho. What really impressed me were the amazing people who are isolated in this amazingly rugged terrain. God used this day to open my heart a little more and follow the example of my fellow minister/pilot in sharing Christ’s love. Please pray that I would be able to yield to the Holy Spirit to guide me in this place.
The Girls were happy to find that there is a McDonalds with french fries and ice cream! There are several American fast food resteraunt chains here. However at KFC there is no biskets, mashed patatos or cole slaw! Just rice. :) We are settling in and getting use to life here. It is a little frustrating at times because we do not know the language yet and are so dependent on the help of others.