Superman Dan, the missionary pilot

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His name is Dan. He is a quiet, unassuming, gentle man—very likeable. He is also a Missionary Aviation Fellowship pilot who has, without much fanfare, been going about his work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the past 16 years. 

I first met Dan on a recent ministry trip. My husband and I were part of a six-member team that flew to Kinshasa, the capital of DRC, on a Sunday night in September. We stayed at a guesthouse that is often used as a base of operations for ministry groups. Monday we visited a medical clinic that serves a population of about 100,000 in a very poor section of the city.

Tuesday morning, Dan showed up at our guesthouse with an MAF van to take us to the airport for a flight to a small town on the Angola border. When we arrived at the airport we found that the plane we were to fly had a flat tire. Well, Dan is not only a pilot, he is also an airplane mechanic. So for the next 90 minutes we sat on plastic chairs at the entrance to the hangar and watched as he very carefully repaired the tire.

We took off on the two and one-half hour flight to Tembo, a small town on the Kwango River that forms the boundary between Angola and DRC. We landed on a gravel airstrip at the edge of the town and were greeted by a crowd of people, many of them children. Local dignitaries were also there, so after we stepped out of the plane the first order of business was to have pictures taken with them by a local photographer.

As I sat in a van waiting for the passport inspections to be completed, I wondered what was ahead for me in the next few days. Where would we stay and what would we eat? How would the people accept me?

As I struggled with my thoughts, I saw Dan walk across the field to the office where he had to register his aircraft and complete the requirements for his return flight to Kinshasa. He turned around and waved, giving me a big smile that said to me, “It’s going to be alright. Have a great time.” Dan had been there before and was letting me know I would be just fine. He was right and I was.

The purpose of our visit to Tembo was to conduct a three-day teacher training workshop for 55 headmasters, teachers and pastors. I met some wonderful people there and we had a great time together. However, all of this would not have been possible without the work of the MAF pilot who brought us there and picked us up after it was completed.

Dan is one of the unsung heroes of missionary work. These pilots are the backbone of mission work in areas where other means of transportation are often very difficult or nonexistent. They are the lifeline for missionaries and local people as well. A recent Wycliffe Bible Translators newsletter states that many of the Bible translation efforts around the world would not exist if missionary pilots were not available.

Sometimes pilots are asked to risk their lives to help others. Several years ago while I was in Irian Jaya on the island of New Guinea I would watch the early morning takeoffs of at least three MAF pilots each day. Because of dangerous air currents later in the day, they had a fly window of three to four hours in the mornings to take care of their routine flights.

I heard one story of a child injured in a serious accident in one of the villages. A MAF pilot and a nurse took off in the late afternoon to pick up the boy and bring him to Sentani where there was a doctor. It was a risky flight, not only in terms of wind problems, but also because they were on a very tight schedule to get back to the airport before it closed at sunset. The local Christian community prayed. In the end they got back with just minutes to spare.

This was my first flight with an MAF pilot. Thank you, Dan, for all you and your fellow pilots do to support ministry efforts in the Congo and around the world.

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