When I was in sixth grade, the Lord called me to be a missionary pilot through hearing one speak in my church. I remembered thinking how fun it would be to do something fun like fly and airplane and still be a missionary. I grew up in Vietnam and Indonesia as a MK, so becoming a missionary was always a possibility in my thinking. As I got into high school, I began to doubt the reality of becoming a missionary pilot because of the cost of schooling and licensing. My parents were still missionaries and could not help me financially. I began looking at other interests for my career choice. During my junior year, I went with a friend to visit LeTourneau College (at that time), mostly as a way to get a few days out of school. When I saw the aviation program there, it reignited my desire to be a missionary pilot, and I decided that I would head in that direction. I told the Lord that I had felt Him leading me in that direction since sixth grade, and if he wanted me to go there, He would have to provide the funds. And he did. I graduated in 1983 with a BSAT degree. I had no idea what adventures would follow.
As part of a project for one of my aviation classes, we had to send out résumés to different companies. I sent mine to about 25 mission organizations with aviation programs and based on the responses settled on JAARS because of their family focus and the connection to Wycliffe Bible Translators. Flying airplanes in the jungles of East Asia turned out to be some of the most fulfilling experiences in my aviation career. Although I have not flown all types of aircraft, obviously, I am convinced that the challenges of navigating the jungle-covered mountains and associated weather create some of the most exciting flying in the world. Short landing strips perched on the side of the mountains, with a terrain limited approach, an airborne committal point before turning final and a point beyond which you were going to bend aluminum if you made any mistakes make for some awesome flying. Some days I could not wipe the grin off my face! But besides being just pure adrenaline-pumping fun, you can touch people’s lives in a real, tangible and eternal way. Loving people in tangible ways while meeting their physical needs for food, supplies, medical help and famine relief is a very fulfilling way to spend your life. Those that you can touch through aviation in many countries are the isolated, poor and forgotten people of the world. Seeing the social economic development of an isolated village or knowing that the relief supplies that you brought in were the difference between life and death makes the sweaty hard work worth the effort. Seeing God’s Word transform a village from spirit worship and cannibalism to worshiping God and sending out missionaries of their own, and knowing that your aviation skills played a significant part in that, will put a smile on your face when you are sitting on the porch in your rocking chair in your later years. When it comes right down to it, it is not about the tool, it is about reaching the peoples of the earth, in the hard to reach areas, with the good news that God loves them and they don’t have to live in fear and bondage.
Aviation skills aren’t only for flying. The last three of the 17 years that we spent in South East Asia, I served as regional director, overseeing 50 families, an aviation program and 25 language projects. The skills I learned in managing a cockpit come in handy in managing other things and people. So it is about more than the tool of aviation — It is about deciding how you are going to use those skills and adapting them to work in taking His Word to the nations. That is why I use the aviation skills that I learned at LeTourneau to reach the ends of the Earth.