Recently, the country of Gabon has been highlighted via the popular American reality television show, Survivor. During the first episode, I am told that one of the contestants was hurt. Within moments, a medic arrived and attended to his injuries. Sadly, this is not possible for rest of the men, women and children of this beautiful continent. The average person in Sub-Saharan Africa is a two-and-a-half day walk away from medical care.
Gabon is a small, coastal central African country of approximately 1.5 million people. Due to its many natural resources (timber, manganese, oil) and political stability, it stays out of the news. However, the material wealth never makes it very far past the pockets of those in upper management and government, so many of its inhabitants live in poverty.
There has never been a dedicated medical air transport program in Gabon — until now. After an investigatory trip in December 2005, consultation, fund-raising, an MAF pilot/mechanic evaluation, cross-cultural training for the family and lots of prayer, my family and I relocated here in late August 2008. We are the first full-time missionaries with Air Calvary, a non-profit from New York, as well as appointed Tentmakers from the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA). Our work is in partnership with the C&MA’s Bongolo Hospital, located far in the southern interior of the country, just kilometers from the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Bongolo Hospital has been here since the 1970s, featuring western medical professionals training and discipling African men and women as doctors and nurses. The director of the growing, 125-bed hospital, Dave Thompson, has had the vision for air service since the mid ’80s. The trip to the country’s capital and main port, Libreville, is a 10-12 hour, bone-jarring ordeal (depending on the season) by four-wheel drive vehicle. By air, in a typical mission aircraft, the trip would be reduced to an hour and a half to two hours, max. Thompson clearly saw how an air program would not only save wear and tear on the people and resources coming to and from the hospital, but would also be a tool to expand Christ’s Kingdom exponentially.
Years passed, and the hospital became more and more convinced — so, in faith, they cleared a large portion of jungle for an airstrip and constructed a hangar. Then, called by the Lord, our family arrived. Now, we are only $150,000 away from the purchase of the programs first aircraft, a turbine-powered Cessna 207.
Since arriving in Gabon, our family has started to settle into the culture and a home-schooling routine with another missionary family. Also, the air ministry has started building strong relationships with government and church leaders. I have met with the minister of health and the director of civil aviation, as well as many of the national church leaders and individual local churches.
A key to the air ministry is that it is an extension of the local churches of Gabon. Linking arms with them and their vision to establish mission-minded, Christ-centered faith communities in every people group in Gabon is core to operations. Currently, we are busy mapping the country and the 20 plus least-reached and unreached tribes. Every flight into those regions will have the goal to point people to the reason for our actions — there is a loving Creator-God who loves us and compels us to love others.