We live in a dark world...a world that suffers the affects of sin and evil. Yet this is the world God send his Son, Jesus Christ who is the light of the world bringing us deliverance from the darkness of sin and evil. But Jesus also gives us his Word to light our path, to guide us, and to take to the far reaches of the earth. As His word says, "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." Isaiah 9:2 (NIV)

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The First Time Out...

It seems no matter how short or how long you've lived your life, there always seems to be those "firsts" that each of us experiences.  For me recently, it was the first time in the LAMP airplane as pastor/pilot...and first time flying out to the mission field I'll be covering from my base in Thompson, Manitoba.

First things first...no pun intended...well, maybe a little.  :-)

Before heading out, I needed to fulfill the insurance requirements for the LAMP airplane.  this is typical in the industry.  The insurance company usually determines how many hours of instruction a pilot is required to have based on the type of license, hours flown, recent experience, and time in the type of airplane in which your being insured.   With my commercial license recently under my belt, and the number of hours I've spent in training flights in a complex type airplane, the requirement for me was a short 3 hours in the Cessna TR182.   (The "TR" designation is for "turbocharged engine" and "retractable landing gear".)

LAMP's Director of Flight Operations, Andrew Anstey, did the check out.  The first flight was so that I could become more familiar with the 182.  Since I did my commercial in a Cessna Cutlass II, the similarities of the two airplanes was very close.  There were a few differences but nothing earth-shaking.  It was easy to get comfortable in my new set of wings. 

Me standing by the LAMP Cessna TR182 after my check out.
 Before we headed out, we needed a plan.  So with the paper VFR (Visual Flight Rules) Navigation Charts taking up virtually the entire surface of my hotel bed, I planned out our trip to try and get to 2/3 of the communities over the next 10 days with one additional day to travel back from Thompson.

Here are the navigation charts lined up with each other and communities identified.

Here is the list of LAMP communities and a standard map to help me locate the communities on the navigation charts.

With the plan in place, the next day (Tuesday, April 28) Andrew and I headed for Thompson, Manitoba byway of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.   The weather was really nice and we had a fairly smooth ride to P.A.

 The view on the way to P.A. really showed the vastness of the prairie farmland.

Andrew is checking the fuel level in both tanks before refueling.
Andrew is enjoying the view as we head out from P.A. to Thompson.
It is astounding how quickly the terrain changes from the prairies to the Boreal Forest.  You can actually see the line where it changes.  From that point on, civilized places are far and few between.  It's all pine trees, some coniferous trees, and a lot of lakes and rivers of various sizes.  It's not exactly a friendly environment, especially if an emergency landing were necessary.  But not to fear.  Both LAMP aircraft carry a substantial amount of survival gear.  Plus I carry a hand-held battery powered aviation radio and a PLB--a Personal Locator Beacon that when activated pings the GPS satellites and will locate us to within 10 feet.   Hopefully it will go unused.

This is the first large lake outside of Prince Albert after crossing into the Boreal forest area.

This is looking toward Flin Flon in the distance.  Most of the lakes still had ice on them.
The flight to Thompson was uneventful.  It was interesting to see all the large bodies of water still frozen.   When we landed in Thompson, I was surprised at the amount of air traffic at the airport, especially the regional airlines (Perimeter, Calm Air).   We got the 182 parked and unloaded.  While Andrew got the rental car, I got out and put the wing coverings on just in case there was frost in the morning.

The 182 after getting tucked in for the night with the wing and tail covers on.

DAY ONE  (Wednesday, April 29)

After making some phone calls and looking at the weather, we flipped our schedule around and headed out to Norway House, MB since the weather in Shamattawa east of us was poor.  It was about a 50 minute flight there.  When we arrived at the airport,  Rev. Lawrence Moore (United Church) met us and arranged for us to meet Lawrence Apetagon (Anglican Church) and John Henry and his niece Bernice (Catholic Church). We all enjoyed lunch together. Then Rev. Moore drove Andrew and me around the community and showed us where the VBS team would be staying and one of the churches they will use.

L to R: Lawrence Apetagon, Dennis, Lawrence Moore, John Henry, Bernice Henry.

The entrance to the winter road right across from the restaurant.  Great location during the winter!
Then it was back to the airport and on to Cross Lake where Father Guru, who does Mass at Norway House once a month was gracious enough to come to the airport and take us to his home for conversation and refreshment. 
Father Guru and Dennis at the Cross Lake Airport
He then took us back to the airport for our flight back to Thompson. All of these people were so gracious to us and excited to have the VBS teams back. The children are already wanting to know when they are coming!  

Cross Lake would be my first experience taking off on a gravel runway.  Andrew flew to Norway House and Cross Lake so I could observe how the gravel airports are handled.   The aircraft operations are quite different as a small rock can cause a lot of damage to a propeller.    

This is looking down the runway at Cross Lake from the airplane parking area.
my first takeoff on gravel was without drama and we made it back to Thompson with good weather all around us.  Post landing inspection of the propeller revealed no damage.  Yay!  So that ended my first day in the mission field.

DAY TWO (Thursday, April 30)

I was able to get in contact with Pastor Mary Ann Miles home only to find out she was in Thompson on personal business!  Unfortunately she didn't have a cell phone.  But she was due back in the community the next day.  The weather improved for Shamattawa with the exception of the winds that were strong and variable. So we decided to fly in after Mary Ann's flight was due to arrive.  My first landing on gravel was quite a challenge with variable and gusting winds.  However, everyone and the airplane made it in one piece.   We walked into the community and found Mr. Lawrence Einearsson who is the principal of the school. He was busy picking up items for a huge community bazaar at the school that day.   He said the band council had approved the VBS and that things should be in order for the team.  Then we walked over to the community center hoping to connect with Mary Ann.  However, she didn't make the flight home.  We did meet her assistant Evelyn, whom I've talked with on the phone a number of times,  and had a nice conversation with her.  We walked back to the airport to fly home.
This is the Northern Store where the community does all its shopping.
The takeoff was quite bumpy from the wind shear as the winds had picked up.   However, after climbing to our cruise altitude, the flight home was uneventful thought a little slower due to headwinds.  And that ended the second day of our trip to communities.

DAY THREE  (Friday, May 1)

Friday's weather was better than forecast and we headed down to Red Sucker Lake to meet with a couple of the pastors and band council members. They were excited that we were coming. Thanks to Sue Folger, the Red Sucker Lake VBS Team leader, we were able to make the necessary contacts. Gordan Disbrowe's daughter and son-in-law live in Thompson. We met them at the Thompson airport to take some supplies down to Gordan. 

This is God's Lake half-way to Red Sucker Lake.  You can still see the winter roads that cut across the lake
Gordan had arranged for Norbert, one of the band council members to pick us up at the airport. From there, we went to the school to meet Gordan. 

Then it was off to the Band office where Norbert made some calls to alert the pastors that we had arrived. 

This is a gift of appreciation to the community from The Northern Store company

Norbert took us across the parking lot to the community TV station where he did an interview with me. Norbert asked me to pray for the community and he translated the prayer in Cree. It was truly amazing! 

Then we took off for the community center where we met Gordan, Pastor George and Youth Pastor Sean from the Full-Gospel Church. Gordon got us all coffee from the new Tim Horton's Express that recently opened. Then we chatted about LAMP, the VBS, and the needs of the community. 

L to R: Norbert, Gordan, Dennis, Pastor Sean, Pastor George
 Andrew and I then said our "Good byes" and Pastor George took us back to the airport, but not before Gordan gave us about 2 pounds of fresh Pickerel (That's Pike to those fishermen south of the border)  to take back with us.  We packed it in the cooler and headed out.

This is our final approach to Island Lake airport.  I was flying.  Andrew was taking pictures.
We took off for Island Lake to check on the fuel cash at the airport since that will be my refueling point going to and from Ontario communities. 

This is the container that hold 1,700 Litres of fuel (about 450 gallons).

This is the ramp at Island Lake for our refueling stop to and from Ontario
Everything looked good and we headed back to Thompson.   As we approached the airport, the weather was starting to deteriorate and we had some light rain.   

On final back at Thompson.  It's one of the few paved runways in the north.
 All-in-all, it was another day the Lord gave us to serve his people. So that ended day 3.

DAY FOUR (Saturday, May 2)

The weather was a washout.  Low ceilings and visibilities were scattered over Ontario and around Thompson.   It gave us a day to refresh a little.  I sent emails and made some phone calls to possibly set up visits the next few days, that is, if the weather would allow it.  We were also invited to dinner at Loretta and Merrick's home that evening.  The rumors were that Merrick was a terrific cook.  After eating out since arriving at Thompson, a home-cooked meal was going to be a treat.  

As the afternoon wore on, I had to take part in a tradition that I can't remember the last time I missed it...The Kentucky Derby.   As a native Kentuckian, it's a must-watch.   I didn't have time to check out the horses beforehand, but was getting a quick rundown from the announcers.  And then my Alma Mater, The University of Louisville band, started playing "My Old Kentucky Home."  As I listened to the singing of that song, a tear or two welled up in my eyes.  That song gets me every time!  Anyway... I got to see the race and a quick recap before leaving for dinner.

We found our way to Loretta and Merrick's home.  We met their two children who were outside playing in the unseasonably warm weather.  Dinner was great--a rendition of Chicken Cacciatore with salad and home-made carrot cake!   

L to R: Merrick, Loretta, Dennis
We had a great time and conversation--and we gave them the Pickerel that Gordan had given us since we had no way to prepare it.  (Oh well.  This summer will hopefully change that once we get the RV opened up.)  Once again, the Lord has blessed us with new friends in the north.   

DAY FIVE (Sunday, May 3)

We woke to dreary rain and clouds.  The cold front was marching through and definitely wouldn't allow any flying to be done.  We had a number of choices for churches to attend and decided to head to St. James.  It is an Anglican church and also the church that hosts the first VBS of the season in Thompson.  We met the Pastor, Jean Arthurson-Ouskan after worship and had a nice conversation.  They are looking forward to the children coming.  We also met a number of other people during their fellowship time, especially a man who had immigrated to Manitoba from Zambabwe, Africa with his wife and three sons.  It was interesting hearing his perspective of learning a new culture in Thompson.   

After worship, we stopped for lunch and then headed back to the hotel where I spent the day trying to map out a new plan with the ever-changing weather.   The forecast wasn't looking promising.  Red Lake, Ontario which was to be our next base of operation was socked in, not just for the day, but for the next few days with snow and freezing temperatures forcasted.   We could be stuck for quite a few days not being able to go anywhere.  But we could also get stuck in Thompson for several days if we didn't leave within 36 hours.

So after a couple of emails and phone calls, we decided to head out of Thompson on Monday when the weather broke.   The next day would be a make-it or break-it to leave.

DAY SIX (Monday, May 4)

We were up and looking at the Canadian GFA (Graphic Area Forecast) on Nav Canada's website early.  It was snowing when we were eating breakfast, but it looked like we might have that hole we were looking for around 11 AM.  We went back to our room and packed up our things.  We loaded everything into the rental car and headed to the airport.   Andrew turned in the car while I loaded and did the preflight.  I had to use our broom to remove the crust of snow on the wings and tail.  The wind was blowing with the temperature hovering around 2-3C  (That's 36-39F for you non-metric system types). 

We got fueled up, and headed out back the same way we came.  The leg to Prince Albert was painfully slow.  We had climbed to 10,500 feet to stay above the clouds and turbulence, but paid a stiff penalty with a 45 knot headwind.   In the short time we had been gone, I could already notice the larger lakes starting to melt.  The further west we flew, the clearer it got...and windier too.

The fuel stop in P.A. went smoothly and we headed out for our last leg to Camrose, southeast of Edmonton.  We gained some advantage on the headwind by staying lower at 6,500 feet, but it was bumpy.  That's the tradeoff on this leg.  I set up for landing at Camrose and managed an acceptable landing considering the 90 degree crosswinds that were gusty.

We got the airplane back in the hanger, unloaded the plane, loaded up Andrew's car, and headed to the hotel I had made a reservation at before leaving Thompson.   But before we left Camrose, we grabbed dinner at one of the local restaurants.  

Arriving at the hotel, Andrew and I said our "good byes" and he headed home.  I repacked my bags so that I didn't have one over 50 pounds.  (The fitness center was next door and I went over there to weigh them).   I had also rebooked my flight on Delta to leave on Tuesday.  The good news was I got a flight that didn't cost an arm-and-a-leg to change.  The bad news was it left Edmonton at 6:15 AM.  So I set my alarm for 3:30 AM so I could catch the shuttle to the airport at 4:00 AM.   

I managed to get up, cleaned up, make it to the lobby with a large duffel bag, roller suitcase, my carry on, and "personal item" for under the seat...all with a cup of coffee in my hand.   To make a long story short, the trip home from start to finish was uneventful.  When I arrived at Indy at 5:30 PM local time, the temperature was a balmy 27C...Opps!  I'm back in the States.  I mean 80F degrees.

As I ponder my first trip into the mission field, a few thoughts cross my mind.  There were moments of frustration and disappointment with the weather and making contact with communities.  My engineered plan (remember, I have a BS in Industrial Engineering) quickly fell apart.  Then God's Word reminded me that it wasn't about my plans but His. In James 4:13–16 (NIV84)it says, "Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”  

Hmmm.  Yup.  The Lord was schooling me on who to trust on plans.   Speaking of that, my worry about plans not coming together and that I'd have teams with no place to stay started to haunt me.  But guess what?  You got it.  The Lord provided words of encouragement from Jeremiah 29:11–13 (NIV84).   "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."

One of LAMP's major supporters and donors signs his emails to me "Still a WIP".   It's "still a work in progress."   

Isn't that what all of us are...a WIP in the hands of a gracious and loving Lord?   It's something for all of us to ponder in our lives no matter how or where or to whom the Lord calls us to serve Him.

My prayer is that the Lord will guide, direct, strengthen, and equip each of us in the ministry of his Church to the praise and glory of His Name through His Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Until the next time...