Wednesday, February 19, 2014

~ 56 Henry and the Jungle Pilot ~

There are some people in the world who think that flying a plane cannot be considered missionary work. There are some people in the world who do. I just so happen to be one that does. And it's all thanks to a missionary pilot in the heart of the Amazon Jungle in Ecuador back in the 1950s. Nate Saint and his wife Marj were at the forefront of missionary aviation. Nate helped an organization called Missionary Aviation Fellowship (now based in Idaho) get off the ground and really set the standard for their pilots, plans and procedures. Nate engineered new methods for flying safely, having contact with missionaries on the ground and delivering much needed supplies without them getting lost or broken in a drop. Nate was a husband, father, pilot, missionary, mechanic, preacher, friend, son, brother and God-follower. He was also a martyr.

Nate's life story is written out in the book Jungle Pilot by Russell T. Hitt. A good portion of the book is written from Nate's own words from his journals and letters. One reads the stories of flights, projects, meetings and travels through his own eyes and thoughts. It's really incredible.

The book follows him from birth in 1923 to his death in 1956. From life in a big family in Pennsylvania to life as husband and father on the mission field in Ecuador. From life as boy taking the family car apart (and putting it back together) to a pilot and mechanic fixing planes in the middle of nowhere. From life as an Army Air Corps mechanic to an engineer and visionary for MAF's future missionary pilots. From life as a Christian man sharing his faith with his fellow soldiers to a man dying on a sandbar in Ecuador sharing his faith with a stone-age tribe.

I could, in all seriousness, talk about this book for hours. I could go into all the details and share all of the amazing pieces of Nate's life that led to a tribe being won to Christ. But I won't do that. I will just recommend it and share one piece that I cry at every time. It always makes me wonder about what Nate and his 4 missionary friends really knew would or expected to happen. And it challenges me to think about my own life and the time that I have left to be a witness and light to the world for the sake of the Kingdom. I dare you to do the same.

It was Monday morning, September 19, 1955. The sun was fast dissipating the chill of the night before. The air was unusually clear. The "modern missionary mile," as Nate called the little yellow airplane, was standing on the gravel between the kitchen door and the small open-sided hangar. Marj had sorted the mail, and boxed the meat and groceries. Nate was stowing the supplies in the plane, weighing and recording each package. Five-year-old Stevie lent a hand. Marj came hurrying from the radio room off the kitchen, Philip in her arms, Kathy trailing behind. Nate kissed Marj goodbye, took Philip in his arms briefly, gave Stevie and Kathy each an affectionate squeeze. He climbed into the airplane and pressed the starter button. Marj and Philip opened the gate and waved as he taxied through, across the road and onto the long runway. Kathy and Stevie stood on the grassy bank by the house and watched their Daddy climb away toward the morning sun.
This was September 19, 1955... on January 8, 1956, Nate Saint was to die in a swift hail of long, black, wooden lances. 
On that bright September morning as he flew toward Arajuno on the weekly vegetable run, Nate was beginning the last chapter of his life. He had three months and twenty more days to live. 
 - page 258 -

That just gets me. He was going about his usual, everyday routine. But it was the day when he found the clearings where the Waodani people lived. It was the day when the spark was ignited to create and execute a plan of action to meet the Waodani people. It was the day that things changed for Nate, Jim, Ed, Pete, Roger and their families. Did they realize that? Did they have any inclination that things could and would end the way that they did? Did Nate think about how those last days of flying could be his last days of flying? And if he and the others had known, would it have changed anything?

It makes me wonder. And it makes me think about my own life and witness. I don't know what day will be my last. I don't know when or how GOD is going to take me home. But I want to live in such a way that my faith and life is seen in a way that testifies to the greatness of my GOD and the power that HE has to make all things good and new.

Nate and "George" on Palm Beach... January 6, 1956

The remains of Nate's plane, 56 Henry, that were found in 1994 on the Curaray River... They are now at the MAF headquarters in Idaho

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