The year is 1938, the Bolivian heat is oppressive and the vast South American jungle creates an impenetrable and imposing wall. Once deep inside you are truly cut off from the outside world, and the foreboding feeling of isolation hangs heavy over your head. A missionary sits in his hut cradling his new born son in his arms, he looks out the window and sees the fresh grave where his wife now rests. Unable to make the grueling five day hike through the jungle, she died during child birth. Cut off from the outside world and the medical care she so desperately needed. As he stands by his wife’s grave with his son in his arms a small plane flies over head, an idea begins to form in his mind and missionary aviation begins.
Fast forward 70 years, and we find ourselves in much the same situation but with one small difference. Missionaries still live in very remote and isolated areas, but they now have the ability to call for help and an airplane is not far behind.
On Good Friday I got a call at about 9 am from our chief pilot telling me that a Kenyan missionary had gone into labour but there were complications and needed to get to a hospital today. She was two weeks past her due date, and had been in labour for three days. I told him I would be happy to do the flight, and I hurried off to the hangar.
After a two hour flight (two day drive) I landed in the village of Kurungu, and was met by a truck carrying the husband and wife along with some other ladies. As it turns out there was a nurse that was helping with the delivery, and she would be coming along. Which of course made me feel a whole lot better. After getting everyone strapped in, we were off to the town of Nyeri which was only an hour and twenty minuets away, which made it the closest hospital.
We had just begun our descent for landing when I started feeling someone pushing on my seat. I naively thought to myself that it wasn’t anything and I continued going through my pre-landing checklist. It wasn’t much longer when my nose picked up a very distinct smell, one that I vividly recall only three other times in my life (if you don’t know we have three biological kids). Still wanting to hold on to my naive belief that everything was alright even though the truth of the matter was quickly crashing in, I decided to chance a peek.
After deciding on a quick furtive sideways glance, my naive belief was immediately dashed against the rocks and it became quite clear that this baby was going to be born before we landed. Having gone through three births of my own, or should I say having “attended” the births of my three daughters, I have never been so glad for my Bose noise canceling headset, because I never heard anything. Realizing that at this point it would be an impossible request to tell my passengers to put their seats in the upright position and fasten their seat belts, I knew that I just needed to really concentrate on flying the plane and landing it, and ignore all the other distractions.
After landing I taxied over to the ramp, shut down and quickly jumped out. To my amazement the hospital vehicle was already there and waiting. As I was directing the vehicle over to the plane the nurse explained that the cord was wrapped several times around the babies neck, preventing the baby from coming all the way out. They quickly moved her into the car, and they were off to the hospital.
By the time I landed in Nairobi and was putting the plane back in the hangar, word had traveled around and I received a call from our chief pilot. Both the mother and baby are doing fine.
So I took off with four passengers and landed with four and a half, quite a different outcome today then in years past! We feel very privileged to be here in Africa and to serve as the life line for those missionaries living on the edge of nowhere.