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After God called me to be a pilot over 50 years ago, I finally joined MAF in 1971. Now, 43 years later, I am about to explore yet another new location, having already flown with MAF in over 25 countries. What an exciting adventure!
26 February: my first journey to Liberia begins. From the air, I realise how small the country actually is – only 43,000sq miles. That’s smaller than England! Right now, the nearest MAF activity to where I am is not the Democratic Republic of Congo or Chad, but the work of MAF affiliates in Brazil! Just goes to show how vast Africa is. It’s the first time I’ve explored West Africa, and I’m really excited about this new faith-adventure.
We’re approaching Monrovia’s second airport, and I see how extraordinary this airstrip is. There are houses built less than 70m from the runway, which is unheard of for a major airport. We’ve certainly left international aviation safety standards far behind!
We encounter the first major obstacle almost as soon as we touch down – rain! The rainy season here starts around the end of April, continuing right through until November – although it still rains all year round! They tell me violent thunderstorms are frequent and average rainfall is over 4.6m per year. The horrendous flooding we’ve been experiencing back home makes me realise what some people go through every year. We still only average around 1m of annual rainfall in the UK in a normal year. That sounds slightly more manageable – though I know I won’t be saying that when I get home! Thunder and heavy rain don’t just make flying light aircraft a challenge, but they turn dirt roads into deep, thick mud. I certainly wouldn’t want to face these conditions on a daily basis, just to get on with everyday life…
Today, we are looking at a spot we’ve been offered to build our hangar. It’s sitting on top of a swamp! I’m told that most of the space close to the airstrip has been taken by squatters who moved here in the aftermath of Liberia’s second civil war, which finally ended in 2003. The conflict has left the country in economic ruin – with over 250,000 people killed. The capital remains without electricity and water in many places – corruption, unemployment and poverty are visible almost everywhere.
It seems that most of Liberia’s coastline is characterised by swamps, lagoons and river-deposited sandbars – and this is where the busy capital is haphazardly built. I think we probably need to look at the plans we made for our hangar in Bangladesh, which we also built on a wetland…
Today, my good friend Emil has nipped over for a few days with his wife Margrit to join our Liberian adventure. It’s so great to see them! Emil took a flight to the east. At the end of the day, he tells me to jot down this new discovery: ‘Today was my first encounter with what I’m told is one of the main reasons people can’t get around out here – the rainforest!’ Emil is amazed by its enormity. It’s known as the Upper Guinean Forest. This dense mass of closed-canopy trees covers almost 50% of Liberia’s total landmass. It runs right across the middle of the country and is at its deepest
towards the southeast, where Emil had been flying. ‘A few small settlements are scattered around – anyone living out there would struggle with even the simplest journey. Little wonder that people working here are desperate for an MAF plane, Max,’ he says.
Today, I meet some of the missionaries weâ€™ve contacted who are working to bring hope and healing to Liberia. Aaron and Amy have lived in a remote village near Fish Town in the east for over three years. Theyâ€™re working with New
Tribes Mission (NTM) to bring the Gospel to the Glarro community. Their vision is to learn the local language and set up a Bible school here. I can’t believe it can take them as long as two days in the dry season to drive to Monrovia by the only road from their village – two days to travel the same distance as London to Manchester! This is what the road looks like most of the year. I can see why they are so pleased at the thought of MAF working here! Aaron says, ‘No question that, when we heard about MAF coming to Liberia, we were very excited!’ With an MAF plane flying to a local airstrip, Aaron, Amy and their NTM friends could spend 90% of the time they’d otherwise spend travelling doing the work God has called them to do.
This afternoon, Amy told us the story of a local Glarro lady – and I had to jot it down, it’s so eye-opening. Ma Bhalu is elderly and has had severe stomach pains for quite a while. Although she takes medication, her condition hasn’t improved. When Amy visited her house, Ma Bhalu pointed to some dirt and termites on the floor and said that she eats them. ‘Why?’ Amy asked, shocked because Ma Bhalu is a faithful member of their local church. ‘I hear a voice telling me to,’ the elderly lady confessed. ‘That voice is from the devil. I do it so he won’t take my spirit.’ Ma Bhalu’s story has helped reveal the spiritual darkness that grips many
God-fearing Liberians. ‘The truth of the Gospel has not been communicated clearly, and people are still confused,’ Aaron explained. ‘We hope to start teaching the Gospel and pray that the truth will set them free from their spiritual bondage.’ How wonderful to support Aaron and Amy in this vision, and hopefully see Ma Bhalu, and people like her, set free.
Today’s our last day… time to reflect on my journey to Liberia. In total, we’ve heard back from 20 of the 80 organisations we identified. They are all enthusiastic about MAF starting a programme in Liberia. Having met some of them now, I’m certain God has much work for us to do here. His heart is for Liberia to be a land of ‘freedom’ – as the name implies – and MAF has a vital role to play in helping to set the captives free. We need to help those bringing the Gospel in all its fullness. From swamps to rainforests, termites to thick mud, the obstacles are stacked up against God’s Word reaching people living in isolation and darkness. But with His help, and the faithful backing of our supporters in the UK, I am convinced that MAF will make a real difference to so many lives in this new land – a land filled with amazing opportunity.
This year, MAF is prayerfully planning to send two pilot families to Liberia. We hope to complete the housing project and finish plans for our hangar. We are optimistic that our first flight will take place before the end of 2014 â€“ an exciting milestone in the history of MAF! Please continue to pray for us as we finalise these plans and wait for the last permissions to be granted â€“ a lengthy and painstaking process. Without your support, we wouldnâ€™t be able to bring hope and healing to dark and desperate nations such as Liberia, which all deserve the chance to embrace the wonderful freedom of Jesus Christ.
FOLLOW THE ADVENTURE AT
Follow the adventure at www.maf-uk.org/liberia