Flying with a Faithful God: The adventures of a hard-working Cessna 206

I’ve had many names over the years and flown in many different African locations for several mission organizations. But one thing remained the same: the faithful Crafter of the Skies whom I served.

After I was built in 1974, Wycliffe Switzerland bought me to serve Bible translation teams in Cameroon. They called me ‘The Friendship of Switzerland,’ which was fine with me, since I wanted to share friendship everywhere I flew.

My next assignment took me east to Sudan. There, one of my JAARS-trained pilots, Dennis Dyvig, jokingly called me his first wife. The Africans thought it was hilarious—in their culture the men often have more than one wife. To me, it meant respect, so I continued flying my best for him and God.

Dennis with some translators in Sudan

Those eight years we flew together from 1980—1988 weren’t easy. We had to circumnavigate giant thunderstorms and fly frequently into muddy, slippery airstrips, which made it difficult to stop when landing and difficult to accelerate for takeoff. But God was faithful, and I never doubted I was needed. Most of South Sudan had no roads, and it was dangerous to travel by land even if you could. Looking back over those years, Dennis said, “That plane was a necessary and integral part of Bible translation back then.”

Sometimes in Sudan, I was the busiest plane in the fleet, topping 100 hours per month, with no hangar or maintenance men—just my pilot-mechanics: Harold Good and Dennis. I enjoyed the work, though, and God was faithful. Of the approximately ten language groups we served, four now have the New Testament, three have portions of Scripture, and one has the complete Bible!

From 1991 to 1995, I remained in Sudan but flew for ACROSS as Kilo-Alpha (not the most exciting name, but it worked). While I continued serving translation teams in the area, I met Steve Ottaviano, another JAARS-trained pilot, who sometimes flew me.

The Cessna in a village in Sudan

My name changed quite a bit over the next seventeen years, as I served throughout Africa with various organizations, such as AIM Air, MAF, and AirServe. Then, in 2012, I moved to Tanzania, where I became acquainted with Steve again. How good it was to see a familiar face! When we flew translation and medical teams across the region to their work, I loved seeing their faces light up about the ease of riding in me instead of having to tackle the dangerous roads.

Once, Steve and I took four Tanzanian translators from our headquarters in Mbeya to a nearby town in Malawi. To promoting the Nyakyusa New Testament project with church leaders, they had brought newly published Scripture portions. It only took us 50 minutes to reach the town. These Nyakyusa on the Malawi side were reading Scriptures in their language for the first time! When we picked up the Tanzanians after they finished, they said the church people in town had told them, “This must be really important work because you came in an airplane.”

Landing on an airstrip in Tanzania

Now, the Nyakyusa people have the entire New Testament Scripture in words they can understand, instead of struggling with Swahili or English. When one translator asked a teenager to read some Scripture, the young man laughed in delight and said, “I can read it! Before I could not, but this writing is very nice!”

For a while, Steve and I flew every month to a town in western Tanzania where some language projects were in progress. We took translation consultants there to provide training and leadership for the local Tanzanian translators. On other occasions, we flew the translators down to Mbeya. Our two-hour flight was much better than a hazardous 11-12 hour bus ride. Sometimes I heard people talking about the tiny road weaving through the lush mountains and how at times speeding buses collided with trucks. It made me dizzy just listening to them. How grateful I was to escape the narrow two-way roads thick with cargo-heavy trucks by taking to the air! I was glad I could offer the translators a safer, quicker option than the dangerous roads below.

Hanging out with some locals in Tanzania

Even after all these years and 13,000 hours of flight time, I’m still in pretty good shape—if I do say so myself. But I’m ready for another job. JAARS hopes to sell me and use the funds to help purchase a younger Cessna 206 to serve Bible translation teams in Cameroon. I can’t wait to see how God pours out his faithfulness on this airplane and the teams there! Perhaps the newer aircraft will have as many names as I’ve had (but I doubt it).

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