From the President: Used Powerfully by God

By Steve Russell

JAARS president Steve Russell continues sharing about the inspiring people he’s met at JAARS. Read the first article here. 

In Ethiopia, instructor John Pepper talks a driver through the process of navigating a “road” with a 4WD vehicle.

Wandering into the Quonset hut—the oldest building on our campus—I talk to John, who grew up bumping along off-road excursions with his dad. Little did he know that God was equipping him to take his early childhood experiences and use them to advance the gospel on different continents. After leaving the U.S. Navy as an aircraft avionics technician on an aircraft carrier, John felt a pull toward missions. He thought his technical skills might be useful. Although initially serving in IT work, he realized once he deployed to Africa in missions that his off-road driving skill was sought after by all those who came into contact with him. God diverted him to his passions and now he trains missionaries to drive in almost any terrain. It doesn’t stop there. He and a few others designed a lightweight trailer to transport a collapsible boat behind a motorcycle. To cross a river, the entire apparatus—both trailer and motorcycle—can be placed into the boat. After crossing the river, the rider sets the boat back on the trailer and fires up the motorcycle to reach village after village. One person can manage the whole setup.

Rachael and Dan Stoner with friends in Cameroon

Pausing to talk to Dan and Rachael at the end of lunch I enjoyed another of many conversations I have had with them. They have the distinction of being the only married couple to complete pre-field orientation together as missionary pilot-mechanics. As extraordinary as that sounds, it was not an easy path. At the apex of their training while learning French to serve in Cameroon, Dan was diagnosed with cancer. It was not what they envisioned. But when we are weak, God is strong. What some would consider setbacks, instead, became memorial stones with which to testify how God can use any of us beyond all we can ask or think in His kingdom. Not only did Dan recover but they both served as pilots in Cameroon, extending God’s grace to others to know the power and truth of His Word. Returning from the field, Dan and Rachel now share their powerful stories across the country at airports and events to provoke others to good works, while they raise their family and inspire a future generation of servants.

Fred’s story illustrates one way such local airport events inspire future servants. He describes how God seemed to wire him to want to fly helicopters. He left his rural community in Illinois to learn how to do it in Colorado. Once he did, he came home and dusted crops in the agricultural business. One day his wife Jodi told him about an event featuring JAARS and mission flying that was coming to their local airport. They decided to check it out. God lit a fire in both of them. Before they knew it, they were heading to North Carolina to undertake the technical evaluations and training/orientation sessions. Successfully passing these, Fred and Jodi were off to Papua New Guinea, flying helicopters that support missionaries who translate God’s Word into tribal languages.

Bev smiles broadly as she guides new groups around the campus to share what JAARS does. She should know. In addition to her years of service on the mission field, she also served years ago as a flight attendant on one of our old DC-3 twin-engined aircraft that operated in South America to carry missionaries and supplies long distances. She beams as she shares stories of the work in South America. The old DC-3 Gooney Bird was named “Chief Tariri” after the fearsome Shapra tribal chief who became a Christian after two young ladies told him the truth about how Jesus Christ died to ransom mankind and save us from our sinful condition. Chief Tariri not only became a Christian but he abandoned his war parties, headhunting, head shrinking and other ways. God used him to powerfully bring the gospel to thousands who would have never been reached—all because of faithful people like those two young ladies, and later others reached through people like Bev.

Stay tuned to hear why these servants at JAARS willingly, joyfully gave up an easy, comfortable life.