He Will Make it Possible

By Charis Negley

Steve Ottaviano was six years old when he moved to Bolivia with his parents, after they became Bible translators with SIL*. In the Amazon village where they lived, Steve’s father and another missionary built an airstrip with the villagers, exposing Steve to the world of mission aviation.

As soon as Steve could understand the gospel, he believed it. Watching his parents serving the people and helping with problems—whether medical or spiritual—gave Steve a passion to go back and serve when he got older. He discovered he had a God-given affinity for mechanical work; he loved fixing things and figuring out how they operated. Steve had a clear idea that God wanted him to put this skill set to use. Seeing how significant the transportation and communication services of JAARS were, Steve set his heart on being a missionary pilot. “If God wants you to be that, he’ll make it possible,” his father told him.

Steve serving in Peru in the 1980s

After Steve graduated from high school, his family returned to Bolivia, having finished a year on furlough. Steve stayed in the U.S. to attend Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. After two years at Moody, he was too young to join their flight school, so he went back to Bolivia for a year to work in the aviation department. Then Steve, now 20 years old,  returned to the U.S. and stayed with friends at JAARS for six months.

Following his time at JAARS, Steve went to Elizabethton, Tennessee, for Moody’s three-year missionary flight and maintenance course. After that, he moved to Montana—where he had been born—to work as a flight instructor and aircraft mechanic. There, he met his wife, Debbie. The Lord had also been drawing her into missions, so, after their marriage, Steve and Debbie applied to Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Steve with his family in Peru in the 1980s

They spent eight years at their first assignment, in Peru where Steve flew missionaries for Bible translation, indigenous people, pastors-in-training, bilingual school teachers, livestock, and more. He also transported cargo such as equipment, fuel, building supplies, Bibles, and portions of Bibles. Meanwhile, Debbie worked as a nurse at SIL Peru’s clinic at the SIL center in Yarinacocha.

Debbie and Steve were loaned to other mission aviation partner agencies three times during their service with Wycliffe and SIL. First, they moved from Peru to Kenya to serve with SIL Sudan. After a year and a half, the program closed, and they were loaned to AIM AIR in Nairobi for six years. 

They then returned here to JAARS for 12 years, and Steve served as the chief pilot. Then Steve and Debbie felt called to serve overseas again, so they spent five years in Tanzania on loan to Mission Aviation Fellowship before returning to JAARS.

Now, Steve works for JAARS Global Operations as regional director for the Americas. He meets with many people and Christian organizations to better understand how JAARS can best ease their burdens and reduce their barriers. In the past year and a half, he’s made eight trips to Latin America, where nearly 300 people groups still do not have a complete New Testament, and an additional 340 have only New Testaments (ProgressBible).

No matter where Steve and Debbie have gone and how difficult things have become, they’ve always returned to God and his Word. “If you believe what Scripture says, then you value Scripture,” Steve said. “It’s not far to go from there to wanting other people to have Scripture they can understand in a language that speaks to them well. Like everybody, the relationship we have with God is an evolving thing. It always comes back to serving others with the gifts he gives us, [which] has always been what is most fulfilling.”

Steve in Sudan around 1993

God made it possible for Steve to do what he loved, and he now gets to make it possible for others to hear about the Lord. Steve believed that God would provide in his life, and the Lord gave him all that he needed to make a kingdom-focused impact.

*A partner of JAARS