Putting the Pressure On

By Rachel Greco

For Gabe Lawrence, the dream of being a missionary pilot has been years in the making. It began in a community church he attended as a child with his family. When he heard from Bible translators who were working with a language in the Solomon Islands, he realized that not everyone was as blessed as he was to have multiple translations of the Bible in their language.

“As I grew in my walk with the Lord, I wanted the world to see [the gospel] for themselves,” Gabe said recently.

Gabe knew he wasn’t translator material, but after learning in high school about the technical side of Wycliffe Bible Translators—JAARS—he knew he wanted to serve the Lord in mission aviation.

Ready to start up and take off from an airstrip near Avery County airport for flight back to JAARS

Over time, while Gabe was working as an engineer and starting a family, the Lord enabled him to build his hours as a pilot until he recently arrived at JAARS for the final stages of training before serving in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Gabe has been the first person to take our JATO (JAARS Assisted Take-Off) Flight program to refine some of his skills before he takes Pre-Field Orientation in the spring.

According to Tim Ruth, Gabe’s instructor, the JATO Flight program sharpens the skills of those pilots who are close to having the knowledge and skills that the overseas partners of JAARS need them to have. JATO tops off their skills and prepares them for Pre-Field Orientation.

Gabe is overjoyed to be in the JATO Flight program. “This program is an answer to prayer, just in the way that God has provided the means and schedule for me to do it.” He has enjoyed learning from a seasoned missionary pilot such as Tim, who served in Indonesia for 14 years with the JAARS aviation partner YAJASI.

Part of what the instructors do during JATO is give the students a taste of what they can expect overseas. Because Tim served overseas for so long, he saw pretty much all the types of challenges Gabe will face: the weather, difficult runways, the tower controllers, and the language and culture issues. “Our job here [at JAARS] is to send people out,” Tim said, “so what we want to do here is prepare people so that when they go there, their expectations are more in line with what they’re actually going to find on the field.”

One way Tim prepared Gabe was by having him fly the challenging Helio Courier. Gabe likened it to a stallion: “If you’re not keeping on the reins and telling it which way you want to go, it’ll decide it wants to go somewhere else.”

Tim and Gabe at a grass strip near Chester, SC after Gabe’s first solo flight in the Helio

Even though Gabe won’t be flying the Helio Courier in PNG, Tim Ruth and the other training staff members still believe it’s an excellent training tool. “If you do it right in the Helio Courier, the aircraft will do what it’s supposed to do,” Tim said. “But if you go just a little bit outside of those parameters, [the Helio] tells you quickly that you did it wrong because you don’t get the outcome that you expected.”

When instructors train students in the JATO Flight program or PFO, they train them hard. They want to put pilots under a bit of pressure because when the pilots get overseas, they will face many other pressures involving the environment, runways, or passengers. But if the pilots can handle the more difficult aircraft—the “stallion,”—then when they fly the tamer aircraft on the field, they can focus on the other pressures that they couldn’t prepare as well for.

Because of this program, Tim and other JAARS aviation staff members can tell more pilot-mechanic applicants “yes.” This increases their capacity to supply our partners overseas with the qualified help they need to reach the ends of the earth with the gospel, and people like you giving to Aviation Training help make it possible. Thank you!

JAARS needs additional aviation training staff in order to train more pilot-mechanics for the field. Please pray that the Lord will meet this need.