The Flight That Never Happened

Each time before a good pilot goes flying he or she will perform a preflight inspection of the entire aircraft; paperwork, fuel, oil, mechanical systems and numerous other forms of gadgetry all get a look and a push or a jiggle or maybe a small tug as the pilot walks around the flying apparatus before taking it to the air. The preflight inspection is common verbiage amongst aviators and, I do believe, it is even acceptable to use the word “pre-flit” without raising a single editorial eyebrow. “Hey Herm is it ready to fly?” “Yep, I pre-flit the bird this morning!” Chatter like this is clearly understood by the airport population.

Well … in March of this year I performed the shortest preflight inspection of my life. I began at the front left side of the airplane and with my left hand I gave a small tug to the large exhaust stack extending out from the small turbine engine that propels my flying machine through the air. It wobbled! I stepped back from the airplane to just look at the exhaust. Then I used both hands to see if I had really just moved that exhaust. It wobbled any which way I tugged on it, and that’s not a good thing. I grabbed my telephone and called my early-riser mechanic friend and told him what I had discovered. He confirmed my uneasy notion that the wobbly exhaust on the airplane meant our flight for the day was cancelled. A bracket which holds that exhaust firmly in place had broken off for some reason and thereby rendered our airplane unusable.

At this point, I could go several different ways: I could tell you about the heroic efforts of the mechanics to get the exhaust fixed or describe the passengers and the remarkable work they are a part of. But I think I’ll just tell the story of one translator in particular and how he was going to miss his son’s wedding—all because of a broken weld joint on an exhaust stack.

In the past our flight department has always maintained two airplanes so that if one airplane isn’t airworthy, we can fall back on the second machine and still accomplish our goal of providing safe transportation to our passengers. Nowadays in Cameroon, because of some significant challenges, we have only one airplane to fly. Unfortunately, welding a stainless steel exhaust on our turbo-prop engine is neither simple nor quick. It was clear—to help my passengers travel to where they needed to be, I had to try and use the national airline.

So instead of getting into our airplane and taking to the skies, I loaded the two passengers into my car and headed across the capital city to the head office of the national airline to learn if there were any flights that day and, if so, to purchase a couple of tickets. Driving a car across our capital city is a lot more stressful, to me, than flying an airplane across the entire country. At 14,000 feet there are no traffic jams and police checkpoints! We found the airline office to be closed and were advised to just head to the airport and try to buy some airline tickets. I really didn’t mind all the runaround since my job for the day was to provide transportation to these national Bible translators; today it just looked a bit unusual.

At the airport we soon learned that there were two flights to their destination that day! And then … we found out the national airline also had a broken airplane. Their replacement airplane was really small, so there were no seats available for my passengers. This news was really hard to hear because one of the men I was to transport needed to get home to be at his son’s wedding that very night! With that in mind I decided to persist and see if somehow we could at least get him onto that small airplane headed toward his home. In the ticket sales office, during a window of time when it was quiet, I approached the woman selling the tickets and started some simple conversation about my passengers. I told her the two men are translators for the Wamo* translation and that they had just completed the final draft of their New Testament. They would soon have their own printed copies of God’s Word “in the language that they understand the best.” This woman was amazed and gave them heartfelt congratulations for their work.

I found it amazing that she had never even heard of their language and asked them to spell it for her. Could you imagine living in a country where even your own countrymen don’t know that your language exists! This sister in Christ immediately got to work on our behalf. She kept leaving her office to go and ask other airline workers if they could somehow get these two men onto the flight. In short, she managed to get the men onto that flight, and they made it home that very day! The translators and I thanked God for providing this hard-working woman as the one who could find a solution and help them get home. The children of God, whether they are missionary pilots in Africa or Africans working as ticket agents for their national airline, can be used to bless people and advance the Kingdom of God.

Join us in our work here in Africa by committing to pray for us and all of the talented, dedicated, hardy Bible translation folks that we get to serve, in one way or another, as JAARS-trained pilots and mechanics.

* pseudonym

Brandon Penkoff

Brandon Penkoff

Brandon and his wife, Rachel, have been serving in Cameroon, Africa since 2012. They have three daughters.