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17 miles to “nowhere”

For most of us in the US, our lives are fairly secure. When trouble comes, help is relatively close. A flat tire is a nuisance, sickness an inconvenience, and broken bones are a long wait in the ER.  The lines between “wait and see” and emergency are fairly far apart. In bush Alaska the line is often razor thin.

A couple weeks ago I had the joy of being back (after 10yrs) at Brooks Range Bible Camp for a week. Like many of the Bible camps in the Last Frontier, BRBC is not connected to the road system. The only access is by air or river. For the native Alaskans the remoteness is normal as their villages are situated along rivers that cut across thousands of miles of Alaska’s uninhabited lands.

The interior of Alaska is often very hot, dry, and susceptible to forest fires during the summer months. This summer was not unlike many summers past. There were forest fires nearby. While the fires themselves were far from causing any serious threat, the smoke began to find its way up the valley to camp. I had been flying between camp and one of the nearby villages to haul supplies but had to turn back a couple times as the smoke became too thick to safely navigate through.

The smoke grew thicker down the valley as the days progressed. There were clear skies directly above us so we knew we could fly out to the north if we needed to. One afternoon the winds finally pushed the smoke far enough up the valley to overtake camp. The air smelled like a campfire and occasional bits of ash floated in the air like traces of snow. The smoke was like a thick morning fog limiting visibility to about 1/2 mile. As the afternoon waned I could feel the smoke in my lungs. Like many others, I was wondering how the few people with asthma would handle the smoke.

As I walked down one of the pathways cut through trees I saw a little commotion at the main building. I picked up my pace and soon discovered that one of the counselors was having an asthma attack. While Nicola was helping tend to the counselor I headed to our tent to check on our napping children. Just minutes later one of the other kids asthma flared up.

As the thick smoke lingered there was concern for several others among the group that had asthma. About 5 or 6 girls had closed themselves in the small kitchen, one of the few places that didn’t smell like smoke. How serious could this get?

The chain of thoughts that happens when so far removed from civilization brings a stark reminder of how fragile life is. The nearest village was 17 miles away. That’s about 15 minutes by air. But there’s no emergency facility there. The nearest emergency care was almost 200 miles away, by air.  That’s 1 1/2hr by air. Not too bad, all things considered. But with the smoke as thick as it was, flying could be a life and death decision. Even if we could get people to the nearby village to meet a medevac, there was no guarantee the incoming aircraft would be able find the runway.

While my kids were napping I ran to the airplane and started preparing it for the possibility of flying kids out. One of the other pilots was doing the same. Satellite phones were available and quickly used to check weather in the area.

The two asthma attack cases were brought under control but several others expressed some concern. We prayed for the wind to shift. We weren’t at a place of serious danger, but the reality of how quickly that could change stared us in the face. We couldn’t just send everybody home because we couldn’t safely fly. But how long would the smoke linger? The longer we were in the smoke the greater possibility of serious dangers.

About 20 minutes after we began praying, the wind shifted. The heavy smoke was pushed back down the valley and just like that, there was a collective sigh of relief.

I have no idea if we were ever close to a truly life threatening situation. I don’t know if anyone’s asthma could have gotten bad enough to endanger a life, but the lines between safe and serious can suddenly come very close together in wild Alaska.


The Gift of Gravel

There have been a couple themes in my life over the past two years. Transition and foundation work. Life has been busy in the sense of constant transition and often times I’ve felt all the unsettledness has been a lot of work for not much result. But what I have had to keep in mind is that there is a disorder that inevitably occurs at the beginning stages of a project.  Laying a foundation isn’t very glamorous. Digging in the dirt all day leaves one a muddy mess. There’s a lot of work but not a lot of upward trajectory.

It seems that much of the transition in life is slowing down. Much dirt has been moved and now it’s time for some gravel. We are now taking the next steps as we are operating a missionary guest house and working to meet the needs for missionary aviation in interior Alaska.

As we began looking into the needs we had there were a couple things that came up. The guest house only had a full-size bed. We needed more bed space for families and work teams. I started looking into bunk beds but realize I didn’t have the budget to buy one. So I started praying. Within the week I found a bunk bed! Now we’re praying for a couple mattresses.

Now to the gravel. As we seek to meet the aviation needs in the interior we are operating a hangar to provide space for aircraft maintenance. IMAG0048We are situated next to an airfield so we have taxiway access to the runway. Well when all the snow melted this spring the runway access from the hangar was partially flooded. So, I needed gravel. I started praying and once again, God provided! That very day I found someone giving away gravel. So, I grabbed a shovel and went to work.


Where’s it all going?

The ground is very sandy and porous so it tends to take up a lot of gravel. As I started pulling the gravel out of the suburban it seemed to be disappearing under my feet!

Fortunately there were very few other people (only saw 1) out shoveling gravel so I was able to get 4 loads!

There is much work yet to be done but I have been excited to see how God has provided as needs have arisen.

The gift of gravel has been a good experience for me to learn from. God is the provider but sometimes we can get a little carried away and view God as just a source of “things.” God answered my prayer for gravel but I had to take part in it. It wasn’t delivered to my doorstep. I still had to grab a shovel and do the work. Even in that, God has sustained me. I’ve had some back problems over the last couple years but I had no trouble shoveling the gravel.

I’ve been learning a lot about God’s provision and sustenance the last few years. It is through trusting His word that He reveals Himself in the physical world. As I trust and act on what He has promised, His hand in my life becomes physically evident.


“Petty dreams” and encouraging our children

This past summer I was sitting at a booth to advertise our organization. A boy, probably about 10 or 11, came up and after looking at the flyers and pictures asked, “Are you a pilot?” which I affirmed. I could see the look on his face and excitement in his voice. I was there once, dreaming of the day I’d be able to defy gravity. I encouraged him to keep following his dreams and to do well in school so he could have greater opportunity. Meanwhile in the background, his mother took little interest in her son’s apparent aspirations. The boy lingered as the dream of flying lit up his eyes. Finally his mother decided it was time to go. It was easy to read her body language as inside she was scoffing at the idea her son could ever be a pilot.

This little event has been playing in my head time and again as I raise my son. He is full of excitement. He is eager to learn. Life is a joy. Everything is new and amazing.

What if we continued to live  that way in all of life? As I look at my attitude through life I find that many times I fall victim to the pitfall of generations before me. I become jaded. Things that should amaze me are just common place. Rain is normal. Trees are normal. There’s nothing special about the wind. As the wonder of life is left behind, so too is the ability to dream and imagine. The ability to aspire. Why would we ever want to lose that? And why do we look at the dreams of youth and shoot them down without a second thought? I have seen that many times. It should not be.

The ability of a child to learn is incredible, but I believe that we as a society no longer believe that. We don’t expect much from our kids. But as I look at my son and how teachable he is, I see that he is much more capable and understanding than any textbook would ever admit. Our society no longer values children but sees them as a drain. Oh the potential we are drowning out!

I do not believe my son is above average… yet. But I believe that if I raise him to learn, dream, and aspire, he will be.

I Think It’s Gonna Be Colder Here

We had our first light frost this morning. The leaves are turning yellow and the birds are heading south. The air is a little more crisp. All just reminders that winter is fast approaching. I knew moving north would mean a shorter summer but its still strange see the changes so soon.

We’ve moved since my last post (Alaska Style) about our home. There were complications with the home sale so we moved on. Thankfully, we no longer have to haul water, though we are still going to be using a woodstove for much of our heat and we have yet to find anyone that will provide internet service to our location. Guess coffee shops will have to do for now.

So the winter preparation begins. Time for firewood!

Logs delivered

Logs delivered

Looks like I've got work to do.

Looks like I’ve got work to do.

Lots of cutting and splitting to do.

Lots of cutting and splitting.

I grew up splitting wood so this is rather familiar. Fortunately spruce is a lot easier than oak.

The biggest thing left to do to prepare for winter now is find some warmer clothes. Anchorage was pretty tame with temperatures normally between zero and twenty with occasional stretches of negative numbers. The Fairbanks area is regularly below zero sometimes ranging down into the -60F range. Maybe I should go cut some more wood….

Of Paul, Apollos, and… Bob

Where do you find your identity as a Christian? I’ve had the opportunity to meet with many believers from many backgrounds and walks of life over the years and find that I have often times subconsciously been making assessments of those I talk to based on their theological standpoint.

While it is impossible not to carry some sort of presupposition when relating to other people, it is important to constantly evaluate the validity of our own perceptions. Each person brings a different viewpoint and life experience that shapes worldview. Unfortunately, it is all to easy to forget the standard by which we are to evaluate all our perception and experiences, leading to a misplaced trust in the viewpoints of men we hold in high regard.

For a period of time I found myself delving into Christian books in an effort to further my walk with Christ. While there is nothing wrong with reading what a Christian author has to say or listening to what a preacher has to say, I found that I spent more time listening and reading about what other people had to say about the Bible than I did reading the Bible. Revelation 2:4 came to mind: “I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” In my efforts to become more Christ-like I had misplaced my focus.

So where is your focus?

1 Corinthians 1:11-13 “For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren… that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I of Apollos,’ and ‘I of Cephas,’ and ‘I of Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

Well, I have heard of churches where people don’t show up if the lead pastor isn’t preaching. I have heard of members leaving a church to follow a pastor. People tend to show up to hear people. So are you just following people?

Who are you of? I’ll give you a list. John Piper, John Calvin, John Wesley, (insert your pastor’s name here), Francis Chan, RC Sproul, Rick Warren, Chuck Colson, Ravi Zacharius, King James, or Bob. Or perhaps you are Baptist, Presbyterian, or Church of God. Is that your identity? Do you identify more with an author, pastor, or denomination than you do with Christ?

It is not that defining your theological position is wrong. I’m not promoting a universal view that says all are the same and that truth is relative. What I am promoting is our focus to be the same Truth (Phil 2:1-2) and that we make it our own. The question is, where is your focus? When someone you respect says something that seems contrary to scripture, who do you defer to? The man or God’s word? What effort do you put forth to understand what God’s word says?

How can we call ourselves Christians if we have “left our first love”? I found it very sad when some Jehovah’s Witnesses came to my door and, after some effort to convince me of their points with out-of-context quotes and semantic tricks, said they were surprised to find a Christian who knew their Bible. We as a body are doing poorly. We cannot call ourselves Christians when we are following what other people say about the Bible rather than reading God’s word ourselves.

We all have viewpoints and experiences that shape us and our worldview. But are we checking our perceptions against the unchanging Standard? If not, we will stray far from the truth and could hardly hope to hear “well done, thy good and faithful servant.” Let your life be shaped by Christ, not fallible men. Lets us not be of Paul or Apollos. Let us be of Christ.

Alaska Style

Looking back at my childhood in North Carolina, I remember waking up in the old farm house and seeing my breath on cold mornings. For a while there was no insulation in the walls and the home was heated with a wood stove and electric space heaters. Chopping firewood and waking up cold was just part of life. That didn’t last all that long as insulation and central heat were eventually installed, though the home was still a bit drafty. Looking back I see how valuable that character building experience was.

Now, here we are in Fairbanks in a house with a wood stove and electric heaters. Fortunately it’s well insulated for the -50F winter weather that occasionally settles in, though we have yet to spend a winter here. Like many of the homes up here, we have a 1500 gal. storage tank in the garage that holds our water. So we either pay someone to deliver water or haul it ourselves. This is normal for the Fairbanks area as the ground water often has arsenic in it.

1500 gal. tank

1500 gal. tank


Unloading water at home.

Unloading water at home.

Many people up here actually live in dry cabins with no running water and an outhouse for a toilet. I can only imagine using an outhouse at -40 degrees. I’m sure I’ll get the opportunity. But such is life in the interior of Alaska. Hunting, fishing, cutting firewood and using outhouses are just the way things go. This is why Alaska is known as the last frontier.


Wilderness Wandering (sort of)

The last six months have made us feel like quite the vagabonds. After two and a half months traveling throughout the lower 48 we set down in Soldotna for a few months with most of our belongings in storage. Then along came our son and suddenly the little bit we were living with doubled. I never knew a baby required so much! Granted he goes through clothes three or four times the rate I do.

As life began to settle into routine with our baby boy we up and moved again. So here we are in Fairbanks. We arrived with the expectation of having a home only to find that the closing was delayed. So we stayed in a hotel for three days in hopes that the home sale would be worked out. Turns out it’s delayed a couple weeks. Fortunately a friend offered his rental property for us to camp out in until the home sale goes through. So now here we sit in an unfurnished home and a couple car loads of belongings. We are weary from travel. Not exactly what we had in mind but the truth is throughout all of our travels we have not been without a roof over our heads or food in our bellies. Every now and then we just look at each other and say, “we must be crazy”.

I have been reflecting on our lives the past 6 months and realized how, just like the Israelites and despite God’s track record of provision, the past couple days I’ve been frustrated and disgruntled in the little inconveniences in life. I have no good reason to complain, but I do.  There are Christians across the world losing their life for Christ and here I get frustrated that our home purchase got delayed and I’m exhausted. Woe is me.

It’s in times like these that I have to look back at how God has consistently provided and directed my life. There were times where I just had to trust that God knew better and guess what, He did! Amazing I know. The God of the universe and creator of life actually had a better idea than me. I keep telling myself that some day I’ll truly learn this. I thank God for His patience and the gift of His word and testament through history. I’m sure Abraham had his share of frustration as he just up a left his home at God’s call.


You Go First

Trust. In many ways I believe it is the foundation of society. It is nearly impossible to operate without trust. Business transactions, friendships, and marriages all operate on trust. We all have had those moments of uneasiness in the trust department. That’s when we begin to make statements like “you go first” and “I will if you will”.

It’s one thing when we don’t trust our fellow sinful humans, but what about God? I find myself having the same mindset many times of “you go first”. I’m tempted to make deals with God. “If You do this, I’ll do that.” But that is not how God calls us to act. Why does God, the creator of the universe, need to answer to us first? Is the creation itself not evidence enough? Has God not spoken enough through the sending of His son? Are we afraid to trust the One who holds our very life in His hands?

In reality God has already “gone first”. It’s our turn. Look at Proverbs 3:6. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” Then in verse 8-9, “Honor the Lord from your wealth, and from the first of all your produce; so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine.”

The call is for us to trust Him and then He will make our paths straight. If we honor Him with our first fruits then He will bless us. This is not a scheme to manipulate God for personal gain, but rather a statement of attitude and position before God. It is a promise that God will reward us for trusting and obeying Him. The question we must ask ourselves is, are we willing to take that step? Do we trust Him enough to believe what He said? If so, to what degree? Here are just a few examples of God’s promises that call for us to trust Him:

Exodus 20:12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.”

2 Chron 7:14 “if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

Matt 6:33 “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

James 4:8a “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”

James 4:10 “Humble yourselves the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.”

Do you trust God in these statements?

Travel Update – 2nd Try

I’m not sure what happened on my last attempt to post, but here’s what it was supposed to say:

Miles flown – 4,159

Miles driven – 550

We’ve been “on the road” now for a few weeks as we seek to raise support (see What is a missionary?). So here’s a basic update of where we’ve been.

We arrived in Greenville, SC on the evening of the 22nd and then headed to Abbeville. We spent the weekend with family and had the chance to fellowship at two of our supporting churches, Lebanon and New Hope. We then drove to Jacksonville, NC for Thanksgiving with more family and delivered a presentation to another church, Covenant ARP.

A good reminder

A good reminder

We are currently in Charlotte, NC with my parents. I’ve been helping my dad rebuild the well house. It’s been good to do some manual labor for the first time in six weeks. I’ve been recovering from wrist surgery and am happy to no longer be an uncoordinated lefty.

The old well house.

The old well house.

leveling the foundation.

leveling the foundation.

We just spoke at Grace church in Harrisburg and will be on our way to the next destination, Franklin, Tennessee, on Tuesday.

Speaking at Grace


Live Like a Flower

This past summer we were given some sunflower sprouts as there was no place for them at church next door. They were only about three inches tall with a few leaves. There didn’t seem to be much place for them in our front yard so we found a spot in a planter on the deck out back. The sun shines there most of the day and it is visible from our kitchen window and from the next room over so we could enjoy the beauty of the flowers. It was perfect. Or so it seemed.

We watered the little sprigs and watched them grow. It was amazing how quickly the sprouts transformed and matured with the constant generosity of the sun. We were looking forward to big yellow pedals on stalwart stalks, arrayed by verdant leaves casting shadows on the distant ground below. But as the sun’s reign over summer weakened, rain clouds rode in on chariots of wind. In an assault from above, the clouds let loose hordes of watery missiles on our flourishing flowers.  The assaulting waters began assembling on our roof top and cascading over the edge with unabated force. For weeks the war waged on. The once glorious foliage was reduced to fragments fastened only by exposed sinews. But the stalks stood firm and continued their climb to the sun.

Enraged by the defiance of our audacious annuals, the wind rose up in anger and struck from all sides. Swirling in and out of the encompassing alcove there was no refuge to be had. With no recourse available the mighty stalks began to bow. One crashed to the ground. Then another and another. The wind began to relax. Perhaps the remaining few would be spared. But like a cat toying with its prey, the invisible tyrant again unleashed its wrath and with one final breath broke the back of its last victim.

With great satisfaction the storm clouds strolled away leaving the devastation as a monument to its power. The sun returned and brought with it rays of encouragement. The humbled greenery began to look up to the sun. Strengthened by the warmth, a few of our floral friends began to reach out again to proclaim the beauty they so earnestly desired to share. This was their purpose. They would persevere.

Will you weather the storms of life?

Will you weather the storms of life?

We were all created for a purpose. This flower had a purpose and continued on in spite of hardships. What lengths will you go to in order to fulfill what God has called you to do? Don’t let this sunflower show you to be a pansy. Persevere. God has something beautiful in His plan for you.

James 1:2-4