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Jay | Susan | Alex | Beth | Samantha
October 27, 2013 3:29 pm
Published in: Flying

20131025_075719At eleven-five the air is smooth and cool.  The Pratt & Whitney PT-6 whirrs contentedly, the big prop pulling the plane through the air at 125 indicated. The GPS says we’re going one sixty two across the ground.  I look back to check on my passengers.  They’re mostly asleep, one is reading, two others are talking. From this altitude the ground is a paisley of greens and browns beneath the plane, spread out in front of us.  Up close, on the ground, I know that the light green is grasses, some scrubby and short, some elephant grass nearly 10 ft tall. The dark green spots are trees, and lines of them wind, snake like, across the green and brown where dry stream beds hold moisture longer.  Most are thorny acacia trees.  The brown is either light tan or red-orange, depending on the type of soil.  We’re on the way to Juba from the north of the Sud, the enormous marsh from which Sudan derives its name.

The last time I was in there it had just rained, and the plane got liberally coated with black cotton mud, looking more like a four wheel drive than a plane.  Today the airstrip is dry and hard. It’s been over a week since they last had rain and landing and take-off are both routine.  I run through the before take-off checks, making sure flaps are set and the transponder is on, condition lever high idle, lights and ignition on…take off briefing, full power, abort point is the funny clump of bushes on the left three hundred meters down range. 20130905_101050 As the plane turns to align with the runway I add power and the caravan lumbers forward, clumsy on the ground but accelerating rapidly.  There’s 45 just short of the abort point, continue the takeoff….67, ease back on the yoke, the wheels break ground and we’re flying. The plane transforms from an ungainly tricycle to a graceful machine. I tap the brakes to stop the main wheels from spinning, ending the vibration they bring.   I call Nairobi on the HF radio, speaking across more than 600 miles with Moses.  He doesn’t part the waters that I know of, but I do ask him to call ahead to Juba to part the red tape by having our linesman and the fuel  truck ready.

The missionaries in the back relax, contemplating a couple weeks’ break in the big city where there is electricity and running water and shops. They’re continuing on to Nairobi for a rest before going back out bush.  Life in the bush is difficult.  Water is hard to get and usually dirty, needing to be filtered or boiled and treated before it’s safe to drink.  The only power is what’s available from a couple solar panels and a pair of batteries. And it’s hot.  On takeoff I looked at the OAT gauge and griDSCF0616maced at the ‘40’ under the needle.  That’s Celsius, so about 104 F, and humid enough to compare well with a sauna.  I keep the plane at maximum climb, leaving the heat and humidity behind, and the sweat that slicks everyone’s skin with water and salt.

AIM Air’s unofficial motto is ‘Hauling Salt.’ Jesus says “You are the salt of the earth,” to his disciples in Matthew chapter 5 verse 13. The people in the back of the airplane make it harder for rot to set in. How often do people apologize for coarse language around a pastor?  They make people thirsty for Jesus just like salt makes us thirsty for water.  Salt brings out the other flavors of the food.  The missionaries I’m flying flavor an otherwise dull village life.  What’s the taste of love?  Love is often described with words like ‘sweet.’  Maybe love is salty.  When we taste it we’re thirsty for more.  “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in truth; bears all things, believes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails. … And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”