Learning to fly.
“You should visit Letourneau. They can prepare you for the mission field. They can teach you how to fly!” That’s how Brother Ed saw me. As a potential missionary. But I just kept quiet, I didn’t respond. My dad already worked extremely hard and there was no way I was going to burden him with another expense. And I wasn’t about to ask others for support. Growing up paving my own way was not a bad thing but an unintended byproduct was pride. I reasoned in my mind that I didn’t need any help from anyone but God. I still struggle with this notion that I'm an island. This wasn’t the first time I had thoughts of the mission field. The little church I grew up in had a big banner hanging in the rear of the sanctuary so that you couldn’t help but see it on the way out.
“Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” Mark 16:15
I have always had great admiration for those who were called to foreign missions. I really didn’t know if that’s what God was leading me to or not. In discussing the need for more missionaries with someone they pointed out that you don’t go because of the need but because God calls you. That’s kind of a blurred line. How do you distinguish between the two? For me time and circumstances seem to suggest not. When I met Rhonda, she was part of a vibrant Gospel Singing & Evangelical Ministry and did not feel led to foreign missions. But the idea was still there, planted in the back of my mind. God blessed us with other ministries to be a part of and time marched on.
Twenty-eight years went by. Our kids were grown and out of the house. I shared my desire to learn to fly with Rhonda. With her encouragement, I took the first step and signed up for training. I wanted to do this for myself but also for my dad. It was something he had always wanted to do but lacked the opportunity. When I was young dad would drive us down to the general aviation side of the airport just to watch the planes fly in. Dad had a friend from work who owned a small plane and I think he dreamed of one day having one himself.
Being I worked during the weekdays most of my training came in the evenings or weekends. Let me just tell you, flight in a small Cessna plane on a calm night is an absolutely beautiful experience. Between the lights of city and the calmness of the air you feel like you’re just sitting there. If it wasn’t for the lights below, you wouldn’t know you were moving.
It was nighttime in October. A cold front was about to blow in. My instructor and I had flown down to San Antonio for some supper. If you filled up with gas, the airport would loan you a free rental car so you could go get something to eat. By the time we returned to fly home, the airport was covered with a dense fog. I was taking visual flight training, not instrument. But my instructor had given me quite a bit of instrument training as well. I was a bit nervous to take off but he was confident that I would do just fine. I don’t know where it originated but there’s a saying, “I’d rather be on the ground wishing I was in the air than in the air and wishing I was on the ground.”
We took off and I held the course the tower had given us. Once we were above the fog I could see but just for a short while. As we gained altitude we entered the clouds. Flying in a small plane is like riding in a small boat on the ocean. The wind is like the waves that can toss you about. Up and down we went. Just like a roller coaster ride but with no rail to support us. All we could see was the blinding reflection of our lights on the clouds. You have to stay focused on and trust your instruments. Your sensations will fool you! You think you are right side up but you could be upside down. This went on for about twenty minutes or so. I felt I like I had reached my limit of ability and ask my instructor to take over. He finally agreed to take control of the plane and then he too began to look concerned. As we approached Austin we called the tower to request permission to land but was denied. There were six or seven airliners that needed to land first. After all, we were only two people. The tower directed us to Lago Vista before they finally turned us East and then South. Every once in a while, I would catch a glimpse of the ground. Around midnight we were finally allowed to land. I had never been so glad to plant my feet back on the ground. Prior to this trip I had reached the status of flying solo. But it was always comforting to have your instructor with you. There’s a lesson there. God doesn’t ask us to fly alone.
In the November of the same year, I found out that I had peripheral neuropathy. As I result I had to be on Lyrica and Lyrica is a no-fly drug. My training came to a halt and I realized that flying was not part of God’s plan for me. You can make your plans but the LORD determines the outcome.
As one of my heroes of the faith put it, “We are all missionaries. Wherever we go we either bring people nearer to Christ or we repel them from Christ.” ― Erick Liddell