Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Evangel, a twin-engine Proverbs 31 lady


With skinny dogs and chickens at our feet and a short row of low, humble buildings behind us, we stood looking over a cyclone fence.

There, on a pocky tarmac, rested the legendary blue and white twin-engine, The Evangel, and pilot Ron McIntosh had just smiled and introduced himself to us. (If you missed last week’s post, click on “I heard a loud rush of air and I realized I’d been holding my breath.”)

Our first look at the Evangel
Our young family was about to take our first flight on a small plane, and we were headed into a wild, open, steamy territory.

Budd Davisson wrote that The Evangel was “the brunt of many jokes: ‘looks like it’s still in its shipping crate,’ or ‘has the grace and lines of a toolbox.’ And every one of those remarks is true. . . . It was easy to see why it had given rise to so many snickers. It’s so square it would have looked just right with gallon paint cans for spinners.”

Budd wrote of her “outright cubism,” adding that the Evangel “inspires the comic in all of us.”

But just like a Proverbs 31 woman, the Evangel’s worth didn’t depend on her charm or beauty—which, by the way, can be deceitful and vain (Proverbs 31:30). A Proverbs 31 woman is “a woman of valor. A courageous woman. A woman of strength and dignity” (Lysa TerKeurst; Proverbs 31:25).

The same can be said of the Evangel.

The Evangel (Howie Bowman photo)
Like many a good Proverbs 31 woman who arises before sunrise (verse 15), the Evangel and her crew at the hangar often got up when it was still dark, getting her ready to lift off within minutes of sunrise at 6 every morning. (On the equator, the sun always rises within minutes of 6 a.m. and sets within minutes of 6 p.m.)

And hundreds of times every year, the Evangel opened her hands (doors) to the poor and reached out to the needy (verse 20). I wrote this in Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir: 

“Reminiscent of Indiana Jones, sometimes our legendary pilots got calls from desperate villagers asking not to find a mystical stone, but young ladies in the jungle fleeing from guerrillas, or Wen Jones fighting for his life after a snake bite.

“They flew high-ranking elected officials, military top brass, ambassadors, and illiterate semi-naked native men and women; new young Bible translators—some excited, others scared nearly out of their wits; hopeful people, discouraged people, faith-filled people, broken people; confused people, committed people, exhausted people, tenacious people.

“They flew happy and sad people, young and old, sick and healthy, and women about to give birth; dying friends, grieving friends, and dead friends.” (From Chapter 33, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir) 

A Proverbs 31 woman is “different than the majority of women in the world,” and the Evangel, too, was a uniquely designed gal, a most capable lady, a woman of excellence worth far more than jewels (verse 10). Those who knew her and loved her arose and called her blessed (verse 28).

A Proverbs 31 woman doesn’t need to be beautiful. Or perfect.

The Evangel didn’t need to be beautiful or perfect, either.

Both exist to serve God and help others.
Nothing could be finer!


Thursday, January 23, 2020

“I heard a loud rush of air and I realized I’d been holding my breath”



Within minutes, Ron McIntosh, our pilot, strode across the pock-marked tarmac to meet us. “Sorry I’m late,” he said. “Bad weather in southern Colombia forced me down.” We’d soon learn that pilots, travelers—all of us—wrote our schedules in pencil, not ink, because of weather and iffy communications.

Our first look at The Evangel
So there our family stood with our first four Lomalinda friends: Ron, Loren, Laura, and Doug. We were off to a great start.

At the time, we didn’t realize Ron had a reputation for his exceptional skills in challenging circumstances and that, day by day, he was living a story that many still talk about all these years later.

Budd Davisson, an accomplished airplane guy himself, wrote one of the most enjoyable articles I’ve ever read, a piece about Ron and the legendary Evangel. Budd’s article, “Evangel 4500,” begins with him sitting next to Ron in the copilot’s seat as they approached a landing strip in the Amazon jungle:

“As we turned final, my heart nearly stopped because it was wedged solidly against the back of my teeth.

“We had the gear down and were pointed at this ridiculously tiny box canyon. It wasn’t actually a canyon, but it might as well have been because it was just a slit in the jungle and the trees on three sides were 60 feet high. What was scaring . . . me was that the whole ‘canyon’ was a little over 900 feet long, and we weren’t exactly flying a Super Cub.

The sweat running down my legs was starting to pool in my boots. . . . 

“I figured the pilot, Ron McIntosh, knew what he was doing, but twin-engine airplanes just don’t land on airstrips like this one—not more than once anyway.

“We crept over the first row of trees and Ron slowly brought the throttles back and started to flare. . . .  I couldn’t take my eyes off the trees at the other end of the runway. I thought about my wife and child. I thought about the five bucks I owed a friend. 

“The trees were staring down on us as the tires thumped onto the runway, and I instinctively slid my feet up on the rudder pedals to help Ron smash the brakes to the floor.

“Then a crazy miraculous thing happened: We stopped moving. Just like that.

“The brakes helped a little, but even so, we hadn’t used more than two-thirds of what they laughingly called a runway.

“Then I heard a loud rush of air and I realized I’d been holding my breath. . . .

“Was I scared? I’d prefer to say pensive, but I’ll have to admit that I saw the Evangel 4500 do things that no twin-engine plane has a right to do.” (Click on this link to read more and see photos:Evangel 4500” by Budd Davisson.)


Oh, what adventures awaited us!

What remarkable people God was giving us as friends!  


Thursday, January 16, 2020

Of spiders in soda pop bottles


We rounded a corner and exited the forest and, from our spot high on the east edge of the Andes Mountains, Dave and I gasped at the view.

A vast low expanse of steaming plains spread out before us, stretching east, north, and south—the llanos. An azure sky stretched to eternity, clean and searing and clear. Somewhere out there, way out in that immense humid unknown, we’d find our new home, Lomalinda.

For the next half hour, we dropped to an elevation of a thousand feet. Numb toes and fingers warmed, and we peeled off layers of clothes. We didn’t know it at the time, but we wouldn’t feel cold again for seven months.

We skirted the town of Villavicencio, crossed a river and, three hours after leaving Bogotá, turned in at the airport, a short row of low buildings. At times we had wondered if we would arrive safely, but we did, with barf bags still in pockets, unused.

We piled out of the taxi—Dave, Matt, Karen, and I along with our traveling companions and new co-workers, Loren, Laura, and Doug Rush.

The cabby opened the trunk and he, Dave, and Doug started unloading our bags, but Loren took me aside. “We need you to stay here and watch the rest of the luggage. Don’t let anybody steal it.”

I was shocked—I’d never heard of such things happening. The guys carried our bags inside and Laura guarded them at that end while the men returned to the taxi for more.

We had arrived at 9:30, the scheduled time for our flight to Lomalinda. Laura and Loren scanned the small airstrip. “I don’t see the Evangel,” Laura said, referring to our mission’s little white and blue plane.

Our family had already experienced a small dose of cross-cultural living during our one brief day in Bogotá, but upon arriving at the Villavicencio airport, we stepped deeply into our introduction to cross-cultural living. (Within a day it would become cross-culture stress, if not full-blown culture shock.)

It started when Laura, Karen, and I needed to use the restroom. After asking the guys to watch the luggage, we pushed our way through a filthy door decorated with purple polka dots.

The toilets had neither seats nor lids. That made me kinda grumpy.

But on a pleasanter note, Betty Welch, that dear lady we’d met at our Dallas orientation, the one who cautioned us to hire only taxis with meters, had given us another priceless bit of advice. “Always travel with your own toilet paper,” she’d said. Thanks to Betty, we were prepared.

 When we rejoined the men, we continued searching the skies for our plane. In the open-air terminal, hot and muggy, flies landed on everyone and everything. We Seattle people struggled with the heat and humidity—and especially with those flies.

SeaTac International this was not. Scrawny dogs wandered in and out, nibbling at trash on the floor. A rooster crowed somewhere. A man sat at a table eating, a parrot perched on one hand.

Laura strolled over to the control tower and hollered up to the man, asking, in Spanish, if the Evangel was on its way. (Now, tell me: How many of you have walked over to a control tower and yelled up to the guys on duty?)

She came back with disappointing news. “The tower hasn’t had any communication with Lomalinda.” Laura waited a while, asked again, and returned bearing the same story.

By then we’d grown hungry, but the thought of eating in those surroundings made me gag.

We couldn’t drink the water—it would make us sick—but Laura said we could drink bottled soda pop, so we ordered one for each of us. They were warm—no refrigerators.  (One more cross-cultural surprise. But an even bigger surprise awaited me.)

Loren said, “Before you take a drink, you need to do this.” He took out his handkerchief and wiped the bottleneck, inside and out. I couldn’t believe the filth that came out on it. (Yet another cross-cultural jolt. But the biggest one came next.)

“Oh, by the way,” he said, “check inside. Sometimes spiders or cockroaches float around in there.” (from Chapter 5, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: AFoot-Dragger’s Memoir)

What an introduction to cross-cultural living!

But here’s the sobering thing: That couple of hours at the airport was only the beginning.

Standing there on that foreign soil, I wondered, 
“What’s next? What other icky stuff will we live with? 
What other surprises will smack us between the eyes?”

Entering the unknown can be painful. Distressing. Sometimes even calamitous.

In Luke 9:34, Peter, John, and James were standing on a mountain with Jesus when a cloud enveloped them, and the three feared as they entered that cloud—that unknown.

“How often we fear as we enter into some cloud of the unknown,” 
Amy Carmichael wrote many years ago, 

and then she asked this blistering, haunting question: 

“Shall we be led through it, always caused to triumph? 
or shall we fail?” 

That day at the Villavicencio airport, 
if I could have looked ahead into the next few days, 
I’d see my 29-year-old self 
teetering on the edge of failure.


Thursday, January 9, 2020

A hush and God’s whisper


We’d been riding in a taxi through the Andes Mountains for two and a half hours, holding on for dear life along steep, narrow roads that curved left and right and left again. Stretches of road—with no guardrails—teetered over drop-offs of hundreds of feet. 

Every few moments the driver blasted his horn and we bolted forward. He used his brakes as often as his horn. Buses and cars careened toward us down the mountainside and around corners.

I wanted to cry, Will this ride ever end? But I couldn’t speak—near-hysteria had taken my breath away.

But the trip wasn’t all bad. Luxuriant tropical vegetation surrounded us—hibiscus in red, pink, and white; leggy poinsettia trees in full bloom; carpets of flowers in orange, magenta, and gold.

Coleus, tall and crimson, grew beside the road, and philodendrons and other tropical plants I couldn’t name—all nestled among the woodlands. The vegetation was different from what we’d always known in Seattle, yet beautiful.

Watch now!” our traveling companion, Laura, grinned. “You’ll see something special!

A few seconds later we rounded a corner and exited the Andean forest and, from our spot high on the east edge of the Andes, Dave and I gasped at the view.

A vast, low expanse of steaming plains spread out before us, stretching east, north, and south—the llanos. An azure sky stretched to eternity, clean and searing and clear.

Somewhere out there, way out in that immense humid unknown, we’d find Lomalinda. (from Chapter 5, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir)


I’ve always remembered that surprising, vivid scene.

Forty-three years later, my heart still races when I relive it.

It was as if a hush invaded the taxi
and God whispered:

“I, the Lord, made everything,
stretching out the skies by myself
and spreading out the earth all alone.”
Isaiah 44:24, NCV


At such times we mortals can only
fall on our knees and say:

“Come, let us worship and bow down,
Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker,
the Maker of heaven and earth.”
Psalm 95:6, Psalm 146:6

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they exist and were created.”
Revelation 4:11, ESB





Thursday, January 2, 2020

Our hair-raising drive through the Andes


The steep, narrow road through the Andes curved left and right and left again—no wonder people got carsick—and, without guardrails, those drop-offs took my breath away.

Every few moments the driver blasted his horn and we bolted forward. He used his brakes as often as his horn.

Buses and cars careened toward us down the mountainside and around corners.

Drives through the Andes were the stuff of legends—not myths, not made-up tales, but the histories of dozens of families. (If you missed recent posts about terrifying trips, click on Of Andean hairpin turns: I tried to stifle my hysteria and No, no, no! Don’t look down!)

Today you could sit down with anyone who spent time in Lomalinda and he’d tell you hair-raising accounts of journeying through the Andes—stories about upchucking, of long delays due to mudslides, other delays at police checkpoints, and reports of filthy restrooms along the way.

But especially you’d hear stories about the dangers of the trip: appalling road conditions, no shoulders—only drop-offs. You’d hear about urgent prayers for safety. (If you missed it, read No, no, no! Don’t look down!)

So there I sat in a van-type taxi with Dave and our kids, ages four and six, careening down those infamous roads.

I tried to stifle my hysteria, but Laura wasn’t fooled. She was returning to Lomalinda after studying Spanish in Bogotá for the summer and knew the route well.

“We have such a good cab driver,” she said. “He’s driving more cautiously than usual because he has new seat covers.”

What? A good, cautious driver?

And what did new seat covers have to do with anything?

I must have looked frantic because Laura hurried to explain, “He doesn’t want us to get carsick all over them.”

Rattan furniture for sale in the Andes
High in the mountains, we saw houses smaller than those near the city, patched together with scraps of wood, bricks, sheets of metal or plastic. Emaciated dogs poked at ever-present trash.

The longer we traveled, the fewer houses we passed—shacks made of boards or branches, dirt floors, gaping holes in walls. Chickens and pigs meandered in and out. Metal signs, fastened to homes or fences, advertised Lux Kola or Alka-Seltzer.

Some places displayed bananas in front, or papayas, or hand-crafted rattan furniture in hopes travelers would stop and buy. Children played in yards. Laundry, draped over bushes, dried in sun that poked through fog.

Our driver slowed and pulled to a stop. Uniformed men approached.

A potty stop in the Andes
“Don’t worry,” Laura said. “This is a checkpoint. They’ll look through our bags for drugs or weapons.”

The cabby got out and showed them his receipt. They poked through our luggage, without really looking, and they were finished. The driver hopped back in and we resumed our journey.

Sometimes we spotted shacks hugging steep mountainsides. Crops clung to land that appeared too steep to navigate, let alone cultivate.

Luxuriant tropical vegetation surrounded us—hibiscus in red, pink, and white; leggy poinsettia trees in full bloom; carpets of flowers in orange, magenta, and gold. Coleus, tall and crimson, grew beside the road, and philodendrons and other tropical plants I couldn’t name—all nestled among the Andean forest.

“Watch now!” Laura called. “You’ll see something special!” (from Chapter 5, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir).


Noticing the good stuff, finding the joy

I began to notice more good stuff going on in Lomalinda .     God was offeri ng me new opportunities. He was offering me a new perspectiv...