Flying Through The Storm

A missionary pilot thanks God for the fight of his life.

From Message magazine issue "The Doctor Is In"

Through the fog of drugs and chemotherapy, one question kept surfacing in my mind: Is God going to come through this time?

Becoming a missionary aviator has been my calling and dream since I was 12. After years of work and schooling, my wife and I joined the ABWE family in 2009 with the African country of Togo on our hearts. The opportunity to carry the gospel to unreached people thrilled us and propelled us through the next three years of prefield ministry, and in August 2012, we arrived in France for language school.

After a year, our French was improving, and I went on a short trip to Togo to help ship our plane’s engine to the US where it would be overhauled and prepared for use. My lifelong dream and our ministry was on the horizon.

But then the clouds rolled in.

While I was in Togo, I had some excruciating stomach pain. Thinking that it was side effects from anti-malarial medications, I went to a doctor when I returned to France and instead was told I had aggressive cancer. We immediately packed up our lives in France, and just three days after receiving the initial diagnosis, I checked in to the Cleveland Clinic. This aggressive form of lymphoma had formed into an abdominal mass that was completely blocking the exit from my stomach and preventing me from eating or drinking. As they began pumping an artificial nutrition and chemotherapy cocktail directly into my body, my view of the horizon was fading away, but I clung to my belief in God’s power.

It was a rough five months. My body felt weaker than it had ever been, but my faith grew stronger, and nine months later I ran a 5K without a trace of cancer in my body. I was living proof that God can calm any storm, and when the doctors cleared me, we moved forward with our calling to start an aviation ministry in Togo. Our family celebrated the start of 2015 in Togo with the two other missionary families on our aviation team. Through the generous contributions of many churches and individuals, we were able to order our first shipment of airplane fuel in January and flight testing was scheduled for April. The long-awaited dream of an aviation ministry was finally coming into focus.

It is in these frustrating and incomprehensible moments that I’m thankful for my fight with cancer.

But the clouds have rolled in again.

As we were readying the airplane for flight testing, we discovered some unexpected problems — unexplainable, frustrating, big problems. Flight controls needed to be completely rebuilt, major components were corroded and needed to be replaced, and it was clear that further disassembly was required for complete inspection. We had been eagerly counting down the days until our ministry finally got off the ground, but instead, we are now shipping the airframe back to the US.

God’s calling remains clear to us, but the pain of leaving Togo to make these repairs is just as real as the stomach pain that would wake me in the middle of the night during my battle with cancer. It is in these frustrating and incomprehensible moments that I’m thankful for my fight with cancer. I was able to see God work and it taught me to expect the impossible, just like Elijah did on Mount Carmel when he poured water over the offering. I also learned that when God comes through in the midst of the impossible, He gets the glory. My cancer story is a story of God’s faithfulness and amazing power, and I believe that the story of the Togo Aviation ministry will be as well. When this airplane finally takes flight, it will be clear that it was not by our doing, but by God’s sovereign plan.