Looking around me from the right cockpit seat of the Cessna 206 in the mid-morning warmth, I saw Dan in the left seat, dressed in his AIM AIR pilot’s uniform with his white collared shirt and pilot bars neatly fastened to his shoulders. He was adjusting his seat, and checking all of his gears and controls to make sure everything was in good working order. Over the aviation headset I could hear him talking with the tower, discussing which runway he would take, and telling them his flight plan. “November 8,2,7 Delta Golf to tower…five souls on board, headed for Sedar,” I heard him say to the air traffic controller. I looked behind me in the cozy plane to see Lydia in the left seat, Abraham in the middle, and on the right, behind me, a short-term missionary named Liesel serving as a home school teacher for a missionary family. Behind them was a large, white solar chest freezer, nestled perfectly into the small space available and filled with many frozen goods and fresh produce we were bringing to some families up-country. Counting us all, I agreed, there were five souls on board, headed for Sedar.
The sky was blue with few, if any, light clouds. It had been quite chilly when we left our house that morning at 6:00am to drive across town to Wilson Airport, but it was quickly warming up now, especially in the cockpit with the sun shining brightly through the windshield. This would be my first flight with Dan as the pilot in greater than 22 years. For Lydia and Abraham, this would be their first flight ever with their Papa in the pilot’s seat. There was definite excitement in the air as we got ready to taxi. Dan started the engine and soon we were ready to take off for our day’s adventure.
As we lifted off and made a right bank turn, below I could see roof tops, roads, cars and even people, and after just a few minutes, I saw Kibera, the world’s second largest slum with its crowded, flat tin roofs and dirt roads connecting it’s labyrinth of make-shift homes. I pondered this community of 1-2 million people as I viewed it from above, seeing now just how huge it is from this new perspective. Before I knew it, we were leaving Nairobi and headed toward the beautiful Rift Valley. We have driven in the Rift Valley many times, and it is always a beautiful sight, but from above I was awed at seeing how the valley really does drop off like a great rift! God’s creation is so beautiful, and seeing it from the air was even more breathtaking than from the car.
The first leg of our journey to Sedar was approximately two hours, and was relatively uneventful, seeing the beauty of Kenya below: lakes, mountains, hills, and rural communities. With the excitement of flying and a few naps for the kids, before long we looked ahead to see an isolated runway in the middle of nowhere and Dan told us over the radio to prepare for descent. After confirming that all of our seatbelts were tightly fastened, and circling to check that the runway was clear, he made his approach for a beautiful landing on the dusty desert strip.
Climbing out of the plane onto the hot, dusty airstrip, the heat hit us like a wall. We had been cold up in the air, as cool air had been blowing on us for the last 2 hours. A young Australian missionary named Mick welcomed us warmly, along with 5 or 6 Kenyan teenage boys who spoke very little English or Kiswahili. Here is where we would drop Liesel, and some frozen goods for some of the local missionaries.
The first real challenge of the day came when Dan told Mick that together, they would need to remove the freezer from the plane in order to get the frozen goods out, as well as the luggage packed behind it. What he didn’t tell him was that earlier that day as he loaded the plane, the freezer had been loaded and unloaded twice…a very big job. As the men carefully removed the very heavy white freezer from the plane, I looked over to see what I thought was a flat tire. My mind wandered back to a phone call I had received from Dan just a few weeks ago telling me he would not be home that night due to delays from a flat tire. As I looked at the tire, I was hopeful it was just the way the sand covered the tire that made it look flat, but when I studied the other tire, it became very clear that we indeed had a very flat tire. We had been delayed a bit in leaving Nairobi that morning, so we were already on a bit of a time crunch to make it to our final destination before sunset. Now, with a flat tire, we wondered if we would have to change our plans for where we would sleep that night.
Dan went to the plane to retrieve his tools and came back with a small hand pump…this was going to take a while! When Mick saw the pump, he quickly interjected, “Wait, I have a brand new compressor we can use. I’ll get it!” They hooked it up to the car and the tire, and in a matter of moments, the tire was filled. Dan then spent the next 30 minutes completing the necessary tasks to ready the plane for takeoff again, giving the tire opportunity to show us how bad the leak was. Thankfully, in that time, very little air leaked from the tire, but the tire still needed repair, so Dan made the decision to divert to Kalacha where they had the tools and a shop to repair it properly. So with an efficient re-load of the freezer by the men, and quick goodbyes to our new friends, we climbed back into our seats and taxied for takeoff.
The flight to Kalacha was short, and upon arrival around 2:00pm, some fellow AIM missionaries living right by the airstrip greeted us. Charlie was an older short-term missionary who had helped Dan with his last flat tire, and Steve was a younger man, both of them eager to help repair the tire and get us on our way. Abraham, Lydia and I were welcomed by Rachel Anderson and her kids who invited us into their home to get out of the intense summer heat. We knew this was going to take a while. The men worked diligently for many hours to repair the tire and now it was starting to get late. If the tire wasn’t repaired soon, we would have to stay the night in Kalacha and not go onto Kara Bara, our final destination where our friends were awaiting our arrival. Seeing the time, the kids and I left the Anderson’s home realizing we would need to take off soon. We met the men at the plane just as they were putting the tire back on. Looking at the sun in the sky and then to his watch, Dan had us quickly climb into our seats so we would have time to make it to Kara Bara before sunset.
The final flight was only 15 minutes, and soon we looked out the window to see our friends, Simon, Chantal, and 16-month-old Janaie waving to our plane from next to the dry grass airstrip. We had made it safely to Kara Bara before sunset, and could deliver the freezer to the Martin’s ministry partners, Eddy and Angie, who were excitedly anticipating its arrival. God had blessed us with a great day flying with Dan in the AIM AIR Cessna 206, He had provided people to help us with our flat tire, and we were all thankful to Him to arrive before sunset and see our friends in their remote place of ministry in Northern Kenya. Here Lydia and I had plans spend the next week, while Dan and Abraham would only spend the night before heading back to Nairobi together.