Jackie's Journey: PASSPORT: DARIÉN JUNGLE

He risked his life for mine…the flight of my life!

“When you are flying over the jungle in a single engine plane and the prop shears off, ripping the engine out of its mounts, it’s a good sign you are in trouble.  The next indication is engine oil spreading across the windshield, making it impossible to see.  Then when the torn engine cowling begins beating violently against the side of the plane, your life flashes before your eyes”.  So writes a Boot Camp missionary friend, Macon Hare in his 2013 NTM@Work Newsletter.

Sound like fun?

There are many unknowns in jungle travel.  For those of us on a remote post, there are particular challenges that as a single person I would have found the risk challenging; however, when I became a mother and responsible for the decisions made for my two little princesses, I became more skeptical and less intrigued with the thrill of the ride.

Sitting next to me in our tiny one engine flying craft was my five-year-old daughter, Christina and her two-year-old sister.  Their trusting and smiling faces strangely comforted me.  Leaving civilization behind, I looked out the window into the vast unknown. As we taxied down the runway, I bowed my head, placing my confidence in the One who had brought us to share the gospel with these isolated people and who had promised to  “…keep us as the apple of His eye, to hide us in the shadow of HIS wings. He makes the clouds his chariots and rides on the wings of the wind.”  Psa.17: 8; Psa. 104: 3 (Wings on the Wind is the name our field had given our plane!)  

For those of us living in the interior, the plane is a lifesaving connection to the civilized world.  The hour flight over the clear blue coastline waters of the Atlantic Ocean and then the twenty minutes beyond over a solid wall of 150 feet tall Quipo trees inspired me to again acknowledge His Majesty and control!  Our missionary pilot was required to hit a tiny band aide airstrip that had been carved out of this dense blanket of trees.  My father had sent hundreds of pounds of seeds from the States to this remote area and had turned that slippery, mud-sliding landing strip into a functional beauty to behold!  

Our brave pilot made his approach by flying low, crossing the river; but not too low, being careful not to crash into the 18’ riverbank on the other side.  He approximated the length he had to land with the 150’ trees looming up into the sky at the other end.  He would clear the river and abruptly drop and land safely on a tree-lined ribbon of a very short runway!   Creativity is defined as “finding ways to overcome impossible obstacles”.  He had been a “crop duster” before entering missionary service and I cannot express enough gratitude for this pilot’s creativity! 

Cleared patch of jungle for the airstrip on the other side of the river from the village.

Cleared patch of jungle for the airstrip on the other side of the river from the village.

Our village had experienced an epidemic that affected almost every man, woman and child.  The small clinic we ran was open early every morning; the people responded well to the anti-biotic injections and after two weeks, we were beginning to “see light at the end of the tunnel”.  People were returning to work, and life seemed normal again.

One afternoon I began to run a fever.  For two days I ran a 103 temperature and nothing would bring it down.  I was not responding to treatment.   It peaked one morning at 106.  I needed outside help!  It was a two-day trip by dugout and then banana boat if we made timely connections.

We had awakened to the “storm of storms” with thunder and lightning that morning.  The sky and clouds were black.  The wind was fierce and the air was heavy.  In those early days we had a two-way radio that gave us daily contact with our pilot.  I could hear my husband telling him our circumstance…that there was no visibility, the windsock was standing straight up and it would be impossible to fly into our village.  He asked if there was a doctor in the city that could assist us over the radio until the weather lifted?  We would wait out the night and check again by radio early the next morning.  There was a pause and then…

I heard the pilot say, “Hold on…I am coming!”

We looked outside and knew it was impossibleBUT “Bush Pilots” are a rare breed.  True to his word, about two hours later in the storm-filled darkness of that afternoon, we heard a plane in the distance approaching our landing strip.

Our pilot, Scott Wolfe, had risked his life to save mine!

That man had landed that plane on an almost invisible airstrip in the middle of the Darién jungle in the worst weather imaginable!   The doctors at Gorgas Hospital in the Canal Zone confirmed that had he not come for me when he did I would not be telling this story.  God had made the clouds his chariot and brought Scotty in on the wings of the wind!

Thank you, God, and thank you for Scotty!!