Altar Call - Opelika-Auburn News
Walter Albritton
July 23, 2000

Missionary pilot flying for love of kids in Ecuador jungles

In August I am planning to visit my friends Sandy and Trish Toomer in Shell, Ecuador. Sandy is a pilot with Missionary Aviation Fellowship which has a base there. I will be going with the third mission work team our church has sent to assist the Toomers.

An exciting element of my friendship with the Toomers has been our frequent communication by way of e-mail. Sandy has a gift for stirring the soul with his stories of flying daily in the jungles of Ecuador. To prove my point allow me to share with you this inspiring letter sent by Sandy earlier this month:

"This morning I was reading from Oswald Chambers, in his classic devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, and these reflections came to me as I thought of you and all those who support our work here. "Our MAF team of pilots has been working the past few weekends (and will continue through August) on our annual "Camp Kid" flying. This is a child/teen evangelism project begun several years ago by Lloyd Rogers, a Brethren missionary with whom we work .The goal of the project is to evangelize a new generation of believers in the eastern jungle of Ecuador, commonly referred to here as the Orient.

"I think first of the day I met little Emanuel Illanes. Walking out to my Cessna 206 I was preparing to make the umpteenth flight that day out over the rainforest to another strip with another load of kids after another week of camp. It had coalesced into another very rainy, routine day.

"There sat Emanuel. Panchito, one of our helpers, had buckled him in the co-pilot's seat next to mine. There he sat smothered in the green safety harness cinched around his tiny waist and draped over his shoulders. His grin was a yard wide.

"What's your name?" I asked (in Spanish).

"Emanuel," he said sitting on his hands shyly.

"Do you like to fly?"

"Yes!" The grin grew a few inches.

Then the idea came to mind. What a photo op! So I asked if I could take his picture and placed my helmet on Emanuel. Of course this provided food for giggles and laughter from the other kids in the rearward seats. Emanuel glanced back with a careless grin. I have a large head, so my helmet fit like a milk pail on his slender little head, but the wide eyes and smile filled the voids. "On the flight out I looked at Emanuel and thought of my first flight instructor at Moody Aviation, Nard Pugyao. He is from the Philippines. He was a jungle boy from a group of former head hunters who was given an opportunity like this.

Nard left the Philippines to receive an education in the U.S. where he trained as a missionary pilot. He returned to his Philippine homeland several years later to see the completion of the Bible in his Philippino dialect by Wycliffe translators. The incredible end to this story is that Nard had the honor of flying in the first boxes of the newly translated Bibles to his own village and people. His mother, father, sisters and brothers were all waiting. What a story!

"So today I am reminding myself that somewhere in this crowd of kids there are probably several Nards. Joy floods my soul as I consider that even one of these kids may become a Nard and thus a blessing to his own people.

"Oswald Chambers writes: 'The vision that God gives is not some unattainable castle in the sky, but a vision of what God wants you to do down here. Allow the Potter to put you on His wheel and whirl you around as He desires. Then as surely as God is God and you are you, you will turn out as an exact likeness of the vision.'

"The endless cycle of blessing as God blesses each of us so we can bless others, so his kingdom can be multiplied, is at work here. That's what it is all about. A missionary walked into Nard's life; Nard walked into mine, and now I am walking (flying?) into the lives of these little ones each weekend. What an opportunity. What a responsibility. What an honor.

"Routine? So it is with so many of you. God is blessing you to bless others through your giving and prayer for those have never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

"The next time you start to ask the question, 'Who am I?', I encourage you to think of the string of events that brought you and me where we are and to realize that God is in control and that you need only make yourself available and reach as high as He has called you.

"I think of the little jungle kid, Nard, who later flew in the first Bibles to his family. Back then no one dreamed that Nard, my first flight instructor, would some day be named Moody Bible Institute's 'Alumnus of the Year.'

"So today, as I look into the bright eyes of little Emanuel, I am celebrating again the unlimited possibilities that exist for those who are willing for God to use them in the service of others. God bless you!"

I hope I will get to see Emanuel in that faraway Ecuador jungle!