Bush Pilots and Stray Cows

Some of the airstrips we fly into are short, sloped, slippery, wet, grass runways at altitude carved out of the side of mountains towering well above 5000 feet above sea level. Many of them are one-way airstrips; which means that there is an abort point beyond which the only way to avoid becoming a statistic is to somehow get the aircraft onto the prepared surface. Many that are not built on slopes are surrounded by tall trees of the dense jungle and are soft, wet and muddy due to frequent heavy rains.

                                                 -Randy Smyth (bush pilot in Papua New Guinea)

Bush pilots who fly into remote locations to deliver supplies and transport missionaries to the field risk life and limb on a daily basis. The pilots relate that the landing is the hardest part. Not only must the pilot set the plane down upon the rough, sometimes rocky terrain of a primitive airstrip, but there are other factors involved. Most-commonly, the problem is an obstacle on the landing strip. In parts of remote Africa, these obstacles tend to be livestock.

This is where an interesting phenomenon occurs: humans tend to steer vehicles in the direction that they are looking. If something draws your focus, you unconsciously begin to steer in that direction. One flight trainer said that he must instruct the pilots to avoid focusing on the obstacles, but direct their gaze on the opening between the obstacles. He explained, “If a pilot looks too closely at the object, and not closely enough at the clear space, it’s only a matter of time before he steers right into the one thing he is trying to avoid.” A successful landing in the backcountry requires that you see that space and take it.      

We have all experienced livestock on our runways at times.   

Our innate viewpoint will always drive us toward sinful distraction. The world, the flesh and Satan will always point us away from God. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man” (1 Corinthians 10:13a). Each one of us faces the same basic sinful struggles. Though the details may vary, ultimately, we approach our own landing strips with very similar obstacles. Despite this, God mercifully supplies us with an opening; “But God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13b).

We must avoid focusing so sharply on the temptations that they draw our attention away from the opening of grace we should take. Notice that the verse we referenced reads “the way of escape.” It would be nice if we had multiple avenues of escape and multiple runways out in the bush. If one route was covered with problems, we would have no need to worry; we could just drop into the next valley where the landing strip is always clear.

But that’s not reality. We each get one runway – one life – clear or not, to make our landings. No matter how crowded it may seem with obstacles and problems, God will always provide a means to land successfully. We must listen to our Trainer when he points out the way to touch down on the hard scrabble while avoiding all the livestock, because his directions are always faithful.

Pray that…

Each of us would be aware of our specific weaknesses that would cause us to be more vulnerable in certain areas. – James 1:14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.

We would flee from sin and pursue holiness. – 2 Timothy 2:22 So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

We would remember that Jesus is the only way to be brought near to God and, through him, the only way to live for God on a daily basis. – John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

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