Tuesday, April 22, 2014

PNG: SIL Aviation

To learn more about the services offered or to book a flight, click here. 

You don’t have to be in Papua New Guinea very long before you realize how important our Aviation Department is to the Bible translation effort in the country.  Days of travel are reduced to a short flight and if there is a medical emergency, a flight to Australia can save a life. 

SIL Aviation Department
Our professional pilots, mechanics and avionics technicians work to speed Bible translation by: 
Transporting translators, support personnel, consultants, trainers and linguists.
•Providing medical evacuations.
•Transporting cargo, such as cash crops, for community development.
•Assisting in disaster relief work.

An aircraft can be a link to the outside world for a translation/literacy team delivering supplies such as food, household goods, building materials and farm implements.  And, when translation work is complete, our pilots are often privileged to deliver boxes of freshly printed Scriptures.

Aviation Hangar
There are currently 2 Bell Long Ranger helicopters and 4 Kodiak airplanes.

Looking over the 'home base' Aiyura Airstrip. 
A one way airstrip at 5000 ft.

Watch a landing at the Aiyura Airstrip near Ukarumpa, the main base for Bible translation in PNG by clicking here.

SIL Aviation's website

Flying High with SIL Aviation in PNG
Ukarumpa, in the in Eastern Highlands, is a few kilometers away from the hangar. Learn more about Ukarumpa, click here.

You can learn more about the roles and skills needed by looking at the JAARS website or email Wendy at pacificbible@hotmail.com

ThePNGExperience: Change your Perspective  Short video
ThePNGExperience: Jump Start
ThePNGExperience: It's Coffee Time-take 2  Short video 
Tapmange, Papua New Guinea

Aviation Stories

From pilot James Nelson:

As a pilot in Papua New Guinea, one of the cool things I get to do is airstrip survey—visiting and evaluating potential sites for new runways.  Let me try to put this in perspective: There is precious little flat ground in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, so almost every runway needs to be cut into the side of a mountain. Not such a daunting task with explosives and heavy machinery, right?  But imagine having only shovels and woven leaves between poles to carry dirt, and attempting to make a flat section of ground that measures roughly 30 meters (98 feet) wide and at least 450 meters (1,476 feet) long.

Tapmange was one such runway.

For the past 15 years the Yopno* people have worked to build this runway, primarily to bring the Word of God into their community. Some of the Yopno—which means “we put down”—call the runway gen tamo, meaning “place of the word.” Together the two phrases describe a people who chose to put down weapons, fighting and anger, replacing them with the Word.

How beautiful. This is a great lesson for me also to put all things down in favor of God’s amazingly powerful Word.

* Wes and LeeAnn Reed began language work with the Yopno people in 1983. On August 7, 2010, the Reeds and the Yopno celebrated the arrival of their New Testament and Psalms.

—James Nelson and his wife, Natalie, are Australians who arrived in Papua New Guinea in January 2009. James serves as a pilot, and Natalie works in the pathology lab at SIL Papua New Guinea’s clinic in Ukarumpa.

Flying high in PNG
by Tim Scott
"I have a new appreciation for pilots", remarked one member of the survey team after returning from four airstrips that were being evaluated for safety. These airstrips are not for commercial airline jets or the casual flier. They have been carved into the sides of mountains, along flowing rivers and on top of ridges, in order to provide access to some of the more remote areas of Papua New Guinea.
For many communities, it is the only way to get coffee and produce to market without carrying it on their backs for several days. Coffee and produce are often the main cargo but it is also the lifeline to hospitals and health care that is not immediately available in the local village. Government and education officials, church and missions groups, and international aid agencies need these strips in order to gain access to these remote areas.
The airstrips are grass or packed dirt and require ongoing maintenance by the villages that they service. If the runways are not properly maintained, they quickly become unsafe for the planes to land, and access is cut off.
Many villages make it a high priority to keep the airstrips open. "Pilots have a great appreciation for the hard work that many communities do in order that we can better serve them. It’s not easy to cut the grass on these strips. Few strips have lawnmowers so it often requires many villagers using bush knives," remarked one pilot.
Not all airstrips make the grade. Approximately ten to fifteen strips are closed each year due to unsafe conditions. Some are reopened when improved but the number of available strips is rapidly decreasing. Erosion, poor drainage and rough ground are some of the most frequent reasons for closing strips. Ants can destroy a landing zone by creating areas that soften the ground. Communities work together to remove these areas by replacing them with packed dirt or gravel in order to maintain the hard surfaces needed for landing airplanes. Drains are cut into the runways and covered over so that water can move quickly off the airstrips.
One language development worker commented, "I am so grateful for these airstrips because access to the community I serve takes 25 minutes instead of a 2 day hike."

From Mary Pearson, Bible translator

It was an early morning in March 1986 the first time I laid eyes on a Cessna 206.

My friend and I grabbed each other in a fearful embrace.

We had never seen such a small plane. How in the world would our families fit into that tiny thing? Could it fly safely over rugged mountain ranges and miles of open ocean? Find a remote village and land on a tiny strip of coral jutting out of the water?

We were about to begin translating God’s Word into Lote, a language in Papua New Guinea that had never been written down. Its speakers had never seen the Bible in their own language.

That first weekend, we walked 3 1/2 hours down a coral road, six degrees south of the equator, to join an Easter celebration. We carried small index cards for reminders and said something like, “Ek Maria.” My name is Mary. “Iat nge Amerika.” I come from America. We’ve come to learn your language ... This is all I know. That’s how it began.

But to get there, we had to board the tiny, winged vessel that stood before us. As we squeezed into the cabin, we felt like we were taking our lives into our own hands.

We were wrong.

Turns out we were putting our lives into the capable hands of pilots and aviation mechanics, whose honed skills and sharp eyes enabled us to fly safely anywhere in this rugged country. They had received years of training and could be earning a comfortable salary. Instead, they used their expertise to serve missionaries around the world—giving their very lives to save ours.

Our first four years were the toughest. A strange place. A foreign culture. An unbearable climate. A new language. Learning to speak an unwritten language and writing it down phonetically often had us stumped, feeling we’d never get to the next level. But word by word, phrase by phrase, we got there. Meanwhile, we fell completely in love with the warm, friendly Lote people.

During those long village stays, away from everything familiar, we received visits from the angels: those beautiful white-winged planes we grew to cherish, no matter the size.

The hum of an engine breaking through clouds brought joyful anticipation. Mail bags! News from home! Fresh vegetables, meat, medical supplies—comforts to help us through the lonely months.

I’ll never forget the time a plane departed after one of its wonderful deliveries. A few minutes later, we heard it coming in for a second landing. I jumped to the radio and asked the pilot if everything was okay. “Yes,” he said, “I just realized I forgot to unload your Christmas presents.”

Those precious 20-minute visits connected us to the outside world.

On one extraordinary November day, the plane landed on our little airstrip loaded with precious cargo: books. The Lote co-translator stood over my husband’s shoulder as he opened the box and pulled out the first copy of the Gospel of Mark in the Lote language. It was the first time he ever held God’s Word in his own language. He took it, sat down in the shade of a tree, and read hungrily: “Helenga urana toto ngana nge Iesus Kristus nenge Nenut Non Palaungana Tuna.” The very good news of Jesus Christ, God’s Son.

One year, a cyclone destroyed our village house; we were rescued by a pilot willing to fly through turbulent winds, knowing the plane had been inspected and checked as always. A year later, pilots—once again—were key to building our new house, as they shuttled builders from the nearest town into our village.

It’s now 23 years since we arrived, and the Lote Scriptures are at the printers.

We’ve had twenty-three years of safe flights, medical rescues, mail and grocery deliveries, and flights for national translators to attend training courses. Twenty-three years of flights enduring high winds and wicked rain storms, over volcanoes, mountains and oceans. Twenty-three years without incident, bringing us to the place we now call home, so the Lote people can have God’s Word.

Because these pilots, mechanics and trainers have invested their lives in Bible translation, this will be the generation when the Lote people hold the New Testament in their hands, reading it in their own language for the first time.

—Mary Pearson and her husband, Greg, have served with Wycliffe Bible Translators since 1983. In 1986, they began translation and literacy work among the Lote people. The Lote Scriptures were introduced on January 9, 2010.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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