On the first flight of 2024, three MAF South Sudan pilots made a stop in Ohilang to greet the missionaries and find out more about the communities they serve.
(Photos by Chris Ball)
Chief Pilot Chris Ball has made scores of landings in Ohilang over the last eight years. He has always been met with a friendly smile whilst dropping passengers and boxes of groceries for the team but had never had time to visit.
Taking advantage of the slow start to the new year to do some training with colleagues Jono and Matt, Chris was able to take up the invitation to stop for cup of coffee with the AIM missionaries.
If we can make their lives a little bit easier by bringing them groceries and supplies or helping them out, we’ll try to make that happen.
‘The AIM missionaries were on-board the last flight of 2023,’ Chris explains. ‘I asked them, I have a training flight coming up in the new year. What if I stopped in and we kick around for a couple of hours and we have coffee together and hang out? I messaged a couple of days before and they confirmed that it was on.'
Knowing that we would have a little more time, Chris planned the training flight to stop in Ohilang, a small community perched on the hillside above the airstrip in the valley below. ‘We brought some carrot cake and climbed up the hill to the village where the missionaries have their home. We had coffee with Andrea and Marlene before walking round the village to share our greetings. We met the Boma Chief and greeted him. He had very warm regards for MAF and gave an open invitation which was great.
After an interesting couple of hours, the pilots headed back towards their plane. ‘We hiked back down to the airstrip planning to continue with our day. As we were about to leave, we were told that the AIM missionaries in nearby Iboni had also heard about our visit and kindly prepared lunch for us at their home a fifteen-minute walk away! It was an unexpected honour and an offer we really couldn't refuse! Lunch was a really nice time even if we unfortunately had to keep it short.
'Back in the air after our break, we proceeded with Matt's base check. Ohilang is our playground for training!’ Chris smiles.
Ohilang is our playground for training!
Chris shares more about the training. ‘We went via nearby Torit to do some landings including simulated emergencies. We did some mountain flying, some simulated bad weather exercises over challenging terrain. We used Ohilang as a technical airstrip for being tested on. Then we went to Lokutok where we did some more landings and take-offs using the hills and terrain for Matt to Navigate back through. We finished our training with a stop in Torit on the way back.
'It was a really fun day for the first day back! I have flown to Ohilang many times but have never left the airstrip. It was the first time for Matt and Jono too. Usually, we don’t have that kind of time, but it was the first day back and there wasn’t much going on, so we took the opportunity to do it then. Matt was introduced to Lohutok and Ohilang for the first time as a relatively new pilot.
Visiting Ohilang and Iboni was a good experience for the three pilots giving them a rare insight into the lives of the missionaries they meet on their plane, as Chris reflects. 'It was good to see how the missionaries live, how they interact, and understand who their neighbours are, and what their community is like. It was awesome to see the passion for what they do and their heart for the people they are discipling. They are just an awesome team.'
At the start of the new year, the experience reminded Chris why MAF is needed in the remote communities we serve. 'The missionaries' hard-work and dedication of the missionaries was obvious! If we can make their lives just a little bit easier by bringing them groceries and supplies or helping them out, we’ll bend over backwards to try and make that happen. They have very limited access to the outside world in their villages, so if we can be that outside link, line of communication and friend, we want to do that,' Chris concludes.
The Boma Chief had very warm regards for MAF and gave an open invitation which was great!