God's Gift of 24 Minutes
My silver van bounced wildly over the potholes in the hospital parking lot as I pounded the steering wheel in frustration.
“Lord, I need your help!!! I need your Holy Spirit to give me peace, and I need it right now!!!”
No sooner had the words left my mouth then I felt a cool sense of peace wash over my troubled soul. As I approached the wrought iron gate and turned left to go toward Georgetown, the fog of confusion that had been clouding my mind all morning, dissipated, and I was able to think clearly. I took a deep breath.
I had been having a very slow start to my day. One thing after another had conspired against me, and before I new it, the clock read 10am, and I hadn’t really launched into my work-day.
The phone rang. I mindlessly picked it up and parroted my standard line. “Hello this is flight base.”
“Hello? Hello? Hello? Is this Captain Ash?
“Yes it is” I responded.
“This is the nurse from Kamarang Hospital, and we just got a radio call from Arau Village. They have a patient that needs to be transported to the hospital.”
My mind snapped to full attention. “Oh no!”, I groaned to myself. “I’m not even remotely ready for a medevac. I’m supposed to fly tomorrow, not today!”
“How old is the patient?” I said as my brain instantly kicked into overdrive.
“Five years old.” Responded the Nurse
“What’s the problem? Why do they need a medevac?” I continued, hoping to find a reason to delay it a day.
“He fell out of a tree yesterday at 3 o’clock and has some deep lacerations. The doctor here at the Kamarang hospital is asking if you can transport him?”
“Ummm”. My mind raced, “Let me call you back”.
I quickly dialed the number for the air traffic controller in Timehri to see if there might be any aircraft in the area that could pop across to Arau and pick up the patient. It was my best option.
But the controller dashed any hope that I had. “No traffic in the area except Hotel Bravo (a Cessna 206) who is shuttling at Ekereku.”
“Hmmmm” I thought to myself. “Even if I were to get ahold of Hotel Bravo, they would need company authorization, the patient would have to be transported over an hour to the airstrip, and this would only work with very close coordination between the health worker and the pilot.” The commercial boys get really antsy when they have to sit on the ground. For them, time is money!
So I hung up and called the nurse back, telling her that we would do the flight.
By now it was 10:20am and I hadn’t even gotten a shower, or was dressed. If we were going to successfully pull this off, we would have to immediately pull our load together, drive out to the airport, load the plane, fuel the plane, flight plan, and get in the air by 1pm.
Fortunately Joy overheard my side of the phone call and silently started putting a lunch together for me. Meanwhile I took world’s quickest showers, and started putting on my pilot uniform. All the while my mind was struggling with my biggest hurdle: What was my load going to look like?
Missionary dollars are so precious, that we can’t afford to squander a single dollar or pound of useful load. Even with medevac emergencies, we try our best to have a load of supplies ready at a moments notice to whisk away to our school in Paruima, or another established project. We really try valiantly to maximize the use of our airplane going both directions.
But this particular morning I only had half a load! I had a suitcase, a sack of potatoes, some screws and hardware, and four empty bottles of propane for Paruima Mission Academy (which still needed to be filled). That was it! The truth of the matter was that I desperately needed to go grocery shopping for one of our missionary families in Kaikan Village which was running short on food, but I simply didn’t have time for that.
By the time I had gathered all my gear, packed my bag, jotted down my tentative load with weights on my knee board, and raced out the door, I knew I was in serious trouble. I was backing the van out of its parking spot, when I glanced nervously at the clock up by my rear view mirror. It was 11am on the dot. My heart sank. There was no, possible way I could do everything I needed to do, and get airborne by 1pm. No way José!!!
So I cried out to the Lord with my desperate need. Much like Peter on the Sea of Galilee, as he was just about to go under. And exactly like Peter, God answered immediately. He gave me exactly what I needed at that very moment. Inner peace.
As I sped off in my van, my mind worked quickly to come up with a plan of action.
Clearly I couldn’t do much without withdrawing some money from the bank. So that was my first stop. Fortunately the traffic wasn’t so bad, and made it down to Scotia bank in a reasonable amount of time. The drive through also happened to be open, so I didn’t even have to get out of the van. Three withdrawals later and I was on my way.
The next stop wasn’t so easy to figure out. Food and weight were my most pressing needs. So I decided to hit the potato outlet, to buy another 50 pound sack of potatoes for the missionaries in Kaikan. One problem. I didn’t remember where exactly the place was located, so I ended up driving past it the first time, and having to loop back through traffic. Second problem. To my dismay, I couldn’t find a parking spot close by, so I had to park over half a block away and run for it. It was so far in fact that the man carrying my potatoes for me, wondered where in the world I was going.
With each stop I was slowly moving my way toward Ogle airport. As I passed by the Guyana Conference Office, I was impressed to stop and pick up some devotional books for Alex Trapeznikov, our volunteer Russian carpenter, in Kaikan. I was sorely tempted to keep driving, but how could I pass by when I was so close? I shrugged. “Hey! I’m so late anyway, what’s a few more minutes?“
Now was the time to hit the grocery store for a few more staple items like flour and pasta. I couldn’t get everything on the list, but at least I could get large and easy items. I parked in front of Survival Supermarket, and crossed the street. I hadn’t noticed when I drove up, but the place was shuttered up, and there was a security guard in front of the door. I stopped short in surprise. “Why are you guys closed?” The guard responded, “They’re checking the inventory today. But you can go to our other branch in Vlissengen Road” Sigh… More minutes down the tube.
The biggest part of my load was my next stop. Alex had weeks before asked for a couple sacks of cement to plaster the bottom part of the Administration building in our new bible school in Kaikan. At 94 lbs each, I calculated that two bags would fill out my load just perfect. I had to place each sack in a black garbage bag to keep the cement dust from coating the inside of my car, and airplane
The hardware store was just a few doors down from the gas station where I picked up my fuel. Again I groaned. There was a line of cars ahead of me, and I had no choice but to patiently wait my turn. After what seemed like an eternity, the cars pulled forward and I made it up to the pump. As the gas attendant filled my gas jugs, I had a little more time to think about my next stop. All of a sudden I realized, to my dismay that I couldn’t fill our propane bottles at the Guyoil gas station, like I’d hoped. They were specialized; carbon fiber, lightweight tanks, and only a few stores offered these. So from the gas station, I had to backtrack three more blocks to a small Mom & Pop store that had these bottles.
Again, nobody seemed to be in any particular hurry, and when I rolled up the owners were helping several other customers ahead of me. I stood conspicuously close and waited for them to look my way. When I finally caught the eye of the person inside (pilot uniforms are great for getting attention!), I quietly and calmly informed them that we wanted four composite style propane bottles. The attendant disappeared into the back. Before too long he came back wheeling a dolly and four bottles of propane precariously balanced on top. I cringed as I imagined what might happen if he dropped one of those pressurized bottles on the cement. We loaded all four bottles onto the back seat of the van, and I was off like a bullet.
By now I knew I was getting close to being ready to head for Ogle Airport, but I remembered that I hadn’t got my flour or pasta yet. This was my last opportunity since there were no grocery outlets close to the airport. So I drove around a few more blocks to a store I don’t frequently patronize, and dashed up to the entrance. Both cashiers looked startled when I rushed in and blurted out “Do you have a 10 kilogram sack of flour?!”. A few seconds later, my request finally registered, and one of them calmly walked down an isle, and showed me where it was located. I snatched a sack and seven packs of pasta since it was close by. Miraculously, the store was empty, and a few minutes later I was on my way to Ogle Airport.
Every flight out of Ogle Airport requires a paper copy of your flight plan. This isn’t hard to do, but takes about 7-8 minutes. After coming through the front gate you drive straight up to the terminal building, find a temporary parking spot. It’s simple. You breeze straight through security, saying hello to the surprised security guards, and dash up two flights of stairs to the control tower to fill out the appropriate form. That done, you hurriedly retrace your steps, being careful not to stumble and fall down the steps, or knock anyone over in your haste.
Last stop: Wings Aviation Hangar. Up to this point I hadn’t even been following the clock. What’s the point?! It would just make more frustrated, making me less efficient. But now I needed to know how much time I had left. The clock read 12:35pm
“Hmmm…” I thought to myself. “Not bad! It will be very tight to get airborne by 1pm. I don’t think I can do it, but even if I’m a couple minutes late, I think I still have enough time to do everything and make it back to Ogle. Praise God!”
By now I was in complete “cruise control” mode. I knew exactly how to load, and fuel the plane since I had done it countless times before.
When I took to the sky, the tower informed me that my “off time” was 1:14pm. I didn’t think much of it at the time. I quickly jotted it down on my kneeboard, and hurriedly worked out my flight plan estimates.
But by the end of the day as I was descending out of altitude with my little patient and his family on board, I was reflecting over the events leading up to the flight.
I was puzzled… How in the world could I do everything that I did in 2 hours and 14 minutes and get in the air? It really didn’t make sense. It was such a conundrum that I jotted down all the stops that I made, and scribbled ridiculously conservative times next to them. Even with this I still had 24 minutes that were unaccounted for.
Honestly, I don’t know what happened… Maybe I didn’t see the clock correctly. Or maybe the Lord pushed my “fast forward” button when the world continued on as normal. Or maybe He just gave me another 24 minutes as a freebie, kind of like Joshua. I can’t say for sure. But I’m very thankful that he heard my prayer and came to my rescue.
Psalms 34:15 “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and His ear is open to their cry.”