I know it has been a long time since I've written and told you how things are going here in Venezuela. It's been hectic and more stressful than I like, ha!
We are still working on obtaining permits to buy auto gas. However, through all of this I can see God working to protect and help us to hold on and I believe that He is in control.
Here is a little update since the plane started flying the end of November. I have flown over 370 hours, taking 125 patients out to the hospital and 65 back home. (Some are still recovering and others walked back.) Also medical teams have been flown into 20 villages where over 1,000 people have been treated.
Flights have been made to take malaria teams into various villages so they could spray the mosquitoes and help control the outbreak of malaria.
Besides the medical work I've flown radio technicians into 3 villages to install new radios, providing a means of communication when someone needs help without someone having to walk for hours to a village that has a radio. Then there have been flights to move lay workers and pastors from village to village.
Now, let me tell you about yesterday, which illustrates the way so many of my days go. I had a short flight leaving at 8:00 to take a patient home and drop off the technician to install another radio. I planned to be home long before noon and get caught up with the paper work—ugh! The radio tech was late, but finally got here. By the time we arrived at Uricima the winds had picked up and I landed with a 20 knot tail wind, as I didn't want to come in over the trees to land.
I left him with the radio and headed on to the village of Wonken with the recovered patient—just a 10 minute hop. By the time I returned the gusting winds had increased, so I came in over the trees, dropping down over the ridge to land—a bit tricky. I climbed out of the plane and learned that no one had cut a pole on which to mount the antenna. It took time to find a tree, cut a pole, and then dig the hole—you get the picture.
About this time a call came in—a patient in Kamu who had a severe leg infection. I wasn't thrilled about flying into that village because it is a poor excuse for a strip. Radio installed we returned to Santa Elena where I quickly refueled and loaded recovered patients needing a flight home to Parquapi, as I'd be flying that direction. Parquapi is one of the most difficult strips I fly into, and I thanked God that the winds were calm as I landed. Then I flew on to Kamu, where the strip is like landing in a goldfish bowl. When landing there's a mountain in front with a big hill on either side and two hills on the approach end. One has to side slip the airplane down between the hills to land on what some term a strip! Taking off is also very difficult and challenging.
Before reaching Kamu I got another SOS call. In Awaruka a baby was having convulsions and a mother was asking for the airplane. So, after loading the man with the infected leg I turned toward Awaruka. This strip is a bit better, but very short. Upon arriving I found a strong tail wind the direction best to land, so I had to come in from the other way over the trees.
On my way to Awaruka I received yet another radio call, this time from the village of Kamarata. A boy had fallen with a machete in his hand, and his arm was cut very deeply. So, after helping the mother and baby into the airplane I took off to pick up this boy. At least the strip at Kamarata is a good, long one. I just have to watch out for the holes in it!
With the plane full of patients I lifted off and headed for Santa Elena. Our radio operator, who organizes all the calls and communicates with me, said he'd arrange for an ambulance to be at the airport. However, upon landing I didn't see anything resembling our ambulance vehicles. I checked in by radio and was informed it would be there in about 3 minutes. Forty-five minutes later one did drive up. (About half the time we use our pick up to transport patients to the hospital, but this day it wasn't available, so I had to wait.) Finally I could fuel up and head home to find something to eat. By now it was after 5:00 and I sure was hungry!
We need to change out a few more instruments in the airplane because the older ones are giving out. They should already be at the shop so next time I fly up for 50 hour maintenance they can be switched. Also I now have the wing extensions to be installed. This will make it easier and safer flying in and out of the short strips.
Time is short and things won't get easier, so we must do what we can right now. Soon we'll be going HOME, and what a day that will be! God is able to protect His work and we will continue as long as He sees fit. I must go now. Again I'd planned to tackle the paperwork, but a call has come in so I'm off to pick up patients. Remember you are a part of the AMA team when you stop and pray for us. There is great power in prayer. Thanks for your prayers and support.
Bob & Neiba