A landmark voyage for MAF in Liberia is underway today (13 August 2015) as two of the team - Country Director Emil Kundig and Pilot Arjan Paas - begin a 5-day trip across 11 countries to ferry the programme's first aircraft from Uganda to Liberia.
The Cessna Caravan aircraft underwent a complex overhaul and re-registration during the last 12 months including a repaint, the interior replaced, the avionics brought up to date, in preparation for deployment to become our lifeline in Liberia.
The ferry journey will take 20 flight hours in total stopping overnight at Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), then on to Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo for another overnight, landing in Yaoundé in Cameroon, then Accra in Ghana and finally arriving in Monrovia in Liberia on Monday 17 August.
Overcoming the hurdles
Despite challenges over the last few days, especially waiting for countries to grant us the necessary over-flight permissions, Emil's and Arjan’s patience and planning paid off. Finally, yesterday they heard the good news: 'We have received permission from Liberia, so they are waiting for our arrival on Monday!'
And Liberia has waited for MAF a lot longer than these five days. It’s also no wonder Emil Kundig has learnt to relax about authorisations like these after the last year of waiting for God’s door to open for him in Liberia. While waiting for the Ebola crisis to end in Liberia, they both served here working on various licences, training and accrue further experience ready for the time they could start their mission in Liberia.
Emil and Arjan shared with me about their initial call to move to Liberia.
Calling to Liberia
Emil and his wife Margrit were driven by a clear sense of knowing that, one day, they would be called to help open a programme within MAF somewhere. Their time had come to an end serving in Bangladesh and they decided to move to Liberia in 2013. At the same time, Arjan and Artje Paas were happily living in Australia when they heard that MAF hadn't had any applicants for Liberia. They too felt a peace about moving to this far distant, West African nation. Arjan explained, 'We wanted to start in a new programme. We felt at home in Australia after 2 years of living there. We thought many people would want to apply for Liberia when the positions opened up and were surprised that no one had applied….we thought, "Maybe we should go."'
The right time
As Emil and Margrit were preparing to leave for Liberia last year, the Ebola crisis erupted. They were watching the news unravel and could see everyone was being evacuated. Emil’s initial role as Country Director would have been to work on all the necessary permissions to enable operations to start, and that have would have involved a lot of work with government departments. But as Ebola took hold all the day-to-day government business was being shut down. 'In light of everything we needed to do towards setting up the programme, we made the difficult decision to delay going.' So the Kundig and Paas families came to Uganda instead – waiting for the right time.
Emil told me, 'I couldn't have sat waiting for the plane to be registered while in Liberia. All these delays with registration and Ebola showed that God’s hand was upon it. I feel as though everyone in Liberia has lost a year. The children weren't able to go to school for a whole year, the government wasn't able to function, MAF was also put on hold.'
The time was certainly not all wasted though as Emil went on to explain. 'I have been able to work on getting an engineering licence and a pilot licence conversion while in Uganda.' Arjan also added that he had gained more experience flying the Caravan during this time and was also able to help out in South Sudan for a few months. 'It’s nice to see the different programmes so you can take the best procedure from each and implement them in Liberia… and together we will have to figure out what’s best for Liberia.'
Winds of change
Once Ebola came under control, the Kundigs moved to Liberia in February and were joined by the Paas family in June. Emil commented, 'Things have been falling into place… Liberia is very different… West Africa is completely different to East Africa. It’s also had war just 10 years ago, then Ebola…it’s a very broken country. Liberia needs help.'
Emil went on to say something poignant about the wind changing for both Liberia and Uganda in the last few weeks. 'It feels as though we've entered into a season of things finally moving. It reminds me of what our pastor in Liberia was talking about recently. A time of barrenness doesn't have to be a curse from God. It can be a season of reflection or a season of putting things into order.' Please pray for their flight home. We also thank God for this new season for Liberia.