Lisa & Jonathan with (L to R): Evelyne & Isaiah (6), Aaron & Noah (2) & Solomon (4) (credit: Lisa Blomberg)
Since MAF undertook its very first flight in Guinea, West Africa, a year ago, the programme has made progress under new MAF Guinea Country Director Lisa Blomberg who arrived in-country with her husband – MAF pilot Jonathan Blomberg – last August. The dynamic duo chat to MAF’s Claire Gilderson about their new life in Guinea with their five children in tow
Lisa and Jonathan live a life less ordinary.
With Lisa growing up in LA and Jonathan in Lesotho, little did they know their paths would cross in eastern DRC many years later in 2012 when Lisa was a project manager for Samaritan’s Purse and Jonathan was a pilot for MAF.
After more than a decade of flying for MAF in war-torn, dangerous countries including the DRC and Haiti – and eventually starting a family – the Blombergs needed a change of scene.
In 2019, the couple moved to Turkey with their first three children – Isaiah and Evelyne (twins) and baby Solomon. Jonathan took a break from flying and took up illustration. Lisa did humanitarian work.
The dynamic duo – Lisa & Jonathan Blomberg (credit: Lisa Blomberg)
Four years later, with another set of twins in tow (Aaron and Noah), they came across the story of MAF’s first operational flight in Guinea, which piqued their interest. Given their heart for Muslim people, fluency in French, experience and passion for aviation, Lisa felt that God was calling them:
‘Guinea seemed to fit. It truly sparked something inside of us. After living in in war-torn, challenging countries, we knew we could live and raise our children in Guinea – a peaceful country with beautiful people where we could use our skills and passions to serve and bring help, hope and healing through aviation.’
Lisa Blomberg – MAF Guinea Country Director
With MAF, Kissidougou can be reached in under 2 hrs from Conakry instead of 15 hrs by road (credit: Dave Forney)
One hour flight or 10-hour drive?
Journeys outside of Guinea’s coastal capital, Conakry, are long and arduous says Jonathan:
‘On average, it’s probably one’s hour’s flight for 10 hours by road. From Conakry, Labe is one hour by air and anywhere between 10 and 15 hours by road. Nzerekore is just over a two-hour flight but takes at least two days to drive there. Kissidougou is a 12 / 15-hour drive but just under two hours by air. By road, it takes a long time for people to get anywhere.
‘ Also, in the rainy season, many locations in the north and north east of the country are unreachable by road.’
Thanks to the couple’s hard work, alongside their capable team of Guinean staff, there’s now two regular scheduled flights every week. The northern route serves the cities of Labe and Kankan, and the south eastern route serves the cities of Nzerekore and Kissidougou.
Lisa & Jonathan with their ‘capable’ team in Conakry (credit: Lisa Blomberg)
In additional to these two regular flights, there’s an average of one charter flight every other week, sometimes more. As MAF’s reputation grows across Guinea, so will the demand for flights.
MAF enables reforestation and malaria prevention
To date, MAF Guinea has around 25 registered partners and counting. Flights are varied with passengers working in a range of sectors including church /evangelism, health, development, education and the environment.
Frequent fliers include Mission Philafricaine, Pioneers Bible Translators, Mission Partners for Christ, Serving in Mission (SIM), The Protestant Church of Guinea, arboRise, Resonate Global Mission, Catholic Relief Services and Hope Education.
In February, MAF flew a team from arboRise – a tree planting charity which tackles deforestation – to Nzerekore in the south east. MAF’s new two-hour shuttle service from Conakry saved them an exhausting two-day drive.
That same month, MAF flew a team from Catholic Relief Services to Kankan in the north east to oversee a malaria prevention and awareness project, which provides mosquito nets to women and children. MAF’s two-hour hour flight saved them one day of road travel.
Lisa and Jonathan have made great gains since setting foot in Guinea, but setting up MAF operations in unchartered territory has been far from easy.
Jonathan Blomberg is MAF Guinea’s only pilot (credit: Lisa Blomberg)
Paving the way with prayer
Following a rotation of short-term pilots, Jonathan – MAF’s only pilot in Guinea – is finally back in the skies full-time, just in time for the five-month rainy season!
In order to meet rigorous regulations and health and safety requirements, Jonathan has had to undertake refresher training in Uganda and the US. He’s also had to increase his flight hours, following his five-year hiatus from flying.
Lisa is strengthening relationships with government officials, aviation bodies and partners, building the MAF Guinea team and navigating a myriad of contracts and policies for MAF to successfully operate.
Prayer makes all the difference! (credit: Lisa Blomberg)
Unsurprisingly, the pair are working flat out. How do they do it in another culture, a foreign language in 34-degree heat? Lisa explains:
‘It takes a lot of patience and resilience! It starts with prayer – praying for God to send us the right team. Then we focus on team building and staff care – a healthy team is essential! We are passionate about building capacity and strengthening our staff. We are learning alongside them as we serve.
‘Next – putting systems and procedures in place for how to function is essential! As a registered charity in Guinea, we have to abide by local regulations. Everything from government relations to HR and finance, to aircraft safety – there is never a shortage of things to do!’
Prayer has certainly paid off – the MAF Guinea team now comprises of seven local Christians. Lisa is delighted:
‘In the last few months, we have recruited four office staff and three airport staff. They are all local and love Jesus. They have a wide range of professional experience and we are so grateful for the team that God has given us to lead, teach and train.’
Most of the MAF Guinea team joined this year. From L to R: Rose Loua, Etienne Oulare, Ibrahima Kante, Thomas Millimono, Lisa Blomberg, Marguerite Kantambadouno, Joel Conte, Ce Maomy & Jonathan Blomberg (credit: Lisa Blomberg)
‘Things just don’t work in the way we expect them to’
Lisa and Jonathan are no strangers to living and working in low-income countries where development and progress are slow. With every small win, a setback lurks around the corner:
‘Probably the biggest challenge we have here is that things just don’t work in the way we expect them to. We’ve had water pipes burst, electricity issues and internet woes – two out of three big things in our lives that don’t work at any given time.
‘Just when you think you’ve solved one problem, another one comes along. That’s life! These are typical stressors of African living.’
General sickness is also prevalent, which impacts work and homelife says Jonathan:
‘At least three of our staff are currently off sick – their kids have medical issues and our kids are sick too! The air quality is really unhealthy for everybody. Health is a big one.’
Juggling a large family and setting boundaries
Aside from all the challenges of setting up a new MAF programme in a developing country, the couple also care for their five children under the age of ten: six -year-old twins Isaiah and Evelyne, four-year-old Solomon and two-year old twins Aaron and Noah! Again, how do they do it? Lisa smiles:
‘God! We ask for help! We have an incredible support team of four who help our kids learn French, play after school, and support the running of our household.
‘When the kids get home from school, they have downtime then tutoring / homework time because they are in the French school system – a local Franco-Guinean private school, which is quite intense. As soon as they are done with that, Jonathan and I take a break and try and have family time from 4 / 4.30pm. In the evenings, we play together, swim together, eat together and read books together, so we have a regular rhythm with our kids.
‘Thank God for the community of Guinean brothers and sisters around us!’
For Jonathan, it just mirrors what he grew up with in Lesotho with his parents:
‘Growing up overseas, you realise that having people in your home is just a part of life and similar to other cultures. We take an ‘open doors’ approach – we’ve always had people in our home.’
MAF’s Guinea office gets very busy with staff, visitors & friends (credit: Lisa Blomberg)
It can however get pretty hectic admits Jonathan:
‘A start-up programme takes a lot more energy and time. There’s always lots of work and trying to find that work/life balance with five little kids and both of us trying to do our jobs is a challenge.
‘Our annex is both our office and our guest house, so right now our house is just full of non-stop visitors – staff, friends, whoever! Everything is mixed together right now so having boundaries is essential.’
In it for the long run
Lisa agrees with Jonathan:
‘It’s been very intense. Setting healthy boundaries is the only way we can be sustainable. We are here for as long as we can be, not just a year or two. For all our sakes, we want to really invest and engage with the local community. I never want to move again!’
The Blombergs want to ‘invest and engage’ in Guinea ‘long term’ (credit: Dave Forney)
As Lisa looks back on the first year of the MAF Guinea programme, she contemplates the future:
‘The biggest achievement is receiving consistent flight permissions, which was a huge answer to prayer, but there is still much to be done to establish procedures and systems that set the foundation for a successful programme moving forward.
‘Ideally, we’d like to recruit a pilot engineer and a pilot ops person for the long term, plus another two support staff during the start-up season over the next six months.
‘We also want to serve more partners that we haven’t yet been able to serve.’
Lisa ends as she began – emphasising the importance of prayer:
‘Thank you so much for your prayers as we embark upon this journey, trusting that God has us and MAF in Guinea, and that he will make a way forward when it feels like there isn’t any way forward. We are so grateful to be here and to be a part of this team that seeks to be His light wherever we go.’
Lisa Blomberg – MAF Guinea Country Director