It has been encouraging to see how many people are excited about Jessica and I deciding to pursue a career being Pilot Missionaries. It has been humbling to see how many people desire to support us financially and with their prayers; extremely humbling.
In order to let you know a little more about how we made this decision, we have recorded a little of our journey after high school…
Jessica and I met at a small Aeronautical University in Prescott, AZ. Embry-Riddle is an aviator’s dream. Blue skies, 100 mile visibility, over 300 great flying days a year, and a beautiful landscape for miles around! Imagine walking on the campus and seeing a couple hundred men who appear to be trying out as an extra for Top Gun. Motorcycles, Aviator sunglasses, flight jackets, crew cuts. (Now, I should clarify since Embry Riddle has the second largest Air Force ROTC program in the nation. The first being the Air Force Academy in CO.)
Jessica and I developed a passion for aviation in high school, so we attended Embry Riddle with hopes of becoming professional pilots. I, Phil, had chosen to attend Riddle over the Moody Bible Institute because I was interested in missionary flying, but I didn’t want to be pidgeon-holed just in case I wanted to try something different after I was finished. Jess had chosen to fly at Riddle because she couldn’t see herself working in a cubicle. Her goal was to become a corporate pilot, flying business jets and small corporate fleets.
Both of our plans were thrown for a loop as we began to pursue God. Chi Alpha, the only campus ministry at Embry Riddle, is a fun-loving and passionate group of young men and women from all walks of Christianity. Jessica got involved with Chi Alpha her freshman year. It was perfect as she was able to start a new life, away from her life and friends in Reno, and truly learn what it meant to follow Jesus Christ. I, a year younger than Jessica, jumped into Chi Alpha with both feet. Though I had grown up in a Christian home, college was when I was able to spread my wings and make my relationship with God my own, instead of simply holding on to the coattails of my parents.
In Chi Alpha we grew as leaders, as servants, and as disciples of Christ. We learned what it meant to lay down our lives for our friends. We built lasting relationships; relationships that will extend into eternity. (In fact, we just attended a wedding of one of our good friends from Chi Alpha. We met up with some of our other friends and it was like no time had passed. We will always be close!)
Kevin and Kim MacFee, the Chi Alpha campus pastors, taught us what it meant to live a life abandoned unto the will and purposes of God. They had been serving at a church in Ohio and Kevin was a Youth Pastor. He learned of how some of his graduated students had left the faith after they entered into college. It broke his heart so much that he knew he wanted to make a difference in the lives of college students. He moved his family all the way out to AZ, built a modest house with his father-in-law, and they planted themselves in Prescott Valley, AZ. They taught us what it means to sacrifice, to raise godly children, the importance of relationships, and the joy of obedient service to God.
As the few years of college went by, both Jessica and I began to feel God leading us into ministry. We had been gifted by God to lead and to minister in ways that we could not ignore. God had more for us than flying a glorified bus and making a paycheck. We graduated in May 2004 and got married that July. We decided to stick around Prescott for our first year of marriage. We would learn how to be married and help out with Chi Alpha. After leading a short term mission trip to Bangalore, India, we felt that God was leading us to move to Reno (something Jessica always swore she wouldn’t do). Our goal in moving to Reno was to grow in ministry, minister to Jessica’s large extended family, and pray for the city.
We loaded up in December 2005 and drove all day to get to Reno. The second church that we checked out was Summit Christian Church. After the service, we approached the Senior Pastor to meet him and introduce ourselves. After some conversation he asked Jessica what she was going to do in Reno and she said, “I would like to work for a church.” Well, it wasn’t long before they needed someone to fill a position in their small group ministry, so they contacted Jessica and we have been at Summit ever since! Jessica (I can say this because it is never wrong to boast about your wife) is an amazing leader. By the grace of God, and Roger Yount, she helped grow the groups from a little over 10 to over 90 groups. The growth strategy for this ministry was fourfold: leadership training and development, assimilation of church attenders in to small groups, vision casting and information sharing to the church body, and curriculum. To say that she is amazing seems just a little inadequate!
After she had our first child, Adelina Lynnae, and I graduated from The King’s Seminary. I moved into her role overseeing the small group ministry and she moved to a part-time role writing curriculum and shepherding leaders. In the fall, while I was away on a work project, a MAF missionary couple that Summit supports visited the church. God was not done shaking things up. Jessica had the opportunity to speak with the wife and learned that being a Missionary Pilot was an incredible opportunity to serve the Lord. Jessica learned that MAF can also be a great place to raise a family and teach them about different cultures, service, and ministry. Her spirit was stirred by God as she listened to the missionary speak about life, ministry, and their family. So many aspects resonated with Jessica’s spirit. She called me immediately after the church service and said, “We need to talk. We could do this. This may be what God has for us.”
We decided to pray about the opportunity and we looked into what we would need to do to become Missionary Pilots. We weren’t sure if this was God leading us, and things at our church were going extremely well. I was learning more and more about small group ministry and trying to see how we could take things to a new level. Our relationships with our co-workers were, and continue to be, amazing. Why would God call us somewhere else when everything was going so well? I didn’t know, but we just felt the tug like this is where God was calling us.
A friend from Costa Rica came to visit the church and we shared a meal with him. Jessica had told me before he had arrived, “I am going to ask him to tell us what his spiritual gifts are. If he says prophecy, I am going to ask him to pray for us.” Well, what do you think happened? We sat on our couches after the meal and he answered Jessica’s first question by saying, “Prayer, hospitality, teaching, and I don’t like to say it because I don’t want people to think the wrong thing but… prophecy.” After her second question he almost interrupted her and said, “I have been praying for you every Friday since I met you. I fast and pray for you and your family. And, I don’t know why but I feel like God is calling you out. I don’t know what this means but it keeps being repeated. God is calling you out.”
Confirmation. It felt right. We had been feeling this way and then, without any hints or foreknowledge, God uses another person to confirm.
Now was the moment of truth. Do we obey? What will Summit think? Will people understand?
We were still going back and forth, so I told Jessica that I was going to fast and pray at the beginning of January 2011 and wait until God had made it clear. Then, we would obey no matter what it meant. I began my fast on January 2nd, because the 1st was a travelling day. I prayed and waited to hear what God would say. During the week, there was a passage from Luke 4 that came up a number of times; in my times of personal Bible study, from a friend’s reading, and a book that I was reading. Here is what I read…
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
– Luke 4:18-19
You might be thinking, “And?”
But that was it! Over and over. Preach good news, the news that Christ came to die for the sins of all mankind so that they may be free from the punishment that they deserve and be restored to a right and pure relationship with God. Preach this news to the poor. Proclaim freedom, freedom from the broken rules of this world and the lies of the devil. Recover sight to the blind: literally in praying for healing, and metaphorically in exposing the lies of the devil. Release the oppressed and bring them hope. Proclaim that the Lord is willing and able to pour out His favor to those who will turn to Him and trust Him with their lives!
This would be our job as an MAF Missionary Pilots! This is what we long to do!
So, I drove to the MAF headquarters on the fifth day of my fast. I entered the MAF building and I received a tour of the facilities and learned all about the ministry. As we walked through the hangar and I saw the planes I could fly, I felt God speaking to my heart, “This is what I made you to do.” I knew. No doubt. No more questions. I was made-Jess and I were created by God to be missionaries. Where do I sign?
I called Jessica from a Red Robin after I ordered a hamburger (not the best thing to order when you haven’t eaten for five days). “Does this mean that we are moving?” she asked.
“Yes. We are moving.”
We told Steve Bond, our Senior Pastor, and he was even more excited than we were! Turns out, it has always been a dream of his to send out missionaries from Summit. So, we have begun the process of telling our friends and family about our plans. We have registered for school in Michigan so that I can get my Airplane mechanic’s license (A & P, which stands for Airframe and Powerplant). This is because it doesn’t help if I can fly the planes in remote areas if I can’t service them as well!
The future is wide open. We can’t see the end, but we know the road that we are taking will lead us there.
Why Go? Because this is what God has created us to do!