All posts by Phil & Jess Vana

Changes

Our 2+ years of life in Indonesia (and 3 years with MAF) have been an incredible time for our family. We have rubbed shoulders with people from all walks of life, learned a new language, seen some of the most remote jungle landscapes still untouched by humanity, and experienced a host of new foods and adventures.  We have built and enjoyed precious relationships with Indonesian friends as well as MAF colleagues who have been more like family than friends. Every place we’ve been, we have purposed to love people with Christ’s love and re-present the gospel of peace.

When we began our journey with MAF, our intention was to make a long-term career serving overseas as long as the Lord would allow. We have invested a lot to get to this point. Others have also invested a lot and, in every step, we’ve felt God’s guidance, provision, and blessing. Once we finished language school and arrived to the program in Tarakan we experienced the fulfillment of all our hard work. And the work of MAF was everything we could have hoped for. I, Phil, had to pinch myself most days because I couldn’t believe I was getting to live my dreams and be a part of the Great Commission in this capacity.

However, the journey came with a high cost. Honestly, we felt we had counted the cost and were ready to spend our lives in this way. In the last two years, we’ve walked through several of the hardest things we never could have imagined or expected: a serious (and very scary) lung infection for Jeremiah in language school, intense and severe battles with intestinal worms for our kids, a devastating miscarriage followed by a two very scary medical procedures for Jess and a trip to Singapore, and a handful of other very challenging things for our family.  This past six months, however, was an absolute deluge of traumas which we will not delineate here.  The most traumatic of which was the seizure our son Jeremiah experienced.  In addition to this, the daily stresses of life overseas began to take a hard toll on our family and after prayer, counsel, and professional marriage and family therapy, we’ve decided, for the health and well being of our family, to return to the US. We are united as a family and there are not any issues regarding sin, but we are dealing with an extended period of stress and trauma that is negatively affecting our health.  With heavy but hopeful hearts we are closing this chapter of service overseas with MAF.  We are moving home to the US to pursue whatever the Lord has next for our family.  Our heart still beats with passion for the cause of Christ and that will never change; it’s who we are.

I remember back in Seminary I took a class called, “The Pastor as a Person” in which we examined how often in ministry we are so focused on the spiritual aspects of life, that we often neglect the human side of ourselves: our mental, physical, and emotional health.  In the case of our coming home to America to heal and recover, we are realistically and in humility acknowledging our limits as persons and choosing to put our family as our first ministry.  We trust God to continue the good work He is doing in and through MAF and we will forever champion that cause.  It is forever a part of us and we will continue to love and cheer for the ministry of MAF and our friends who continue to serve Him there.

We know that you have been standing with us since the beginning and we would appreciate your ongoing prayers for our family. We are confident God will meet us in this vulnerable place and buoy our hearts in this difficult time. Thank you for your understanding and love for our family.  And thank you each and all for being a part of one of the most precious seasons in our ministry career.  As always, we love you.

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Unusual Cargo

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As MAF we fill a wide range of needs as we serve all around the world. Sometimes we are busy doing relief work in a country when disasters strikes. Sometimes we support the local church, missionaries, and other Christian workers in order to bring the light of Christ to the remotest reaches. Sometimes we are providing the simple service of safe and quick transportation from one place to another. Sometimes we fly all sorts of animals, including pigs, chickens, snakes, alligators, etc… Sometimes we are doing medical evacuation from remote villages to hospital in order to save lives. Sometimes we have the privilege and honor to help people in their darkest times. This was my job last week.

I was preparing to go to work the day in the hangar. I had flown three of the past four days and it was time to turn wrenches. I received the call from one of our hangar workers. An older gentleman had died at the hospital in a small town called Malinau. The family was requesting that we help them bring the body back to his home town to be buried with his family. While there are exceptions, it is common practice in Indonesia to bury a body within 24 hours of death. This is partly for hygenic reasons and partly because of the practices of Islam. The family I would be serving was a Christian family and I jumped at the chance to be able to serve them in this difficult time.

The weather, however, was not cooperating. When I arrived at the airport, the chief pilot called me on the radio. He was already flying and reported that the clouds were thick and low. There was widespread rain showers and he had to go way out of his way in order to arrive at Malinau, my initial destination. I finished getting the plane ready and then waited at the airport for the weather to improve. After 3 hours of waiting and catching up on paperwork, I received news that the weather in Malinau and Long Bawan, the destination for this man’s final resting place, had improved.

I did some last minute prep and then then took off for Malinau. It was a beautiful day and I could see how the bad weather was moving off to the north. I arrived at the airport in Malinau after 30 minutes and was met with a crowd of about 60 people. They were friends, family, and a local pastor. They brought out the casket, which was quite a task since it weighed over 450 pounds. It took 8 men to pick it up and load it in the plane. I quietly went about my duties while they loaded. After the casket was loaded and secured, a local pastor prayed for the people, the family, and the flight to Long Bawan. After the prayer, I joined one of the family members in the plane and flew off to Long Bawan.

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It was a sobering flight because of the grief I could see in the face of my passenger. I was praying for the family, and also praying for the weather. I was dodging clouds and picking my way between them in order to stay clear and make it safely to Long Bawan. After about 15 minutes, the route opened up over a large river and I was able to make it without incident. We were met by a smaller crowd of friends and family when we arrived in Long Bawan. After I shut down the engine, I got out of the plane and let the people go about removing the casket. I could see they were having some trouble getting the casket out of the plane, so I climbed up behind the pilot’s seat and helped lift the front of the casket so they could maneuver it out of the rear door. Once the casket was out, we had to install the seats quickly because I needed to return to Malinau and retrieve the rest of the family before the weather closed the way.

I took off before the rain came into Long Bawan and I was praying that the shower wouldn’t be too big and would pass before I came back. I made it back to Malinau in 30 minutes and we loaded up the rest of the family. I am pretty sure the man’s wife was in this second load. I felt a bit of pressure to get the family out to join the casket, but I knew that being safe is always the best option. So, we took off with a prayer and made our way out to Long Bawan. There were a few more rain showers and I could see that I would need to approach Long Bawan from the south, instead of a little to the north. We made it through with ease, and with a little plane wash from the rain. The family was very grateful that I was able to get them all safely to Long Bawan. The flight home was sweet and a little sad. It is always hard to face death and to see these people who have lived hard lives. There is no doubt they have fought for all they have. But, it is also cool to see the legacy that they will leave behind as a result of their hard work.

As we serve here in Indonesia with MAF, it is such a blessing to be the hands and feet of Jesus in practical ways when people need us. Thank you for being a part of a bigger story!

JESSICA UPDATE:

Jessica was laid out sick for about a week, but this too has passed. We have no idea what she had, but she is back to her spunky, awesome, encouraging, and loving ways! The kids and I, especially me, are glad she is doing well. Thanks so much for your prayers for her and for our family. God bless!

Ride Along

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Jessica, Solomon, and Eli had to go on a surprise trip to Jakarta to renew Jessica’s passport, which left me flying solo with Adelina and Jeremiah. I was planning to take Friday off to hang out with the kiddos, but we had a request for a medical flight and it would greatly help out another pilot who was trying to fill a second medical request. Then, someone mentioned I could take my kids along since the flight wouldn’t be full. Sounds like a plan!

So, Adelina and Jeremiah got to go on their first MAF flights with their dad. They were so excited! When I picked them up on Thursday and told them they were going to go on a flight, they couldn’t wait for Friday. I had told Adelina about eating monkey a few months back and she has asked about getting to go to the village so she can try it too. Turns out, we were going to be going to that same village and that news just increased her excitement.

Friday morning rolled around and they packed up their backpacks. They each brought some snacks and a water bottle and we headed to the airport. There was a little disappointed that it took Dad 30 minutes to get the plane ready, but they hung in there. Then, we had to stop at the little kiddo’s room because there isn’t one on our little planes…yet. But, we finally started up the engine and they were amazed at everything. They loved using the headsets. Jeremiah kept asking, “Can you hear me?” I gave Adelina my phone so she could take pictures and J got to hold on to my binoculars. When we took off, I heard Adelina say, “There we go. We took off, J.” They kept telling me how much they loved flying.

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10 minutes later it was time for some quick thinking. It wasn’t quite “Are we there yet” time, but we were getting close. The flight was going to be 60 minutes long. So, we played guessing games about animals and I Spy. (This was tough since they were sitting well below the window and could basically see only clouds and sky) I finally reached back for the phone and set them up with a movie (without sound) for the last 25 minutes of the flight.

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We arrived in a village called Long Bawan, loaded up with another passenger, and left for Binuang. Upon arrival, we unloaded and everyone was excited to meet some of my kids. There were about 10-15 children from the village all huddled together. They were too shy to come close, but they were all staring and laughing. My friend, Kalvin, who fed me the last time I came through, met me at the plane and I asked him if he had seen any monkeys lately. He said his friend had caught one just the other day! It was a baby monkey. We weren’t going to eat monkeys, but at least we could see one! We walked to his house and he brought the monkey out so we could see it and pet it. The kids were stoked. Then, Kalvin said, “He wants to give it to you. Do you want it?” Hmmmmm. Good question. My first thought was, “Yes.” My second thought was, “Where would I put it?” The overriding thought was, “What would Jessica say?” Without being rude, I explained that I didn’t have a place to keep the monkey, but I would ask my wife about it. (Yeah, you could guess how that went over with Jess!)

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It began to rain so we ran to Kalvin’s house and he offered us fried bananas and warm tea. Jeremiah, who had eaten his snack in the first 10 minutes of the flight and then kept asking for something else to eat, just about devoured half the container. His mouth and hands were covered in the red seasoning they put on the bananas. The kids had a blast watching the rain and just hanging out in the house. Jeremiah sat on my lap almost the entire time and Adelina kept sneaking over the kitchen to see what the ladies were doing. We got a chance to try on a traditional Dayak hat (with a long feather and a monkey skull on it) and a bone necklace made of snake vertebrae and wild boar tusks. (see below) After eating a little lunch, the rain stopped and we loaded up the plane. It turned out that the medical flight had been cancelled and a new flight had been ordered, so we had to make a stop on the way home.

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We returned home without a hitch and it was such a fun day for all of us. The kids got to fly in the plane, pet a monkey, hold a puppy, eat all sorts of new and yummy treats in Binuang, and then we came home and I made pizza for dinner! And let me tell you, it was some of the best pizza I have every made. I had lugged 6 lbs of mozzarella back from the US, not to mentioned some linguisa (a Portuguese sausage), as well as plenty of other cheese and it helped make some awesome pizza. The kids even said it was the best pizza ever! Who am I to complain?

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Jessica had quite the time in Jakarta. It was no small feat to travel 2 out of 3 days, as well as visit the US embassy in Jakarta, not to mention the fact that she had an infant and a toddler! But, she made it back to us with a few goodies as well. The only problem now is that she seems to have contracted a pretty bad bug. We are hoping and praying for the best, but she is showing signs of Dengue Fever. Indonesians refer to this as Break-Bone Fever because it makes your bones ache like crazy, along with some other rough symptoms. Please pray for Jessica when you think about us. She was in bed most of the day and the sickness is getting worse. Please pray that God would heal her tonight!!!

Thank you and we love you all. God bless!

 

Back In The Sky

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We made it safely back to Indonesia, sans 2 violins that are riding around in a random airport shuttle in Jakarta, and it has been a little crazy. Dealing with jet-lag is no joke, and that is just ME, not to mention the four little people! We moved to a slightly larger house…I mean, we are mov(ing) the larger house and the transition continues. Jess is getting ready to homeschool Adelina and teach the boys some fun preschool things.  We have been reconnecting with our MAF teammates, the local Indonesian workers, and the people we serve in the interior villages of Borneo. I even received a warm welcome at the local market! Oh, and I am back to work at the hangar and in the sky! WooHoo!

I can’t tell you how many days I read about the need here in Borneo while we in the US, and I couldn’t wait to get back into the air and begin serving the people again. It has been a blast.

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I had to do a refresher flight with the chief pilot and I am so glad I did! It was a good flight and I was able to knock off a lot of the rust from not flying for almost 5 months! We flew to 5 different strips and landed at each one at least once. I was able to satisfy my MSG addiction at the small airport restaurant with some soto ayam, an Indonesian chicken soup with chicken, rice, a hard boiled egg, fried onions, and I love to add the homemade hot sauce called sambal. It has been great to see all of the people who help us load, unload, and fuel the planes. I love to see the children at certain air strips gather behind the airplane to feel the prop wash when we run-up the engine before take-off!

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After the refresher flight, I flew solo the next day. My main cargo for the day included rice, 3 motorcycles, 3 live chickens, some toys for a newborn, and clothes. Our ability to carry cargo is especially helpful for the people who live in remote and isolated areas of Borneo.

A perk of the job is getting to hone my skills on air strips that are pretty unique. Many of the strips are not paved and I get to see how the wheels behave on dirt, grass, rocks, and a blend of each. Sometimes there is a little mud and it splashes up on the plane. It is amazing how well-built and versatile these little planes are and how well they perform the way we need them to perform.

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So, we are all adjusting and working hard to find a rhythm for life and work. We appreciate all of the support, prayers, and encouragement we have received. We could not do this without the huge number of people who have gone before us, and the huge group of people behind us. Thank you for your love. We are so grateful to be here and to have this opportunity to live this adventure. It isn’t easy! Not by a long shot. But it is worth it!

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!

2 Corinthians 4:17

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10 Days and Counting

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We are heading back to Indonesia on August 13th! We were waiting for Eli’s visa and received word that we may have to wait even longer. Then, we decided to just bring him in on a shorter visa since we have to renew all of our visas in October. So, because of the quick thinking of some our fellow MAF employees, we get to return in just a matter a days! And, boy, are we excited!!!

Continue reading 10 Days and Counting

When Are You Leaving?

 

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Birthday Boy

Great question!!!

Our original, planned departure date was July 9th. As you may be aware, this date has passed and we are still in the US. The reason for this is we are waiting for Eli Crew’s visa. No one was planning for it to take this long, but we have hope that it will be resolved soon. The life of working overseas is always filled with the unexpected. This is probably why we learned early on to be F.A.T. (Flexible, Available, and Teachable) We’ve got the flexible part down, but it sure does take its toll. Continue reading When Are You Leaving?

Whirlwind Month

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Over the course of 25 days, we…

…rode on 11 airplanes, anywhere from 1 hour to 7 1/2 hours.

…traveled through Balikpapan, Jakarta, Tokyo, Seattle, Boise, Denver, Raleigh, Charlotte, Jackson, Dallas, and ended up in Reno.

…slept in 6 different beds.

…visited/met with over 100 people.

…spoke at a new supporting church in Raleigh, NC.

…ate bacon…a lot of bacon!

…dedicated Solomon on our first Sunday back at our home church, Summit Christian Church.

…shared sickness as a family with a trip to Urgent Care and a trip to the ER.

…and found out we will be bringing our little baby boy into the light of day early because a pregnancy condition called cholestasis. Continue reading Whirlwind Month

New Happenings

We have been flying for a few weeks now and it has been an exciting time. I have started my official checkout after spending a few weeks doing ride-along flights. I learned how to handle the paperwork and how to communicate on the radio. (To be honest, I am still getting used to the accent and common reports asked for by the Tarakan tower, but I am doing better than before.) Now, I have had the opportunity to handle the controls, navigate to the airports in a region called the Krayan, and learned to land at some of the “beginner level” airstrips. (These airstrips still have challenges but they are longer and allow for a little more margin of error.)

photo 2When I begin flying solo, I will have a set schedule each day.We head out to one of the larger, paved strips called Long Bawan. After this, I will fly out to some of the smaller villages that surround Long Bawan. Then, I will either take the passengers out to Long Bawan or to Malinau, which is about halfway between Long Bawan and Malinau. These flight days can last from 7 am to 5 pm, though I am limited to 4 pm when I first start flying by myself as a safety margin.

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photo 3For now, I have been flying with two of the instructor pilots and getting acclimated with some of the airstrips. The first strip we checked out is in Long Layu. This strip is almost a half a mile long with a grass/dirt surface. It is pretty level and fairly wide. One of the fun challenges is that the final approach course when landing to the south is very off-set. We flew at about a 30 degree angle to the runway and we were turning to get lined up with the runway until about 5-10 ft above the ground. It is a fun challenge and you definitely want to be ready to react to anything.

photo 1 (1)The second airstrip is in Pa’Upan (like saying Pow-Paan), which is about 10 miles away from Long Layu. (It would still take about 5 hours to drive between the two because the road is a work in progress.) Pa’Upan is a mostly grass strip that slippery when wet. It is shorter than Long Layu with water buffalo pits off the western edge. The village is nestled between mountains and hills, which make it a very challenging landing spot. When landing, either to the east or west, you lose sight of the runway and have to make a rough guess. When landing to the east, you have to fly between two low hills and start turning on final approach without being able to see the runway. It is definitely an exercise in faith! It is important to fly a stabilized approach with set “bench-marks.” This means being 300′ above the ground between the two hills and about 2oo’ when turning to final approach. If these conditions are not met, then I will go-around and try again. This is one of the ways in which MAF helps pilots make wise and safe decisions. The approach to the west is offset like Long Layu but not as drastic. The key to this approach is to hug the terrain and watch out for the wind!

photo 1The third airstrip is in Binuang (like saying Bee-new-ahng). This strip is a bit shorter than the other two. It is made of grass and dirt and the north end can get a little soggy when wet. The approach to the north goes over the river and rice paddies (called sawah). It is important to approach at a slow airspeed (55-60 kts) so I can stop with plenty of margin. Like most strips, there is a soccer field right next to the runway. My instructor and I got “stuck” in Binuang for a few hours because of poor weather. We watched another operator leave before the clouds really closed us off and it was fun to watch the local kids stand on a fence and get blasted by the prop wash when he started up!

In addition to learning how to land at some of our different airstrips, I am brushing up on flying in and through clouds as well as flying near terrain where turn radius can become an issue. I have to say that flying in and around clouds is some of the most fun flying I have ever done. I like to compare it to a puzzle that needs to be solved. I know where I am, I know where I want to go, and now I get to figure out how to make it happen. I kinda feel like superman when I turn right around a cloud to go through a “hole” on the other side. It is challenging and every day brings something new. The most important thing when flying in the clouds and in terrain is to always have an escape route. We never want to get into a situation where there is no “out.” It may sound dangerous or a little unnerving, but MAF has done a great job in teaching us how to operate with margin so can recognize dangerous situations and steer clear. I am confident that I have been given the skills and tools to operate safely and make wise decisions.

All in all, it has been a lot of fun and I hoping to fly solo soon. I am sure I will do a few more operational days with the instructors and they will let me know when I am ready to go!

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In other news, we learned we are expecting a boy! We had a gender reveal party and I was responsible for filling the cake with blue sprinkles (since I already knew the gender). I cut into the cake with Adelina and the blue sprinkles came pouring out. We are super excited, though Adelina is still hoping for a younger sister one day. We are also excited to let you know we will be coming home in early May for the birth of the baby. MAF has a new policy that encourages families to come home for a mini-furlough midway through a term and it couldn’t have come at a better time for our family!

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So, we are excited to come home and spend some time in Reno when we welcome the newest Vana into our family. Hopefully we will get to connect with many of you while we are around!

We have a few things that we would love to have pray with us for:

  1. Please pray for the health of Jessica and baby boy #3.
  2. Pray for the health of our family as we are trying to get rid of some uncomfortable parasites.
  3. Pray for safety as I begin to fly here in Indonesia.