30 August 2013
A pilot on a mission
"I fly the influential, the un-influential, the healthy and the sick. I've flown kitchen sinks,Wellington boots, polio vaccines and play Postman Pat," says Bryan. "Passengers might be going for a day's business, be in desperate need of a hospital or a missionary family heading out to live in a remote community."
In more than 30 countries, MAF aircraft transport NGO and relief workers, missionaries or medical staff; enable medical or security evacuations and deliver critical supplies. They play a vital role in disaster response, often providing a gateway for smaller aid agencies to access areas in need.
It is only a plane that can often make a journey that is too arduous or even impossible any other way. "The aircraft comes into its own when no other vehicle can do the job,"he says. "The vast majority of our aircraft are single crew so I'm not only the pilot, but also load master, air hostess and refueller."
As a child of 10 he spent Saturdays watching aircraft and after becoming a Christian at 17, Bryan read a book that sparked a mission interest. Jungle Pilot is the story of Nate Saint, a martyred missionary to Equador in the 1950s. "I remember passionately wanting to do what he did. But I never believed I would actually end up living it out for real," admits Bryan. A lover of adventure, travel and his faith, it seemed obvious to want to combine them. "Faith and adventure should go hand in hand anyway,whether you stack shelves in a supermarket or go on mission to a distant country."
Bryan was in his early 30s when he and his wife felt God was calling them overseas.They worked four years in Hebron school in South India and after gaining his commercial licence in the US in the early 90s, they applied to MAF. Bryan recollects: "I was convinced I would never be accepted because I wasn't an experienced RAF or British Airways pilot but we pushed the door and tumbled through. It has been the most brilliant career. This is the best flying in the world!
"In a stiff cross-wind, with a rough short runway and in a hot climate, there is something about bringing it down safely that is an adrenalin-pumping challenge,"says Bryan who is no stranger to difficult or hostile conditions. "If something goes wrong and there is jungle below you, it is not ideal," he quips.
On the ground tasks include counting pills in Karamoja or looking after a sick dentist in Chad. Bryan recalls a time in Zambia when he flew with medical staff to a clinic and joined a prayer team for a while. "People were checked by a nurse, then a doctor,visited a make-shift pharmacy and then came to us – we covered the whole person.
"We pray before we fly, but I always pray a blessing on my passengers, whoever they are. That is the one gift I can give everyone,apart from delivering them safely, event hose who have been dying. I also love to listen to people's amazing stories."
Bryan tends to return to Chad, Uganda,South Sudan, or Eastern Congo so may fly the same people and he continues friendships. "There are some remarkable people out there doing amazing jobs in the most obscure places in the world. Although the pilot gets kudos, it is a team effort and those at home who support my salary have a role that is just as important – I'm just a t he sharp end.
"I don't notice the difference between being a Christian and doing my job, they just blend together." said Bryan when asked about sharing his faith overseas and at home. "I know not every man is into aircraft but I find talking about my work with guys here in the UK is often a doorway to share Kingdom things."
Bryan is immediately off to Chad for a month covering in a team that is short of crew. "Our planes are small and we can't fly or save everyone but we do make a difference to the people we can help."