This week we will be hosting a “graduate level” Pastor’s School for our graduates and the pastors from Ihu. This has involved a lot of planning and preparation on the parts of the speakers–my dad (aka John Allen), Pastor James, Missionary Andrew Schellenberger, Missionary Jason Ottosen, and myself.

This past Tuesday, I flew up to Menyamya and bought the food for the meeting–these guys are going to consume a lot of rice, tuna fish, and noodles, along with the staple local kaukau, taro and bananas. The weather on Tuesday was gorgeous. For that matter, the weather for the last two weeks has been gorgeous!

For the last two weeks, we have been planning to pick up the national pastors today–it’s the best day that fits in the calendar, and with the weather having co-operated so well, why not get them today?! The classes start on Monday morning, and tomorrow is Sunday which is the day I like to be involved in church services (and NOT flying an airplane).

This morning, Andrew Schellenberger and I left our houses at 6 am, headed to the airstrip. It’s a 45-minute drive away in the Kawasaki Mule. Some places have to be in 4-wheel drive with the differential locked…but that’s another story for another day.

Usually, on good weather days, we drive in the early morning fog up the Kotidanga side of the mountain, and break out of the fog near the top of the mountain. But today, the fog covered the top of the mountain.

As I crested the top, I began to see patches of blue sky…and then I could see mountains on the far side of the Tauri River Valley. This valley is 8 miles wide, and those mountains looked beautiful. Beyond them are more mountain ranges, and on a clear day, you can see 80 miles worth of mountain range after mountain range. I used to tell my kids that the last mountain at 10,200 feet high was on “the other side of the world.” At 12 and 10 years old, they don’t quite believe me anymore.

This morning, I could see the mountains, but then I looked down into the valley floor–thick clouds filled the valley floor, as far as we could see. Up the valley. Down the valley. In the next valley there was cloud there too. Clouds everywhere…everywhere but up. It was nice and blue above.

After living in the jungle for a couple of years, you begin to read the weather patterns. Not as well as visitors wish you could–the kind of visitors that really want the cloud to move before we are ready to take off. This morning’s weather pattern was telling me a story–it went like this: “You might take off, but you might not make it back. These clouds are going to rise with the sunshine and hover on the airstrip.”

I thought to myself, “Why do we pick these days to fly on?!”

We continued the drive down to the airstrip, knowing that five pastors, one pastor’s wife, and a pastor’s child were all waiting to be picked up. Sure, we could wait until tomorrow. But then again, the weather could prove me wrong today…after all, it has done that before.

I got to the airstrip, and pre-flighted the airplane VERY SLOWLY, expecting (hoping) the clouds would cover up the runway, because I’d rather get stuck on the ground than get stuck in the air. But try as I may, those clouds just hung out about 100 feet lower than the runway. Just far enough away to mock me.

I took off for Kerema, thinking to myself, “I probably won’t get home today, but at least we can do this flight.” Kerema’s weather was beautiful. No clouds for miles. I refueled, loaded four pastors in the plane, and just as we were about to take-off, Andrew called me from Kanabea, telling me that those clouds had finally come up to cover the runway.

We waited another 30 minutes until the next phone call with which Andrew informed me that the airstrip had re-opened and the clouds had moved up the mountain, and the approach was now open. There was only one caveat–more clouds were still in the valley floor.

We took off, and headed up to Kanabea. About 10 miles away, I can talk to him on the VHF radio, so I called for a weather update. He dejectedly responded, “We are closed again.” Poor guy! I immediately diverted to Kaintiba which is eight miles to the east of Kanabea. It sits in a different valley and is about 2000 feet lower in elevation. The weather there was really nice.

We landed at Kaintiba and waited another half an hour for the “all-clear call.” I then flew these four pastors to Kanabea and upon landing, took a good look at the weather. A rain shower moved through while we were unloading. “Why?! Why do we pick these kinds of days to fly?” As the rain moved off to the south, I took off again for Kaintiba to pick up Pastor Jorim and his wife Tabitha. I knew the weather wouldn’t hold for long, but it was open.

Just after we landed at Kanabea for the second time, the clouds settled in for the day. It seems like our flights were completed in the perfect window of opportunity.

A couple of things were cemented in my mind when I thought back to the “Why?” of flying today

1) No flight is so important that it has to be done today. We can try again tomorrow. Or Monday. Or if the Lord should choose, we just don’t get to have these five pastors in attendance. That is always an option when lives are on the line. (I’d like to thank Evan Smith, BJ Diggins, Will Benning, and Dan Kelly for helping me always have this thought in my mind. Great instructors you have been!)

2) The Lord gets to have the glory when the clouds “roll away” at the perfect time. There is no human way possible to move the clouds on our own. So, when I drove back over the mountain with five pastors, we got to say “Look at what God did today.”

3) While on the ground in Kaintiba, I was able to hold a couple of missionary kids and listen to their stories. The Mark Helzerman family with all seven of their children (ages 3-14) live in Kaintiba, quite isolated from the rest of the world. Their precious little ones swarm “Uncle Matt” when I land. Today they had pictures drawn for me of P2-TMK, our airplane. Titus and I sat on a rock and talked about how he wants to be a missionary too when he grows up.

If the weather had been fine, I wouldn’t have had those moments today. Thank you, Lord, for letting clouds sit on the runway for a little while today.