Planes Bring God's Word to New Guinea

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When fuel costs hit record highs last year, it had a major impact on a mission aviation.

The high cost "avgas" grounded many flights that serve Christian workers on remote missions fields, but a new kind of plane offers a solution to that problem.

The new generation of missionary bush planes are now heading to Papua New Guinea and other remote parts of the world.

The turbine-powered Kodiak promises to carry more people and cargo, and fly farther than current aircraft, and can still use the same short runways used by Bible translators and other missionaries.

And the transition from the older planes is happening just as the fuel they use, call avgas, is becoming hard to find.

"The airplane behind us burns jet fuel and it's going to fill an important niche in Papua New Guinea where jet fuel is readily available, but avgas is disappearing," explained JAARS pilot Mark Wuerffel.

Wuerffel is the JAARS pilot taking delivery of the new Kodiak for Papua New Guinea.  It's one of at least four on order to support Wycliffe Bible translators, currently working on 190 language projects there.

"The country is very rugged.  It's almost impossible to get anywhere on foot in certain locations and there are very few roads," Wuerffel said.  "So aviation becomes a critical way, fulfills a critical need, for anyone having contact with the outside world and that's how our translators get in and out."

The first Kodiak for missionary work was dedicated at the JAARS base in North Carolina in April.  Mission Aviation Fellowship received theirs in this month.

The delivery of a new and better airplane is exciting to any pilot, but to Wuerffel it can't compare to delivering a translated New Testament to a tribal village. 

"When they came out with their NTs they were singing a song of joy and it turned into tears," he said.  "They were so glad to have God's Word in their language that they couldn't even sing for joy."

"And they just all stood and wept with joy to have God's Word in their hands," Wuerffel continued.  "And I was privileged to be there that day."

Fourteen missions organizations gave their input for building the new aircraft.  But the Kodiak is not limited to missionary use.

The U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife has ordered Kodiaks to monitor wildlife migrations.

*Originally published May 17, 2009

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Heather Sells

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