We had been flying our mission partners into the villages beside Mozambique’s crocodile infested Zambezi River for several years. Now, suddenly, permission from the authorities in Maputo dried up. Unless we were flying out of a certified airfield, the answer was ‘No’.
Using a certified airfield would be impossible. Those up and down the Zambezi had been closed and overgrown since the civil war in 1990.
“But Sir, we have helicopters that can land anywhere.”
The answer was still ‘No’.
How would the mission organisations we had been flying in carry on their ministries? Our Canadian mission partners, SAM Ministries (ASAM in Mozambique) had a well-established pastor training and Bible teaching programme in villages bordering the river. Not being allowed to fly was a real showstopper. The roads are awful and flood damage has left only two usable bridges in the whole region. The drive from a village on one side of the river to a village on the other side could take two days across rutted, potholed roads, compared to five minutes on our helicopters.
Not only that, but the area is also regularly hit by cyclones. Often there is no way to get supplies in. Our helicopters provide emergency lifesaving, clean water and food to stranded communities.
Bringing the long-abandoned airfields (built in the colonial era) back into use meant they would have to be cleared and inspected, but we were not allowed to take the government inspectors there in our helicopters … because the airfields hadn’t been inspected!
So we made several trips from the Mercy Air base in South Africa to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, to persuade the authorities to be flexible. Working with the Disaster Management Agency, a case was made that this would not only make cyclone flood response easier, but the area could be opened up for businesses, agriculture and tourism. Eventually permission was granted as long as Mercy Air and SAM Ministries bore the costs of the flights, inspections and runway clearance.
In a couple of months, local churches and a sugarcane farmer cleared the runways, and they were surveyed and certified. Since then, we have used them to fly food into flood-stricken villages using our Kodiak aircraft. SAM Ministries is continuing their wonderful work with churches and schools. Given the competition with false teachers and witchdoctors, it is particularly important to boost the credibility of the few pastors who have received clear biblical training. This is done by holding graduation ceremonies in the communities, with the graduates flying in by VIP helicopter.
By God’s grace, an inaccessible area is being opened up for gospel outreach. Pray for the Lord to do amazing things in these communities.
Jeremy and Janet Boddington are UFM mission partners serving with Mercy Air
Photos by Matthias Reuter of Mercy Air Switzerland: flooding after a cyclone (the Zambezi River and a town); helicopters are used before the airport was reopened; Mercy Air pilot, David Schumacher, delivering food aid to a newly opened airstrip; ASAM graduation ceremony in a village for pastors who arrived by helicopter.