If you’ve been seeing my Facebook posts, you have heard the background for this post. Jon, a pilot with NTM here in PNG has been training to fly the new Kodiak plane that will soon be the workhorse for us. He was involved in a serious crash on his motorcycle on the way home from the hangar October 15th and fought for his life that night before he could be evacuated to Cairns for treatment. He had a compound fracture on his right leg and the left leg was pretty banged up too with three ligaments torn and a smashed foot. Reports now indicate that the car even ran over his left foot. Details are still sketchy on the accident itself but it was evident that Jon shouldn’t have even survived the accident. God spared his life at the moment of the accident and through the night as he lost almost all of his blood. Missionaries with the same blood type were donating blood for the transfusions that were needed to keep him alive. This is all information we received much after the fact. The first email came out and all I knew was to be praying for him as he’d been in a bad collision. Now that you know the basics, I wanted to share some of the things the Lord has taught me through this journey of prayer, to date anyway. There’s more for Jon to face but for now, I thought I’d share this.
I’m not sure what it is but ever since I heard that our pilot’s leg may have to be amputated, I’ve had this incredible sense of empathy for him, which only increased as the doctors ended up having to amputate. I just felt so bad for him, even so far as almost ‘hating’ this for him. One minute he was training to fly the new Kodiak plane for New Tribes Mission to help missionaries get around all over PNG and the next, he would have to work through so many changes for his own life and family, much less ministry and flying. I just felt so sick for him – thinking about how often men define themselves by what they do and that being a missionary pilot was now in question. All of the things that a young active guy is used to doing that would now be a challenge to do. He could certainly do so much – it wasn’t the end of his life by any means, but he would certainly have to learn a new way to do tons of things that he has done without thinking up until now. I kept thinking of all the hard days ahead for him – physical therapy and all the adjustments to life without his right leg. And please understand, I know all of the truths that I myself have hung onto the last couple years – of God’s sovereignty and grace being sufficient. I get it – He has another plan for Jon’s life – another way to use him for His glory. I know that He will get him and his family through all of this. But I also know that there will be hard days ahead when that grace is there while he pushes through pain to get on his feet again. The hard days ahead when he wants to be flying but can’t – the hard days of facing a loss of ministry as he knew it. Perhaps he’ll be able to fly again but not sure if he could fly mission flights in the middle of the jungle anymore. It’s a physically demanding job on uneven ground much less the safety side if there were mechanical problems inflight. So what he knows today has all been changed and he’ll have to mourn the loss of all this – the leg, the ministry, perhaps the job itself and all of the ease he knew when he had both legs. So while he hangs onto his gracious, faithful Savior, there will still be hard emotional and physical days for him in the future. Many of us will move on with our lives and perhaps his recovery will fade away from our minds and the prayer support that he feels right now will fade away a bit too and he’ll have to face these things with a smaller prayer support network than he has currently. And yes, he will grow in his relationship with the Lord but the reality of the pain that will be involved in all that is still real. We all grow through adversity but that adversity hurts. And I couldn’t help but feel his loss and pain somehow. I know all of the truths about how God fits into this – that’s without question. But what about the realities that he faces? The losses that he’s now feeling and will in the days ahead? The Lord will be enough for those too – I get that. But I was just overwhelmed about the hard days that go with that trust and growth.
I kept wondering why I was feeling so burdened for him – why so sad for him. I even asked the Lord if I was doubting the truths that I know about who He is – or tired of believing those things or something – why was I so very sad for him? Then I finally figured it out – or rather, I think the Lord revealed it to me. Although the loss I’ve mourned and walked through the last couple years is not in the same league as what Jon’s facing, I have had to mourn a ministry and loss of teammates just as he will in the days to come. Even if he can fly mission aviation again, it will be years before he’s ready to do that again. He’s had several surgeries already but they’re going to let his amputation heal before they do the big surgery on the 3 ligaments in his left leg that needs to be done – and the surgery on his foot that needs to be screwed back together. They won’t even start the one surgery until six weeks or so from now so he’s got a long haul before he can even begin working on walking/standing etc. with a prosthetic limb. He’s got to let the remaining leg heal before he can start that process – all that to say that even if he returns to mission aviation, it’ll be a long while before he can do any of that. I was reminded of how I’m waiting on new coworkers and while I may get back into Wabuku, I’m still having to trust Him as I wait. And some days are easier than others. Some days it just stinks to not be in Wabuku where I was involved in a ministry that He had given me. But now I’m waiting on others to get back into the tribe and ministry that I was expecting to do. Yes, yes, He has other things He can do through me until then, etc. but I have still had to face the loss of my home, friends, coworkers and ministry. There have been easy days and some days that have been hard – while I also hang onto the truths of who He is and how He’s right in the midst of all of this. It’s that strange bittersweet mix of being content to wait on Him while tears run down your face. The trust is there while the heart mourns.
So I could finally put my finger on it – although through very different circumstances, I was forced to face my own losses again as I thought about all of those ahead for Jon and his family – with even more far-reaching consequences and much harder days than I have had. I don’t have to deal with any physical pain to get back on my feet – so to speak, while he will. But we both have to choose to rest in His grace through the easy and the hard days. We both have to mourn a ministry loss before we can rejoice at the new one He’s given. Some days are just hard – no other way to describe them. That doesn’t mean He’s not faithful or that He won’t use it for good – that’s all true but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to be extremely painful the first time he tries to walk. Having gone through loss, I suppose that is why this hit me so hard. It’s not a matter of doubting His goodness or that He’d sustain them and get them through this – or being tired of believing Him to be who He is. It was a matter of empathy – of understanding to some small degree of the hard days ahead that while drawing Him closer will also be just plain hard.
I share this with hesitation to some degree lest some of you think that I’m discouraged and mourning all the time. That is far from the truth. I was just struck by the realities of what’s ahead for Jon and reminded again that spiritual growth in us and sometimes glory for Him means hardship and suffering. Christ left us an example of suffering but how often do we actually embrace it? God is good, He will take care of Jon. He will get him and his wife and three kids through all of this. That is absolute truth. The pain and hard days are a reality too though. We all face different struggles in our walk with Him. He allows suffering to make us more like Christ. We are not greater than our Master and if He suffered, then so shall we to become more like Him.