Agape Flights pursuing excellence

Safety and professionalism are two hallmarks of any successful aviation operation. Agape Flights is no exception.

Cason Chatham

Consultant Cason Chatham is Agape Flights’ safety officer.

Earlier this year, Agape Flights brought consultant Cason Chatham on board, a pilot and mechanic with experience in aviation operations, humanitarian aid and safety.

And in June, Chatham led Agape through its first professional safety audit, performed by Mission Safety International, an independent Christian consulting organization providing services and resources for nonprofit aviation-oriented mission groups.

Chatham explained his role as a safety officer as a broad one, touching nearly every facet of Agape’s operations, including pilots and aircraft, maintenance and finances. “We look at how we make decisions on how we budget for the coming year, for equipment for the aircraft, maintenance for the aircraft, those kind of things,” he explained.

Chatham, 36, has compiled an impressive resume. A pilot as well as a certified aircraft mechanic, he has a master’s degree in global affairs and management.

He spent four years in Central Asia flying and maintaining aircraft for PACTEC, a nonprofit humanitarian organization. He also served as a safety officer for NATO at Kabul International Airport in Afghanistan.

“I love flying,” he said, “but the most important thing is to interact with the people we serve on a daily basis, whether it’s the missionaries or the people they directly interact with.

“At the end of the day it’s about relationships.”

The audit, conducted June 18-21, revealed the strengths and weaknesses in day-to-day operations, with the goal of ensuring Agape’s mission is sustainable.

“Agape Flights has come a long way in the past couple of years,” the final audit report said. “You appear to be poised to move to a new level of success and excellence.”
Issues needing attention included improving communications between pilots and maintenance staff, better inventory control, the creation of a crisis management team and developing a formal training program for pilots.

“You have a very good team in place,” the auditors wrote, “and working together in obedience to God’s leading and depending on God to supply all your needs, you will go far in advancing His kingdom and bringing glory to our Lord.”

Chatham said now that the audit has been completed, Agape is implementing MSI’s recommendations on how to conduct flight operations, manage personnel and interact with mission partners, donors and the public.

“On a personal level, I appreciate the challenges presented,” Chatham said.
“It’s a fantastic place to work. I love the mission of what we do. I love working with the people of Agape. I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to be surrounded by on a daily basis.”

– Jim DeLa, communications officer

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Finding what’s real….

For those of you who do not read blogs a lot, or blog yourself, often time blogs will have a guest blogger. This is someone who believes in their cause or has a compelling story to tell. We have had Steve Koch, one of our volunteer pilots and a Board Member guest blog about the earthquake. A lot of our missionaries’ blogs have guest bloggers tell their stories of coming to work at their missions, the impact Haiti, the Dominican Republic or the Bahamas and their people have had on them or even what missionary life is like. I read most of our missionaries’ blogs and am always amazed, humbled and awed by their stories, their lives and their missions.

A recent blog one of our member missionary’s sites caught my eye about the impact of one website link about a little burn victim in Haiti had on Jacob a young fireman in the U.S. In his own words… “She wasn’t some CNN news story. This wasn’t an article I read in the paper, or an obscure blog entry of a friend-of a friend-of a friend. This little burned up girl was more real. Too real. My spirit revolted, tried to dismiss itself politely, but it was too late. I ended up on the floor- a sobbing heap of fireman.” From that instant he was forever changed.

I often hear about the changes that these kinds of trips or experiences have on people and how they were actually the ones that were changed, transfixed…saved.   “I had made this trip thinking God was sending me because he wanted me to fix a problem in Haiti. In reality, I had been brought to Haiti because God wanted to fix a problem in me. God took my orderly, domesticated, suburbanized, heart, and tore it apart. He took my comfortable, convenience-seeking spirit, and demolished it. I was wrecked. I was decimated. I told you-Haiti really messed me up. Thank God. It was a painfully necessary step in the ongoing refining process God uses to perfect a wretch like me, and I am still very much a work in progress. The entire week I witnessed acts of real love. I walked through an amazing countryside. I smelled things. Terrible things. I saw real kids with real burns and horrible obstacles to overcome. I heard real laughter. I saw real hunger. Real pain. Real faith. Everything was so real.”

You can read more about Jacob’s story and learn more about Real Hope for Haiti, the mission he worked at, online at http://www.realhopeforhaiti.org/.

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A Day in the Life….

As missionaries leave the creature comforts of home and travel to Haiti, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas, they find themselves not only in unfamiliar places but also new and fascinating cultures.  While electricity and water issues are expected, the cultures that they learn to embrace probably take some time to get used to.

I often read the missionary blogs as I post and update them on our website (www.agapeflights.com – go to the  “missionary stories” link on the front page).  They are some of the most amazing blogs you will ever read.  I am humbled by the work that they do and the lives that they lead.  I recently ran across one about a funeral that really had to be shared.

Dr. Kerry is an eye doctor in Haiti doing incredible work.  His blog is always so interesting and he talks about his family’s life there in a very real way.  He recently was part of a Haitian funeral process. It is quite a different procession than most of us are probably used to…. “The procession lasted about half an hour until we reached the family’s house.  The criers cried and screamed the whole way. But now they turned it up a notch. Women began falling onto the ground and rolling in the mud screaming. One girl in particular kicked and screamed so much that the funeral officials who are responsible for getting them could not pick her up. She hit and kicked until she finally rolled off of the mud path into the water filled ditch in her best white dress. I don’t understand all of that but everyone else acted like it was normal and since I was the non-Haitian in the whole processional I acted like I was used to it too.”

Log into his blog at www.newvisionhaiti.blogspot.com for the whole story.  Fascinating!  Thanks to Dr. Kerry for letting us repost and for sharing a snapshot into a day in the life of a missionary in Haiti.

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Dedication in Demier

After the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, Agape Flights awarded some grant
funding to missionaries to return and/or improve facilities, services and programs to pre-earthquake status.  The funding was allocated to transportation, projects, programs and new initiatives.  Many of our member missionaries applied and some amazing projects were funded that would impact a large number of Haitian people and promote a lifestyle of self-sufficiency among Haitians.  This grant program would not have been possible without the generosity of our incredible donors. How grateful we are that we are able to be part of such incredible kindness and love for our fellow man.

One of those awards went to a project that Margaret and Roger Clark were working on… the rebuilding of a school.  The school was destroyed in the earthquake and the project involved rebuilding the school in a stronger way to withstand the elements of Haiti.  This school was needed desperately in the area of Demier as it was the only one for miles and kids often traveled 3 hours one way to attend school there.  That’s right – it was located in an extremely remote location but served some of the most needy and deserving children in the country.  Without the rebuild of this school, there was no possibility that these children would receive an education (or perhaps even a daily meal).

As we have moved through the grant process to actual project work with regular updates, we remain amazed at the dedication of those involved in this project.  We recently received an update from the Clarks with pictures showing the thick walls and beams and strong foundation.  As you can see from these pictures, this building is reinforced with thick concrete walls and will ultimately have numerous classrooms.  Amazing when you remember that the closest city to get any supplies is two hours by car and another three hours by foot!!  In their own words “This is no small feat when you consider hauling in
everything you need on your head and by mule over mountains and through rivers for 3 hours. We have already carried in 100 sacks of cement, 90 – 2x4s, 1,400 concrete blocks, 3 truck loads of sand, 40 sheets of corrugated tin roofing, 40 bars of steel, food for two weeks to feed 15 people, and many other misc. items. These figures do not include all the material we hauled in for the first two classrooms we have already built for the school.”  Makes you think doesn’t it?  Next time you complain about lugging in groceries from the garage or having to make a trip to Home Depot for a house project, think instead about this project.  This is dedication. This is purpose. This is amazing.

These are the kinds of projects you’ll hear more about on this blog in the upcoming weeks and months. There are incredible individuals doing these kinds of things every day.  It is not only inspiring, it’s humbling.

If you want to learn more about the Clarks and their mission, please visit www.newlifehaiti.blogspot.com.  Stay tuned for more updates on the Clark’ project and other stories of rebuilding Haiti from our other grant recipients!

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Back to School

Here in the U.S. it’s back to school time!  Which means, back to school shopping, sales and tax holidays.  Kids in uniforms, buses back on the road and weekly activities revving up.  It is an exciting time in a kid’s life.

It’s back to school time in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas as well.  The excitement level is the same for those kids as for kids back here at home.  But, school takes on a different meaning for these kids.  They do not complain about their schooling – they realize it is a privilege for them to be able to attend.  They know their schooling is a key to a better future for them and their families.  And they know that they will have at least one if not two meals a day at school – when otherwise they may not.

School Rebuilding, Demier, Haiti

We, at Agape Flights, help as we can through our Haiti Relief Grant Funds and by coordinating a back to school supply drive.  The grant funding goes to school construction as part of the rebuilding process and re-equipping classrooms with furniture, textbooks, science equipment, library books and teaching aids that were lost in the earthquake.  These programs are part of the rebuilding from the earthquake and will create the formation for improved educational opportunities for many children in the devastated areas.

The back to school supply drive provides supplies to children who are eager to receive an education and who do not have the ability or the money to run to Target or WalMart to get a new backpack, notebooks and crayons.  But, they are in desperate need of these items.  If you are interested in helping out with this project, you can find information here.  Even if you cannot help with this project, please keep these kids, their schools and their teachers in your prayers.  This education will increase their ability to provide for their families, rise out of poverty and live a longer life.

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Bridesmaids Dresses

For those of you who have been a bridesmaid, some of us many times over, you know the significance of the bridesmaid dress.  You have to have it, you have to wear it and maybe you’ll wear it again.  This is a faith story of bridesmaids dresses that will make you think twice about them….

One of our member missionaries, Katie Lombard, with Students International in the Dominican Republic, was engaged to be married and the date was set for April 30, 2011.  Planning a wedding in the United States can be an exhausting ordeal…Katie was planning one overseas in the Dominican Republic.  So, the logistics were quite different as you can well imagine. 

Here at Agape, we received an email on April 12 inquiring as to a package that was supposed to come through our doors for us to take to the Dominican and to Katie in particular.  The package was pretty important … it was her bridesmaids dresses!  We looked and looked and could not find them anywhere.  After some investigation, we figured out the dresses were held up in New York City.  Katie worked to get them sent on to Agape and once we received them, we realized that we could  get them on our last flight before the wedding, but that seemed to be a little too close for everyone’s comfort.  Jeff Yannucciello, our Chief of Operations, worked with Katie to figure out how to get them to her in plenty of time for her big day.

The entire event was truly a testament of faith.  In Katie’s words,  “It had been pouring rain on and off here for a week and a half before the wedding, but 2 days before the wedding the rain stopped and we had beautiful weather on Saturday for the wedding.  And then, on Sunday afternoon, it started raining again and rained all week!!  God truly takes care of his children, even all the little details to make a wedding turn out just as I had always dreamed.”

 Congratulations on your marriage, Katie and Cristian!  We were glad to be a small part of such a beautiful story.  To read more about Katie and her work in the Dominican Republic, go to http://ktindr.blogspot.com. 

 

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The Aldrich Boomerang

Dictionaries define a boomerang as  a bent or angular throwing club typically flat on one side and rounded on the other so that it soars or curves in flight; especially : one designed to return near the thrower.  The idea is, of course, that it always comes back to you.

Two of our favorite people, Rod and Janet Aldrich, just left Agape Flights to head back to New York.  They drove down to Venice the beginning of 2011 and immediately fell in place as our volunteer coordinators.  But, that’s not really where their story begins…

Rod and Janet took their first short-term mission trip to Haiti 11 years ago and were instantly hooked.  That first trip was with Agape Flights (when we flew passengers).  They flew to Port Au Prince and delivered care packages from their church to an orphanage and worked other construction projects. 

At the time, they were happily involved in dairy farming in New York.  They were living on the same farm that had been in Rod’s family since 1960!  It was this same farm that provided them some time during their “down time” to continue to take mission trips and returned often to Haiti.  They also visited Agape Flights and volunteered in a variety of capacities.  Their relationship with Agape Flights (staff, volunteers and donors) took root and has continued to grow.

In May, 2008, they stepped out in faith and sold the dairy herd.  They felt that God was calling them into fulltime mission work… at Agape Flights.  They came to Venice in 2009 and served as volunteer coordinators for the time that they could.  As staff members that raise their own support, they continue to work to raise up churches and people to join their support team.  As they so aptly stated, “the call is clear, the field is ripe for the harvest and we are excited to serve Christ by serving His missionaries through the ministries of Agape Flights.”

So what, exactly, does any of this have to do with a boomerang?  The staff at Agape Flights presented the Aldriches with a boomerang at their going away (but coming back) party.  The idea?  That they could go back to New York and take care of things they needed to but would come back to Agape.  We cannot express how much we appreciate their hard work and dedication.  They are a blessing to have and we can’t wait until they make their way back to Florida.

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An Adventure in Faith

We just announced our new Executive Director, Allen Speer.  We are pretty excited here at Agape and Allen is certainly looking forward to taking on this new opportunity in his career.  Although I think the person that is most excited is Dick Armstrong – who, you may remember, stepped in from our Board of Directors as “Interim Executive Director” in September…of 2009!  Interim will have lasted exactly 1 year, 7 months and 26 days – if you’re keeping count.

So, we did the more traditional press release and rollout to announce Allen, but we didn’t get to share some of the more personal information that we know about him . . .

After receiving a Bachelor of Theology from Atlantic Baptist College in St. Augustine, Florida, he returned home to Illinois where he met and married his wife, Donna Lynn Treece.  Ministry with Donna over the next 24 years would involve various churches and organizations primarily in Illinois and Missouri.  During this time the Lord blessed them with three wonderful children, Laura, Robby, and David.  The Lord also began to plant in Allen’s heart a love for missions and missionaries.

While serving as a Pastor, God challenged him with mission opportunities.  His first opportunity  came when Allen’s father invited  to preach with him in Jamaica.  He loved the Caribbean people and subsequently returned to Jamaica numerous times and eventually expanded into Cuba.  All of these opportunities and more have transpired while he has continued to pastor churches in the Midwest.

In 2005, his wife of 24 years died suddenly of a massive heart attack.  While certainly life took an unexpected turn, God remained faithful.  Through a friend and deacon, he met Jennifer Mathewson.  Jennifer was a Pastor’s wife for 21 years when she lost her husband, Dr. Dana Mathewson, in a car accident.  Allen and Jennifer both sensed that it was God’s grace and God’s design to blend their two grieving families and married in 2006.  Jennifer and her two sons, Daniel and Micah,  moved to Illinois to join Allen’s family as he continued to pastor First Baptist Church of Cobden, Illinois.

Together, they have five children – Laura, Robby, Daniel, Micah and David and one son-in-law Chris.  And from what I understand, they are praying for grandchildren!  Some of the kids are at college and some will be moving to Venice with them.  Allen loves to fish, hunt, jet ski, play golf and collect knives.

Allen’s first official day is May 1st.  In the meantime, please keep the Speer family in your thoughts and prayers as they prepare to move from Illinois to Florida – and all the adventure and challenges that come along with a move like that. 

 

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ORS Kits – Helping in Haiti

In trying to provide relief during the recent cholera outbreak in Haiti, we put together ORS kits and shipped them down to the medical folks that could use them. But, what, exactly is an ORS packet?  It’s basically a combination of dry salts that you can probably find in your own kitchen.  The fancier version is sugar, salt (with potassium chloride) and trisodium chlorate.  The simple version?  2 tablespoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Take a moment and think about your kitchen cabinets.  Did you ever think that something so simple could be so significant?  We ship it dry because it weighs less and we can send more.  The recipients just add it to clean water.   They can drink this solution  These solutions serve to prevent the loss of liquids due to sickness that involves diarrhea.  The continued loss of liquids is very dangerous and these simple, packets can help greatly. 

The pictures on this page are from a missionary in Haiti who has seen 860 patients for cholera.   The death rate at that clinic is .5%, which is very low for the disease.  They contribute that low statistic to the use of the ORS packets.  The same packets that you helped pack or ship.  The number of reported cases is a little hard to track down, but best estimate is that it is at 200,000.

It is amazing what a little bit of care and love can do for those who need it most. Simple salt and sugar plus water can literally save a life.  Changing and saving lives is what we are all about here – staff, volunteers, donors and supporters.  Amazing things do happen everyday.

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A Celebratory Remembrance

After the 30th Anniversary Celebration on January 22, Clara Starkey, one of our Founders, took a moment to remember a story that helped her and Keith Starkey get through some hard times at Agape Flights and we think it still applies today.  We are constantly amazed by the generosity of our partners and supporters – both financially, physically and spiritually.  We hope you take the time to read it, think about it and maybe gain some strength in what you do everyday. 

A young woman who had heard a disturbing report about the increase in cases of depression among women. That night she prayed “Lord, what are you  doing about it?”  The more she prayed and thought about it the more she felt that God was asking her to do something about it.  But she felt inadequate and thought she had too many limitations including lack of time, fear of getting involved, and fear of failure. 

As she finished her list, she saw that it was time for her to pick up her children from school.  She put on her coat, then reached for her gloves which were lying limp and useless on the table.  As she put them on her hands, she realized God didn’t want her to think about her limitations.  Rather he wanted to put His power into her and work through her.

In Ephesians 3:20 it says, “God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we ask or think, according  to the power that works in us“.  God has called each of us to be laborers with Him, and as a servant we have no right to judge where God puts us.  Rather we need to know that God engineers everything.  Wherever  He puts us, our greatest aim  should be to be totally devoted to Him and do it to glorify Him.  It means that we are willing to do even the tiniest little thing or the biggest  task.  It really makes no difference–whatever God wants us to do, we should be ready. 

Each  of you have answered the call of God when you volunteered to work with Agape Flights.  Through the work of our serving His servants on the mission field,  you and our many support partners are the unsung heroes that may never be publicly applauded, but God has many heroes who are unsung on earth.  In Philippians 4:3 it tells us; “you are all recorded individually in the Book of Life“.  

Because of your faithfulness,  the things you do to make  Agape Flights is an  accountable service.  Keep in mind that when God calls us to a task, WE ARE HIS HANDS AND FEET AND HE INCLUDED HIS STRENGTH TO COMPLETE THAT WHICH WE HAVE BEEN ASKED TO DO…So today we salute each one of you for being true servants of God in both word and deed.

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