Dreaming to Fly
One day a message arrived at the Bible School campus: "Dear Vernon, would you like to fly with me up to Manila? I will be piloting a small plane and you are welcome to fly with me. Harley." That note and that trip started the Dream.
Vernon prayed always, "I’ve hiked these mountains on foot, rode so many rickety, overcrowded jeeps and buses...but Lord, the Philippines has over seven thousand islands. How can we reach out to the other islands?" Reaching islands means boats of every kind: long bankas like canoes with paddles, fishing boats, little sail boats, bigger pump boats with motors and outriggers. Then there were the commercial inter-island vessels carrying hundreds of passengers and cargoes...but always LATE! Late leaving port and late arriving at the next port. "But an airplane flies right over the water, and FAST. An airplane takes off when you want to go, no more waiting." Vernon thought, "An airplane for TCM–what a Dream!"
Harley picked up Vernon at the small airport. On the flight to Manila, Harley suddenly turned and said, "You fly the plane now, Vernon!"
"Me??" said Vernon.
"Try. Just pull the controls back..." the plane pointed up. "Now just push the controls..." the nose went down. "Turn left...turn right..." Vernon was flying the plane! Oh, could his dream really come true for a small plane to carry him and the evangelists, sound system, tracts and Bibles, to more and more places? By the time he returned from Manila, Vernon felt sure the Lord would answer his prayer.
But how? Ozamiz had only one small, grass, unpaved airstrip. No flying school, no instructors, no private planes, not even a plane to rent. Only water buffalo grazed on the runway most of the time. But God had said, "They that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint." Isaiah 40:31. Vernon wrote that Bible verse on a poster and put it on the wall by his desk, and the Dream stayed right up front in his mind.
Months went by. Another note arrived: "Vernon, here is a special request: my wife and my daughter along with 2 men from our company want to learn to fly. The problem is we need two more people to take lessons. The instructor will only bring the training plane here if there are 6 people, but not less. Would you be interested in learning to fly? Let me know. Harley" Without a doubt now...Vernon knew he was going to become a pilot! The instructor–the plane–all coming to Ozamiz! In August 1961 he wrote:
"6AM and the small L-4 trainer plane banked low over the school. This was the signal for the missionary to hurry to the airstrip. 10 minutes later at the airstrip, he found the instructor waiting to begin the lessons. In a couple more minutes they were off the ground and then the controls were turned over to the student-missionary...500 feet, left turn, 1000 feet, left turn 90 , right turn 90 , left 180 , right 180 , left 360 , right 360 ...and so the exciting minutes flew by. The red and white plane went round and round and up and down for over an hour in the sparkling blueness of the tropical dawn."
But the Dream must include a plane, not just lessons. Out of the 6 who took those lessons, Vernon was the only one who finally got a pilot’s license. Then friends of the Mission began to send money, by $10's and $100's till it amounted to the price of one good, used Tri-Pacer. But the plane was to be sold in the U.S.A. and the Philippines was across the whole Pacific Ocean. What to do? Pray for the Dream. Then someone wrote: We can take off the wings and pack them with the fuselage into one big wooden crate for shipping." A whole airplane in a box? The Dream was coming true!
The day came for the huge ocean-going ship with the big airplane crate to arrive in Manila. Vernon was there and ready to receive it! "We are going to fly with the Gospel everywhere!" he told everyone. But the men who unload the ships were all on strike, nothing was moving, nobody working, there were picket lines marching. The pier area was not doing any business. "Lord, please show me what to do now," Vernon prayed. He went to the office of the union boss and explained that this plane was a missionary plane, not a plane for making money. The men listened because Vernon had been a member of an American labor union before. "OK, you type the letter and I’ll sign it," said the boss, "Then you can cross the picket line." Good. But then the truck driver was too scared to cross the line at the pier even with the letter. Vernon jumped down from the truck and took the letter up to the picket line. They motioned for the truck to drive through. Good. But now, with no one working, how could the big crate be lifted up out of the ship and loaded onto the truck? Vernon boarded the ship and found workmen who pointed to the very box marked for TCM, the box with a plane inside. When they heard it was a missionary plane...they hauled that big box up and set it over onto the waiting truck. Good. Away went the crate, the truck, and one smiling, laughing missionary!
"Now, Lord, how can we get the wings put back on the plane so we can fly it?" Out at the Manila Airport, another American pilot-mechanic said, "Sure, I can put the wings on for you. The only pay will be for you to let me keep the crate for my own use." Good.
"Now, once again, Lord, how can I get the Tri-Pacer back to Ozamiz? I’ve never flown that far before...and I’m all alone." An MAF pilot agreed to be pilot half way to Ozamiz to get Vernon used to flying the new plane... "Then you can take it the rest of the way!" Good. But the weather was bad and they were forced to return to Manila. The next day a different pilot volunteered to help Vernon part of the way. Good again. It was one scarey trip alone, but when Vernon saw Mt. Malindang on the horizon, he headed straight for it, because Mt. Malindang was the mountain just behind the airstrip where he’d learned to fly. Minutes later over the barrio school came a strange droning sound...like a motor...then a little red and white plane was in the sky above, circling. All the kids in the public school dashed from their desks outside to look up. Everyone was so excited to see an airplane flying low over their school.
So the Dream came true. THE HARVESTER flew the Gospel far and wide, to all the islands with airstrips. The evangelists flew out to preach, Bible School students flew out to teach Vacation Bible School, many sick people were airlifted to hospitals. No more being tired waiting for boats to move, but now...flying a missionary plane above the mountains...for the Lord!