On the edge of the Amazon jungle in Peru, at a mission station called Yarinacocha, I waited with a few others to board a six-seater Helio Courier for a two-hour trip into the jungle. Rain and other complications had slowed us down. So we sat with the pilots in their "office," a grimy little room that smelled like fuel oil, the walls plastered with maps, the workspace cluttered with radios, oil cans, dirty coffee mugs, and dog-eared log books. One of the pilots asked me, "If a plane is flying and there is a bird flying inside the plane, does it add weight?" Pilots love putting these kinds of questions to innocents like me who are unschooled in aerodynamics. I was saved when someone announced that we had been cleared for departure, and I never let on that I didn't have a clue.

We boarded the Helio Courier floatplane and buckled in. I watched in awe as our pilot turned cranks and flipped switches to pull us onto the water and position us for takeoff. The engines roared and the pontoons glided across the surface of the lake, then lifted and carried us into a faraway world hidden in a carpet of solid green jungle.

Jesus tells us to make disciples of all nations even to the uttermost parts of the earth, and surely that is where our pilot took us that day. Heroic people have consistently answered that call. It's easy to forget, however, that to do so in today's mission era often requires a brave pilot going there first, checking the lay of the land, calculating landing possibilities, then fighting with machetes for every inch of an airstrip and hoping not to hit a rock or a cow on the first landing.

The "bush pilot" has long defined the essence of mission aviation. In today's world, however, the mission aviator's role is changing ...

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