Manaus - Part 2 - The Operation
Sitting in a cozy hangar designed for helicopters was a beautiful airplane. A sleek looking, black and white, 9 Comp Air Experimental Aircraft. A man emerged from a tangle of wires at the front where some routine maintenance was being done on the plane and said “Samuel? Oi! We have been waiting for you guys.”
He lead us up a thin staircase at the back of the hangar and into a small office where a tall man of Russian mennonite descent stood smiling and beckoning us to enter. This is Marcio Rempel. He is a soft-spoken man with a striking determination.
Marcio is a nearly 20 year veteran of bush piloting in the Amazon. He knows the aviation needs of the region well, and he knows the geography and topography of the area inside and out. We went through at least two maps during our afternoon with him as he pointed out location after location where there are unreached, or under-reached, people groups dotting the many rivers that criss-cross the green giant that is the Amazon rainforest.
Several years ago, Marcio began a formal anthropological research project, analyzing the current state of mission aviation in the Amazon, the needs of people serving in the Amazon, and the needs of the people living in Amazon. With his research findings in hand, Marcio, and his wife Kayla, established a new aviation ministry that would be somewhat unique to the region.
The Amazon is massive. Let’s take a moment to reflect on that statement. Spanning more than 2.72 million square miles, the Amazon rainforest is larger than the next two largest rainforests (Congo Basin and Indonesia) combined. If moved north several thousand miles, the Amazon rainforest would cover most of the 48 contiguous United States. Nearly two-thirds of this massive rainforest is found in Brazil.
Refueling an aircraft out in the middle of the rainforest is, as you might imagine, a real challenge. Most flights must go out with enough fuel to make it back, reducing the range of the typical mission aviation aircraft (Cessna 206, Cessna 172, etc). If working with these smaller aircraft, the only other option is setting up elaborate fuel-staging schemes wherein fuel is transported to certain middle points throughout the region to serve as refueling stations for the smaller planes working the longer routes.
With these challenges in mind, Marcio saw that there was a need for a long range mission aviation operation in the Amazon. He wanted to develop a program that could hurdle the barriers of long distances and the lack of refueling options found in the region.
His vision to meet this need in the Amazon was greatly bolstered by a group of likeminded Brazilian farmers who believed in the need that Marcio had identified. These farmers pooled the necessary funds to not only purchase an airplane that would help meet this need, but to subsidize much of the cost of the operation of the airplane.
With the airplane ready to go, the Rempel family launched a new aviation ministry: Missão do Céu. The Missão do Céu team is small, but their impact is growing. The people that need the services of Missão do Céu often cannot afford to pay the high air-taxi prices.
Due to the spread-out nature of civilization in the Amazon, commercial aviation only services several of the largest cities in this entire region, leaving thousands of miles of distance between the nearest major airports. The consequence of this is that if you are trying to get somewhere far from the nearest major airport, your only options may be several weeks on a boat, or several hours in a very expense private air-taxi. The air-taxis operate smaller airplanes that can get in and out of the smaller airstrips that are common throughout the Amazon.
Missão do Céu does what they can to help people in this predicament. The travelers pay the organization what they can afford to contribute, and much of the time that barely covers the cost of the gas it takes to get off the ground. The generous donors provide funds to help make up the difference.
The typical travelers shuttled around the region by Missão do Céu are not broke tourists, penniless politicians, or cheap corporate types. The people Marcio and his team serve are almost always missionaries. They are people who give up so much to live in extremely challenging environments in the middle of the jungle. They live there with the sole purpose of loving the people of the Amazon, a people who have been forgotten, neglected, and taken advantage of by the modern world.
These missionaries bring a new message, one of hope, redemption, and restoration found only in the abundant love and grace of Jesus. There are countless stories of villages, towns, and families being restored and revitalized as this message takes root.
Missão do Céu exists to support these people. While their major donors provide great subsidization for the aircraft, they do not provide a salary for the pilots and the mechanic. Marcio and his team must rely on the generous gifts of others who believe in the work that they are doing.
As lunchtime rolled around during our visit to the Missão do Céu headquarters, Marcio recommended we take a ride over to his house where his wife, Kayla, had been preparing a lunch fit for kings! We happily piled into his car and were off. The conversations that would unfold that afternoon form the basis for the next installments of this story.
See you next week!
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