On more than one occasion I'd have been a stranded reporter if it had not been for the courage and servant-like spirit of pilots for Africa Inland Mission (AIM) who were kind enough to give me a lift into or out of a war zone. Their skill in flying in adverse conditions-below the radar during Sudan's civil war, amidst warring factions in Congo, and elsewhere-is legendary.
Given that intrepid reputation, the crash over a week ago of an AIM plane on what was to have been a 30-minute Saturday afternoon flight over Nairobi, Kenya, is doubly tragic. Pilot Frank Toews, a 35-year-old father of four, died in the accident. AIM mechanic Ryan Williams, 33, and a father of four, died from his injuries in a South African hospital on Friday. Williams simply went along for the ride, accompanying Toews and two U.S. filmmakers on an aerial photography mission over Kibera, Nairobi's largest slum. It is one of the most poverty-stricken areas of the world-with 1 million people living in approximately 1 square mile. Life expectancy in Kibera is 47 years, and one person in three is HIV-positive.
The film crew is part of a team that began work last month on a documentary about the 1 billion people worldwide who live on less than $1.25 a day (folks in Kibera live on about a dollar a day). The filmmakers were living on that sum as part of the project.
In addition to poverty, Kibera is full of good works done in the name of Christ. StreetChild International feeds about 150 children a day, in addition to providing a girls shelter and schooling. Compassion International and Global Outreach also operate church-based ministries to Kibera residents. No one on the ground was hurt in the crash. The two filmmakers have been hospitalized with injuries.
But for those who died, as a longtime AIM surgeon outside Nairobi wrote to me over the weekend: "These young men have left behind young widows and fatherless children. In some ways, too, they have left behind a void in the important tasks that they were doing. The tasks? They were not just a pilot and an engineer, they were many other things including the means of allowing various ones of us to reach the 'unreached.' They were husbands and dads but they undoubtedly were dreamers who at least figuratively kneeled before the globe to pray while seeing a 'lost' world."
In a way, these men died in the mission of trying to inform the rest of us about the world's sorrows, the poverty we'd rather forget about. And those sorrows have now brought sorrow to their own families, who I pray will grieve with hope.