USA (MNN) — It's amazing what God can do through a tornado, a salvage operation, and an airshow.
Two years after it was badly damaged by a tornado, a Cessna Grand Caravan aircraft is beginning a new career as a missionary plane in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
In a ceremony held Friday at the SUN 'n FUN International Fly-in and Expo in Florida, Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) dedicated the plane for service in Africa. A crowd of just under 100 MAF supporters and aviation enthusiasts offered prayers of dedication and thanksgiving.
MAF's director of aviation resources David Rask says it was kind of amazing what happened on Friday. "After we laid on our hands on the plane to pray over it, a woman came over and said, 'I got goose bumps all over when I saw you do that. The Lord is calling me to get involved in your work.' I never expected that," Rask said.
He continued, "Last week I was asked by someone to figure out how much it would cost to fly the plane to Africa. I did: it's about $14,000. I mentioned that at the dedication, and someone came up to me and gave me a check for the cost of the fuel. Isn't that amazing?"
With its fleet of 57 light aircraft, MAF provides transportation for churches, medical teams, missionaries, relief agencies, and others working in the most isolated corners of the world.
"The way this plane was previously decorated, with the zebra interior and accents, it's as if it was destined for Africa," said John Boyd, MAF president and CEO. "We give thanks to God for the gracious donors whose gifts allowed MAF to purchase the plane."
In March 2011, a tornado ripped through SUN 'n FUN, damaging a number of aircraft including the Cessna Grand Caravan owned by a Florida family. The airplane was flipped over and sustained extensive damage.
"When we first heard about the damaged Caravan, we were interested," said David Rask, MAF's director of aviation resources. "We weren't in any position to rebuild it ourselves, but we thought if it was totaled, perhaps we could purchase it for parts."
That's where Preferred Airparts entered the picture. Preferred purchased the Caravan and set about to repair it.
"We had been looking for a Caravan for our program in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, and when we learned Preferred Airparts had purchased the tornado plane, we contacted them," said Rask. "We like Preferred's work and have purchased several planes from them in the past."
MAF signed a purchase agreement with Preferred in May of 2012. Preferred Airparts repaired the Grand Caravan with the specialized equipment needed to operate on remote, rugged airstrips in equatorial weather. And this new-again plane is desperately needed.
"Our current east DRC Caravan was the tenth Caravan built," said Rask. "MAF purchased it new in 1985, and it now has more than 20,000 hours. The rebuilt plane has modern avionics and can carry a larger load."
"There is a team waiting in the east of Congo, ready to use this tool to its full potential," said Rick Dickson, MAF director of regional operations. "It will carry life-saving medicines such as malaria treatments, or full medical response teams fighting the next Ebola outbreak. It will fly many groups who seek to bring much-needed care to villages ravaged by roaming militia or the LRA. It will carry both Congolese and expat Christ-followers who seek to build and strengthen the local church."
The aircraft should be in Maine today or tomorrow to be fitted with fuel tanks to make the long journey to Africa. The ferry pilot is hoping to leave for Africa as soon as Wednesday.