For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are
your ways my ways, saith the LORD.
–Isaiah 55: 8,9
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning
stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
–Job 38: 4-7
When I think of the pilot, one of the first things that comes to mind is the image of his hands, so badly burned, lifted up in prayer and praise, thanking God for His goodness to him. And then, I think of the William Cowper poem that Bob Lillard often quoted in a sermon: “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform….”
“The pilot.” For reasons that will become obvious, I’ll just call him that and leave his name out of it.* The pilot came to us in the middle of the night a couple of weeks ago. He had no wallet or passport, no identification whatsoever. He could tell us his name. He said he was from California. And, he said he was a pilot. That was all we could get out of him. He was brought to us and dropped off by some Hondurans. The story is that he had been found wandering around in Jutiapa, the nearest town on the paved road and main bus lines, and some locals had seen that he was injured and needed to be brought out here to the Hospital. When he arrived, the pilot was pretty incoherent and could not (or would not) tell us how he came to be burned. But badly burned he was, with nearly half of his body surface burned full-thickness. And, the burns seemed to be a couple of days old. We later learned that he arrived at Loma de Luz on the third day after a plane crash. We also later learned that it was apparently an unmarked and unauthorized drug cartel plane which crashed in a remote part of La Mosquitia, a vast, trackless area just to the east of Colón. Of course pretty much every part of La Mosquitia is remote: no roads, no communication, just swamp, scrub, and jungle for a hundred miles in any direction.
The plane that the drug interdiction and newspaper reports tell us he was flying… was found crashed and burned about 185 miles overland from here.
How did he get from the crash site, many miles inland from Brus Laguna, all the way to Loma de Luz? There are no roads, no airports, not even a navigable waterway near that crash site. However he got to Loma de Luz, this pilot was in big trouble by the time he did. A severe burn of this magnitude has a high mortality rate in the best of burn centers, in the best of circumstances. But (again, as we learned later) the pilot arrived at Loma de Luz on the third day after the crash, and, although somewhere along the way someone had put some dressings on him, he presented to our hospital already in renal failure; which is what happens when someone with a bad burn gets no fluid resuscitation. His initial lab results were off the scales. As one Burn Center Director remarked later, “I didn’t know people could live with numbers like that.”
From a medical standpoint the goal was resuscitate, stabilize, and get him to a burn center in the USA. He clearly needed renal dialysis in an ICU setting in a first world Burn Center to survive. This turned out to be at least a possibility because after some investigative work with the help of the US Embassy we learned that the pilot was indeed a US citizen. Dave Fields and Dave Alexander worked together and did a great job lining up the options of flying him out via US Military transport to the USA. Dave Alexander (the other half of the Surgery Department) did an excellent job of managing his resuscitation and burn care. But the pilot’s kidneys had already been so badly damaged that he had a matter of a few days at the most to get to an ICU with renal dialysis… or he would surely not make it. Dave Alexander spoke tirelessly with a couple dozen burn centers in the USA. A pattern quickly became evident. The medical people at the burn centers were across-the-board knowledgeable, helpful, and willing to take the pilot in transfer…. But then their hospital billing offices . . . weren’t. And the billing offices trumped. Until essentially too late in the game, although every doctor and burn center director said they would take the Pilot in transfer, we could not get a single hospital administration to accept transfer (unless we first transferred some obscene amount of money to their bank accounts [$750,000 was one figure quoted]).
From Monday through Friday the pilot was in and out of coherency. He received excellent medical attention, walking a very fine line between keeping him from pain, keeping him from infection, and managing “off the chart” electrolyte abnormalities, secondary to his acute renal failure– with no way to do renal dialysis. He received excellent nursing care. And, as would be the case for any severely ill or injured patient, the hospital staff, chaplaincy, and many missionaries turned to, checking on him, praying for him, singing to him, and, when the time was right, presenting the gospel to him. Moreover, everyone from the Air Medevac people to even the US Embassy representatives proved extremely competent, professional, prepared, and ready to fly him out. Sadly, the time lost between the crash and when he arrived at our door proved fatal to his kidneys. And, the time lost due to the roadblocks in the way of getting an accepting hospital in the US (without which the Medevac people can’t fly), and then more time lost ultimately when an accepting US Hospital had finally been arranged, but his alleged ex-wife insisted that he be taken to Mexico (where the Air Evac could not go)…. these delays in getting him on dialysis altogether proved fatal to the pilot. He died quietly and at peace at Loma de Luz, one week after the crash.
But wait a second. How do I know he died “at peace”? Well, “the rest of the story” is what makes the whole story one of an unlikely rescue, one of victory—and not just some dramatic but sad and sorry tragedy. And that is why I’m telling this story—as the most recent of so many over the years that illustrate the principle that our God is greater than any box we could put him in. You see, I have no doubt that Loma de Luz is the best hospital in Honduras that the pilot could have gotten to. But it is not just a good Hospital. It is a Mission Hospital. And the Mission of Hospital Loma de Luz is “to provide the best possible witness for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, through our words, our actions, and the living of our lives, while providing the best medical care possible to the people of Honduras” (our official mission statement). And witness we did, “through our words, our actions, and the living of our lives.” As I said earlier, our hospital and missionary staff didn’t just take good medical care of the pilot, they also “turned to, checking on him, praying for him, singing to him, and, when the time was right, presenting the gospel to him.”
There was a window one morning during which the pilot was coherent, and one of our missionaries gently, thoroughly, and clearly presented to him the Good News of sin, sacrifice, redemption, and resurrection, the Good News of John 3:16. I’ll just copy here how it was told to me (with the names redacted). One of our missionaries had one morning with the pilot when he was very lucid–answering and understanding questions. He shared the gospel with him succinctly, clearly, and quickly. The pilot acknowledged he was a sinner… nodding and saying “Oh, yes” when asked. They then talked about repentance and forgiveness. It ended with the pilot praying and asking for Jesus to forgive him. He then raised both hands (burned as they were) and called out “Thank you, Jesus, thank you!” about 4 times. I do not think it could have been a more divinely appointed moment….
If we actually believe, that Jesus really is the Lord, that God raised him from the dead, and that those who believe so and confess this to be true will also someday be raised to eternal life, if this is true, then this story was not some dramatic, but sad and sorry tragedy. It is a story of an unlikely rescue from death to life eternal. Imagine just for a moment how unlikely was this rescue.
To start with, I think one could reasonably consider drug cartel pilots to be an “unreached people group.” So a member of an unreached people group gets in trouble in an unregistered plane inside Honduran airspace without permission. He crashes and burns in the middle of the middle of nowhere. Badly injured, without connections, money, friends, or apparently even knowing where he is, he somehow makes it 185 miles overland in 2 ½ days to the only place I can imagine he could have possibly gotten to where he would receive both excellent medical care and someone to present the gospel to him. That, my friend, is a pretty unlikely sequence of events.
It is about as unlikely as an Iranian exile and lapsed Muslim coming to the Lord at Loma de Luz, or a bitter Atheist college professor, or a murderer being forgiven and led to the Lord by the one he had vowed to kill. I’ve written about each of these unlikely rescues over the years. And they are not “cunningly devised fables.” They are just what I have seen with my eyes and heard with my ears of how “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.”
So when I hear another ‘non-combatant’ missions pundit polemicising about how God needs some help in figuring out how to reach the “unreached people groups in the 10-40 window” or some similar missions algorithm du jour, it makes me kind of sigh and wonder if God would ask them, like he did Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” Then I think of Bob Lillard and how he would finish his sermon with the last lines of Cowper’s poem, “God is His own interpreter, And He will make it plain.” Then I think of the pilot, with his burned hands raised up in the air in prayer and praise to God for his so very unlikely rescue, and it makes me smile and wonder at what a great God we have… a God who pursues us “to the ends of the earth,” the “God of the unexpected,” the God who “is His own interpreter, And He will make it plain.”
In Christ Jesus,
Jefferson McKenney, M.D.
* If you are an agent of a drug cartel, or some lawyer from the family reading this, I want to make it clear that I wouldn’t publish the pilot’s name or identifying details regardless of the circumstances. The information surrounding the cause of his burns and what he’d been doing prior to his arrival at the hospital we learned from Honduran Drug Interdiction authorities, the newspapers, and the US Embassy in Honduras (i.e., it is “public,” not confidential, information). No one at Loma de Luz gained any secret or prejudicial information from the pilot prior to his death.
News: Loma de Luz is growing. We are caring for more patients, doing more surgery, offering more services, teaching more students, caring for more children at risk, conducting more home Bible studies, and harvesting more agricultural products. With this growth, of course, comes the need for more missionaries, and additionally a lot more construction. Current construction projects / projects to be undertaken in 2016 include these: The Samaritan’s Casitas (an in-patient bed expansion project for lower acuity in-patient needs); the Prosthetics Lab (to construct artificial limbs);
an upgrade and expansion of 4 water systems; expansion of the out-patient clinic; expansion of the administrative wing; and a new kitchen, dining, and laundry facility for the Sanctuary Children’s Centre as well as new construction at the school. All of this growth is a wonderful thing to see, but it is expensive. Through careful stewardship, sound business practices, and God’s blessings with everything from agricultural products to rent, patient and student fees to internet services to meals through the kitchen, Loma de Luz can and finally does cover a lot of its own cost–the work supporting the work. But it cannot cover capital expenses such as major construction costs. We estimate all of this construction will cost ~ $250,000 during 2016. If you would like to support this growth at Loma de Luz, you can help by donating via check sent to the Cornerstone office or electronically via PayPal. We are grateful to be growing, but certain that we will neither out-pace the need nor the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
McKenneys in the US: The McKenneys plan to be up in the USA from around 20 August to around 26 September. If your church, cell group, etc. would like to hear directly from the McKenneys about all that is going on at Loma de Luz, contact Lindy Hammons at the Cornerstone office (ph.– 228 207 1811; email– firstname.lastname@example.org), and she will help coordinate travel plans.
Water Project: As mentioned above, we are working on an overhaul of the water supply for Loma de Luz involving running pipes up to springs higher up the mountain. The preparatory work will involve moving through jungle ravines and heights to find the best possible routes for the new piping, etc.
Help Needed in the Hospital Lab, X-Ray, and ObGyn: Christine Bell, our lab technologist and the head of the Lab Department, is due to have a baby in August. Thus we are in need of a volunteer lab technologist for the next 3–6 months. Due to missionary furlough, from August to December we are also looking for short term help (for any number of weeks or months) from any Physicians or Nurse-Midwives qualified to cover general Obstetrical call. Also, we would be blessed by any short-term X-Ray Technician volunteers.
Shipping: Please continue to pray. Our current ability to receive shipping containers with items for Loma de Luz is still pending final signatures at several desks in several Honduran governmental offices (one of which was dissolved and is being replaced by another).
Teachers: God willing, for the next school year (beginning February 2017), the Bilingual School will have Pre-Kinder, Kinder, First, Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth grades, and we need at least 2 more teachers. If you are interested, let us know; if you aren’t but know someone who may be interested, please have them get in touch with us.
The Children’s Centre and Foster Home: We have long-term and on-going need for additional missionaries committed to serve at the Children’s Centre. Like the Bilingual School, the Children’s Centre has potential for a profound effect on the next generation of Hondurans on the North Coast.
Please offer prayers of thanks to God for the many ways in which He has provided for Loma de Luz, and pray for that provision to continue. Pray for Him to continue to surprise us by un-looked-for evidences of His greatness. After all, He is a God who plucked that pilot out of La Mosquitia and brought Him all the way to Loma de Luz—how? We can’t even imagine how. The story is one that reminds us that He is capable of the astounding. And the story and encounter is one which shows the evidence of His kindness—a kindness that sees us and has mercy on us even while we are “yet sinners” —a kindness that loved that pilot and that loves us. He is a God who–knowing how completely cut off most Muslims around the world are from any opportunity to even hear the gospel— in His great kindness often comes to them Himself directly—revealing Himself through visions and dreams. Here is a God who—while we might be chatting about plans and paradigms for reaching the unreachable–gets up and goes and does it Himself. We are all of us blessed when He uses us as part of His schematic, part of His deeds.
Lord bless you all.
–Sally Mahoney for Cornerstone Foundation
p.s. Remember that if you shop on Amazon, you can go to Amazon Smile and choose Cornerstone Foundation of Biloxi as your charity as a way to automatically have a small part of the purchase price sent as a donation to Cornerstone (and it does not raise the price of the purchase).
p.p.s Thank you for your prayers. Please keep praying.