Gaston's Story

By Mariellyn Dunlap Grace

“Wings of the Morning has been the one thing that has held the North Katanga Conference together. Those are the words of my father,” explains Gaston Ntambo, missionary pilot for Wings of the Morning (WOTM) aviation ministry.

Gaston’s father, Bishop Ntambo Nkulu, presides over the United Methodist Church in North Katanga (Democratic Republic of Congo) and Tanzania, an area roughly the size of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota combined. Even using Wings of the Morning, Bishop Ntambo cannot visit congregations in Tanzania because the fuel used by the current Cessna P210 is not readily available there.

For the last 14 years, Gaston Ntambo has piloted Wings of the Morning’s ministry of bringing medicines, Bibles, pastors, and missionaries to the farthest corners of the North Katanga Conference, while also transporting the seriously ill and injured to hospitals in bigger cities.

“God had a mission for me, a ministry that I enjoy doing,” Gaston remarks. “At first I thought of it as helping missionaries who were already there, not as having my own mission. That is, until my first medical flight, when it became personal to get [the patient] to the hospital alive. He was still breathing [when we arrived], and I knew I wanted to do this as my mission, for people who would otherwise die.”

Gaston never imagined he would become the first African pilot to fly Wings of the Morning. He came to Ohio to earn an accounting degree, but when Epworth United Methodist Church in Toledo found out his real dream was to become a pilot, they provided the funding for him to follow his dream…an investment that has multiplied time and again.

Times have changed in the past few years, however, and where once the funding for WOTM poured in, today Gaston must fight just to keep Wings of the Morning operational. Increased fuel costs and an aging plane, combined with the declining economy in the U.S., have meant less flight time and more work on the ground for Gaston.

Enter the West Ohio Conference’s Caravan Campaign to raise funds for a new Cessna Grand Caravan, which will hold triple the weight of the current airplane, with fuel that costs much less and is readily available across the Congo and Tanzania.

“Right now, we’re using what we can to keep the program going and the plane flying, but it’s not as effective,” Gaston comments. “A new plane will be the right tool to help the ministry be 100% effective. It’s the right weapon to go to war with. It will simplify our work by combining flights and [will let us] reach out farther and cover the whole conference.”

So far, West Ohio and other United Methodist conferences have raised over $1 million, with $600,000 left to go. West Ohio Bishop Bruce Ough has made that $600,000 the goal of this year’s Miracle Offering at West Ohio Annual Conference and has invited all United Methodist churches in West Ohio to participate.

“It’s like having a wingman,” Gaston says of the West Ohio Conference. “Without this campaign, I would be looking for a different job because the circumstances are so difficult with the current airplane.

“Thank you, on behalf of my people, to everyone who has made any contribution to the Caravan Campaign. It’s very moving to know how many people are a part of this. I’m confident that it will happen, in God’s timing.”