“…but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength; they will fly up on wings like eagles; they will run and not be tired; they will walk and not be weary.” Isaiah 40:31
After a two year campaign that has to date raised over $2.1M and involved United Methodists from across our global denomination, blessing events celebrating and commissioning the new Wings of the Morning Cessna Caravan airplane took place in the West Ohio Conference this week.
Wings of the Morning and the Caravan Campaign
Wings of the Morning is an aviation ministry of the North Katanga Annual Conference in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that provides transportation for those in need of hospital care, who would otherwise travel many miles and days to reach the nearest clinic. Its pilot, Gaston Ntambo, was trained and educated in West Ohio 20 years ago, supported in large part by Epworth United Methodist Church in Toledo and other area United Methodists.
Beginning in 2010, the West Ohio Conference and several global partners began the Caravan Campaign to help Wings of the Morning purchase a much needed larger and more efficient Cessna Grand Caravan airplane. By the end of 2012, the campaign raised about $2.1 million for the airplane, exceeding the original goal by a half-million dollars. During the 2012 West Ohio Annual Conference, members and churches donated a miraculous $1 million. In late 2012, a plane was found in Norway, purchased and refurbished in Ohio, and is currently in West Ohio for several blessing events before pilot Gaston Ntambo flies the plane to the Congo to be placed in service with the Wings of the Morning ministry.
Hundreds Attend Formal Blessing Event on May 15
"This is a day of miracles and today we are standing on the shoulders of the many people – pastors, lay persons, people in the pews and in the Sunday School classes, conferences and churches, United Methodists in the United States and across the globe in North Katanga - who made this day of miracles come true." Gregory V. Palmer, Resident Bishop, West Ohio Conference, (Ohio West Area)
With those words and a reading from Isaiah 40:28-31, Bishop Palmer welcomed the crowd of several hundred attending the May 15 blessing of the new Wings of the Morning airplane at Dayton International Airport in Ohio.
George Howard, Deputy General Secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries, brought greetings from General Secretary Thomas Kemper and GBGM. Howard, former Director of Connectional Ministries in West Ohio, was one of the initial team of people from West Ohio who visited the Congo two decades ago and began a relationship with the North Katanga Conference. Along with Rev. David David (Archbold United Methodist Church) and Epworth United Methodist Church (Toledo), Howard brought a young Gaston Ntambo back to the United States to fulfill Gaston’s dream of being a missionary and ultimately a pilot. Howard also gave special thanks to the many people in West Ohio who have worked tirelessly for the campaign that he chaired, including Rev. Dee Stickley-Miner (West Ohio Conference), Nancy Grandstaff (Powell United Methodist Church), Rev. Bob Knell (retired, Normandy United Methodist Church) and the many donors and Champion Churches, large and small who contributed.
Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar, Bishop of the Greater New Jersey Conference during the campaign, spoke of his gratefulness for the opportunity to partner with other conferences and think about future partnerships. "The people of New Jersey gave sacrificially for this day and I want to extend my sincere thanks to those of all colors and backgrounds for their contributions."
During his remarks, Bishop Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda, North Katanga Conference, reminded us that even though the people of the United States live a different life and have different struggles than the people of North Katanga, our connection is a living God. “One of the biggest problems facing the Congo today is transportation,” said Bishop Ntambo. “You don’t know how many lives will be saved with this Cessna.”
Letters of blessings were read from Bishop Charles Crutchfield, retired Bishop of the Arkansas Conference, and Bishop Bruce R. Ough, former Resident Bishop of West Ohio. Bishop Ough and his wife Char were instrumental in strengthening the partnership between the West Ohio and North Katanga Conferences, and made many trips to the Congo to witness personally the struggles in that area of the world and solidify the relationship.
“I’m remembering Char and my first trip to Kamina on the Wings of the Morning plane piloted by Gaston, when we stepped off the plane to a crowd of over 2000 people there to greet us. We were moved to tears and Bishop Ntambo whispered to us ‘they are here because you are a symbol of hope’ ." Bruce R. Ough, now Resident Bishop of Dakotas-Minnesota Area.
In his letter, Bishop Ough continued, “From the moment Gaston came to Toledo to train as a pilot, up to and beyond this moment, the West Ohio Conference and several other partner conferences have been a sign of hope to our sisters and brothers in North Katanga. The Cessna Caravan is a wonderful piece of technology, but more significantly it is a sign of hope. Your extravagant generosity that made this moment possible is a sign of hope. Your continuing support and prayers for the Wings of the Morning ministry is a sign of hope. You have literally guaranteed thousands of Congolese a future with hope. You will raise them up as on eagle’s wings. Thank you for your faithful response to God’s call, thank you for loving your neighbor, thank you for transforming your world.”
The crowd was visibly moved as pilot Gaston Ntambo who, along with his family, has sacrificially given to this ministry for over 20 years, came to speak and offer thanks. “This airplane behind me is an instrument with wings of hope. I am so thankful for the generosity that has led to this miracle that will save so many lives and bless so many people all over the Congo. People whose names you will never know, whose faces you will never meet. I can assure you that every time we fly this airplane, every time we are saving a life, every time we are involved in ministry, you are a part of it. It’s a new day for mission. I have no words to express the gratitude of all the people who will be saved by this plane.”
Bishop Palmer formally blessed the plane and commissioned it into Christian service as people gathered around the plane laying hands on it and each other.
Rev. Dee Stickley-Miner, Director of Connectional Mission and Justice for West Ohio, and leader of the Global Mission Partnerships of the West Ohio Conference, invited the crowd to encircle Gaston and pray for him saying, “God has called us to be in relationship to support Gaston with our friendship, prayers, resources. We’re not going to let Gaston leave here today until we have a time to pray him up and pray him up good."
As Bishop Palmer closed the service, he offered two thoughts. “Where God’s people still believe in God’s miracle working powers, the church is growing and alive. This is not a ceiling moment, but a new beginning in a transformational adventure all around the world, led by the hand and heart of God.”
Major Donors of the Caravan Campaign:
- Churches and people of the West Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church
- Churches and people of the Greater New Jersey Conference of The United Methodist Church
- Churches and people of the Arkansas Conference of The United Methodist Church
- Churches and people of the North Katanga Conference of The United Methodist Church
- General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church
- United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, Leawood, Kansas