Earning an audience

“After your first winter here, people will treat you differently,” Jill said to me after I first arrived in Lesotho in 2007. Jill was the missionary I was working with. She had lived in Lesotho a few years already. I was the new kid on the block.

Sure enough, people in the mountains were always nice to me, but there was something stopping them from being too nice. A little hesitation.

A young me, working on getting though the Lesotho winter!

A young me, working on getting though the Lesotho winter!

As winter came and went, not as fast or easily as I just wrote those five words, but with its slow, bitterly cold nights and mornings, and its days spent just trying to get warm, peoples attitude to me warmed like the spring sun.

What was different? Pre-winter me to post-winter me? Nothing really. I had learnt that life wasn’t easy here. But I was pretty much the same.

In the eyes of the mountain people though, I had endured what they endure year after year. I had seen it for myself, and experienced what that part of their lives was like. And in doing this, I had proved to them I wasn’t just there as a tourist, enjoying the warm green summer mountains. I was there for something else.

This year, one of the programs Mission Aviation Fellowship has been supporting is the Lesotho Flying Pastors. The intention of this ministry is for pastors from Lesotho, mostly based in the city, to go out to the isolated villages where MAF fly, and pastor the Basotho people. Building relationships with people who don’t ever get to hear about such radical things as ‘Love your neighbor,’ or ‘There is a God who knows you and loves you.’ Their aim is to reach places no one else reaches. This year so far, they have done 3 successful visits to a village in the north-east of Lesotho called Tlhanyaku. They visit every month, for a week at a time, visiting people in their homes, praying with them, teaching them, and sharing with them a little of who Jesus is.

So far, their reports have been positive. They have been welcomed to the villages, and asked to return. The pastors come back to Maseru excited at what God is doing with them in these places.

April has been a little different.

The pastors put on their jackets soon after landing!

The pastors put on their jackets soon after landing!

I dropped them off last Thursday. I was due to return later that day with an extra load of equipment for them. A wood heater, some extra blankets, and things like that. Things they could manage without, but would prefer not to.

I didn’t get back there on Thursday afternoon. Or Friday morning. In fact, the weather system that pulled over Lesotho brought rain and cold from Thursday afternoon, solid until what looks like Wednesday afternoon. 6, or lets just say 7 days at this point, of solid rain and cold. No airplanes could even attempt getting close to bring them back, or to take more supplies.

The weather system that kept us grounded

The weather system that kept us grounded

We received a message from them about halfway through their visit, saying that they were “not able to do anything,” and “we are ready to go home anytime.”

This got me thinking. Previous visits, their reports were positive, they knew what they had accomplished. This time, in their view, they had not accomplished anything.

I couldn’t help but think they were wrong about this.

I can only think that after a week of being cold, and wet, and not being able to do anything easily, they are witnessing first hand what it’s like to be in Tlhanyaku. To be a villager in the mountains, where weather dictates what you will do today, and where nothing comes easy. These pastors, as much as they may have wanted to go home immediately, are witnessing something, and gaining respect among those to whom they preach.

It causes me to reflect on what Jesus did. Besides the earth-shattering sacrifice of Jesus dying on the cross, Jesus also lived with us. He endured more than 30 years of human struggles. Hot summers no doubt, and cold winters. Hungry nights and parched days. Jesus didn’t sit above us and tell us how to live. He lived beside us, showing us He wasn’t just a tourist to earth, here to enjoy its fruits and exiting when things got hard. He showed us that He was one of us, and that He understood what it’s like to be human.

The pastors, as they await their MAF airplane to get them back to a dry house, where they can buy food at the grocery store, will hopefully reflect on what it’s like to be a Tlhanyaku villager.

And as they go out and build relationships with them on their next visit, I won’t be surprised if next time the villagers greet them with more enthusiasm than ever before, knowing that the pastors ‘get it.’

One job takes many forms

Running man

Sello and I with his new shoes

Sello and I with his new shoes

Recently I’ve been exploring the city, looking for good running routes. One afternoon I found myself on a quiet road where I saw a young man, also in running gear. He stood on a corner with a huge smile, tiny legs, and a pair of broken sunglasses jammed on his face. I politely said ‘Hi’ as I ran past, half in my own world as I listened to yet another ’Stuff You Should Know’ podcast.

Thirty seconds later a blur of a legs and running shoes flew past me. It was the same young man. As it turned out he was doing his speed work on that road, and we stopped to talk.

Since meeting Sello that day, I learned that he is from the northern part of Lesotho and came to Maseru to focus on running competitively. He is passionate about it, and whenever he talks about future races he gets so excited trying to explain how fast he hopes he can go. Talking with him is not only good for my Sesotho practice, but a great way to learn more about the Basotho (people from Lesotho) city culture, and the dreams of some young men. I have been able to pass down to him some of my old running gear, and we meet regularly to talk about training, and nutrition and things like that. He even comes to work in our garden to earn money for hydration supplements. I love seeing Sello’s focus and passion for running. And our family looks forward to developing a better friendship with him.

Young boys

One Friday during the last month, we put 3 mattresses down in our living room, made them comfortable with some blankets, and prepared to host 2 children and a staff member from Pulane Children’s Centre. The two children needed a consult from a very specialized doctor, who is only available certain times of the month, and only in Maseru. With us living here now, we were able to make the appointment and host the boys, so they could receive the care they needed from this doctor.

Loving the dinner at Spur

Loving the dinner at Spur

But for us, the visit wasn’t just about getting them to a doctor. In fact, the one boy, who has a troubled past, needs more than just one consult from a doctor. As we found out, he really needs people in his life who care for him, and who won’t give up on him.

During their visit we were able to take them to the mall, and have a special dinner at a restaurant with a play area and fun food they have never seen before. They even got to ride an elevator and escalator for the first time in their lives! More importantly, for 24 hours, they got to be the center of attention.

For Emily, in particular, sharing our home with our PCC family is a special joy and something she looks forward to doing frequently in the future.

Emergency flight

Bryan helping the patient

Bryan helping the patient

That same weekend, on Sunday afternoon, I got a call from the on-call MAF pilot. He lives just up the road from us, and got an emergency call out to go to Qachas Nek (in the southeast corner of Lesotho) and bring a critical patient to the main hospital. He asked if I wanted to ride along, to begin the learning process of how these medical flights work.

We rushed to the airport, got airborne as soon as possible, and made it to Qachas Nek within an hour of leaving the house. This journey takes a full day by road. We loaded the young girl, who had been injured in a fire, onto a stretcher and into the plane. Then we headed back with the setting sun to Maseru, where an ambulance was waiting to take her to the hospital. The speed and proficiency that I observed during that flight revealed how much learning is ahead in the next months. It was great to be there, to help out, and see first hand what a difference these medical flights can make.

Different ministries, one mission

As I pieced together these three stories that stand out to me this month, it occurred to me that our role here as an MAF family is multi-faceted. Like believers the world over, we get to show others what we believe God’s Kingdom is like. Our job isn’t only to fly but rather to be here: building relationships, helping where we can, and using what we have been given to assist those around us.

When helping helps

"What is the best way to make a difference in the lives of the Basotho people?"I was recently asked while talking with people about the role of missionaries.

I thought for a while, and something occurred to me.

At the Children’s Centre, we get all kinds of visitors and teams that come through to do work, and assist us in our goals of creating a safe and happy place for the children to grow up.

Teams come in all shapes and sizes.

Some come like a tornado, powering through in two days, transforming the landscape in their wake, fixing, building and repairing anything that leaks, squeaks or rattles. They bring everything with and need nothing from us.

Others come slowly.

They arrive, often by themselves. They stay. They take it all in. They bring nothing with, and often rely on us. Then, when the time is right, they leave again.

If you had to ask the Basotho people who made the bigger impact, what do you suppose they would say?

If you have picked up the vibe here, you may have correctly guessed that the team most fondly remembered, most loved, and often most impactful is the latter one. The slow, quiet, visitor.


Because they are willing to listen. When they listen, they are showing the people how important their voices are. They are showing them that they have something to say. They they have something to offer.

A missionary coming in is often thought of as the one ‘bringing’ something, and who doesn’t need anything. They are the ones who have ‘it.’ But I think it’s often the other way around. The missionaries’ job is to show the people that they have ‘it’. To show them their value, their worth, their importance in the eyes of God. As missionaries, we should be bringing our ears, and using them well.

At MAF, I get a strong sense that there is an awareness of this, from the top management in the USA, to each and every pilot who serves in the field. It’s not just about flying, and doing as much as we can physically squeeze into a day. It’s much more about relationships, and working with people in these isolated communities, to show them that they have value, and a voice, and so much to teach the world.

That’s why MAF didn’t just employ me as a pilot. They employed the whole Strugnell Crew, as a family unit, to serve, live with and listen to the Basotho people, to hear them bring glory to God.

So I believe, the best way to make a difference in the lives of the Basotho people, is simply to listen to them, and let the relationship grow.