Bob and his daughter, Stephanie, flying on a different day in Papua.
Jan and Bob
It was another ordinary Wednesday in Papua. The rain had come down all night. Leaving the runway soggy. 6 a.m. I had finished reading my Bible and I hear Bob take off on first flight. I think, “Wow, he is early this morning!” Then the typical morning craziness starts in my house. The cooking of a hot breakfast. Packing school lunches. Signing forms. Arranging pick ups. Off to school. Exercise. Home.
Unfortunately, the freezer has frozen over so much that the door is on longer sealing. It’s a forced, defrost the freezer day. Out comes all the food. Towels are laid everywhere. Drip. Drip.
Jacob is on his 3rd day of not feeling well. It has been a week of no routine. No home school. POP a video into the DVD player for Jacob and lucky little brother to watch. I go into the office. I hear the plane take off again, 2nd flight. BOOM. A sickening feeling enters my stomach. That wasn’t the plane? That must have been a big dump truck, crashing? Or something else? I come out of the office and ask the boys if they heard a bang. “No Mommy”. I look out our living room window. People are running. Shouting. Jumping on motor cycles. My heart already knows, what my head does not want to accept. I hear Jan screaming. I run out the door to the runway.
The plane is in flames. It can be seen just off the end of our runway. The fuel smell fills the air. Panic and fright and despair are on everybody’s faces. I stay with Heidi in the middle of the runway….calling on our cell phones for help. Jan (Bob’s wife) is returning from the crash site with Darron. She has already seen her husband. There is no question, he is dead. Heidi and I hug her crying and Jan says, “He served well, he served hard. He did what he loved. I always knew this would be the way he would die. I have had dreams about it.”
This picture is taken an hour or two after the crash. It is taken from the end of our runway. The bridge is immediately at the end to the left of the runway. The plane crashed at the end of the bridge. Clipping the trees. Clipping the bridge.
Within 10-15 minutes we were surrounded by the x-pat community. Pilots. Administration, missionaries from Wycliffe, MAF, AMA. Nationals. As the day became surreal and decelerated into slow motion we were held by the community. Jesus in flesh and blood. His hands and feet. Loved us. Listened to us. Cooked for us. Stayed with Jan around the clock. Ran errands. Picked up kids. Held us. Prayed for us.
Meanwhile the freezer completely defrosted and water went everywhere. Drip. Drip. Slosh.
One other passenger died. There were 5 survivors.
The stories we have heard post crash of all the people who helped has been humbling. The fire extinguishers were too small or too empty or too late. It was mountain boys from our Adventist school that ran with buckets of water and put the fire out. Others who cut the passengers out and carried them to waiting vehicles. Others who accompanied Bob for autopsy. Others who collected fuel samples and began all the post crash inspection work. Many of the stories are too graphic. Every person has their story. And there have been so many stories, because so many people were near.
Somewhere around noon I mop up all the water and get all the food back in the freezer. Slop. Slop. Wring. I’m frustrated and sad that I had to spend time doing something so unhelpful in the midst of such a crises. Wet towels go in the washer. Half defrosted food is reloaded. The freezer is plugged back in. The demanding insistent job is finished.
The campus became saturated with people. Many who came just to mourn. Hundreds of Indonesians sat outside Jan’s house or in the hanger to show their sorrow. Hundreds of people filed in and out of Jan’s house. Jan made those difficult phone calls to her daughter (Stephanie in the States) and son (Gary, in Africa). Tickets were booked to wing family from afar.
The funeral was Friday morning. It was held in the new hanger. All Bob and Jan’s children and grandchildren were there. We guess between 1,500-2,000 people were in attendance. The service was very Indonesian in style. Along with the grave side service. Where we watched men with ropes crudely lower Bob’s casket into the ground. Hymns were sung while shovels of dirt filled in the grave. Bob was buried facing the runway, right outside his and Jan’s yard. He had served here for 22 years. Now the people of Papua say he is their people because he is buried in their soil.
We are left with a mounded grave. With a plane in scattered twisted pieces all over the old hanger. No more husband, father, grandfather, friend, co-worker.
Yet, that is not all we are left with. We are left with HOPE. We KNOW that we will SEE Bob again. When Jesus comes and calls those that are sleeping in the grave to “COME FORTH”. Oh, and how Jesus will tell Bob, “Yes, I know you!!!!”
We are left with many, many precious churches scattered throughout the interior of Papua that were built because of Advent aviation giving them the money and helping get supplies to them.
We are left with the testimonies of countless people, who share how Bob touched their life. Either through dental work, a medical flight, a mission flight (emergent or non emergent), and many other ways.
We are left with Bob’s humor, many great memories and pictures of times spent with Bob, and his hearts desire that the Papuan people would come to know Jesus.
Bob and Darron loading live chickens to take to a village that they were doing a mission flight too.
Bob and Darron on one of their many flights together.
We are left with the vision that he impressed on Darron of the needs. They sat or stood for hours talking about different places that needed to be reached or that already had work started.
We are left with men who are travelling here from villages afar to ask, “Who will fly to us and encourage us in our churches?” “Bob was the only one who flew to us.”
It may have been Bob’s last flight here on this earth…..but the impact of his life lives on.
Please continue to pray for the Robert family as they mourn the loss of a man with a huge heart. Bob.