York-based missionaries in west Africa finally have the necessary equipment to get their medical air-transport service off the ground -- an airplane.

A single-engine Cessna 207 is scheduled to arrive today in Libreville, Gabon, where Steve Straw hopes to launch the country's first medical-air transport program.

Straw, 39, of Manchester Township moved there with wife Alace and their three children 15 months ago. Steve, a pastor and a pilot, used to work at York Alliance Church in Spring Garden Township.

When the plane arrives, Steve will begin an air shuttle between Libreville and the rural Bongolo Evangelical Hospital, the major hospital in southwest Gabon.

Currently, there's no reliable air transport to and from the jungle hospital.

The Straws of Manchester Township have lived in Gabon, Africa, for 15 months, working to launch a medical air-transport shuttle, volunteering at an
The Straws of Manchester Township have lived in Gabon, Africa, for 15 months, working to launch a medical air-transport shuttle, volunteering at an orphanage and helping with a mobile medical clinic in the jungle. From left are kids Joey, 15, Megan, 13 and Sam, 11, and (in back row) Parents Steve and Alace Straw. (SUBMITTED)
The 10-hour drive by car takes two hours by plane.

Steve gave us an update by e-mail:

What's your vision for the air ministry?

Our work will be to expedite and expand the reach of the Bongolo hospital. At first, we will start with a weekly shuttle between the remote hospital and Libreville, transporting patients, medications, and hospital staff.

Once we find a good pace of operations with that, we hope to add another shuttle day and start emergency evacuation services around the country.

Finding the plane was a big hurdle. How much did you raise?

We'll have raised over $250,000 to purchase the refurbished aircraft, upgrade its avionics significantly, insure it and transport it here.

When it arrives, it will be hard to hold back the tears of gratefulness to our team of supporters and to our great God who could be the only one to write this story.

In a time where the financial institutions of the world have been rocked, and people are facing uncertain futures, the generous, courageous, faithful people of God have united to place a $250,000 airplane in the heart of Africa to bless others. There's no script in Hollywood that equals this.

What is family life like in Gabon?

We have friends in villages where there is no running water or electricity, and we have expatriate friends who live in palatial homes along the beach. There is such a contrast in quality of life here -- a larger gap between the "haves" and the "have nots" than we've ever witnessed.

To facilitate friendships and build a faith community, we have started a weekly open house that includes a meal, youth group, adult Bible study and dessert. It's a growing group! There is no international evangelical church in Libreville, so this may be the start of such a fellowship. We're excited. ...

The week after Christmas, our whole family will load up in the airplane to inaugurate its work here in Gabon with a two-hour flight from Libreville to the Bongolo Hospital in the town of Lebamba.

There's sure to be quite a celebration there, as the team has been waiting decades for this service to begin.

mburke@ydr.com; 771-2024

About Gabon

Population: 1.5 million

Nationality: Gabonese

Location: Western Africa on the Atlantic Ocean between Republic of the Congo and Equatorial Guinea.

Capital: Libreville

Size: Slightly smaller than Colorado

Independence: From France in 1960

Infant mortality rate: 51.78 in 1,000

Life expectancy: 53 years

Language: French (official) and Bantu-group languages.

Religion: 55 to 75 percent Christian; less than 1 percent Muslim; the remainder animist

Export commodities: crude oil, timber, manganese and uranium

Sources: CIA World Factbook and BBC News

The hospital

Name: Bongolo Evangelical Hospital (Hospital Evangelique de Bongolo)

Web site: www.snowcrest.net/alpartners

Location: Bongolo, Gabon in central-west Africa

Founded: 1977

Founded by: Christian and Missionary Alliance and operated by Eglise de l'Alliance Cretienne du Gabon

Language: French is the primary language, although the local African dialect is also spoken

Beds: 120

Source: Dave Thompson and the Christian Medical & Dental Associations


--- Arrivals and Departures (Steve Straw's blog), gabonpilot.blogspot.com

--- Air Calvary, www.aircalvary.com