Missionary Stories: Brian & Bailey Pruett - Philippines

by Element Christian Church

The following is a story from missionaries we support in the Philippines: Brian & Bailey Pruett. Click here to read more about who they are and what they do.  

The smell of freshly painted rotor blades was blowing out the hangar’s exhaust fan into the stifling, tropical air. A fresh paint job was imperative after flying through one hundred hours of pulverizing rain and salt air. My inspection was nearly finished, and it was time to eat lunch and re-group before reassembling the helicopter and signing the logbooks. I was ahead of schedule and anticipated a relaxing lunch in our climate-controlled spare parts room.

“Bing.” Just as I sat down, Skype broke the silence. For me, the Skype alert tone is more “Imperial Death March” than cheerful alert. This sound, in the middle of the day, often means things are about to get messy. With significant apprehension, I looked at my phone and saw the message, “Anyone there? We have a bit of a situation here.” Below that message it showed Lynne was typing…and typing…and typing. It felt like an eternity as I waited to hear what was going on. Was she taking a long time because of slow satellite internet connection, or was it something serious? I decided to prepare for the worst.

I quickly called Bailey to alert her that something was going on. She handled the Skype communication as she normally does. She would contact me once she had assessed the situation. I turned Skype notifications off so I could focus. I reviewed my checklists and notes while I quickly swallowed my lunch. I had to decide if I could safely put the helicopter back together and do an emergency flight before sunset at 5:33pm.

It was now 1:15pm and pieces of the helicopter were neatly organized on shelves and service carts in the hangar. I was working alone because my partner and his family were in Texas on a well-deserved furlough. I still had to do a gearbox oil change, install the interior inspection covers and seats, cowl the engine compartment, and do an engine compressor wash. It would be tight but I could do it all, including the paperwork and test flight, without rushing if I could work steadily and without interruptions.

While I worked on my plan, Bailey handled all the other logistics. She chatted with Lynne, a veteran missionary of more than 25 years who lives deep in the jungles of the Philippines. She and her family live completely off-grid – no roads, no doctors, no access to the modern world. They planted a church in the jungle many years ago and are now translating the New Testament into the Banwaon language. This is vital to equip leaders in the Banwaon church with the tools they need to stand on their own for generations to come.

“Lynne said that Stevie fell and broke his arm badly. He is in shock and is in a lot of pain. Can you get him to the hospital today? Weather in the village is ok but Lynne can see rain coming from the east.” Bailey’s text was efficient and had all the information I needed. It was urgent, but not “life threatening.” What was perhaps most critical was getting to Lynne and Stevie quickly because of the anxiety they would be under with an injury like that in such an isolated place.

“I’ll try my best. I’ll have to be airborne by 4:15 to do it today,” I replied. Bailey encouraged Lynne that I was doing all I could to make it happen by the end of the day and that we would get her son to the hospital. Bailey stayed online with Lynne to encourage her and chat a bit to help keep Lynne’s mind off of the “what-if’s.”

The helicopter inspection came together nicely. The ink on my final signature dried quickly on the logbooks but the fresh paint on the rotors was going to have to “take one for the team” today. I went into the bathroom and cleaned up as best I could. I was a sweaty mess as one always is when working in the tropics. I didn’t bring my flight uniform to the shop that day, but that wasn’t important now. I figuratively took my mechanic hat off and put my test-pilot hat on.

“I’ll be ready in 30. Weather update?” I texted to Bailey. While I waited for Bailey to relay an update to me from Lynne, I fueled the helicopter and gave it a final pre-flight inspection. It was 3:45pm and I still needed to do a test flight and check for oil leaks. I sat down in the pilot seat, checklist in hand, and fought the urge to rush. I purposefully, slowly and methodically started the engine while reminding myself, “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” Mistakes in this phase of my work could kill people, not save them.

Flight with Fog

“No clouds on the ridges, dark to the East. If you can get across the mountains, you can land at the helipad. It won’t hold for long,” Bailey’s text came in. Not a good report, but not bad for the time of day on our island in the South China Sea.

I flew for 15 minutes testing all the systems and flight characteristics of the helicopter just like I would do on any other test flight. Everything checked out fine. “Thank you, Lord,” I said in relief as I landed. I left the helicopter running as I stepped out and, with a light and mirror, gave the engine a thorough check for fuel and oil leaks. All good. “Thank you, Lord.” I signed the test flight papers and switched hats again.

Now I was a medevac pilot. I shifted myself into the right frame of mind to deal with the tropical rain showers, jungle mist and thunderstorms I would encounter as I would fly across miles of dense mountain jungle to get to Lynne and Stevie. I had to remind myself that I wouldn’t let the urgency of the situation lure me into a death-trap of terrain and weather.

I strapped back in, took a deep breath and prayed as I picked up my checklist and unlocked the flight controls: “Here we go, God. Thanks for getting me this far. You know the weather I need to have in order to continue this flight, and I’m counting on you to give it to me, or not. I won’t push it. Please let Lynne and Stevie know you’ve got this under control.” With that, I lifted off and flew away toward the mountains.

As I approached the mountain pass, I could see that God cleared and held open a literal corridor in the rain that was just wide enough to pass through, like Moses at the Red Sea. When I arrived, Lynne and Stevie, who was clearly in a lot of pain, climbed into the helicopter while it was still running. Lynne’s husband, Albert, and I loaded their bags. They are veteran flyers and knew just what to do. I don’t think I was on the ground for more than 5 minutes before we were airborne again.

We landed back at the hangar at 5:20pm. Bailey met me with dinner at the hangar knowing I had a lot of work left to do to clean up. She then took Lynne and Stevie to the hospital where she had already arranged for them to see a doctor. Bailey and the kids enjoyed time with Lynne and Stevie over the days that followed. They provided a much-needed connection to the rest of the world for them since they normally live in such isolation.

This is just one example of what a day can bring for us. We use a helicopter as a tool to support church planters who work at the ends of the earth. We support many missionary teams like Lynne and her family with medical flights, groceries, construction materials, transportation, and encouragement. Planting a self-sustaining church across cultures in the Philippines is a task that takes many, many years. Without the helicopter, missionaries could not sustain life and ministry in the deepest, darkest corners of the earth long enough to teach, translate Scripture, and disciple new believers. What a privilege it is for us to serve in this way and to be a part of God’s plan to reach the World with His Good News.

Meet the Pruetts, Missionaries in the Philippines