Maybe it all comes down to one word. A word that has been gaining much attention and focus in these last few years within PBM staff and leadership. That word is; “Relationships.” In these last few days, we’ve seen that relationships are ofttimes all that really matters. Relationship one with another, and even more so a deep personal relationship, “One” with Christ Jesus our Lord. That is what Jesus Prayed for in John 17, just before HIS arrest, but also the very thing HE gave HIS life for…thus gifting those in a personal relationship with HIM, Everlasting Life.
In these recent days since the accident and passing of Luke, I’ve heard said of him several times; “Luke gave his life for his faith…” I agree, yet as I ponder those thoughts, I know it is so much deeper still. Yes Luke gave his life for his faith, but Luke also lived his life for his faith! That is something everyone of us who knew Luke, and many of you who didn’t, all need to treasure deep within our hearts. Luke lived his life for his faith!
Since his early teens, Luke felt called into Aviation Ministry, and he began answering that call early on. His life, lived out in faith, began taking on a higher calling, not just aviation training. Luke’s heart was to reach the lost, aviation just happened to be the tool our Lord had called him to wield. Early in the interview process with PBM, Luke reiterated these words; “Missionary first, pilot second.” Those words began building the very relationship that culminated in PBM extending a call for Luke, Ashley, and their precious children to join us in reaching the lost in Latin America…thus building Eternal Relationships.
Luke came to PBM as our Aviation Director with around 3,300 hours of flight time. For his age, that is extraordinary. Yet it was not just the hours we prayed and pondered, nor even the vast and varying experience Luke had, as impressive as that was; Luke was a Commercial Pilot, with nearly all the ratings one can accrue up through twin Turbo-Prop, including CFI (Instructor), Aircraft/Power-plant (engine) Mechanic with Inspection Authority, etc, etc. Nearly 1,000 of his hours were low flying arial survey work throughout the US in an aircraft almost identical to PBM’s. He advanced into flying in foreign countries, including deployment in the middle east. Yet throughout Luke’s impressive career, he and Ashley’s focus remained on paying off their collage/training loans as quickly as possible to answer our Lord’s call into HIS “fields ripe unto harvest.”
This past February, even before PBM extended the call for Luke and Ashley to join us, Luke prayed and planned how he could help us fly our PBM aircraft to the US for warranty work. Under his careful guidance we departed Guatemala for Kansas. Some 15 hours of flight (relationship) time later, I was not only comfortable leaving Luke in charge of our aircraft in KS so I could return to Guatemala to lead another mission team…I knew we’d soon have our much prayed for and awaited pilot within PBM. Luke was one of, if not the best pilot that I have ever flown with. Yet, what we felt in Luke was much greater still. “Missionary first, pilot second…”, Luke and Ashley were quickly becoming an intricate part of PBM’s succession plan.
After 10 to 15 hours of flight time in the US, verifying the warranty work was accomplished correctly and our aircraft was flying perfectly. Luke flew our aircraft back to Guatemala on his own. We are still compiling the logs, but a tremendous amount of flight time has been accrued since then. The hours flown, since the warranty work was completed, are equivalent to flying our small aircraft from New York to Los Angeles and back again. Every moment of it flying great.
There are many more questions than answers or even speculation at this point as to what happened on June 27 as Luke and Bruce (also a pilot) returned from a flight to northern Guatemala. The 2 hour plus flight must have gone well, as Luke checked in with me when they left Ixcan near the Mexico boarder. He mentioned nothing except their return. That return flight took them right over the PBM Mission Base about 45 minutes later and then to our Aviation Outreach Base a few nautical miles away. I happened to be outside our Mission Base as they flew over. All looked, seemed and sounded fine. Witnesses at the airstrip said that Luke did a low pass, which is our normal procedure to clear the field. A low pass, 20’ to 30’ above the airstrip, announces to everyone that the aircraft will return momentarily to land. If there had been any trouble at all, I am confident that Luke would have landed without the low pass. Witnesses said the aircraft also sounded normal as power was added to gain altitude in anticipation to turn and then land. Luke had many takeoffs, low passes, and landings on our airstrip, so when our aircraft did not return in the normal amount of time, concern mounted quickly and our worst fear was then realized.
Relationships again proved to be invaluable and numerous as so many came around us in the moments, hours, and days since. Prayers by the tens of thousands were uttered, many unceasingly. Yet Luke’s relationship to his personal Savior Jesus Christ now proves the most important to him, AND to all of us left behind. Luke’s personal relationship, with the One he now spends Eternity with, is an absolutely amazing gift that Luke has left us all. It is a gift that not one of us must take lightly, for it cost him everything…as it did our Lord, whose example Luke followed. The gift left by Luke and our Savior Jesus Christ must be accepted and embraced…and even more so allowed to inspire us to reach so many more with Eternal Life which can only come through that same personal relationship with our Lord HIMself.
Much unceasing Prayer is still needed for all. Bruce, his wife Jen, and their family need your outpouring of Love upon them that can only be accomplished through you living out your life in faith and intercession, as our Lord calls us to. Here is a few lines from Bruce’s GoFundMe page describing his condition and NEED for MUCH PRAYER:
- Minor brain swelling
- Facial fractures including his right eye socket and nose
- Broken right leg
- 3rd degree burns over 60% of his body with the majority of burns being his face, chest and shoulders, arms and hands, torso and legs
- His left hand is burned so badly they fear he will lose two fingers (his 3rd and 5th finger) and he will have some loss of function
- They have not been able to check his eyes for any damage
- Currently he is heavily sedated in a medically induced coma and intubated.
The journey before Bruce, Jen, and Levi (their precious child) will be very long, filled with unknowns and difficulties…may it also be full of relationships one with another (all of us and them) and One with our Lord and Savior whom Bruce and Jen claim as their very own and thus seek with all of their hearts.
Prayer for PBM will remain forefront and certainly much needed as we journey alongside Luke’s family, Bruce and his family, and throughout the investigations that accompany aeronautical accidents. Answers to our questions may never be found…yet our Lord promises in Jer 29, that we will find HIM (the ultimate and Eternal answer to all our questions); “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Seek HIM with us now, in Jesus Precious Name!
ps: In the first 36 hours after the accident, PBM accrued $58,069.15 in medical fees revolving around Luke and Bruce’s transportation and treatment. The majority of these charges are on our credit cards, all of which will need to be paid in the next month. Our desire is to simply cover those expenses, which you can help us with at; https://paradisebound.org/donate/ or at: PBM’s GoFundMe page. or by sending gifts to: PBM, PO Box 80, Zeeland, MI 49464. All other gifts should be directed toward the Van Fleet and Sullivan families here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/go-fund-me-for-bruce-van-fleet