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Life as an MAF Pilot in South Sudan

Chris and Karyn Ball with Pat Massey

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. – John 14:27

Loaded and ready for take-off, pilot Chris Ball gazed back at the six massive coolers securely tied down in his Cessna Caravan. They were the largest coolers he had ever seen, and while he was accustomed to ferrying everything from building supplies to groceries, Chris knew that this time his cargo was something far more precious.

A Christian humanitarian organization had discovered that children in a remote region of South Sudan were dying daily of measles. A vaccination campaign was launched immediately, but there was one problem. The vaccine had to be kept very cold and a rough trip by vehicle over long and bumpy roads was simply out of the question.

That’s when Chris and his team from Mission Aviation Fellowship stepped up. The coolers were loaded onto a waiting aircraft and just three hours later they touched down at their destination. Medical staff blanketed the area, administering vaccinations to those at risk from the dreaded disease, and soon nearly 50,000 children had been reached. Once again, an airplane had made the impossible possible.

A Call to Sudan

Before they ever met, both Chris and his wife Karyn had sensed that God had a unique purpose for their lives. Fascinated with airplanes, Chris enrolled in Prairie’s School of Mission Aviation where he trained as a pilot and flight instructor before their marriage in 2011. After additional experience flying into remote areas of northern Ontario they were accepted by MAF for service in Africa. Along with their one-year-old son, they settled in the city of Juba, South Sudan, in 2014.
 
The country had recently gained independence from the Republic of Sudan with high hopes for freedom from oppression and conflict, but that was not to be. Civil war broke out in December of 2013, killing thousands of people and displacing millions. Continuing violence prevented farmers from planting or harvesting crops and the food shortages resulted in famine in 2017. Flights in those days often involved supplying life-saving nutritional supplements for partner organizations to distribute.
 
With MAF serving over 400 aid organizations, the list of payloads on any given day could include everything from missionary families, government officials and church leaders to surgical patients and wheelchairs or furniture and even fresh meat. 
 
Delivering Precious Cargo
 
For thirty years, SIM had laboured with the Baka people of Maridi, South Sudan, to help create their own translation of the Bible. In spite of robberies, evacuations and civil war they persisted and the Baka New Testament and Genesis were finally printed at the end of 2016. A huge celebration was planned but now SIM had a new problem: how to get 12,000 Bibles up to Maridi. Fighting had closed the roads and no commercial flights were available.
 
The mission turned to MAF and Chris Ball had the privilege of bringing the Living Word to a people who had waited a lifetime to read it. Karyn went along to report on the dedication service as more than 7,000 excited believers gathered to praise the God who had not forgotten them. It was the experience of a lifetime and a reminder once again that, despite the hardships and daily challenges, they were carrying precious cargo for God and making a difference in so many lives.
 
Want to know what life looks like day-to-day for Chris, Karyn and their family? Watch a day in the life…
A Life of Trust Amidst Deep Waters 

Life as a missionary pilot may sound adventurous but there is another side as well. As chief pilot, Chris must deal with flight risks, issues within his team, and the mountains of detail that each trip requires. For Karyn as a wife and mother, the daily challenges of cross-cultural homemaking can be exhausting, especially when her husband works long hours and is often far from home. When the demands of daily life become overwhelming and even attempts to respond to needs can be misunderstood, it’s easy for patience to wear thin and discouragement to take over.
 
The Balls and their three young children live in a country in conflict where guns and soldiers are an everyday sight. Reports of violence and raids are common, although often in more remote areas. But sometimes the insecurity hits close to home. In July of 2016 warfare broke out without warning right in Juba and MAF families were abruptly evacuated to Nairobi, Kenya.
 
Chris and Karyn with William, Addyson, and Katelyn
 
Horrifying reports of intense fighting trickled in and grief for those who couldn’t leave was heart-wrenching. As the pilots continued flying between Nairobi and South Sudan, everyone waited in limbo for four months, not knowing if they would ever return to the country and the people they had come to love.
 
Today the Ball family is back home in Juba, gratefully continuing their work and resting in the One who has promised to be with them, even through deep waters. Despite living in such a volatile country, they have repeatedly experienced God’s gift of genuine peace.
 
As Chris flew daily into remote and sometimes dangerous areas and when they learned that their daughter was partially deaf, his peace held them. When they were robbed, fleeing political violence, and heartbroken by the tragedies around them, God came near and quieted their hearts.
 

“Every time I think I am spent,” says Karyn, “I am astonished at how God replenishes me for another day so I can invest again, hope again, love again.” 

We have accepted God’s clear calling on our lives and we know we are part of the lifeline that holds so many ministries afloat. This is our home for as long as he wants us here.”
 
To read more about the Balls, donate to their ministry, or sign up for their newsletter, visit their missionary profile on the MAF website

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