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Missions and rotor blades

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WORLD Radio - Missions and rotor blades

The missionary pilot organization JAARS celebrates 75 years of taking the gospel to the ends of the earth


JAARS Helicopter Photo by Andrew Schulz/JAARS

PAUL BUTLER, HOST: Today is Thursday, August 10th.

Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Paul Butler.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown.

Coming next on The World and Everything in It: … blue-collar missionaries.

This year is the 75th anniversary of JAARS, the Jungle Aviation and Relay Service. They specialize in getting missionaries and aid into places that would otherwise take days to reach…if they could get there at all.

BUTLER: This summer, JAARS was at AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the world’s largest airshow. WORLD reporter Mary Muncy went to Oshkosh and brings our story.

MARY MUNCY, REPORTER: It’s June 13, 2021. Missionary pilot Jeremiah Diedrich calls it one of his favorite days.

SOUND- Helicopter ambi

He’s flying a helicopter over the Amazon jungle carrying a missionary named Bira back to his home village…along with the first new testaments in their language.

JEREMIAH DIEDRICH: And five miles out in the helicopter. I point out you see that little clearing ahead there? Bira. That's it.

Bira and his sister are looking out the window… it’s the first time they’ve been back to their home in 10 years.

DIEDRICH: And as we got closer hearing him and his sister on the headphones in the helicopter. Oh, oh, my village. Oh my home. Do you remember that tree that's the tree. We used to jump into the river from there so and so's house.

They land in a dry lakebed and about 150 people gather around the rim, rows deep.

DIEDRICH: And we pulled out that first box of New Testaments and people are cheering and rejoicing and dedicating this translation to the glory of God and the salvation of his people amongst this tribe.

Diedrich is a pilot with JAARS. He and his wife and four kids lived on missionary bases in Brazil for 16 years—flying missionaries and supplies into remote parts of the Amazon.

Steve Russell is the President of JAARS.

STEVE RUSSELL: We use the tools and the assets to try to get folks into those remote places because that's where really the unreached people are. And when I say unreached, I mean, not even really connected to civilization. If you can imagine a mountaintop village of 3-4000 people that's not connected to anybody else. They live up there, they survive up there, they speak their own unique language.

After making first contact, JAARS tries to get missionaries and translators into the villages…and then supports them.

RUSSELL: We like to think of it as being blue-collar missionaries.

This year, JAARS is celebrating 75 years of ministry… and it all started with Cameron Townsend. In 1917 Townsend got a deferment from fighting in World War I. Instead, he went down to Mexico as a missionary selling Spanish Bibles.

Spanish is the official language of the country, but he was trying to sell them to the indigenous people… who didn’t speak Spanish.

RUSSELL: And a guy asked him in Spanish, he says, ‘well, why should I believe in your God when He can't even speak my language?’

Townsend took that as a personal challenge. He assured the man that God could speak his language… and then learned it himself.

Ten years later, Townsend completed a translation of the Bible in that tribe’s language.

RUSSELL: There are 1800 languages that haven't even been reached yet. That's a big gap. Most of those are in the three big rainforests, Amazonian rainforest, Congolese rainforest, Melanesian rainforest.

Townsend started JAARS officially in 1948.

Now, JAARS uses airplanes, trains, cars, and ships to get missionaries and translators into some of the most remote parts of the world. The organization now has bases in seven countries.

RUSSELL: You know, as believers in Christ, we were given the Great Commission to go and make disciples in all the nations. Going is inherent, it's not the command. Making disciples is. Okay, well, if you're going, how do you get there?

It’s a good question—not only are these places just plain hard to reach… but JAARS is constantly facing opposition from governments that say the missionaries are imposing themselves on people groups that don’t want them there. Some say JAARS and groups like it are harming the indigenous people by trampling their culture.

One Brazilian media publication said missionaries like those with JAARS were violating treaties that protect indigenous people from harassment.

Another accused them of invading indigenous land and forcing indoctrination.

RUSSELL: It's a typical deception from the enemy to say, well, you know, you're messing up their lives.

Russell says helping people with things like a stable food supply, clean water, and medical supplies is not harming them.

RUSSELL: Is it fair, that people also created in God's image that God loves just as much that we would make those choices for them by denying them those things? Give them the choice. And if they want to put beads and feathers on it, and use it in a different way, hallelujah, that's their right to do.

The missionaries work hard to make first contact in a positive way. Some of the tribes haven’t seen anyone from the outside world …. or even other tribes …. ever—but Russell says introducing them to something new doesn’t mean trampling their culture.

RUSSELL: The work that we do actually preserves their language. And if your language is preserved, your culture is preserved, and your history is preserved…I would say it would be helping them in a great way and even more, so. It helps them ultimately because they find the good news of Jesus Christ.

Pilot Jeremiah Diedrich says government requirements are a roadblock...

JEREMIAH [1:01:09]: Paperwork and bureaucracy are immense barriers. I mean, if you were to tell me that tomorrow, there would be no more bureaucratic barriers in Brazil, whatsoever. I would make a prediction to you that ministry impact would increase tenfold within the next couple of months.

But even though paperwork slows them down… it doesn’t stop them.

JEREMIAH: Yeah, and if you invest in people, not to use them, but you—because you genuinely care about them. It opens doors to share the love of Christ, it opens doors for ministry to go forward.

After 16 years in the field, Diedrich now trains others to take his place.

Even as the world becomes more interconnected, JAARS’ work is far from over.

DIEDRICH: The need is immense, the distances are vast.

There are still some 7,000 unreached people groups in the world… and someone is going to have to take the good news to them.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Mary Muncy in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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