Not yet cleared for takeoff | WORLD
Sound journalism, grounded in facts and Biblical truth | Donate

Not yet cleared for takeoff


WORLD Radio - Not yet cleared for takeoff

A missionary flight mechanic faces challenges on the ground that keep him from getting into the air

Zacharie Francois with a Missionary Aviation Fellowship airplane Photo courtesy of Zacharie Francois

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, September 20th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: what it takes to be a missionary pilot.

Learning to fly takes lots of training, even flying under ideal conditions—and missionary pilots have to fly into some of the worst. We’re talking about flying people and supplies in and out of jungles, mountains, and forests, almost always on minuscule runways.

REICHARD: The path to learning those skills can be a daunting runway of its own, but for one young pilot, obstacles at home make it all the more challenging.

WORLD Reporter Mary Muncy has the story.


MARY MUNCY, REPORTER: In May of 2018, Haitian Zacharie Francois was flying through the mountains in his country. At the time, Francois was an airplane mechanic for Mission Aviation Fellowship, and he was riding along with an MAF pilot.

After landing, he and the pilot waited with the plane on the grass runway.

FRANCOIS: When we land, the kids of the village would come around so all whole bunch of kids came up to us.

Francois and the pilot chatted with the kids about the plane and answered questions. Then this little Haitian kid piped up.

FRANCOIS: Out of the blue, everyone's talking and he just said ‘a Haitian will just never be able to fly or work on this thing.’

Francois just sat there.

FRANCOIS: I get it. He’s gonna grow up here. He's gonna live his entire life here. He's probably never been in a car before. You've been through so much. You get hit by hurricanes, earthquakes, you lose hope.

It’s a long road to becoming a missionary pilot, and Francois didn’t have any of the usual resources.

He was the first in his family to graduate high school. How was he supposed to come up with the funding and visas to make even training possible?

But he says that moment with the little boy in Haiti steeled him. He was going to become MAF’s first Haitian pilot mechanic.

But it wouldn’t be through his own strength.

Back in 2013, when Francois was a teenager, MAF let him ride along on a flight to bring supplies to some villages.


He says God showed him two things on that flight.

FRANCOIS: My country is gorgeous, just absolutely gorgeous. The mountains, the landscape, the texture is just phenomenal. A lot of my people are poor, and they're very isolated, just completely disconnected from so much.

They stopped in a few places and handed out supplies. When they landed, Francois says God showed him how much mission aviation can help people.

He applied to school a year later, and that’s when he hit the first roadblock. Money.

He tried fundraising. But in Haiti…

FRANCOIS: I discovered very quickly, it is not possible to do that.

He tried government support. Haiti’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had an ad running at the time that said they would support people trying to get an education in another country and then come back to Haiti. Francois went to the government building to try to get that support, but they wouldn’t even let him in.

FRANCOIS: I'm like, can you just get the letter to the Minister like you guys say, you're advertising. He's like, ‘no, just get just get out.’

Then, in 2017, a missionary told him about the School of Mission Aviation Technology, or SMAT. So he applied just for mechanic’s school at first. And God opened the door.

FRANCOIS: I announced on Facebook about that. And just like that, [snaps] I had all-all the funds to go.

It was the first time a Haitian had gone to SMAT.

Francois completed his mechanic’s training in a year and returned to Haiti. He was halfway to his goal.

The next step was flight school. But just as he was about to leave for that training, his home country was thrown into chaos.

AUDIO: Haiti’s president assassinated at home.

AUDIO: Haiti’s police chief says officers killed four suspects, two others are under arrest.

FRANCOIS: I was about to leave for SMAT. And I did not want to leave.

Francois says his body went up in the plane, but all of his emotions stayed in Haiti.

He arrived in August of 2021. But he wasn’t himself. News from home left him feeling bruised, again and again. One day, one of his instructors found him crying.

FRANCOIS: So he's like, ‘Are you doing okay?’ and so I told him what was happening he prayed and he just kept on checking up and he just, he made it easier.

He kept studying.

At flight school, Francois learned everything from how to plan a flight, to how to fly with no visibility. By the end of the year, he was cramming in flight hours to graduate on time: Wheels up at 6:00 in the morning and wheels down at 5:00 in the afternoon.

By his last practice flight, Francois was exhausted and not flying well. It was just a few days before graduation and his flight back to Haiti.

FRANCOIS: My instructor is like you technically passed your test but you're struggling. I’m like, ‘I know. I know. What you want me to do? I've done everything I can.’

His instructor told him to go home, sleep, and talk to God. Francois started listening to Hillsong United’s song: Another in the Fire.

MUSIC: “There is another in the fire, standing next to me…”

The next morning during the final test flight—whenever he wasn’t talking—he was humming.

His instructor could hear him through the headset but didn’t question it. They went through the same maneuvers from the day before, and he did much better.

FRANCOIS: I was not flying that plane.

They came back and landed. He passed.


Today, Francois is fully trained as a mechanic and a pilot…but after six years of working towards his goal, Francois still isn’t flying for MAF. Because Haiti’s gang violence continues to escalate.

AUDIO: And the crisis has only deepened in recent months.

AUDIO: The island nation of Haiti is moving closer to the brink of collapse.

AUDIO: The UN estimates that gangs now control 80 percent of the Haitian capital.

MAF had to shut down the base because of the unrest…So Francois has been living in MAF’s hangar at the airport in Port-au-Prince and hasn’t been able to complete his last steps to be able to fly with them.

But Francois is confident in God’s call on his life. For him, becoming a pilot isn’t about flying—it’s about bringing hope to his people. So for now, he’s happy to wait for God to open another door. He’s playing the long game.

MUSIC: “There is another in the fire”

FRANCOIS: If they trust in God, believe in God, he can do stuff. He will stand by you and just walk with you and get you to where you need to be just to advance his kingdom.

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.


Please wait while we load the latest comments...