Phil’s interest in airplanes began as a kid. As an adult, I remember him craning his neck to see them fly overhead when driving – stay on the road Phil! He only mentioned once or twice how he’d like to fly someday. Tuck that away for future reference.
One morning soon after our 2nd son, Benji, was born in 1999, I was doing dishes and listening to a radio program about encouraging your husband’s dream and not squashing them. That led to an airplane ride with an instructor for Christmas. In January 2000, Phil’s dad talked to two men about the ride. Before we knew it, Phil was a co-owner of a Cessna 150 with those two men. Private pilot lessons started soon afterward.
Sometime during the early months of his flight lessons, Phil knew that God had a plan to use his flying for ministry, but he wasn’t sure how. After earning his Private Pilot’s certificate, he was able to give a few rides to family and friends. One friend explained how he had been envious of rich people, their large houses and cars – until he saw them from the air! Even the biggest of houses seemed tiny and insignificant. He left the airport with a new perspective.
The seed for ministry was born.
Phil told me that he pictured himself flying on dirt runways – I said, “in northern Wisconsin, right?” But the vision of using flying for ministry would not leave. Phil just couldn’t bring himself to give up a good paying job to venture out into the unknown world of missions. He would soon realize that he was relying on his paycheck, not on God, to meet our needs.
The seed finds fertile soil.
Phil went through two drastic job changes within a year’s time. Our income was less than half it had been. God did not let us down! He continued to provide what we needed, when we needed it. I also had to learn not to rely on Phil’s paycheck, but on God alone.
In December 2003, the mailman delivered a brochure about a small missionary aviation prep school called Missionaire. The brochure talked about an Orientation Week the next month. I couldn’t stop thinking about it; Phil thought it was financially impossible for him to travel from WI to western Nebraska to check this place out. I knew he had to go – either to embrace this whole missionary aviation idea or to shelf it forever.
Phil was driving home from work one day, thinking about asking God for a sign of some sort to know whether or not to pursue this idea. He thought it would be neat if a plane flew overhead, but felt it was presumptuous of him to ask God for that. Suddenly, an airplane zoomed directly over his car on the highway – so close he could see the landing gear! Then he thought, “Coincidence! Let’s see that happen again.” Sure enough, the plane circled around and flew back across the highway. Needless to say, he said yes to God that day – yes to His plan for our lives – yes to missions.
Phil was so excited when he got home. I asked him what would keep him from going to the Orientation Week and pursuing this missionary aviation dream. He answered, “Just you hon, if you don’t want to do it, I’ll give it up.”
Whoa! I’d never seen him more serious about something. He filled out the application, headed to Nebraska (God provided the finances, of course!), and that was the beginning of our journey into missions!
The seed is planted.
We moved to Kimball, Nebraska in May 2005, with our three small boys, Andrew, Benji and Michael. We trusted God to provide for every need. Phil’s days were filled with maintenance training, and our evenings were for Bible classes. Since most aviation ministries required pilots to also be certified mechanics and mission groups wanted all their folks to have some theological training, we had a lot of work to do! We didn’t realize just how much! Homeschooling proved to be the best option for us, as we were able to keep a semblance of normalcy amidst transition.
The seed is fertilized.
In May 2007, we moved to Tompkinsville, Kentucky with Missionaire. They felt a location change was necessary. While change is never easy, we have since looked back and sensed God’s guidance each step of the way.
Our 4th son, Matthew, was born in Kentucky in August 2007. Our little rental on Crawford Street was crowded, but cozy. We delved into church life at First Baptist, making good friends in the community, while continuing Bible classes with Missionaire and online. Phil completed his maintenance certification in 2009.
The seed is watered.
A pivotal moment came the summer of 2009 when we connected with a missions group working in Africa – Africa Inland Mission (AIM). In talking with their flight representative, we just felt a nudge to explore this group – even though we had never considered Africa before. Thus began applications, psychological tests, home visits, and a trip to New York for a Candidate Week in 2010. (They check us out; we check them out and hope we come to the same conclusion by the end of the week!). While Phil would still have to complete all the required flight hours (at least 500) and pass all the pilot and mechanic evaluations, we were accepted as official missionaries with AIM! We now had a direction and purpose for all the training and preparing.
The seed takes root.
In 2011, the AIM rep directed Phil to a flight instructor in North Carolina. He was able to get his Instrument and Commercial ratings for flying during those times. I will never forget the phone call from Phil though – the one that said, “Honey, we were in a plane crash, but I’m ok.” An enclosed grassy runway, a change of headwind, tall trees – it was by God’s grace that they both walked away.
Talk began with the AIM rep to have us move to Washington State to finish out Phil’s training with Moody Aviation, as a non-traditional student. I was horrified to think of moving again! I could go to Africa, but not Spokane! Oh my! Yet, we discussed and prayed and wondered how this would work.
October 2011 is burned into our memories. Literally. We were sharing at a church in Wisconsin, telling them about the possible move to Washington, when we got a phone call from friends in Tville. “Your house is burning!” By the time we got back to town two days later, friends and strangers had helped to clear out as much as possible. We are forever grateful to the newspaper office (where EJ worked part-time from home) and First Baptist Church and so many, many others for coming to our assistance to provide money, clothes, food, places to stay, and even free dental visits!
I guess it was time for us to move on – we had graduated from Missionaire, our material possessions were at a minimal, and we had renter’s insurance monies to make the move. So in January 2012, after 4.5 years in Tville, we drove across the country to Spokane, WA.
The seed begins to grow deep roots.
Of course, our expectations of a short 6 month stint didn’t exactly pan out. Phil was able to audit a bunch of classes, be on the maintenance floor and join in on the flight program at Moody. Meanwhile, we found a church home in Spokane and found our niche. The boys and I joined a fabulous homeschool co-op.
Finally, in December 2013, he was ready for the most important test of his life – the Technical Evaluation that would determine if he could serve as a missionary pilot/mechanic.
A secret desire that Phil carried into the Evaluation was that his mechanic skills would be noticed. He’s always loved fixing things, has a background in mechanical engineering, and really wanted to make an impression on the evaluators. After two weeks of intense testing in North Carolina – a week of maintenance and a week of flight – the results were in. Would Phil consider going to Africa as an aviation mechanic, but not as a pilot? Of course, disappointment rocked both of us for a time. We had spent a lot of time and money on flight training – but as we thought and prayed and Phil shared his secret desire, we realized that yes, we would go as mechanics – that God would use Phil in his greatest strengths. And His peace flooded our hearts and minds.
The growing seed begins to bud.
When it was time to leave Spokane, we were surprised at the depth of emotion we all had – it was a bittersweet parting (again!). We moved back “home” to Wisconsin in 2014, after being away for almost 10 years. We renewed our fund raising efforts, knowing that God would supply our needs. Our eight months with family was a treasure – we didn’t know that Phil’s mom would battle (and win) over cancer during that time, we didn’t know just how much catching up there was to do before we left the country.
We left for Technical Orientation, again in North Carolina, in March 2015. We had four months to prepare for Nairobi, Kenya, where the main AIM AIR hangar is based. Phil had classes every day – EJ had weekly meetings with experienced missionary wives.
The budding seed is fed nourishing food.
Finally – finally – in July 2015, we left the U.S. behind and landed in Nairobi, Kenya as missionaries with AIM AIR, the flight division of Africa Inland Mission. What an anxious mess I was! This was something we had been preparing for, longing for, for a very long time. Now it was finally happening and I didn’t know quite how to process it all. The first few days in Nairobi were a blur as my emotions gradually settled down. The many years of homeschooling through transition and change played to our strengths. At the ages of 16, 15, 14 and 7, these young men embraced their new lives (not always an easy thing) with enthusiasm and determination. Our Africa Based Orientation had many young families, over 40 kids! Our older boys became big brother to many of them, and at the same time they were able to connect with some of the single missionary men.
In the last 15 months, we’ve seen just how needed Phil’s maintenance skills are – his attention to detail, his knowledge of flying and airplanes, his maturity and stability when dealing with issues – all of these things come into play. We are grateful for the lessons we’ve learned along the way, even the painful ones.
Every day we have neighbor boys coming over to play – that is ministry. Phil’s work on the airplanes enables pilots to reach remote places – that is ministry. My gift of encouragement touches many lives – that is ministry. Phil and the boys play soccer with the other Kenyan dads and kids in our neighborhood – that is ministry. Hosting missionaries and helping newcomers feel welcome – that is ministry. Phil’s recent “promotion” to assist with Quality Management at the maintenance hangar – that is ministry. The boys’ willingness to babysit young missionary kids so their moms can fellowship – that is ministry. Our taking time to learn Swahili even though we can “get by” without it– that is ministry. EJ’s role as Housing Point Person for the missionaries in our estate – that is ministry. Doing a bit of shopping for a missionary wife stationed way up north, so it can be delivered on the next flight – that is ministry.
The seed is blossoming!
We appreciate your prayers and faithful giving – it’s truly a partnership! To join us financially, simply go to www.aimint.org/usa and click on the Giving tab, then find our names, Phil and Eleanor Blohm. Or go to our Contact Page.
Checks can be made out to Africa Inland Mission, PO Box 3611, Peachtree City, GA 30269.
The seed is multiplying!
This is the audio version (click on title above) of what we shared on June 29, 2014, at The Edge Christian Fellowship in Rogers, MN. Hear our story of God’s faithfulness, how He called us into aviation ministry, and how you can be a part of it!
The first few minutes is Pastor Marty, Phil’s brother-in-law.
Fast forward to minute 4.08 to skip some of the preliminary announcements.