Congo Pilot Medical Missions: Gaston Ntambo
We are all called to serve in our own way. Meet the son of an African bishop who found his calling in the cockpit of a rescue plane. Kim Riemland has his story.
(Locator: Democratic Republic of Congo)
Gaston Ntambo risks it all to save lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Navigating his small Cessna on dirt runways and over a remote area the size of Texas, where a downed airplane might never be found.
Gaston Ntambo, Wings of the Morning: "It's something that we do worry about and we do the best we can to plan for weather and for other things."
Thunderstorms, fuel shortages, even people and goats on the landing strip are all hazards of the job.
Gaston Ntambo: "You have to scare the goats first before they scare you. So, yeah, that's one of the things that we do, is fly low and scare them off and then you try and land as soon as possible."
Ntambo is a missionary with United Methodist "Wings of the Morning." Sometimes his assignment is delivering medicine.
Gaston Ntambo: "In rainy season, everything stops. There is only bicycles that can get through. At that time, there's no medicine and it happens to be the time also of many epidemics-cholera epidemic. We have to fly all along the Congo River and drop medicine back and forth."
Other times, he airlifts critically ill patients from remote villages to the nearest hospital.
Gaston Ntambo: "The flight is free for them. It's like an angel coming down to their rescue, because there are no roads and there's no other way to getting out. So we are basically trying to give people second chance to life, because if you don't do the flight you know they're gonna die."
Across the Congo, local pastors operate ham radios to alert the flight service. No one is turned away. This boy was bitten by a venomous snake.
Gaston Ntambo: "There have been cases where I flew a village person to a hospital. And you get over there, they have nothing with them. They don't even have the money to pay for the fees. Some of the hospitals will be, like, you know, $10. They don't have it."
Far from home with no money or family, some patients need extended treatment. So, Ntambo and his wife Jeanne, out of their own pocket, opened a guest house in the city serving people like this accident victim.
Filbert Mukekwa, Guest House Resident: "I fell down and I broke my leg. And at that time Bishop sent Gaston to come pick me up in Kamina and bring me over to Lubumbashi. He says my case is very complicated because my leg was broken, but they did not have the right equipment. They need some metal pieces to put in my leg. And I've been waiting here for one year. During this whole time with Gaston and his family and wife who have been feeding us. We continue to thank you, Gaston and his wife, for the guesthouse and for being able to take care of us here."
Gaston Ntambo: "I've had opportunities. People have offered me what they thought to be a golden opportunity for me to fly big airplanes and fly for a lot more money, some went as far as $6,000 a month. And I turned them down. I believe it's a calling for me. The best part of my life is when I'm coming down with a patient and I'm close to landing to where I know they'll get help and they're still alive. That in itself is priceless. It's a feeling that you can get. It's like something that somebody says thank you for something that you knew there is no other way but that God made it. So it is very fulfilling to be able to do what I do."
Gaston Ntambo has been with Wings of the Morning for 14 years. He is one of three pilots who fly for the service covering all of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Posted: February 25, 2011