“Back on the bike”

Helicopter pilot Dean Yeoman and his wife Kaylene returned to NZ from a long-term posting in southern Africa three years ago, approaching retirement age.

In May this year they took leave from their New Zealand jobs and went back to help out at Mercy Air (a Christian mission aviation organisation) for two months. They were able to do this because of their extensive previous experience in the organisation. Having been “out of the groove” for three years it required some extra focus for Dean to regain familiarity with procedures and equipment, but the flying part of it was like “getting back on the bike” – he loved it!

Not everything went smoothly – both of them caught COVID, requiring outreaches to be delayed and cancelled; some unexpected helicopter maintenance was needed; destinations were confused (two places with the same name, 20km apart); and an outreach was postponed due to changing documentation requirements. Severe, heavy rains and thunderstorms have become a major issue. This is meant to be dry season (May to October) but water is everywhere, and flights have had to be rescheduled.

Initial outreaches in Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) involved transporting eyecare, dental and medical teams, with 707 people receiving treatment in the first week. On the ground, Kaylene and Dean helped – they have both been trained to carry out eye tests and dispense simple reading glasses. Eswatini’s government is very appreciative of these specialist medical services, so Mercy Air is looking at establishing a base there to increase availability of these services to rural areas. The Yeomans’ remaining time was in central Mozambique, which is well known to them. Work here is becoming increasingly difficult due to changing regulations. The language (Portuguese) is a major challenge – Dean and Kaylene spent weeks revising before leaving New Zealand, but still relied on translators.

Mercy Air carries out about twenty outreaches a year, each requiring anything from four days to three weeks away from base, which is quite demanding. So Dean and Kaylene’s two month stint was really welcome, allowing their successors to take some leave. Joel and wife Sarah, plus Swiss instructor Tom, were also able to fly to mountains in neighbouring Lesutu to complete high-altitude flight training, and continue their survey for possible future operations there in partnership with Missionary Aviation Fellowship.

Planning for an outreach takes place up to a year in advance, with schedules being modified as required to accommodate new mission requests, maintenance, and other variables. Outreaches usually involve medical, evangelistic, educational and agricultural teams, with staff provided by a partner organisation. While daily flying time might be one to four hours, administration for each of those flights takes much longer.

Previously Kaylene helped establish an education programme (mainly literacy) and continued to assist with that. Despite the challenges, Dean and Kaylene have enjoyed their time. The highlight for Kaylene was spending a day back at the Msholozi township clinic with her old team; there are always plenty of interesting medical dramas! Helping people, and having them know why they are doing it – the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, present in them – is their motivation. They love doing the work, and can’t understand why many more people with obvious ability aren’t motivated to get involved with mission work.

Although the Yeomans’ mission is now over, please pray for:

• on-going safety for Mercy Air flight operations and staff

• wisdom for Mercy Air’s directors in changing times

• cooperation from government departments

• that Dean and Kaylene might correctly assess their ability to go on future short-term missions, given their ages (mid-60s)

—Geoff McGowan