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The Invisible Fighter Pilot…An Opportunity to Engage?

Are we using the opportunities available to us to engage and encourage our missionary community?

“Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:10 (NIV)

As we are in the midst of our annual the National African American Missions Council (NAAMC) conference, we have recently been reminded that our ministry’s pursuit of God’s heart for diversity is a significant one. We want to highlight two important principles – honor and healing, as ones for us to prayerfully use to deliberately reflect and engage upon with others. To help with that, we’ll share a true story called, ”The Invisible Fighter Pilot.”

Captain Jones was a newly combat-qualified fighter pilot in the F-15 and selected by his squadron commander to be his wingman on a very visible deployment. The squadron was chosen to deploy to Chitose Air Base on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. Our mission was to expose the Japanese Self-Defense Force (JSDF) to the capabilities of the F-15 in preparation for the arrival of their own recently purchased F-15J’s. Eight F-15’s entered the pattern accompanied by the distinctive roar of our Pratt & Whittney P-100W engines. After we landed, we were directed to a portion of the ramp where the VIP’s were waiting to greet us. Aircraft shutdown was followed by Eagle drivers scrambling down the ladders and being about the business of aircraft post-flights. I saw a two-star Air Force general begin the process of seeking out each of our pilots, followed by the obligatory handshake and on to the next Eagle driver. As he came to my jet, I paused for my “meet and greet”, but the good general looked around my jet, looked at me and smiled, and looked around some more, before heading to the next jet. He then proceeded to shake that pilot’s hand and on down the line. As the general was walking away, it dawned on me that when he saw me, he didn’t see a pilot in a g-suit, an ejection-seat harness or the equally obvious 9mm pistol in my shoulder holster…he only saw a black face. He probably mistook me for a crew-chief, because black fighter pilots are really invisible! At least they were to him.

I wish I could say that Christian charity and forgiveness welled up in my soul. I wish I could say my thoughts at that moment encompassed the best of correct theological and biblical thinking. Not so. I began to quickly follow after the general in my best tactical intercept so I might introduce him to a very “visible” black fighter pilot. I thank God that the angel whom the Lord sent to prevent career self-immolation was my squadron commander. He obviously had seen the exchange, or lack thereof, between myself and the two-star. He then wisely proceeded to intercept me before I got to the general. He gently steered me back toward my jet (and professional sanity!) as the red in my eyes cleared and the heat under my collar cooled. “Bones, he just doesn’t know any better and no good will come from you engaging him now. That’s why I’m here. Trust me.” I share this story as simply one example in my life-journey that touches on the principles of honor and healing. As an African-American female aviator, my wife Martha could share her equally painful story she might title, ”Waiver for Thee, But Not For Me!” I can guarantee that if you were to ask any minority who does or did wear the uniform, they too would have any number of “invisible fighter pilot” stories of their own.

How are honor and healing related biblically?

Honor in the Bible is often expressed to mean “esteem, value, or the offer great respect.” To honor someone is to value him or her highly or bestow value upon them. The Bible exhorts us to express honor and esteem toward certain people: our parents, the aged, and those in authority (Ephesians 6:2; Leviticus 19:32; Romans 13:1). What we often fail to acknowledge is that when honor is withheld, that is an opening for hurt to occur, and healing to be necessary. I can remember when our ministry hosted some of the surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen. One common theme these heroes shared was the hurt they experienced when their sacrifices, just as great as those in the majority culture, were for so long ignored and dismissed.

The word love is also sometimes synonymous for honor. Paul commands to “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:10). Honor given to others can be the healing needed when due recognition and acknowledgement is withheld, because honor says to the soul, “You are important, and what you do is appreciated. Honoring others, however, goes against our natural instinct, which is to honor and value ourselves. Often it is our preoccupation with “self” that precludes us from seeing the “invisible fighter pilot” right before our very eyes. It is only by being imbued with humility by the power of the Holy Spirit that our eyes can be opened and we can esteem and honor our fellow man more than ourselves (Romans 12:3;Philippians 2:3).

What does honor and healing look like?

We are excited that we serve in a ministry that recognizes opportunities to engage the minority cultures we come into contact with on a daily basis. We also have the great benefit of the Holy Spirit’s power which allows us to take positive, concrete actions that demonstrate to a culture far too preoccupied with itself, that it misses the Christ-possibilities to heal with honor given in the hope of blessing others. So, let me ask, “How are you engaging this month to be involved in honoring contributions of African-American missionaries and pastors engaged in missions around the world? Are there activities or events, besides NAAMC, where we minister where your presence can be a powerful witness that Christ is in the honoring and healing business?” Our hope is that this month, when we gather for our NAAMC Conference, will be a time where we especially take time to acknowledge the value of honoring the sacrificial service of our missionary families, even when they are often “invisible” to some. Our prayer is that we will celebrate the missional heroes among us not only with our heads, but also engage our hearts to demonstrate God’s heart for diversity and oneness that we purposed to pursue at our NAAMC gathering.

Dr. Daryl “Bones” Jones, Col, USAF (Ret.)

Martha Y. Stevenson-Jones, LtCol, USAF (ret.)

Global Directors, Military Ministry of Cru

Reflect And Share With Us

1. How do you think we each can better demonstrate God’s heart for greater labors from the African- American Christian community?

2. What are some opportunities in which God may be directing you or your ministry team to “honor one another above yourselves?”

3. How are you preparing the ministers you serve with to have a greater involvement in missional recognition activities happening where you minister?


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