Lifting up people when they need it most
When most people think about flying on a private plane, they may think about celebrities and executives breathing the rarified air of luxury. There’s one twin-engine airplane down in Monroeville, Alabama that serves a higher purpose. Instead of giving the wealthy a way to avoid flying with the rest of us, this plane provides the least of us with a blessing that helps save lives and families.
In 1994, Tommy Lee flew a cancer patient to receive life-saving treatment that they otherwise would not have been able to afford. Since then, his Pilots for Christ organization has provided more than 4,500 free flights to patients in need. That’s an average of 150 flights per year for 30 years. However, that doesn’t even reflect the growth of the organization’s mission. Last year, they took flight 600 times, transporting patients to specialists at no cost to the families.
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians has supported Pilots for Christ for many years now. Their selfless mission completely aligns with the Tribe’s values of helping those in need. In 2016, that mission became more personal when Sandy Hollinger, a member of the Tribal Council, learned that her son, Denver, had been diagnosed with stage-4 cancer. Pilots for Christ transported Denver and Sandy to St. Jude for treatment multiple times, even flying him home to be crowned Homecoming King during treatment.
The unfortunate truth is that many of the patients Pilots for Christ transports don’t win their battles with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. Denver was one of those patients who fought the good fight and passed away. Yet, when families are in the middle of these stressful times, Pilots for Christ makes it possible to receive the best treatment possible, spend more quality time with their loved ones, and avoid the hardships of travel. As one family described it, “Every time we fly with them, there is nothing but servanthood that comes out of them. They show exactly what a disciple of Christ should be.”
Pilots for Christ has a single airplane to accomplish their mission. Considering that they flew 83 missions just last month, that’s obviously a lot of hours on a single aircraft. In fact, last year, they had to replace both engines on the plane at a cost of nearly a million dollars. The organization’s supporters stepped up and made it possible to pay off that expense in six months. It’s not just larger donors like Poarch Creek that make their mission possible. Communities and families that have experienced their compassion first-hand hold fundraisers for the organization every year.
The organization makes it very clear that they do not receive any funding from government grants or reimbursements from insurance companies. They completely rely on charitable donations to run their operation. With every flight costing several thousand dollars, those costs add up quickly. But every donation directly affects a family in need. When their single aircraft is already serving one family, they have used funds to pay for commercial flights to serve other families.
Recently, Poarch Creek made a donation to expand and pave the parking lot around the hanger. Today, the team at Pilots for Christ welcomes almost every patient to their facility in Monroeville. The parking lot project will allow the organization to serve more patients and provide a safe transfer for patients with mobility issues. It also allows the staff to meet more members of patients’ families and spend time with them in prayer prior to their departure.
With so many families literally being lifted up in their time of need, the power of prayer is sustaining. Prayer helps this selfless team endure the emotional weight of getting to know every patient. It helps the patients through some of the toughest times in their lives. And for 30 years, prayer has helped Pilots for Christ focus on its mission and grow, despite the growing costs. Anyone trying to make the numbers add up would consider this a miracle, which it is.