A LeTourneau University sophomore spent his Christmas vacation in Peru experiencing what it’s like on the mission field, serving and sharing his love for Jesus Christ while also partaking in his other passion — flying and working on airplanes with a missionary pilot.
“I was able to see exactly how he lived his life. I learned a lot while I was there,” Joshua-Luke O’Connor said. “He’s been in the field for 23 years, so there was a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge that I was able to glean from him. It definitely encouraged me.”
O’Connor has known since he was 4 that he wanted to be a missionary pilot. He did his first flight, taking control of a small airplane at the age of 11 — “before I drove a car” — and never wavered from his passion.
One of the components of O’Connor’s missionary aviation degree is to complete a set number of maintenance hours on aircraft to obtain his license as well as to complete a “Vision Trip,” an international field experience with a mission organization designed to provide the student with a realistic picture of mission aviation. The students select the country, organization to travel with, raise the money and do the work themselves.
“I chose Peru because I’ve always had a heart for South America, and I wanted to go to smaller organization so I would get more one-on-one experience,” he said.
Originally from Montana, O’Connor left the U.S. with the South American Mission (SAMAIR) on Dec. 10 and flew into Lima — the capital of Peru. He then boarded another plane and flew to Pucallpa, Peru, which he described as being located in the middle of a jungle. He stayed with missionary pilot Jonathan Schmidt and his wife, Karen.
In O’Connor’s first experience on the trip, he got to take control of the plane for a bit flying to a village in Peru under Schmidt’s watch. With more than 9,000 hours of experience, O’Connor considered Schmidt to be a “veteran of the business.”
“It was a really cool experience,” he said.
The majority of his stay revolved around doing maintenance on airplanes, such as taking the injection system off, repairing it and putting it back on the planes and doing a cabin inspection of a turbo plane “that involved a lot of cleaning.” The experienced pilots would make sure the work was done properly before signing off on it. O’Connor said he did small jobs the pilots typically don’t have enough time to do.
In addition to doing work, he also had the opportunity to visit the town a few times, including going to a local church and learning that driving is “like playing Mario Kart.”
“The people there are very nice,” he said. “They love you for who you are. It’s not about what you own. There is very little materialism there. In the U.S., it’s all about materialism. It was a lot of fun to visit.”
The thing he took away most from the experience was learning that people on the mission field still maintain a “normal” life.
“You don’t have to be a big, crazy, awesome person to be missionary,” he said. “It’s all about your heart and just doing what you love to do. ... I love flying. I love working on airplanes — doing it in another culture and doing it for Christ... it’s just amazing.”