When God calls you to do something, He generally doesn’t descend in a cloud of smoke and fire and hand you a map etched in stone. Sometimes it would be nice though.
God would be like, “Here, Josh. On September 19 at 2:00 PM Eastern, marry Janice. I’m sending Janice a calendar notification as well so we’re all on the same page.”
“Ok, cool. I can do that. Where will the money for the wedding come from? Should I sell a kidney?”
“No, you’ll need that extra kidney because, well, I can’t tell you that yet. I’ll send you a check for $5,347.44. I’ll line up some deals for you at the Wedding and Bridal Mart but wait until September 14 to buy the flowers since Flowers ‘n Such will have a going out of business sale. They don’t know that yet though, so don’t tell anyone.”
“Ok. I can do that. Can you tell Janice that about that flower thing too? She always claims I procrastinate and I want to make sure she knows that waiting until the day before the wedding to buy flowers was your idea.”
“Sure. Makes sense. But let’s be honest, you do procrastinate more than you should.”
That would be nice. However, if God provided constant GPS directions to our life, we’d never learn to have a relationship with him. We’d be mind numbed robots; kind of like me driving around Indiana. I lived in Indiana for almost four years and I never really learned my way around because I always used a GPS.
For example: I’d get directions from Farmer Ben and he’d be like, “Take a left by the big oak tree, drive past the big red barn with cows in it, then turn left by the Smith’s dog house. Go four and half miles. Well, maybe ten miles. Then we’re on the south side by the Fiddler’s Crick, right where it turns from a crick to a stream. Can’t miss my place. We have a big red barn out front with cows in it.”
I’d nod politely and act like I was following along and then ask, “OK, got it. Can I have your address? For billing and invoice purposes, of course.”
God doesn’t let us hobble around on that crutch. He respects us enough to take the time and teach us how to be better people. We have to learn our left from our right, learn which way north is, and then listen to His still small voice at the intersections. Sometimes we have to turn around in strangers’ driveways or stop and ask where in the blue blazes we’re at. That’s part of the process.
When I was maybe 16 or 17, my friend Bryan told me that he was interested in becoming a missionary airplane mechanic. “Wow,” I said, “That sounds awesome.” I looked over at his motorcycle, a wired together Yamaha Seca II – not exactly a beacon of reliability. “But will they even let you work on their airplanes?”
“Yea, well they can train you to do all that. It’s called MMS Aviation. They teach people to do everything related to airplane mechanics on the mission field.”
I was all ears! I loved airplanes but I never had the chance to buy one and put it in my backyard so I could just fiddle around with it on weekends. Working for minimum wage at a local department store has that effect on you. I couldn’t even get my dad to buy a go-cart! Plus, I loved reading stories about missionaries and all the adventure and danger they found themselves in. I had always wanted to be in the thick of the action and the idea that I could be both a missionary and a aircraft mechanic really lit a fire in my soul!
I lost no time emailing MMS Aviation. With any luck, they’d accept me that weekend and I’d be rebuilding a Cessna within a month. I still have the original email I sent MMS about twelve years ago. Dan, the Human Resources director at the time, emailed me back the next day and gave me the steps involved in becoming an apprentice. One step included raising thousands of dollars in support. I was dismayed and completely dejected. Raising that much support is completely impossible, I thought. With a sigh I took the idea of going to MMS Aviation and pushed it off my mental desk and into the waste can. No use dreaming about something that’s never going to happen.
I moved on with my life and tried to find my calling elsewhere. I helped with various kid’s clubs in various cities, I went on short term trips to Hong Kong, Thailand, Grenada, China, Laos, Mexico, and even Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. Maybe God will present an opportunity for me this time, I thought as I departed for each trip. I was hoping God would take the baseball bat of revelation and hit me across the forehead with it. I didn’t want anything mysterious and wishy-washy, just a good old whack of no-nonsense, direct, and undeniable calling. I was serious about this. I even told God I’d be single the rest of my life if He needed me to be. In fact, I was assuming that my most useful state of being was single and unattached. Turns out, nothing improves you like the love of a good woman and boy, did I need some improving.
I remember when my thinking switched from “single and satisfied” to “in the market.” I was at a wedding, fidgeting somewhere in the audience and wishing the preacher would get on with it so we could get to the reception. Suddenly something the preacher said resonated within me, kind of like when you whack a 55 gallon drum with a hammer. BONG! “Sometimes God calls us to something that is too big to accomplish ourselves so he gives us a partner.” he said. I sat up straight. What? You mean that maybe God has been waiting on me to get hitched this whole time? Now, in case this leads you to believe that getting married suddenly fixes your issues, please stop being stupid. It actually amplifies your flaws. But I do believe the preacher was right in my case. I get more convinced of that with each wedding anniversary Janice and I have.
Through a strange set of coincidences (is there such a thing as a coincidence) I found myself asking Janice to on a date and Janice found herself saying yes.
I drove 566 miles for our first date which gave me plenty of time to question my sanity. Why would she go on a date with me? Can’t she find anyone in Michigan to date? Why would she say yes to a date with a guy she barely knows? I shouldn’t even be dating. I’m not even marriage material. I can barely afford the gas to drive to Michigan. What am I thinking?!
One of the first things I remember asking Janice is if she’s OK with living in a mud hut in the middle of nowhere. “Um… Yea, I guess,” she said.
“Good,” I said, “because I think that’s where I’ll end up, whether because of mission work or bankruptcy.”
Turns out the main thing Janice was looking for in a relationship was honesty. The very thing I thought would chase her away was actually impressing her. That, and I fixed a flat tire for her although later she drove that car through a barbed wire fence on the way to work so my handiwork was wasted. In fact, maybe she would’ve been driving slower if I had left the tire flat.
When you find a nice girl like Janice, you marry her ASAP. A few weeks into our dating relationship, Janice casually mentioned that she thought a decent person should date for at least six months before they get engaged. I did the math in my head and figured out that she was telling me to not try anything funny for at least five more months. Got it. Four months later we were watching a movie in my brother-in-law’s basement and Janice casually mentioned that she had changed her mind. “I think maybe five months is long enough to wait,” she said. Bingo! I had the green light. A few months later I popped the question while kayaking in Pennsylvania. Stunningly she said yes! A couple months after that I packed everything I owned into my 1989 Chevy G20 cargo van and drove out to Michigan, leaving behind almost everything and everyone I knew for 25 years. This included the van’s exhaust which fell off in Ohio. The back tires ran over the exhaust and it clattered so violently I almost involuntarily jumped through the windshield.
Although I was saying no to MMS Aviation, I still felt the call to missions. I tried all sorts of businesses and stupid ideas. If I couldn’t be a missionary then I was going to be a successful businessman and support other missionaries, I thought. How that involvement would take place was the question. Except the thing was that I just couldn’t forget about MMS Aviation. In the back of my head, it kept popping up but I kept whacking it down. It’s impossible. Let it go, man.
For one thing, I thought it was impossible to raise that much money. But the biggest thing was that I didn’t want to ask anyone for money. I was raised better than that. There’s no way in the world I’m going around begging for money. I’ll find a way to fund myself. And so began an unsuccessful attempt to find my own way to accomplish what God wanted me to do.
It didn’t work very well. The mud hut began to look more like a reality – except it would be under a bridge in America, not in an African jungle. I began to despair. Despair, I believe, is God’s excavating company. He allows us to dig a hole we can’t get out of then, once we give up, he uses that hole to build the foundation of our calling.
Two years after we got married (and a month away from welcoming our first child into the world) we found ourselves visiting a new church called River of Life Fellowship (where we now attend). The sermon was on faith. “You have to get your feet wet before God will part the waters,” Gordy, the pastor, said. “Faith is where shoe rubber hits the road. You have to show God you’re serious before he’ll move on your behalf.” It felt like someone was winding up my intestines like a spring inside of me and I knew that my stomach didn’t have the structural capability of holding it all in without catastrophic failure. I concluded that this whole thing boiled down to two questions: Do I believe that with God anything is possible and do I believe that God is calling me to do this? If I say yes to both questions, then I have zero excuses to be running away. Like Jonah, I came to the realization that I was running from what God was calling me to do. The answers were “yes.” Fortunately I didn’t have to swim around in a whale’s intestinal juices to come to that realization. I sighed and quietly submitted, “OK God. I give up. I don’t see how it’s possible but I’m tired of fighting this thing.”
I felt like Moses in front of the burning bush. Surely there are thousands of people more qualified than me! I’m not a brilliant person, I’m not a super Christian, I’m not good at following through, I’m not disciplined, I’m not good at fundraising, and all my mechanical experience has been with motorcycles and cars that haven’t cost more than $2,000. And here I was, claiming God was calling me to work on airplanes that could cost more than a million dollars (a new Kodiak is $1.5 million). Why me, God? Am I crazy?
Do I believe anything is possible with God? Yes. Do I believe God has called our family to MMS Aviation? Without a doubt. The only choice left is to take those steps towards our calling even though it all seems impossible. But what should be the first step?
On the drive home from church that day I looked over at Janice and said, “Honey, I think we need to look into taking a step towards MMS Aviation.”
“Well it’s about time!” She said.
“What do you mean?” I asked, bewildered. “I never mentioned this before.”
“Honey,” she said waving her hands around in exasperation, “You’ve been talking about MMS since we’ve been dating. All I hear about is MMS. I’m tired of it! Let’s stop whining about it and do it.”
“Seriously? Well, OK. What step can we take that can show God we’re serious without just signing up?”
“Well,” She squeezed her lips shut and wrinkled her forehead as she mulled over our options. Her eyes lit up, “Let’s go take a tour of the hangar, see the ministry in person, and talk to them a little bit. Then maybe God can point us in a direction.”
Being a wise man is easy; all you have to do is listen to your wife! I emailed Dan, who was still the HR Director at MMS, and asked him if we could take a tour sometime. “Sure,” he said. “We’re a little busy but I can squeeze you in at 9:00 on Saturday. I can’t give you more than an hour though.”
“It’s a date,” I emailed back. Then I realized that it’s a four and a half hour drive to MMS Aviation from where we lived. We’d have to leave at 4 AM on Saturday! I moaned and belly ached to Janice. When we first got married, she would listen to my moaning with rapt attention. Now she just karate chops my complaining in the face and then puts it in a headlock until it passes out.
“Put your big boy pants on,” she said, “If we don’t do it now, we never will.” Janice was two weeks away from her due date and if we waited until the baby came, it would make things more complicated (and sleep deprived).
That Saturday we headed to Ohio. We got there right on time and I wondered into the office. The first thing I noticed was that the hangar smelled nicely of avgas and exhaust. I’m serious, nothing smells as good as the main hangar at MMS Aviation. I wish I could buy cologne that smelled just like it.
We met Dan and instantly I liked him. He had a beard after all, and liked airplanes. That’s a good start to any relationship. We began walking around the building. “That’s the parts room. This is the lunchroom. Do you want any coffee? Oh, there’s the bathroom.” As we walked around the hangar and he showed me all the different types of work I’d be doing, it occurred to me that I’ve tried my hand at all of it. Sheet metal fabrication, welding, painting, wiring, engines; I’ve had always had an itch to learn more about all of it and here was a place where people who have had years of experience will work alongside of you, instructing you while you gain experience on real live missionary aircraft. How cool is that!? I had goosebumps the whole time we were walking through the hangars. I loved this place!
We ended up talking to Dan for three or four hours. I kept saying, “Don’t you have to go?” and he kept saying, “No, it’s just a baseball game. This is more important!” Our conversation covered the application process, the support raising process, Alaska, miracles, the sovereignty of God, and Dan’s own story of God coming through financially at the last minute for his family.
Janice and I walked out to the car to leave. I opened the door, stopped for a moment, and looked at her over the top of the car. “What do you think about all of this?” I asked. I was starting to learn that I should never make big decisions without my wife’s input (which basically means I just go with whatever she decides).
Her eyes welled up and she started crying while nodding her head. “I had goosebumps the whole time.” I smiled and sighed at the same time, happy that we found clarity but overwhelmed by the enormity of the task He was setting in front of us.
We started the application process and several months later went for our evaluation week at the hangar, along with our shiny new daughter, Adilene Grace Snader. We stayed at the Coates’s house in their basement apartment. They were traveling while we were there so we babysat their Golden Doodles for them. We tried very hard to keep them comfortable and alive since I was sure killing their dogs would be a bad mark on our evaluation sheet. The dogs loved having us around. They were great hosts!
Evaluation week is emotionally exhausting. Imagine the character of you and your family being scrutinized for a week while you’re staying as a guest in a staff member’s house. We were torn between trying to appear like a perfect Christians who had no character flaws whatsoever and yet were trying to stay honest about our struggles, our doubts, and our abilities. It was important to me that the staff of MMS could make an educated decision on whether I was a fit for their organization yet I wanted so badly to be part of their organization that I was tempted to gloss over things that might disqualify me in their minds.
I couldn’t have succeeded in pulling the wool over their eyes anyway. I could tell the folks at MMS Aviation did this evaluation thing before. They never did anything to intimidate us and were very nice but they certainly knew the right questions to ask. I felt like it was one long counseling session. It was like putting a curious gopher on your soul and just letting it burrow down into the parts you didn’t even know you had. Bob, the Director of Training at MMS, would peer deep into your eyes as you casually explained why you preferred a Big Mac to a Whopper. “That’s interesting” He’d say, “How does your view of God affect that decision?” Within two minutes I’m sharing more than I thought I was going to share about my view on God, and I’m surprised that a casual mention of a hamburger got us there.
Then I got to actually work on some airplanes. We checked the fuel filter on a Cessna 206 which resulted in avgas getting spilled all over me. Cool! I thought to myself. I have avgas all over me. This is awesome! I felt like a real airplane mechanic and I liked that feeling.
After that Josh, the engine room manager, showed me how to install safety wire on propeller bolts. “Now,” Josh said, “You’re not a real aircraft mechanic until you’ve stabbed yourself with safety wire hard enough that you bleed. Trust me, it’ll happen.” He showed me how to loop it and twirl it, kind of like a ballerina with a pair of pliers. “I’ll be back in a few minutes to check to see how you’ve done.” Josh left the hangar. I started looping and twirling safety wire like a drunken sailor. I gotta be careful, I thought to myself, Maybe I can impress him with my hand eye coordination. Why, I’ll bet I’ll be the only one he’s ever seen who can do this without bleeding. Now just loop it around… OUCH! I had just rammed safety wire into my palm and now I was bleeding on the floor. Cool. I’m a real airplane mechanic! This was way more fun than building models.
Since I was applying for both the mechanical apprenticeship and the pilot apprenticeship, I would also have to undergo a short evaluation by Missionary Air Group. MAG works in partnership with MMS and administers the pilot training after apprentices are done with the 30 month mechanical apprenticeship at MMS Aviation. Steve, then the Chief Operating Officer at MAG, swung by to check in on some projects MAG had in the hangar and to take me for an evaluation flight in Bob’s Cessna 172 to see if I screamed like a little girl as soon as my feet left the ground. I didn’t, thankfully. I don’t even scream on roller coasters. I didn’t even scream while skydiving until I was halfway to the ground and I realized that maybe I should live a little. I’m not a screaming sort of guy.
At the end of the week, the staff had their big powwow to see if they would invite the Snader family to join their program. I nervously wandered around the hangar, wondering if this was the last chance I would get to tinker around with aircraft. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed fiddling with airplanes, even more than I thought I would. I was trying not to get my hopes up because I didn’t want to get them crushed if they told me to take a hike, but I really wanted to be part of all this! Bob find me staring at a Cessna in the hangar. “We’re ready for you!” He said, seemingly cheerful. We went up to the conference room. I felt like we were standing in front of jury waiting for our verdict. I guess we were, in a way. “We decided to accept your adorable daughter, Adi, into the program,” Bob said with a smile, “And you guys can come along too if you want.” Yes! We were officially invited into the pilot/apprentice program at MMS Aviation in November of 2017!
Update: Since beginning our apprenticeship, we have decided to focus solely on being a Maintenance Specialist and have dropped the pilot part of the training. The mission field desperately needs mechanics and I really love being one, so we will pursue service as a mechanic with a sending missionary organization when our MMS Aviation apprenticeship is complete.
I often think of that phrase from the wedding I was at: “Sometimes God calls us to do something that’s too big to accomplish on our own.” It’s true. I’m super thankful that God gave me a wife that’s with me through everything and has a heart for the nations (plus a lot of patience).
We’re so excited to be part of God’s call to reach the far corners of the world with the Gospel. We plan on following God anywhere he leads, wide eyed with wonder, as He reveals each step to us. Thank you for reading our story and please consider sharing it with people who are interested in investing (prayerfully or financially) in the Great Commission (you’ll find share buttons below the article).
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