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The Plane Life

“You’d better read this book,” Bill Clapp, an MAF alumnus said 53 years ago, as he handed “Jungle Pilot” to a pretty 19-year-old named Carole. “This is what I want to do.” Bill didn’t own a car, but he did have a plane. The two of them had just returned from a flight to take another classmate to visit her sister in the next town over.

When Bill gave her the book, they’d only hung out once before (sort of a friendly “date,” as they weren’t really allowed to date while they were attending Bethany School of Missions in Minneapolis, MN).

Carole already knew how the story ended, how MAF pilot Nate Saint and four others were martyred by members of the Waorani tribe in Ecuador. She thought, Okay, Lord. Can I trust you enough to even learn to love this guy?

She soon found out that she could. And when they finished their two years at the Bible school, they were married. After four years at Moody Bible Institute for aviation training, they started serving with MAF in 1969.

Their MAF career took them first to Yucatán, Mexico, and then to Colombia, S.A. where they witnessed a movement of the Holy Spirit as people accepted the Gospel throughout the area. The MAF flights helped accelerate the missionaries’ work since they no longer had to travel by boat up and down a long, winding river—a five-day trip for some on the river was replaced by a 20-minute flight!

“That’s what the airplane could do,” said Bill. And I liked to fly.”

Three years later, they moved from Colombia to Ecuador to serve at the iconic Shell Mera base from 1975 until 1982. And after that, they served for two years in Honduras.

During a nine-year break in the U.S. to care for his ailing parents, Bill worked for Northwest Airlines and did occasional ferry flights for MAF. He also did some short-term overseas projects at several different MAF bases. Then one morning, Bill received a call from MAF asking if he and Carole would like to move back to Ecuador. They jumped at the opportunity.

The Memorial and the Return

It was shortly after their return, in 1993, that Bill noticed a piece of Nate Saint’s airplane tacked to a beam in the MAF hangar. He and Rachel Saint—Nate Saint’s sister—organized the Waorani tribe to look for the rest of the plane—the remains of which were brought back to headquarters. (For more of the story, see “Unearthing an Enduring Legacy.”)

The plane reminds Bill of the story of Joshua crossing the Jordan River and gathering stones to build a memorial on the other side.

“So when your children ask, ‘What is the purpose of these stones [this airplane]?’ you tell them the story,” explained Bill. “That’s what I think of this airplane.”

Carole remembers a particularly poignant event when they first returned to Ecuador and stayed at “The Ark,” a large dormitory run by the Plymouth Brethren group. Their first morning there, they awoke to a knock on their bedroom door.

“Breakfast is ready! Come on out,” one of the local missionaries called out.

Sitting around the table with six national missionaries, Carole said, “You know who we are, but we don’t remember you because it’s been a few years.” At that, they began to tell the Clapps their memories.

“I remember sitting on my mom’s lap on the airplane and you were flying my dad out because he was the teacher, a church leader. He was going back as a missionary to his own people…”

“I remember the first time you landed in our town on that airstrip. I was 3 or 4 years old and I was scared to death and hid under the house…”

“I understand what you missionary women have gone through. I have to learn another culture, and another language.”

These were the little kids who had gathered around the airplane and to whom the couple had paid little attention. Yet unexpectedly, they were glimpsing some of the fruit of their earlier work, a special blessing they received by going back.

“For me as the wife, I seldom went out to the villages,” said Carole. “I sat home and did the radio, the bookkeeping, helped order the veggies and did hospitality at the Saint House. But to realize what God had done in their lives…” Carole broke off, tearing up.

“You look back on what the Lord does and you don’t realize at the time you’re going through it, but you look back on it a number of years later, it all falls in place,” said Bill.

  • Bill and Carole in 1961 just engaged at 19 years of age.

  • Graduation from Moody in 1966.

  • Bill and Carole with their children, Dawn and Bill, at Chiapas, Mexico, field orientation in the fall of 1970, after language school.

  • The Cessna 180 that Bill flew in Mexico, taken on their last day in Yucatán.

  • XB-LER at one of the airstrips in Yucatán.

  • At the EAA AirVenture show in 2009, posing in front of a Piper PA-14, which Bill helped locate and purchase on behalf of Steve Saint (Nate Saint’s son). This airplane was used in the movie, “The End of the Spear.”

  • Bill in front of the C180 from Mexico, which he purchased from MAF. Bill says, “It still smells like the jungle. You can’t get the smell out!”

  • Bill, Carole, and son Billy representing MAF at the EAA AirVenture show in Oshkosh, WI, 2009. They’re standing in front of the C180 from Mexico.

  • Bill and Carole on the Branson Belle, a local showboat in Branson, Missouri, 2015.


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