Post Script: Where Angels Fear To Fly

At the moment, Helimission is revising the website and the book order feature isn’t working. However, I am reliably informed that you can order any of the books by sending an e-mail to it will be dealt with. Helimission apologise for this inconvenience, due to circumstances beyond their control, and hope that it won’t deter you from ordering books by Ernie and Hedi Tanner.

Where Angels Fear To Fly

A couple of months ago, I was privileged to enjoy a ride among the snowy Alps in one of Helimission’s helicopters – I wrote about it here.

Helimission is a remarkable, probably unique, charitable foundation based here in Eastern Switzerland that, for over 50 years, has been using helicopters to transport humanitarian aid, medical staff and missionaries across terrain that would otherwise be inaccessible. Mostly jungle. I have been translating for them for a number of years as my contribution to their admirable work. Here’s a link to their web page

Yesterday in my letterbox I found a book by the founder of Helimission, the irrepressible nonagenarian Ernie Tanner, entitled “Where Angels fear to fly”. On opening it, I realised to my delight that this was my translation – under a new title – of “Dem Tod entronnen – immer wieder”, the English version in print at last. (ISBN 978-3-9525111-4-5)

This is an unputdownable account of some of Ernie’s many brushes with death, told in his inimitable style, and I had a great deal of enjoyment translating it. In fact, translating books like this doesn’t actually feel like work: the stories flow from one death-defying event to the next like a raging torrent, interspersed with moments of humour and sometimes sadness. 

Throughout Ernie’s narration is the awareness of just how hard his guardian angels must have been working to meet the challenges he constantly confronted them with, and his inextinguishable faith in the grace and protection of God. 

From the minute he set off on his very first flight, with the minimum of required flying hours, very basic instruction and less experience, Ernie humbly admits that he was flying on a wing and a prayer. This first flight took him from his village in eastern Switzerland over mountains, sea, jungle and desert, all the way across France and Spain, over the Strait of Gibraltar and down through Africa to Yaoundé in Cameroon.  

Chapter after chapter, like a cat with nine lives, Ernie recounts his hazardous adventures: emergency landings in fog, in the desert, in sandstorms, at gunpoint, on the edge of a precipice, and on the terrace of a hotel. And all without accident! Ernie was no daredevil: he lost good pilots and friends in helicopter crashes and he knew that Death was always beside him when he was flying. But his mission and his trust in God gave him the courage and wisdom he needed to bring physical and spiritual help to the poorest, most desperate people of Africa. 

“Where Angels fear to fly”  is the follow-up to a book written by Ernie’s wife, Hedi Tanner, entitled “More than an Adventure” (“Mehr als ein Abenteuer”) and will be followed by autobiographies of both Ernie and Hedi, which are in the process of preparation for printing. 

It’s a page-turner, easy to read, and well worth your time. I highly recommend reading this in conjunction with “More than an Adventure” (ISBN 978-1599190075) and – when they finally come out – the absorbing autobiographies of Ernie and Hedi Tanner. 

In the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy this two-part interview from 2009.

Into the Blue Yonder …

“Would you like to have a helicopter ride on Saturday?”

What a question! Of course! Count me in!

And then the practicalities … 

The offer comes from a very worthwhile charity foundation called Helimission with headquarters located in Trogen, a small Alpine village about 75 km from my home. I have been doing translations for Helimission for a number of years, donating my time rather than my money, and they have been promising me a trip in a helicopter as a token of thanks for a very long time. At last the opportunity had arrived! Except that getting to Trogen is by a long and winding road, I don’t have transport, and at the moment I’m staying with my friend in Walenstadt, which is even further away. As the crow flies, of course, it’s much closer – just a few mountains in the way.

“No problem. I’ll come and pick you up about 11 am. Your friend can come too. Let me know where I can land.”

That sounds simple. There’s a large meadow not far away where  the paragliders land – no, you have to pay a fee for that. There’s a field across the road from my friend’s house, large enough but on a slight slope and on inspection it proved to be very bumpy and lumpy, so that’s out. My friend knows a man with pastures where his horses graze – but that’s also on a steep slope. Oh dear! We made several phone calls, asked people to call us back, but nothing suitable came up. 

Then – miracle! A lady “just happened” to come by on Friday morning who used to work for a company that had small planes and helicopters, and when we asked if she knew a place nearby where a helicopter could land, she instantly said, “Natürlich!” and gave us the phone number of the farmer in charge of a large, very flat meadow just about 500 m down the road. Permission granted, and all we had to hope for now was good weather (it was very dull and damp on Friday). Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!

Saturday dawned bright and sunny, and with true Swiss precision we greeted the helicopter at 10.59 at the appointed spot. Our pilot was a young man in training, but of course the co-pilot /instructor has years of experience flying in all kinds of conditions. People strolling near the lake were probably rather surprised to see a helicopter arriving and picking up two elderly grey-haired ladies, but we didn’t notice. 

Up and away, over the lake between the steep mountains on either side of the valley, and then a right-hand turn around the sharp ridge of the Churfirsten and over the summits of the snowy slopes reflecting the bright sunshine.

Far below us, the villages and roads, woods and ski slopes. Mountains and alpine pastures that used to be familiar to me from hikes years ago now lay before and below us. Ahead of us the highest mountain in eastern Switzerland, the Säntis, reared its built-up summit with a huge weather station and satellite tower. Then another right turn and a narrow squeeze through two rocky crags that seemed almost to be scraping the sides of the chopper. Our junior pilot was doing very well, the instructor’s calm, gentle voice through the headphones guiding him through the complicated processes.  

And then we were back through the chain of the Churfirsten mountains and over the blue lake once more, heading back to our meadow landing spot. Our pilots helped us disembark, and a moment later the helicopter was just a dot in the distance. It was a short but very exhilarating and beautiful experience. Thank you very much, Helimission! That was fun!

For Ukraine

I have referred to my old friend Norman Perryman before on this blog. Today, he passed on this link to a video uploaded 6 years ago, but which is so utterly relevant to the present situation in Ukraine that it brought tears to my eyes as I watched and listened to it. I offer this as a prayer for all involved in this terrible conflict.

A Swiss African Story

This is a true story, about a young woman who came to our English-speaking church from a home for asylum-seekers in about 2005. One of the older women in our church who had formerly been a missionary nurse in Cameroon took her under her wing, and helped where she could. I have changed the names of those concerned but the events happened as I tell them.

Seraphina grew up in a Cameroonian village. She was the daughter of a single mother because the village chief refused to let her mother marry her father who came from a different tribe. This situation put them into the lowest social position in the village. Seraphina’s mother scraped a living by selling homegrown vegetables at the village market. When Seraphina turned 15, the chief wanted to marry her off to another old chief and told her mother to present her for female genital mutilation in preparation for the marriage. Neither Seraphina nor her mother were happy about this, and Seraphina ran away. Her mother was told that she must either bring Seraphina back, or be killed because she had dishonoured the village. Somehow, Seraphina was taken to Switzerland illegally by an African man who promised to save her. Her mother was killed.

In Switzerland, the man who “rescued” Seraphina exploited her by getting her addicted to drugs and prostituting her. He was a homosexual, so not interested in her himself except as a source of income. However, he was quite happy to allow her to keep the child, a little girl, that she had when she was about sixteen or seventeen, as it gave him a certain prestige among Africans to have a child. After a while he died, and Seraphina was able to escape from her captivity and claim asylum together with her daughter.  

Then, still addicted to drugs, she was caught dealing them and sent to prison where she underwent withdrawal treatment. Her daughter was taken from her during this time, and fostered by a Swiss family. Although Seraphina is completely drug free now, she contracted HIV during the time of her exploitation and remains HIV-positive.

She had a very hard battle to fight but eventually managed to find a job and her daughter was allowed to live with her again. However, being still on social benefits and having no passport she wasn’t yet eligible for a residence permit although she had been in Switzerland for 12 years.

A few years ago she met a man from Cameroon at a church service in Zurich. His name was Michael, and he had been in Switzerland for about 20 years. He had his own taxi service in Zurich and was well established there. They fell in love and decided to get married, but since Seraphina had no papers she couldn’t get married legally in Switzerland. That didn’t deter them. Michael was there legally and had a valid passport, so he was able to leave the country and visit Cameroon.

He comes from a different part of the country and belongs to a different tribe from Seraphina, so he had to find a way of contacting the right people in Seraphina’s village. She knew that a friend of her mother’s still lived there, but didn’t know the woman’s name. That is a community with no street addresses, but mobile phones were now coming in. Seraphina described the woman to Michael, and explained where she always had her stall in the market (it used to be next to Seraphina’s mother’s stall) so Michael travelled there and searched for the woman. 

The first week she wasn’t at her market stall, and he couldn’t stay until the next week, so he gave a note to a boy at the market and asked him to pass it on to the woman when she came to her stall the following week. The message gave Michael’s phone number and asked her to call him. The boy did as he was asked, and the woman phoned Michael, who explained who he was and why he was trying to contact her. She was happy to help, so Michael went back to the village to meet up with her. 

Since Michael didn’t speak the local language, the woman was willing to be the go-between for him and the village chief. In that society, Seraphina was still considered as a “subject” of the chief and only he could give permission for her to marry, even though she hadn’t been in the village for 12 years. The woman explained to Michael how to behave and what to say so that he would be accepted by the village.

They agreed on a bride price, which Michael then brought ceremoniously to the village chief: a pig, a goat, a certain amount of oil and rice. Then the village held a wedding celebration for the happy couple in the traditional style, with Michael present in person dressed in the wedding costume of his village and Seraphina on Skype from her home in Switzerland, where she and her daughter put on their traditional tribal robes and joined in the dancing with the villagers. Then Michael returned to Seraphina in Zurich, and they moved in together as a married couple. In December 2017 their baby daughter Michaela was born, by C-section because of Seraphina being HIV positive. 

This story has a happy ending. Michael was also able to use his time in Cameroon to apply for papers for Seraphina, and she got a passport at last. Then they could also get married in Switzerland, which allowed Seraphina to get a residence permit, and since Michael also has Swiss citizenship (as does baby Michaela) the whole family has eventually become Swiss. 

Oh Duck Oh Duck Duck Oh Duck Duck

With a date like this – 02.02.2022 – I am compelled to write something for my blog! 

Five little ducks, all nicely lined up: that must be special

On consulting my calendar I found that the 2nd of February is Candlemas – la Chandeleur in French, Lichtmesse in German – so I am feeling totally justified, on this grim, grey day, in lighting candles all around my home. Such a cosy atmosphere, when the view from my windows is all monochrome shades of grey, black and white (yes, we have snow again) brooded over by a pewter sky 

It’s a nice feast, celebrated in French-speaking countries, including Suisse romande, by eating crêpes. The round golden disc of a crêpe looks like the sun, and Candlemas heralds the return of spring (whatever it may look like outside right now!). So that was my lunch – three delicious little crêpes gilded with lemon and honey. 

Where does this feast of light come from? It’s based on the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem as recounted in Luke 2:22-40 (more little ducks!).

This was customary 33 days after a boy’s circumcision, or 40 days after his birth, when the mother was purified by presenting a sacrificial lamb and dove. This ceremony was taken over by the Christian church in the form of the Churching of Women, which still takes place but without the lamb and dove, as a way of giving thanks for surviving the ordeal of childbirth. 

Fra Bartolomeo – The Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, 1516 – maybe he started with a 6-week-old baby that grew during the painting process! Certainly a very beautiful bouncing baby Jesus here.

Candlemas is celebrated in some churches nowadays by the blessing of candles, a symbol of Christ as the Light of the World. And it’s also the day when in some countries Christmas decorations are removed, though in my experience, most people in the western world take their Christmas tree and baubles down on Twelfth Night, the 6th of January, with a sigh of relief and a lot of vacuuming to remove the fir needles that have dropped into the carpet. However, if you have a nativity or crib, that is supposed to remain up until Candlemas, in case you didn’t know. Something to remember for next year!

I wish you all a Cosy Candlemass.

Secular Xmas

There now –

I’ve made the cake,

Mince pies and Xmas cookies done,

Ordered the turkey, trimmings, drinks

Are all in hand.

The tree with all its baubles, tinsel, star,

And flashing lights is up.

More lights around my house

Than all the neighbours’ – wow!

The cards all written, stamped and in the mail.

Carols and jingle bells,

White Christmas, and so on

Playing nonstop

In every place I go. 

Presents are bought and wrapped –

No stocking forgotten –

And I’m dead beat with all this stress and strain!

Who on earth, I ask,

Invented Christmas?

And why, for heaven’s sake?

Damned if I know.

Making Sense of Easter

Recently, I have been reading a book by NT Wright called “Surprised by Hope”. I can definitely recommend this book, but it has to be read slowly and carefully, in bite-sized pieces or all of this food for thought might give you a kind of spiritual/mental indigestion. NT Wright is a well-known theologian, and among other things a former Anglican bishop of Durham in the north-east of England. He has a lot to say about the Resurrection, and in the very last chapter he writes:

“The  forty days of the Easter season until the Ascension might be a time to balance out Lent by taking something up, some new task or venture, something wholesome and fruitful and outgoing and self-giving. You may be only able to do it for six weeks, just as you may be able to go without beer or tobacco only for the six weeks of Lent. But if you really make a start on it, it might give you a sniff of new possibilities, new hope, new ventures you have never dreamed of. It might bring something of Easter into your innermost life. It might help you to wake up to a whole new way. And that’s what Easter is about.”

This idea struck me as worth trying out. What can I do to make every one of the coming 6 weeks productive, to give of myself in some beneficial way? 

Do the little amigurumi animals that I made for my great-grandchildren count? They were certainly well received, and are giving pleasure to their owners, so I’ll take that as my first contribution. I also now have several documents to translate for a good Christian cause, so that is my next “venture”. I’m sure that as the weeks progress, I shall be provided with opportunities to do something “wholesome and fruitful and outgoing and self-giving”, and I’m looking forward to recognising those opportunities. 

Yes, a much better way to celebrate Easter and all it represents than simply gorging on chocolate eggs!   

And finally – yes: the snow has returned, blotting out all the lovely spring blossom, and contrary to my prediction it is sticking. It’s still falling now. The snow plough has just been to clear our road and forecourt of our house. It is very beautiful, but such a pity for the birds, animals, flowers and fruit trees that were enjoying the warm sunny temperatures last week.


Freedom For and From Religion — Laughter: Carbonated Grace

This post was in my WordPress feed this afternoon, and I really feel that I should share it with you all. Eileen writes so movingly about something that she knows about from her own life experience, and she puts her case with dignity and empathy.

Another post that was in the same feed – on a different topic – has a reference to Galatians 3;28: There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

For Christians, surely that should sum up our attitude towards any kind of racism, sexism, ageism, or other kind of discrimination on the basis of inherent characteristics, and warn us against prejudice.

Freedom for and from religion are the same thing. It is important for all of us to protect that freedom. As a “born-again” Christian and mother of two gay sons and with a grandchild who is transgender, I appeal to you to not foster the misunderstanding, prejudice, and persecution of future generations by ignoring that […]

Freedom For and From Religion — Laughter: Carbonated Grace