Pilots For Christ: Winged Ministry Helps Patients Travel For Treatment
A donation from the Alfa Foundation is helping one Christian ministry in Alabama serve patients facing unusual travel needs. Pilots for Christ (PFC), based in Monroeville, recently received a $10,000 donation from the Foundation to help keep its mission in the air.
“We’re not a charter service, and we are not an air ambulance,” said Rosalyn Sales, the group’s public relations and fundraising director. “Our sole purpose is to show Christ’s love through our actions, and we don’t charge anyone. We operate strictly on donations.”
PFC has touched countless lives throughout Alabama, including Carolyn Castleberry, an Alfa policyholder from Evergreen whose lung problems led her to seek help from experts at National Jewish Health Medical Center in Denver, Colorado. However, her compromised immune system made it impossible to fly by commercial airlines, and driving wasn’t advised in her weakened state.
“It took two and a half months to get an appointment at National Jewish Health, and that facility is supposed to be the best in the nation for patients with pulmonary problems,” Castleberry said. “Even though Denver is outside its service area, PFC was willing to help. It was a Godsend to me. There’s no way I could have made the trip without PFC.”
Castleberry said the pilots and volunteers at PFC are great ministers and are intent on making sure each passenger is comfortable. The cost of the trip is never discussed, she said.
“Before each takeoff, PFC staff says a prayer with the passengers,” Castleberry said. “It’s such a comforting feeling to pray with them. I believe that every step of the way the Lord was in control of my situation — right down to leading me to call PFC about the trip to Denver.”
Alabama Farmers Federation Secretary-Treasurer Steve Dunn lives in Conecuh County, a short drive from Monroeville, and spearheaded Alfa’s contribution to PFC.
“They’re doing God’s work at PFC,” Dunn said. “It makes me thankful for my health and the health of my family, and it also makes me thankful for those called to perform these special ministries.”
PFC, an affiliate of Pilots for Christ International, began in Monroeville 20 years ago. It’s the only service of its kind in Alabama and one of 20 nationwide. It serves the entire state and flies anywhere within a 350-mile radius; however, it frequently travels beyond those boundaries when needs like Castleberry’s arise.
“We average 60 flights per year, but in 2014, there was a tremendous increase in demand, and we exceeded 160,” Sales said. “The increase is due, in part, to increased awareness of PFC and an increase in stretcher trips and critical patients.”
Tommy Lee of Monroeville is PFC’s president and chief pilot. He oversees operations and is assisted by Rosalyn’s husband, Johnny Sales, who serves as flight coordinator and volunteer board member. Numerous others volunteer keep the mission flying high.
In addition to transporting patients, PFC flies humanitarian supplies in times of disaster, ferries ministers and missionaries and works with the Wounded Warrior Project and Veteran Airlift Command to help members of the armed services in times of need.
PFC passengers often have weakened immune systems from cancer treatments or organ transplants. Lee said their strength and courage is inspiring.
“I believe God led me to this ministry and allows me to use my skills as a pilot to share His word,” said Lee, a retired car dealership owner in Monroeville who now serves PFC full time. “I’ve flown people who were so sick it was a miracle to see them have the strength to carry on.”
Not every story is one of success, and Lee remembers those who lost their battles with an honorary plaque inside the PFC hangar.
“It can be heartbreaking to see people when they are at their lowest and hurting,” he said. “But it’s comforting to know we are doing what we can to help ease that hurt and to show them God’s love and compassion on their journey.”
PFC’s fleet includes four aircraft. One is leased and housed in PFC’s hangar. Three are corporately owned and serve as backups when needed. They are operated at the owners’ expense. In addition to memorials and regular contributions from those who’ve used the service, many churches and civic organizations make regulation donations to PFC.
For more information, visit PilotsForChrist.net; call (251) 575-9425 or follow the group’s Facebook page called PilotsforChrist Monroeville AL.