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Hamilton Pilot Clarence Togeretz: Soaring to New Heights
From very early in life, Clarance Togeretz knew his calling and pursued it. It has led to years of service around the world with Mission Aviation Fellowship.

For Clarence Togeretz of Hamilton, flying is more than a career. It's a calling. "It's all I've wanted to do since I was four," confesses Mission Aviation Fellowship's newly appointed Chief Pilot for Northern Canada Operations. "I think it's the childhood desire of many boys!"

Hamilton Pilot Clarence Togeretz

Hamilton Pilot Clarence Togeretz

Now a father of three, Clarence recalls the day when his dream of flying became a serious goal. "A missionary came to my school and showed us slides of planes and helicopters. He was on the front line in the jungle, and said his work wouldn't be possible without the pilots flying the planes."

That's when Clarence first learned of Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF). "I didn't realize that aviation and missions worked together," he says. "From that time on, I knew what I wanted to do."

While still in high school, he visited the MAF office in Guelph and mapped out his path for becoming a pilot with the mission.  

After he started to train with the Hamilton Flying Club in 1988, Clarence transferred first to Seneca College, then to Centennial, for aircraft maintenance, and continued flight training at the Toronto City Centre Airport. Upon graduation in 1989 at the age of 19, Clarence completed his private pilot training then obtained work as an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer apprentice. In 1990, he married his high school sweetheart, Jeanette Harke.

In light of the fact that MAF requires 500 hours of experience, Clarence accepted a two-year position flying a bush-plane for Mal Ratcliff in Timmins, Ontario. Ratcliff operated fly-in fishing and hunting camps, which also served as a ministry. "It was excellent," says Clarence. "It was a small operation, and there was no means of navigation except a map and some water." By 1993, Clarence had obtained over 600 hours of flying practice. As a result, he and Jeanette signed on with MAF.

After training in California, they were stationed to four years in Boma, a jungle village in Papua, Indonesia. "That was very difficult for us," Clarence admits.

Situated in the heart of the jungle, Boma was only accessible by aircraft or river boat. The houses had thatched roofs, and the church had a dirt floor and walls made of palm-leaf spines. It took Clarence, Jeanette, and their two girls — ages four and two — years to adjust to the extreme humidity and heat. Their situation was eased, however, by the fact that MAF supplied them with a house with aluminium roofing, wood walls, stilts and screened windows, as well as a bathroom with running water.

Clarence served as the only pilot for the village. "I provided flight service for the national (missionaries) that needed to get anywhere for seminars or discipleship training. They had financial and accounting courses too:'

In addition, Clarence would supply rides for students heading to and from boarding school, as well as individuals with medical emergencies. The latter consisted of everything from being gored by a pig on a hunt, to severe labour complications.

Jeanette spent her time home-schooling the girls, leading a Bible study with another missionary couple, and helping the local missionaries develop a Sunday School curriculum.

Her favourite part of the day, however, involved engaging with the women who worked for her. "It was cultural to have house help," she explains, "so three ladies worked three to four hours in the morning cleaning the yard, cutting grass, washing dishes and cleaning the floors. Then at 10, we all took a break and spent half an hour to an hour chatting about culture and language."

Even now, years later, Jeanette yearns to stay in touch with these women who became so dear to her.

As their daughters aged, however, it became apparent they'd need to be re-stationed. "All of their friends were getting out of school at 10 to 12 years old!' explains Clarence."They'd help their parents in the garden or out on the river, or they'd get married off and start having children!'

His girls felt estranged, and so, after a brief furlough in Canada, the family was re-situated in Nabire, a coastal town on the island of Papua, where they lived for the next four years. There, Clarence became base manager, taking on the role of Assistant Chief Pilot and Instructor Pilot. "Our top priority was church and mission flying," he says. The pilots also assisted with 'med-evacs' or medical evacuations, community development, and the transportation of students and government and military officials.

"We had to turn down so much work;' Clarence laments. "MAF is in need of many pilots and mechanics. We could only fly as quickly as the airplanes were out of the hangar and repaired!" Many times, Clarence was forced to repair planes instead of flying them.

Upon entering local villages, the MAF pilots were treated as celebrities. "A large part of the village shows up and watches the goings-on!' describes Clarence. "It was the entertainment of the day:' In addition to transporting supplies and personnel, pilots attempted to encourage the national missionaries upon arrival, bringing news of the outside world.

But due to overwhelming demands, Clarence was never able to stay long. "There were times when I asked myself, 'What am I doing here? How am I making a difference in anyone's life?' But then I looked at the talents God had given me, and I had to consider, 'If I wasn't here, then what would happen?"'

If he weren’t in Indonesia, Clarence concluded, flight service wouldn’t be available to doctors and evangelists serving the “straight hairs” (Indonesian people)and “curly hairs” (Papuan people). “God called me there, not to preach in a church, but to fly an airplane, so other people who are trained to preach can do their job smore effectively, or even at all.”

After coming to this realization. Clarence felt fulfilled in his work, and did it to the best of his ability.

“Clarence is someone I would describe as a servant-leader,” says Mark Outerbridge, MAF’s CEO. “Certainly he knows how to pilot an aircraft, and how to train and lead other pilots, but we’ve also seen him roll up his sleeves to help out with the construction of new airstrips by either swinging a pick axe or pushing a wheelbarrow as needed!'

As a result of his hard work, Clarence was appointed Chief Pilot in 2005, following another Canadian furlough. "I was the head of all flight training and air-strip safety, and (in charge of) the safety of the program throughout the island of Papua," he explains. MAF has six bases in Papua; Clarence oversaw them all.

By this point, he and his family had moved to the city of Sentani. There, Marla, Jasmine and Doren attended Hillcrest

International School; Jeanette, a bookkeeper by trade, taught science and social studies for Doren's first-grade class.

Then, in June of 2009, Clarence and Jeanette decided to return home to Hamilton for good, due to Marla's graduation from high school. Today, she is enrolled in a pharmacy technician course at Niagara College.

Clarence, meanwhile, is studying for his Airline Transport license, and hopes to find employment as the captain of a commercial aircraft. He continues to work for MAF, serving as Chief Pilot for Northern Canada Operations. "We have started a new flight program to First Nations people in northern Manitoba;' he explains."We have a flight base in Steinbach, where we work together with LAMP!'

Clarence oversees the safety and training of the pilot operating out of Steinbech. "If he runs into problems, he can call me, and we work through an issue together:' While Clarence and Jeanette admit to missing Indonesia, it's too soon for them to think of returning. "It's very possible to return if it's the Lord's will;' says Clarence, "and we're open to that. But for now, we'd like to settle down for a little while:'

When asked about his hopes and dreams for the people of Indonesia—only nine per cent of whom are believers—he pauses, then says, "I pray that they will really turn their hearts fully to the Lord. My true desire is for them to take up their task in our place, and continue on with evangelising their brothers and sisters, to bring the gospel to the end of the land:' 

To learn more about Mission Aviation Fellowship of Canada, please visit their website.

Emily Wierenga is an author based in Neerlandia, Alberta. Her book, Save My Children, is available through Castle Quay Books.

Originally published in Beacon, September/October 2010.

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