Fighter Pilot Leaves Field of Combat for Mission Field
Photo by Shanda Moon.
A US Air Force F-16 fighter pilot is making the transition from the fields of combat to the mission field.
US Air Force Major Lance “Nuke” Ferguson has been a fighter pilot for nearly 11 years. He has flown combat missions in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and he wears the patch of the prestigious Air Force Weapons School — an honor and opportunity awarded to only a few fighter pilots each year, as well as a passport to future advancement. In every respect, Nuke is a highly-trained, experienced, and respected Air Force leader and fighter pilot.
Now this highly-skilled fighter pilot is doing what few could in the face of such God-granted success: He’s giving it up:
[W]e’re looking at sometime in the fall of 2016 to move to the Pacific island of either Palau or Yap to work for [Pacific Missionary Aviation]…The aviation side of the mission provides the locals cheap transportation for them and their supplies (food, medicine, etc.) currently to four outer islands (Falalop, Fais, Anguar, Peleliu)…
PMA also flies medical flights, and does air drops to some of the smaller islands that don’t have a runway when the sea states don’t allow boats to transport goods.
Nuke and his family had an understandably difficult decision to make:
I have flown the F-16 all over the world and deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan safely. The beginning of November 2013 I pinned on the rank of Major, so I continue to climb the military ladder. The security of an Air Force paycheck, medical insurance, moving all over the world on the Air Force’s “dime”, etc. is quite nice and makes for a comfortable living. The thought of retiring already at 20 years (at this point 9 years away) with a pension and lifelong medical coverage is quite a “carrot”.
So why give it up? Mentioning his wife, Lana, Nuke said:
While serving in the US military is an opportunity I’m very thankful for, the efforts I put into it are temporal…Lana and I have a desire to use our talents for eternal purposes, and break away from the “American Dream” of a big house, two cars, two kids, and a bunch of money in the bank we’ll spend in the bliss of our old age together…
We’re not even guaranteed tomorrow, so why spend life chasing retirement?
Nuke’s discussion of eternal purposes versus the American dream were a direct reference to Luke 12:15-34, which talks about the rich man who built new barns for his overflowing crops only to have his soul required of him that very night. Though not often preached in sermons together, the passage about not focusing on earthly wealth is followed immediately by the admonition not to worry about tomorrow, for God is in control:
Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?
Similarly, as Nuke and his family were preparing for the potential financial changes as well as global separation from family, they referred to Mark 10:23-31, which contains admonitions about wealth and family distracting from the Kingdom of God.
Finally, they were encouraged to make the most of the time God had given them with James 4:13-14:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.
Nuke will try to keep a connection to the military as a non-flying Reservist, but his family decision to leave the active duty Air Force — when he is, for all intents and purposes, at the “top of his game” — is clearly a sacrificial step made with the heart to advance God’s kingdom. It is, without a doubt, a clear example of a Christian family making God their first priority.
To be clear, this decision was not made on a whim, as their studies of the above Bible verses make clear. Nuke has made the point that his ‘circle of influence’ was somewhat limited, and his family felt they could make a greater impact on God’s kingdom by transitioning to full-time ministry. Nuke also made clear that he and his wife have both had the possibility of missionary aviation on their hearts for some time, and there are some logistical details that make Nuke-the-fighter-pilot and a position at PMA a unique (and God-derived) fit.
There are a couple of points worth mentioning:
1. Serve God where you are with the skills He’s given you. This is something Nuke and his family have done for many years. They’re not leaving the Air Force because they feel they can’t serve God in it, but because, among other things, with the skills, experience, and passion they have, they feel they’re able and ready to serve God more fully in a full time ministry.
There are some that feel a Christian can only “truly” serve God in full time ministry — as in, you have to give up your life and move to the heart of Africa to be following the will of God. R.G. LeTourneau, Mike Huckabee, and even Tim Tebow have served as examples and advocates of Christians serving faithfully in whatever profession God has placed them — and with the skills He has given them. As described in Christian Fighter Pilot is not an Oxymoron:
It’s one thing for someone to move their qualifications to missions, like a military pilot who chooses to enter the field of mission aviation. It’s quite another for someone to abandon [those qualifications], like an avid computer scientist who moves into a field without running water or electricity. Is that where God wants him? Possibly, but God also gave him a passion and unique set of skills…
I believe someone who loves computer science should be the best Christian computer scientist he can be; one who enjoys Physics should be the best Christian physicist he can be; one who enjoys flying should be the best Christian pilot he can be. I believe God gave us passion and skills so that we could use them to His glory.
That said, Nuke felt the “I’m serving God where I am” mantra had become an excuse — an excuse not to step out in faith and do what he was being called to do. God has trained Nuke for this upcoming role at PMA, and in ways some may not even realize. Remember how PMA does airdrops of supplies? Guess who gets some of the Air Force’s most advanced training in ballistics and delivery accuracy?
Weapons School graduates.
2. Serve God now. Nuke relates the following story:
While deployed, an Air Force Lt Colonel (also an F-16 pilot) asked me what I wanted to do after my tour at Spangdahlem was finished, so I told him about PMA and where I thought God was leading us. He was a Christian and said to follow God’s leading now, and not wait until 20 years in the Air Force are over with.
It is very easy — dangerously easy — to put off until tomorrow what should be done today, especially when it comes to the conflicts between faith, family, and profession. While there are many factors to consider and every situation is different, when it comes down to it, you have to answer a simple question: In 5 years, or 10 years, or eternity — will what you are prioritizing right now matter?
None of these life-altering decisions is easy, but Nuke and his family have an exciting future as this Christian fighter pilot transitions to missionary aviation. As it turns out, he may be joining a growing cadre; Nuke’s story came to light through another Christian fighter pilot who is now in missionary aviation.
May God bless them in their service.
To find out more about mission aviation services, read up on:
and also Moody Aviation.
To follow Nuke and his family through their transition into missionary aviation, you can read their PMA newsletter here (and subscribe to it here). Those interested in following a similar path of Christian service can contact Nuke at the address below:
With reference to Cadence International.