MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Nearly 20 years ago, a man with flying in his blood and a desire to be a blessing to others, helped start an organization called "Pilots for Christ" organization in our area.
An automobile dealer by trade, Tommy Lee uses his own resources to fly people with terminal illnesses and serious health challenges to their destination for treatment. Lee recently shared about helping those in a time of need, and what it takes to complete more than 1,000 missions.
"We are all designed, put together by God, for a purpose and you are blessed when you find that purpose. So many people live their life and never know what they are supposed to do. and I know that I know that I'm called to fly for God's glory," Lee said.
Lee is President of Pilots for Christ. The Monroville, Ala.-based non-profit group serves the southeast United States. It provides air transportation to those with medical and special needs at a critical time in their lives.
The former U.S. Army pilot developed a love for flying at an early age. He had a grandfather who whittled him wooden planes with working propellers, which he flew out of the car window on his drive from Castleberry to his home in Monroeville.
"To my grandfather Lee, who started the airport in Monroe County, called by some Lee International cow pasture, and then Lee Field here back in the 50's. I was flying with my daddy in the 50's and early 60's and actually started my flying in the late 60's," remembered Lee.
Eighteen years ago, a pilot friend of Lee's picked up information in Kansas about the organization Pilots for Christ International.
"He saw a brochure on Pilots for Christ and he brought it back and said, 'Tommy, we can do this here,' and I said, 'I don't know how, we don't have an airplane,'"
Terry Chapman, another friend of Lee's said he would let Lee borrow his plane... when he got one. He did, and the dream got off the ground in 1994, according to Lee.
"That is our heart, to do this in these last stages of people's life that we can really do this because the flying changes everything. Transporting them back and forth is a bittersweet deal, you know you are helping them save a 12 hour drive, but you are seeing families suffer through things you can't imagine," Lee said.
Lee said they have seen "all varying degrees of suffering" on the plane. He said seeing cancer sufferers is especially burdensome to him, and families wonder why he helps them.
"Sometimes they are not real sure about their future and when they see this and ask the question why would you fly me, take your time and assets and fly me, and you don't even know me and may never see me again," Lee reflected.
He said that he knows that his gift is in the area of flying, so that is what he does.
Today, the organization has completed more than 1000 successful missions carrying passengers with life-threatening or, possibly, life-ending, challenges.
Tommy Lee said he's also thankful his wife understands and believes in what he's doing. Her family also has aviation in their blood; her father was a Methodist missionary who flew service missions in Africa.
A Mission to aid
Pilots for Christ is a ministry.
Prayers and faith, Lee said, have produced miracles from God on board the plane.
Lee remembered one John Wesley Williams of Mobile who was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident.
"He was able only to blink once for yes and twice for no. His Doctor told us there is nothing else you can do for him," Lee said.
He said the group's Chaplain, Fred Kelly said a prayer and asked Williams whether he had asked God to heal him.
"He blinked his eye twice and so Fred just prayed for him and started working with him, just trying to get his arms and legs to move. After about an hour, we looked back there and he was raising his leg. It is just incredible video of a miracle of God. Now he is in rehab and walking with assistance, what a great blessing right there," says Lee.
Dependent on donations to continue operation, Lee says the challenges for the future and continued success of the organization are more than financial.
"Monetary challenges are ever before us, we can use 100 gallons an hour and obviously we can use quite a bit of fuel in a trip depending on where it is. We are dependent on business owners that have planes to donate their plane and or their time and, in this economy, that is obviously getting harder and harder by the day. Our goal is as a Pilots for Christ organization is to one day own our own plane and own this facility, our hangar," Lee shares.
"My concern for the future is the youth. we need people that are coming up to be trained for the next generation. When you work it all together you see the hand of God working in this and that's why it is such a privilege to be a part of it. I am praying the good Lord would give me another 10 to 11 years, if people got the guts to get in and fly with me," he said.
Lee and the Pilots for Christ organization are looking for pilots and those who own planes to join them in helping transport people
in their times of need.
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