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What a journey

For 27-year-old Josh Martin, even heart surgery can’t slow him down. This hopeful soon-to-be mission pilot just can’t stand to sit still. 

With his aviation maintenance certification and a bachelor’s degree in aeronautics and missionary international studies, only one thing is standing in his way, his pilot medical certificate. 

He thought he was on his way to completing his training when high blood pressure caught him off guard, and to his surprise the doctor said that wasn’t the only problem. 

“We are going to have to operate,” he said. 

Always being an outdoors person, playing sports at Halifax County High School until he graduated in 2005, Martin never knew he was born with aortic insufficiency. 

Prior to hearing the news of his heart defect, he felt he was more than ready to handle any outdoor activity and complete his studies in aviation. 

Martin, the son of James and Connie Martin of South Boston, now resides in North Carolina and works as the OLD School assistant director at Snowbird Wilderness Outfitters, a full-service ministry that combines recreational activities including zip-lining, mountain biking and canoeing while preaching the Gospel to all students and staff. 

His profession may seem common, but the endeavors led by Snowbird Wilderness Outfitters hold more significance than one may think, and his journey to get to this point in his life is a story worth telling. 

Alaska was the first place Martin ventured to in the summer of 2006. 

A recruiter had come to the aviation department at Liberty University to recruit pilots for a summer intern opportunity at their ministry, Send International of Alaska. 

This ministry is located in the bush of Alaska where they use mostly aircraft for travel. 

When he signed up, Martin knew he would be able to ride as the co-pilot to help fly the plane, but he had no idea the pilot would say “Why don’t you fly it for a while?” turning it completely over to him. 

 “Only a few weeks before this trip, I had received my private pilot’s license, which is the very first thing you get when you can start flying on your own,” said Martin. 

“This plane for me was like going from driving a small pick-up truck to driving a tractor trailer.”  

The plane flew at 500 feet in Anchorage, Alaska through mountain ranges and over glaciers.

When he landed, the Send International of Alaska group set up what most would consider a “vacation Bible school.” 

At first some of the students shied away from speaking with Martin and the rest of his group by “using their language barrier as an excuse.”  

These Alaskans were Yup’ik Alaskans, who speak the Yup’ik language. 

“They (the adults) didn’t speak English. It was almost like you were in another country,” said Martin.

However, Martin said most of the children knew English. 

Soon after being there, the children opened up to the group as they learned songs, played games and learned the story of Jesus, but the rest of the citizens were not always as open. 

According to Martin, rules and government are very different in Alaska. There is only one post office with a liquor store connected, the two things Alaskan government controls. 

“One guy described it saying the bush of Alaska is still the Wild West. It’s the only part of the United States with no law enforcement,” said Martin.  

An Alaskan resident warned the group they “needed to worry more about the people than the 500 pound grizzly bears.” 

After hearing about the bears, Martin’s curiosity got the best of him. 

One evening, Martin and his friend rode toward the dump, where they burn trash, to see if they could spot one at sunset.  

“It looked like a war zone, and there was a silhouette of a giant grizzly bear, but he was too busy eating trash to pay any attention to us. We threw a rock at it, and it didn’t even know we were there,” said Martin. 

One of the villages had only 20 people, while others had 150, and Martin mostly “hung out with the kids.” 

“You know, we were just loving on them, caring for them because they grow up in a harsh environment. In the winter, it gets 40 below zero, and in the summer there are just bugs everywhere, and a lot of people in the community are really rough,” said Martin. 

“So just to have people come in from the outside to care about them, to kind of put on this camp for them, they really enjoyed that.” 

He returned to school in December of 2009.

Then Martin decided he would take some time off from school when his roommate said, “Hey you can go to Thailand and see practically the whole country for little money.” 

Being “burnt out” from school, the two packed up their bags and went to develop his friend’s ministry. 

“We pretty much saw the whole country,” said Martin. 

“He had told me if you come you need to spend the whole month because it isn’t worth it if you just come for a week.”

So, that’s what the pair did. 

They traveled the most northern parts of the country reaching Chiang Mai and the border of Burma, paid a brief visit to Bangkok and traveled further south to Ton Sai Beach, then visited Peetz Inlow and Elephant Island. 

Before they left, Martin found out Southern Thailand was famous for a hobby he enjoyed, rock climbing. 

“I thought I could spend a month with my buddy, help his ministry, and I can get some rock climbing in while I’m there,” said Martin. 

What he didn’t know was how scary rock climbing is there. 

In Thailand, they perform “water solo climbing” where the climber climbs with no ropes “because you just land in the water.” 

“It’s so scary. I did not anticipate how scary it would be,” said Martin as he relived the moments. 

“In regular climbing, if you fall, you fall a few feet, and the rope will catch you, but with that, you fall all the way.”  

He and his friend brought life to his friend’s ministry mostly in Peetz Inlow, where they were more than welcomed into the schools. 

The two would show up at any time, and the teachers would stop and allow them into the classroom.

“The teachers were just glad that the students were hearing a native English speaking citizen,” said Martin. 

They put on Christmas programs, taught the Bible and songs. 

Children also were brought joy on another evening, Christmas Day, when Martin and his friend rented motor scooters and traveled to an orphanage on the border of Burma to bring the children candy canes. 

 “My friend knew the orphanage, so we knew the kids were well taken care of, but we just wanted to do something special for them. To be Christmas day and just driving through the mountains and ending up at the orphanage, it was a pretty unique, pretty special experience,” Martin said.   

Eventually, Martin took some time to explore Thailand alone. For $4 a night, he spent almost a week at Elephant Island near the ocean. 

“You really can see the whole country for just a couple hundred dollars,” said Martin. 

And, they did. 

Martin returned to Lynchburg and gained his aviation maintenance certification from Liberty University in 2010. He also earned a Bachelor’s of Science in aeronautics and missionary international studies. 

In 2012, Martin left once again and visited Israel with a friend and his wife. 

The three decided they wanted to backpack across Israel to see different places where Jesus had been. 

With backpacks on their backs and homemade sandals on their feet, they ventured on a self-guided tour through the “Jesus Trail.”

On this trail, they were able to see the sights of Nazareth, Capernaum, North of the Sea of Galilee and all kinds of places in between, hiking a total of about 50 miles. 

“We kind of followed the ministry of Jesus,” said Martin. 

 “We saw some of the areas He went to. In Israel there are these markings in towns, and you just follow these painted symbols to famous places of Israel.”

As they made their hike, they never had a place to stay but would instead search for a spot to set up a camp for sleeping, sometimes in cliffs or caves.  

One night they slept in an ancient Roman fortress comprised of caves that are in a cliff. 

“This was an eye-opening experience. We crawled up into the caves where people used to live. You could see soot on ceilings from where they had burned fires,” said Martin. 

Another night they began to think about the possible war between Israel and Iran. Martin said he decided, “If this is going to be the end of the world, at least we’ll have front row seats.” 

That night they had a scare. 

Late into the night, they went to sleep in their tents, when all of a sudden they started hearing explosions, and the tent began to light up. 

Martin thought to himself, “This is it.” 

His friend awoke, and Martin peeked out of the tent to see it was only fireworks. 

“What we didn’t know was that it was Independence Day for Israel. I was able to see on the horizon that it was fireworks going off. I just thought we almost got it,” said Martin. 

As they continued their journey, two groups welcomed them into their home.  

The first was a Muslim family who invited them into their home to feed them. 

“And they tried to marry me to their sister. That was kind of interesting,” Martin said.  

The next act of kindness came after we met a mountaineer guide from Sylvania. 

When it became late, and no hostel was in sight, the guide, who was Catholic, approached a St. Francis Compound and said, “Sisters, sisters, please sisters, we are pilgrims” as he began begging the “sisters” to let them inside. 

“They let us sleep in the bomb shelter of this like five-star resort. It was really nice because it was the end of the trail, and we were exhausted. We couldn’t walk anymore. They gave us cots, fed us dinner, then breakfast at super fancy place,” said Martin. 

Soon after, they made their way to the airport and spent a layover exploring some of Istanbul, Turkey before returning home. 

When Martin returned, it came time to renew his pilot medical certificate, and that’s when he found out about his heart condition. 

“I went to this guy just thinking he could give me something for high blood pressure, a prescription or something,” said Martin. 

First, the doctor told Martin that he had a murmur, which Martin translated as “your heart is making a noise it shouldn’t.” 

They then monitored his heart for a year, while he continued his plans and moved to work at Snowbird Wilderness Outfitters. 

It wasn’t until that year was up that he had more tests done. 

After a MRI, Martin’s doctor called him this past New Year’s Eve to say, “We can’t wait any longer (to operate).” 

“There was almost some relief there because I thought this will fix the problem,” said Martin. 

“It’s obviously going to create a lot more problems as far as getting my physical again if I can ever fly again and hopefully I can….You know I was just really discouraged that I was going to have six weeks where I was just laid up on the sofa. And I like to be going and doing things. There was some relief and a lot of anxiety because I didn’t know what to expect.”

The surgery was completed on Feb. 5, and fortunately for Martin within a “couple of days after the surgery, (he) was up walking around. 

“I’ve been ready to go home for a couple of weeks, but my family is being apprehensive,” said Martin. 

Since his surgery, he had made his way back to Snowbird Wilderness Outfitters where he is working with the outdoor leadership and discipleship program, OLD School.

“Hopefully I will keep working for them for the next few years until I get my aviation career sorted out,” said Martin. 

According to Martin, there is a six-month waiting period before a pilot can try to get his or her medical certificate back in order to fly again. 

“So I’m going to kind of not worry about that too much now,” he said. 

In the meantime, Martin will have the chance to enjoy another adventure. 

Staff members at Snowbird Wilderness Outfitters are planning a trip to the Himalayas in May where Martin can join them in teaching swift water rescue. 

Martin is hopeful he will be able to gain his medical certificate in the future and have all he needs to make his dream of being a mission pilot become a reality.  

Maybe one day, his lifelong ambition will be realized, and he will get to inform those who reside in underdeveloped countries where “there is really no church presence” about Christ.