formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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November 13, 2018 Challenge Air

The Liberty Gazette
November 13, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: He walked through the gate looking handsome in full astronaut uniform. I wanted to take his picture, but I knew I should ask permission. It was a good thing I saw him first, because when the media realized he was in the crowded hangar they swarmed for photos.

Max is six, or maybe seven. He was quick to tell me the suit was “fake,” but that didn’t matter to me because the young man in it was as real as sunshine. And oh what sunshine he added to the day!

Challenge Air held its annual flying event at the airport in Conroe the first weekend in November. Challenge Air is where pilots and other volunteers get to make dreams come true for special needs kids, sharing the gift of flight.

Staff and volunteers work hard all year to perfect logistics. Then it all comes down to the moment the first family arrives. Each child is welcomed with enthusiasm as they wander the hangar to see clowns and balloons, play games, and join in face painting. The adults who bring them fill out the paper work which includes weight of all passengers who will be taking the flight and whether this child follows instructions or has uncontrollable outbursts. Total passenger weight figures in to what airplane they’ll be assigned, while the other information helps volunteer pilots know whether the child will be best served riding in the back with their parent or having a seat up front. Either way, a Challenge Air kid becomes a co-pilot, and that’s a big deal.

Parents attend ground school to know what to expect, then the pilot’s loading team leads them out to the airplane. This year, as a lead loader I walked eight families down the red carpet where a cheering crowd lined both sides, blew kazoos, slapped plastic clappy-hands, and whooped and hollered in encouragement. Of course, for noise-sensitive kids we waved our hands in silent applause.

The airport ramp was busy with planes arriving and departing all day and families being escorted to and from their rides.

Once I had a family buckled in to our plane, Mike took over. You’ll get to read his perspective next week.

Flight after flight, ninety-five in all, they took off with their volunteer pilots for a scenic trip over Lake Conroe for about twenty minutes. When they returned, each Challenge Air kid received special recognition from their pilot and we, the loaders, got to escort them back across the red carpet lined with cheering fans. Shouts of “Hooray!” “You did it!” “Great job, co-pilot!” welcomed them back.

Many of our co-pilots were kids with an autism spectrum disorder. Whatever their challenges are, Challenge Air comes every year to provide a unique experience. The rewards for us are priceless. Like when Astronaut Max leapt with every step down the red carpet, high-fiving everyone he could reach. And like one astonished dad overcome with emotion who said, “She never smiles, but look at her now! She’s smiling!”

November 6, 2018 The Boy from Latvia

The Liberty Gazette
November 6, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: In 1944 the Soviets bore down on Riga, Latvia and people fled their homes. Among them were Mr. and Mrs. Mikelsons and their seven-year old son George. For fifteen years they moved in search of a better life. First to Poland, then northern Germany in the British-controlled part, on to Australia, and finally to the U.S. Young George had spent his childhood peering out of bomb shelters to get a glimpse of those planes while he dreamed of flying.

The family survived the war and in 1959, George’s dad earned a position playing violin with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Not far from their new home was an airport with a sign that read $10 for an airplane ride.

George learned to fly and went on to become a commercial pilot and flight instructor. By 1973 he was flying jets. He had another personal asset, too: a keen business mind.

After flying for an air travel club for a brief time he had an idea. Mortgaging his house and taking a loan for $25,000, he acquired a used Boeing 720, like the one that sits on a pedestal at the main entrance to Ellington Airport in Houston. His grand plan was to create his own air travel club, Ambassadair, and eventually an airline.

Linda: Somewhere in the Indy business scene, my dad met George. Before the air travel club spawned the airline American Trans Air, George asked Dad to handle Ambassadair’s publicity.
Members of Ambassadair Air Travel Club took privileged flights to exotic destinations, and hopped on board for Friday night mystery flights for dinner somewhere untold.

I’ve heard that first generation immigrants to our country are often the most successful in business. George Mikelsons is a good example. He took that one airplane and made a business. He hired a co-pilot, and his wife worked as flight attendant. They schlepped baggage, took tickets, and did pretty much everything. They were not strangers to hard work, and in less than twenty years George had built an empire worth over $350 million.

I met Mr. Mikelsons when I joined Dad on trips and tagged along at promotional events, but I wasn’t old enough to understand what my father’s friend had been through. My mom remembers three things. “George’s family moved to the U.S. with their belongings in one cardboard box, and a violin case; his father played first chair violin in the symphony; and George was the first to land a jet in Belize, which had a very short runway. He told us he was amused at a Belize newspaper’s front page headlines: ‘Jet Age Arrives at Belize.’”

The charter and airline businesses are not for the weak. But neither is fleeing the Soviets or surviving in bomb shelters. The financial success is one thing, but somewhere inside there was still a seven-year old boy who one day secured charter service to Eastern Europe with flights into Riga, Latvia to fly people home where there were no more bombs.

October 30, 2018 Fun Tech Stuff

The Liberty Gazette
October 30, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Last Wednesday I saw Bruce Campbell at the Liberty-Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon. That’s no surprise since he helps the Chamber with tech stuff. He was chatting with Cynthia Smith, the owner of this newspaper, so I thought I’d be a smart-aleck and ask Bruce if he had an idea for our column this week. He pulled out his phone and showed me an app he uses to spot planes overhead when he’s at home. We thought Gazette readers might enjoy knowing about it, just for fun.

The app is appropriately named PlaneFinder, and you can download it from the App Store. Of course, there are similar apps, but we’ll talk about this one. If you go to their website and click on “About,” you’ll be presented with a ton of technical information about how their app works. It’s not something you have to know in order to enjoy the benefits of satisfying your curiosity about planes flying overhead. Bush Intercontinental Airport has runways oriented east-west, and we are right under approach paths for traffic landing to the west.

Bruce stood there in the city hall room and held up his phone. Through the app, we watched a signal transmitted by an airliner flying somewhere within range and saw what kind of airplane, where it had departed, and the destination. I’m sure there was more information available as well, but that’s all I saw in that brief moment.

We are well acquainted of course with the way that system works. We have the equipment on our plane too. The government (actually, we the taxpayers) put up towers all over the U.S. and planes have these broadcast units installed that send out encoded signals to those towers. The codes are picked up by compatible receiver units and then translated. Tap on a plane icon on the PlaneFinder map and see aircraft type, altitude, heading, speed, and lots more. I don’t think PlaneFinder does as much as well-known FlightAware (a Houston-based company), but I believe FlightAware has been in business longer.

Mike: Another fun snooping activity is listening to Go to their website and listen in on all the air traffic conversations between controllers and pilots. You can select frequencies for arrivals, departures, ground, and en route for airports and airspace all over this great country.

Busy airports such as New York’s JFK or Los Angeles International offer plenty of entertainment but you have to keep up with the rapid-fire transmissions. is a good resource for students in flight training to have playing in the background, just to get used to hearing the exchanges. You’ll probably either love or hate the thick accents of controllers in the northeast, such as Newark, New Jersey, where ground controllers can be especially interesting during peak traffic times. They spout instructions so fast I wonder when they take a breath.

Whether app-tracking or eavesdropping, there are ways to indulge in aviation without leaving home.

October 23, 2018 Flying Solo

The Liberty Gazette
October 23, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: There are such things as wine flights and wine tasting flying tours. Wine flights have nothing to do with aviation. It’s just what they call a few samples one can order instead of a regular glass, if one wants to taste a small amount of different wines.

Wine tasting flying tours on the other hand do indeed involve aviation. One could either hire a company to take them on a tour or, if one is a pilot, one may soar above the vineyards, the boss of one’s own schedule. Helicopter companies offer charter flights around popular vineyards in Napa Valley and the Pacific Northwest.

In the summer of 2015 several friends took off from their home airports and met on the west coast to fly their own airplanes on a wine flying tour. Of course, flying and alcohol don’t mix, so when they sampled a vineyard, they stayed the night.

While we didn’t stop for a tour, I remember flying over Napa Valley, finding the landscape to be a lovely wave of green carpet.

Reminds me of the island of Vis in the Adriatic, off the coast of Croatia. We toured a beautiful vineyard and winery there after trudging through underground bunkers used during World War II. There are grape fields everywhere, but there is no longer an airport on Vis. The land was vineyard first, and to the vine it has returned. Yet their young generation seems uninterested in inheriting family farms. Many of those once-fruitful fields are now overgrown terraced weeds.

Back at home, as I rounded the corner to the last aisle in the grocery store I entered the wine and cheese area. This was the kind of store that has a bar inside. Among the shelves filled with drink, and right at reading level, was a bottle that caught my eye.

“Flying Solo” had a beautiful label in the style of a vintage postage stamp with a drawing that looks like a Ryan, except that it doesn’t have that big round engine. Charles Lindbergh flew his Ryan, “Spirit of St. Louis,” across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927. If you can picture that, you have an idea of what was drawn on this label. I have no idea how the wine tastes, but I was interested in the story behind the name.

Turns out the company, Domaine Gayda, is in France and their Flying Solo “celebrates the intrepid ‘AĆ©ropostale’ pilots who risked life and limb to ensure postal deliveries in the 1920s.”

Flying the mail in the 1920s was daring. Lindbergh had been a mail pilot and on his trans-Atlantic flight he fought against fatigue and nasty weather. He landed safely in Paris after flying over 3,600 miles in thirty-three and a half hours, the first to go solo over the ocean.

Becoming an aviator had changed him. “In flying,” he said, “I tasted a wine of the gods of which people on the ground could know nothing.” Now there’s a “wine” we give five stars.

October 16, 2018 Lt. Logan

The Liberty Gazette
October 16, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: I stood in quiet survey of the scene, cold water crashed on the shore before me. A faint murmur accented the air, emerging quickly into a crackling roar. In seconds, a French Mirage fighter jet screamed past, a hundred feet above the churning English Channel. The pilot banked hard north and disappeared in the distance. Silence returned.

From the overlook, a lush green carpet of grass spotted by immaculately maintained trees unfolded behind me. There, in perfect symmetry, ten thousand white marble crosses declared the war was over. Nothing competed with my contemplation except for that jet paying respects to the soldiers buried here.

To be present in the American Military Cemetery and Memorial in Normandy, the realization sinks much deeper. Touching the sand of Omaha Beach, one cannot fathom the terror and dedication of those who took part in this colossal undertaking. I stepped with humble reverence around the headstones, reading names; three hundred and seven are Known But to God. Over fifteen hundred names of sons who were never recovered or identified are etched in a circular stone wall. If they could, they’d speak of family, of going home.

Linda: It began on D-Day, June 6, 1944, when these brave souls spilled their blood for freedom. A relative of mine was one who joined those ranks less than a month later, on July 2, 1944 when the 487th Bomb Group dispatched two squadrons of B-24s to bomb the German V-weapon site. Cousin James A. Logan and his crew were among them. Returning from their mission they were shot down near Bethune-St. Pol, France. He was 23.

March 14, 1949 Logan was awarded posthumously the Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart. The dedication states that he:
“Distinguished himself by extraordinary achievement as pilot of a B-24 type aircraft on an operational mission to Belloy-Sur-Somme, France. Near the target his aircraft was severely damaged and set on fire by anti-aircraft fire, causing it to veer sharply toward other aircraft in the formation, in a moment of great peril to himself and his crew, Lieutenant Logan remained at the controls and skillfully maneuvered the burning aircraft out of formation in order to prevent damage to other aircraft and injury to his fellow airmen. He stands in the unbroken line of patriots who have dared to die that freedom might live and grow and increase its blessings. Freedom lives and through it, lives in a way that humbles the undertakings of most men.”
Cousin Logan and his co-pilot, Second Lt. Bruno Matika rode the aircraft to the ground, along with the radio operator, and three gunners. The navigator, engineer, and the tail turret gunner parachuted out but were captured, prisoners of war. Logan’s remains were brought home to Massachusetts but most of the others were buried at Normandy.

Mike: At sunset, life in the cemetery paused as two American flags were lowered from half-mast, and all who were breathing saluted or placed their hand over their heart for Taps. I whispered, “Thank you.”

October 9, 2018 Art Lacey's Bomber Gas Station

The Liberty Gazette
October 9, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: At the end of the Second World War there were many surplus military aircraft, and Art Lacey determined one of those B17G’s that had served our country would make a good awning over his gas station near Portland, Oregon. At his birthday party in 1947 he wagered a friend five dollars he could make it happen. After the hand shake, Art turned to another friend and asked to borrow money to win the bet. The man handed him $15,000 and Art ventured out to Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma, where he would pick out his bomber.

He could choose any one he wanted from the lot. He just had to get it to Oregon. Only problem was, Art didn’t know how to fly a four-engine airplane. So he read the manual and taxied it around until he felt comfortable enough to take it up. But the folks handing it over to him weren’t so comfortable. They told him he had to have a co-pilot. I’m guessing they may not have explained why.

He put a mannequin in the right seat and took off to fly around the airport to get used to the B17. That’s likely when he figured out why they told him he needed a co-pilot…to help with stuck landing gear.

Mike: The story goes that he survived a “crash-landing,” although his B17 and another plane he hit did not. They told him to go find another one, writing up the accident as “wind damage.”

Some of Art’s more experienced pilot friends came to the rescue to help him ferry the airplane home. When they stopped in Palm Springs for fuel, Art wrote a check. He didn’t bother to mention there were no funds in the account to cover it.

Off they went and flew right into a snow storm, and had to descend below a thousand feet to see where they were. Things like street signs and water towers help in such a situation. At least there were no cell towers, but it’s hard to imagine living through a careless flight like that.

Photo of Art Lacey's Bomber Gas Station from the
When he got home, Art made good on the hot check, then turned his attention to the permits he needed to move that bomber down the highway.

Unfortunately, the highway department didn’t want him to truck a plane on the roads and repeatedly denied his requests. He got tired of arguing and late one Saturday night he had the aircraft loaded onto a truck and told the driver not to stop. The ten dollar ticket he got the next day for a wide load was much less than the permit would have cost.

In 1991 the gas station became a restaurant. By 2014 the bomber was so valuable it was removed for restoration to flying condition.

What remains as a memory of the Texaco station in Milwaukie, Oregon is a postcard boasting, “Art Lacey’s Bomber Station. The only one in the world---6 mi. so. of Portland, Ore., on 99E.”

October 2, 2018 Hi-Ho Stipa!

The Liberty Gazette
October 2, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Luigi Stipa isn’t exactly a household name. Not even in Italy. But airplane manufacturer Caproni di Milano-Taliedo knew him and thought he had a great idea. In fact, the Caproni company liked Luigi’s airplane design so well, they committed to build it (with government funding, of course).

This was the 1930’s. Jet-powered aircraft wouldn’t be flying until the next decade. The Stipa-Caproni airplane would be a gateway to the future.

As significant as this airplane’s place in history is, first, it didn’t last long, and second, its importance isn’t really what prompted me to want to tell you about it. I am admittedly more motivated by its humorous appearance than its place in history.

When I first saw a photo of it, I thought it was a joke. Surely there was no flyable aircraft shaped like that! If you’ve ever seen the Super Guppy around Houston skies as it arrives or departs Ellington Airport, start with that image—a blimp morphing into an airplane. Just scale it down a bit. A Smallish Guppy. A cross between the old Gee Bee racer and the Guppy.

But those airplanes have propellers outside the fuselage, either out on the wings, or one in the front. The Stipa’s propeller isn’t on the outside. From the profile view, it looks like the airplane’s nose was sawed off, leaving a gaping hole. But look closer and that’s where you’ll find the engine and propeller—inside that ballooned-out tube.

Mike: With his slide rule, pencil and paper, Luigi studied Bernoulli’s principles of fluid dynamics. He aimed to prove a better aerodynamic ship with the propeller directing its thrust into a tapered venturi tube.

Since the engine and prop were hidden inside the barrel-shaped fuselage, the air that was thrust into it by the prop blades made the propulsion system more aerodynamically efficient.

The pilots reported it flew well, too. Hard to turn, but very stable. Granted, this was an experiment...a brave one.

But the fact is that Luigi’s design was the forerunner to jet aircraft. This was an airplane with a ducted fan, the concept that led to jet engines.

Today’s Boeing 777 and the Airbus A-380 have engines with high bypass fans which follow Stipa’s ideas. Those wide turbine fans you see hanging from the wings are the grandbabies of Luigi’s propeller in the center of the bloated tube.

His design was meant only as a prototype to prove his theories, and then he would go on to work those theories into passenger and cargo planes. But the Italian government dropped its funding.

There was another funny thing about this airplane. It only had two seats and they were up high. Of course they were, because that engine was inside the plane, just below them. The effect was a totally cartoon-looking contraption. Like a couple cowboys riding a whale whose head was cut off. It would make a perfect caricature: Linda and me, the wind in our faces, and our speech bubble, “Hi-ho, Stipa!”

September 25, 2018 The PanAm Experience

The Liberty Gazette
September 25, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Regular readers of Ely Air Lines know that we often highlight the benefits of experience over souvenirs; of having stories over having things. Just last week I was chatting with a group of friends about interesting places around the world. We got to talking about all the enriching reasons we love to travel. I turned to the former army helicopter pilot and with a wink and an agreeable point of the finger, I said, “Stories.” He nodded and smiled wide. “Yes! Stories! That’s what we get!”

Experiences give us stories, and one man who was eager to create—or recreate—an exquisite experience is Anthony Toth.

Anthony was fascinated, some may say obsessed, with airplanes when he was a kid. At first, he just took hundreds of pictures of the planes he rode on from his home in Ohio to visit his grandparents in Germany. But his interest grew and soon he collected things—parts, supplies, anything left over the airline didn’t want, or things he found discarded.

Years of research brought Anthony to the conclusion that Pan Am was the best airline in the world. Ever. His collections grew and years later, he had an aircraft cabin, interior parts, and amazing array of collectible goodies from the now-gone company.

People who flew on Pan Am often expressed delight over the experience, and that was exactly what Anthony wanted to bring back. He couldn’t build a functioning airline, but he had enough genuine parts for something useful…as a restaurant, that is. But not just any restaurant. This would be the Pan Am Experience.

Mike: At first, he operated out of his garage, and only for friends. But when Talaat Captan, founder of Air Hollywood, discovered Anthony’s unique gig, he offered a great partnership deal. Air Hollywood is a set of studios where aviation scenes are created for movies. They are fully in tune with the combination of aviation and entertainment, the perfect partner for Anthony’s business. Today you can go to Los Angeles and dine in Pan Am’s first Boeing 747-200 now housed in a movie studio.

First, fork up $875 per person. Then when you check in, you’ll receive a 1970’s style boarding pass, ticket jacket, and first-class carry-on tag. You’ll be greeted as you board the aircraft by a “stewardess” (in uniform) who will hand you the drink of your choice and welcome you to explore First Class, Clipper Class, and the Upper Deck dining room.

You won’t escape the safety briefing, but you will get a gourmet six-course meal served on fine china, with real glass and silverware, just as it used to be. You can stay for a movie if you like, but they’ll probably be showing Airplane!

On you will find more information, including their grateful bid for you to come see for yourself: “We know you have many choices of retro-airline themed dinner parties, but we appreciate you’ve chosen to dine with us…”

September 18, 2018 Uncle Bob

The Liberty Gazette
September 18, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Robert Freeman was a brilliant fellow. “Uncle Bob” to his nieces and nephews, he was a downright delightful human being who lived his life with impeccable ethics. So whether you want to talk about high moral standards or creative genius, you could do both talking about Uncle Bob.

Of course it goes without saying Uncle Bob was a pilot (insert winking emoji here). One of the most brow–raising stories has to do with what he did to make flying safer.

When Uncle Bob lent his engineering skills to Boeing Air Transport, he came up with a way for their airplanes to land in fog and other low–visibility conditions. It’s a system we still use today called Instrument Landing System, or ILS. There’s a high likelihood that if you rode on an airline landing in Houston sometime since we’ve been writing this column, your flight crew brought you home via an ILS approach to the runway. At either airport. Unfortunately, however, Uncle Bob’s system didn’t start out here. Not in Houston. Not in Texas. Not even in the U.S. But that wasn’t his fault.

When Bob Freeman took his design and plans for safer landings to the Civil Aeronautics Authority (predecessor to the FAA), the little government workers were afraid it might not be safe for use on passenger planes.

If you had such a stellar invention you knew could save lives but were faced with such ignorance, what would you do? If you had the fortitude of Uncle Bob, you wouldn’t give up. When government representatives told you to hawk your wares elsewhere you’d say fine. And had you been Bob Freeman on that day when the U.S. government said that, you would have been handed a letter that said something to the effect of, Go sell it anywhere in the world you want to. We don’t care. And of course, if you were Bob Freeman, you would do exactly that. And you’d hold on tight to that letter.

Rejected by his own country, Uncle Bob went to Japan and showed them his invention. This was 1935, seven years before they attacked us at Pearl Harbor. While Uncle Bob was an amazingly talented guy, he didn’t have a Magic 8 Ball, just an invention to sell.

Not long after returning home from installing his system at Japanese airports, the U.S. government charged him with treason. Friends, that’s heavy. But Uncle Bob had a clear conscience—and a letter.

When the prosecution finally rested after two days of describing what an awful person Bob Freeman was, our defendant confidently approached the bench (without a lawyer) and handed that letter to the judge.

There was no need to put on a defense. The judge gaveled, “Case dismissed.”

If you look up the inventor of the Instrument Landing System you will see a different name credited. But now you know more than Google.

Thanks to the lovely artist and Dayton resident Helene Noyer for this great story about her Uncle Bob.

September 11, 2018 Travel

The Liberty Gazette
September 11, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Apart from war-related flying, weather research, search and rescue, mercy flights, and such, when we consider travel by air it brings us thoughts of adventure waiting on the horizon. But travel does more than jet us away from home. When we go to faraway places we learn about other cultures. If we are open to it, we also learn about ourselves, outside our comfort zone.

We re-evaluate values; experiences versus things. For example:

- Climbing to the top of Sniper Tower in Mostar, Bosnia and witnessing the messages of peace and remembrance in street art;

- Finding the Pittman Apartment building in Saigon—the one in the iconic photo of a helicopter lifting some of the last few people out of the country as the enemy rolled down the streets in tanks;

- Our souls soaking in beautiful Cambodia and her lovely people who have suffered immensely, yet their art is healing a wounded nation.

We’ve seen firsthand how God uses art to heal in Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe. It’s powerful. We’ve met survivors and descendants of those who suffered. We’ve heard their stories and they have moved us. Experience versus things? There is no souvenir of that worth.

Mike: There’s so much more to the universe than the little space we take up. Most people who travel report a significantly deeper sense of connection to the rest of the humanity. But to get this benefit, we must be immersed in the culture we visit. Cruises, resorts, and shopping don’t show us the real world. To be in the neighborhoods and visit people in their homes, to discover their customs, traditions, daily life, is to gain appreciation for our differences and similarities.

I flew a trip to the Dominican Republic for the wedding of the French Prince Louis Alphonse, Duke of Anjou to the daughter of a friend of my boss. My co-pilot and I did not attend the wedding but remained in the country for a week, put up at an exclusive resort. Resort life did not give much of a window into the lives of the people in the D.R. All around the outside of the compound were ramshackle homes, most only half built. These people worked behind the scenes at the resort but were not allowed to interact with guests. We were discouraged from leaving the compound except in one of the resort vehicles to and from the airport.

I contrast this with Alex, our enterprising tuk-tuk driver in Siem Reap, Cambodia. He took us to his village and his home. We tasted local herbs and learned about how a neighbor extracts sap from a tree, rising early to boil it carefully for hours in a wide ten-gallon cast iron bowl hung crudely over a fire to make sweet syrup, which he sells in the afternoon. Cambodian children warmed our hearts as they walked dirt roads with their arms around each other—buddies, like kids everywhere.

We are enriched as we travel beyond our borders to truly live in God's creation.