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Armstrong family heads to Costa Rica, Peru

Submitted Photo Gioconda (from left) and John Armstrong stand with their children, Kattiana and Kartsen, in this family photograph. The Armstrongs are preparing to embark on a five-year mission program.

WORTHINGTON -- John and Gioconda Armstrong are taking their two children to San Jose, Costa Rica, on Monday.

But the trip is not an adventurous late-summer vacation -- it's the start of a five-year mission program that will ultimately take the Armstrongs to the remote regions of Peru. There, both John and Gioconda will work as missionaries in different capacities under the umbrella of the long-established South America Mission.

"We are humbled by this process, and feel it's a privilege to serve in this capacity," said John, a pilot/mechanic who completed a five-year training program at the Moody Aviation wing of the Moody Bible Institute in 1994.

"The people we will serve have nothing, and cannot pay for the services we will offer them, so we must rely on the generosity of our friends and family."

From 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Worthington airport, Proclaim Aviation Ministries (an organization the Armstrongs helped found here in 2001 and which is their sending mission) will host a Fly-In or Drive In/Missionary Aviation Benefit that will double as a farewell and fundraiser for the family.

"The event's goal is to raise awareness of multiple things and isn't just for us," said John. "It will show what is happening at the airport, and what a nice gateway that is, and it's a chance to give Proclaim Aviation Ministries some exposure in the community as well as a chance for us to explain the next steps of our journey."

A roast pork loin meal, airplane rides, mini-golf and tours of an airplane hangar are all included in the day's schedule.

Although Gioconda, a native of Ecuador who has worked as a Spanish interpreter for District 518 and the 5th Judicial District over the past several years, is a native Spanish speaker, Costa Rica is the couple's first stop en route to the mission field because John needs to become equally fluent in Spanish to be most effective in Peru.

"I'll attend the Spanish Language Institute in San Jose for the coming school year while our kids (Kattiana, 13, and Karsten, 11) will be at a school for the children of missionaries," said John.

"I will work as a volunteer at the school, mainly with the little ones in the preschool," added Gioconda.

After a short break back in Worthington, which the Armstrongs consider their home, the family will head to Peru in 2013, where John (as a pilot/mechanic with SAMAIR) will mobilize national leaders to establish churches, do medical evacuations and provide other humanitarian aid.

Gioconda, whose considerable language skills make her a valuable person in the eyes of South America Mission, may translate Sunday School materials and government communications and/or assist a Peruvian ministry she said is similar to the local Helping Hands Pregnancy Center.

"That is really touching my heart right now, and it is a very new ministry for South America Mission," Gioconda said of the latter effort. "I may also be able to help with the school there. There are many, many opportunities."

While this will be the first time the Armstrongs have taken their children to the mission field for such an extended period, Gioconda and John were on a Bible translation team during 1998-1999.

"We were on the other side of aviation then, living in a remote village in the jungles that was only accessible by hiking or with a small airplane," said John, who grew up in Westchester, Pa.

The couple met in Marshall in 1996 and married that same year.

"As a teenager in the late 1980s, I went to Peru on a couple of mission projects and felt called to be a minister, but I'm not a real preacher," explained John. "Then I found out about aviation as a tool to help spread the Gospel, and I made the decision to pursue that."

The Worthington-based Proclaim Aviation Ministries helps pilots gain additional flight and maintenance experience between earning their bachelor's or associate's degrees and successful job placement.

"We partner with like-minded organizations to get them the experience they need within a two- to three-year period, and all of the administration for Proclaim Aviation Ministries takes place in Worthington," noted John. "Five of Proclaim's six board members are in Worthington."

While Gioconda says the Armstrong children are "cautiously excited" about this new chapter in the family's life, she and John are eager to serve and have prayerfully considered all this means for their family.

"Kattiana and Karsten say they will miss their friends, but we anticipate they'll do well in the transition, and we love Worthington -- this is our home base, and we will return here," affirmed John. "Worthington opened its arms to us and our ministry at the very beginning, and we are so very thankful for the support we have received here."

John summed up their plans in this way: "We believe that to effectively share the message of Christ, we need to show love as well as share love. By 2030 there will be one billion people living without access to roads -- in very isolated groups -- and to effectively minister to them, we have to get to them.

"Aviation is still the best way to do that, and to bring both spiritual and physical help."

The Fly-In or Drive In/Missionary Aviation Benefit takes place from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Worthington Airport. A presentation is scheduled for 2 p.m. A roast pork loin dinner and airplane rides, with suggested donation amounts, will be available. All proceeds go to Proclaim Aviation Ministries in support of the Armstrongs.