The Knott's August 2018 Update
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Mission Fixation


Afternoon shadows were lengthening as Ruben finished with the last dental patient. It was going to be a hard decision whether to stay here in Japo K’asa another night or go on to Umamarca. 

After a brief chat with the team I decided we still had time to pack up and move on to the next village before nightfall. It would require a 30 min drive and at least an hour of hiking. As we packed the truck I kept an anxious eye on the wintery July sun. It was slipping steadily towards the western peaks and a cold breeze was beginning to flow down from the summits. Japo K’asa (literally “Cold Gap”) would live up to its name tonight. After photos and goodbyes we were on our way. It was 4:15 pm giving us two more hours of daylight.
Japo K'asa (Cold Gap)
Tabitha (the 4x4 Nissan) growled up the switchbacks in the deep shadow of the peak to the west. Once through the pass, we dropped into the next valley on a newly cut road. At eye level across the valley the huts of Umamarca were distinctly visible in the clear air at 11,000 ft. The little whitewashed school building reflected the low rays of the sun like a beacon. Above it, encircling the valley, treeless upper slopes of the Andean ridges shone golden in their winter vestige of dried grasses.
The trail to Vacas
Getting to the village before dark would be tight. Everything would have to work perfectly. I believed it could be done if I had gauged our loads and the acclimatization of the volunteers correctly. The new road would take us to the bottom of the valley and from there it was about 1.5 miles and nearly 1000 ft of elevation gain to the village on foot. I wanted to push on the next day to villages beyond Umamarca (on foot) and then work our way back out doing dental work and physical therapy on the way. It sounded like a good plan but the quickly lengthening shadows gave me reason to doubt.
Looking across to Umamarca
There was a bailout option. We could stay at Vacas, a little village on our side of the valley. It would be easier than hurrying the team up the steep trail to Umamarca tonight, but it would jeopardize my overall trip plan. We couldn’t accept hospitality at Vacas without treating its residents. That would cost us more than half the day tomorrow, putting us back in a similar situation to the one I faced now. 
Villagers on their way home from market day.
As we drove I reached out in silent prayer for direction. To my surprise I felt an immediate, strong impression to divert to Vacas. The impression didn’t go away, so with reluctance and some disappointment I stopped the truck on a hairpin bend halfway down the mountainside and we unloaded our gear to hike the half-mile into Vacas. Ninety minutes later, the team reached the village as dusk settled over the valley. Heavy loads of dental equipment, a poor choice of trail on my part and slow going at the high altitude had delayed us significantly. There was absolutely no way we would have made the steep climb to Umamarca that night. I said a silent pray of thanksgiving for that persistent impression. I had narrowly escaped the consequences of mission fixation.
Ruben and Vilissa. Dental work at Vacas.
Focus, when insensitive to a changing environment, becomes fixation. Pilots are taught to avoid fixating on small things like a single flight instrument or failure of non-critical equipment. These lessons are illustrated with tragedies like Eastern Airlines 401. On a dark night in 1972 the airliner drifted down from its holding pattern and crashed into the Everglades while the entire crew was troubleshooting a landing gear warning light! 
Even more common than fixating on small things is fixation on completing the mission. The mission could be a rescue flight, an important trip, or simply getting home, but fixating on one outcome without considering alternatives often lures pilots into deadly situations. 
In daily activities that don’t have life or death consequences, fixation can still be negative. It gives us tunnel vision and causes us to ignore the dynamics of our changing environment. We end up believing in only one outcome, whether realistic or not. 
Ruben doing dental work at Umamarca.
I’ve been giving this a lot of thought as I study for my Bolivian pilot license exams. There are a thousand ways I could kill myself with an airplane in the Andes, and the vast majority would stem from the roots of mission fixation. Terrain, weather, darkness, fuel reserves, equipment failure and short airstrips are waiting to ambush the fixated pilot who wants to complete the mission no matter what. How will I have the discipline to abort the mission or change plans when my capabilities are being exceeded? 
While pondering this question, I remembered our July trip to the mountains and a dozen other trips where plans were upset at critical moments. A common thread runs through all those experiences. While they were disappointing and difficult to accept in the moment, change was okay because God, with His infinite perspective, was working out something better through it. 
Mountain hospitality.
So can fixation ever be a good thing? Is there anything we can fixate on without negative consequences? Anything we can safely believe in, no matter what is changing in our environment? 
If there is, it could not be anything in this chaotic, changeable world of ours. It would have to be certain, proven, guaranteed. Not subject to a changing environment. It would have to be outside of time itself, depending on a Someone “with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17). “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).
Dentistry in the dark at Pataminas.
Vilissa doing PT at Umamarca.
P.S. With help from the locals we did reach Umamarca the following day but not the villages beyond. With our small team and lack of acclimatization it was impractical to haul the dental equipment over the next pass. Instead, we retraced our steps to several villages on the road out, making new friends and opening doors for more work in those places.

- The Knott Family
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Bolivian Civil Aviation (DGAC) came and inspected the Cub at the beginning of October. We could receive our registration by November!
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Our second July trip was diverted last minute to LaCuyo. The district pastor helped us do medical outreach around this rural Adventist church.
Extra colorful traditional dress in LaCuyo.
A great setup, thanks to the local church elders.
Deb Wright (PTA) managing the curious crowd.
Carmen doing PT
Nilsen doing dental work. Both her and Ruben were fans of the portable dental unit.
This fearless little girl sat for cleaning and fillings.
Deb and Carmen really bonded with the kids.
Handing out toothbrushes.
We went with Deb on a short touristy outing to the Dinosaur National Park in Toro Toro. We enjoyed seeing the variety of dinosaur tracks (9,000 ft) and amazing water-made arches (13,000 ft)!
Delighting in a rare sighting of an Andean Condor.
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