If the image of flying away in the old Gospel song looks like passing through the clouds, that might be slightly off from Elijah Pendergast's call to the mission field.
He uses an airplane.
The 26-year-old mechanic trainee is already a licensed pilot and is open to being led of the Lord as to where his airplane rides will take him.
Born and spending part of his childhood in California, he hails from Gilgore, Texas about halfway between Dallas and Shreveport.
But his real home is that land beyond the river that they call the sweet forever.
"I never heard an audible voice, but there have been too many coincidences that fell into place for them to simply be coincidences," he said. His childhood dream of flying, his getting his pilot's license, his learning of a mechanic training program locally from someone he barely knew, all of it has fallen into place with a consistency that feels like a call from God.
"God revealed to me I was to come here and I was able to raise my support in two and a half weeks. It was just a string of events that only God could have ordained that they would come in that order," he said.
Home schooled for almost all of his childhood, he feels homeschooling is the best path.
"I'm not bragging, but in public school I couldn't learn at my own pace. In home school I could. I was usually done with all my lessons by lunch time; and could go do other things," he said.
Does he ever doubt?
"Sometimes I do doubt, but then I remember the path that God has put me on," he said.
"God has not revealed to me yet where I will be working in the mission field. I wanted to be a pilot since I was six or seven and then through various delays was finally able to get my pilot's license about three years ago. I still can't believe it sometimes when I say to people, 'I'm a pilot.'"
His instructor at Compass Aviation, John Watt, says of Pendergast, "He's a great guy," and he has high hopes for him. "There are over 150 aviation ministries around the world; and we've been here for 16 years and now have mechanics serving in 14 countries. We're training people to go into that field. We're working with Elijah and four other guys right now."
His journey toward mission work began when he was age 10 and read a book about Jim Elliot, the leader of a band of missionaries to Ecuador who were killed on January 8, 1956 by an indiginous tribe. Elliot, along with Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and their pilot, Nate Saint were all killed. Elliot's wife, Elizabeth, returned to Ecuador a few years later and preached forgiveness to her husband's killers.
Elliot often referred to Luke 9:24. "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it."
The Elliot story touched the heart of the young Pendergast who is now learning how to fix airplanes that he will be flying in the mission field.
"The mechanic work is like a puzzle, trying to figure out what's wrong and how to fix it. Sometimes what needs fixing is hard to reach and it's hard to figure out how to get your tool on the part that needs fixing," he said, but he clearly enjoys the challenge.
Flying, on the other hand. leaves the world behind.
"Flying is a way to get away from the world and gives you a different perspective on God's creation. You get to see beauty you don't get to see when you're on the ground," he said.
He has an older brother, Keon, who lives next door to dad and his now empty-nesting mother who gets to see her grandchildren often.
His family, including two sisters, is very supportive of his following this call into the mission field.
Church life for them has always been among nondenominational congregations. His dad works full-time as a handyman, but is studying for becoming a full-time non denominational minister.
Pendergast currently attends Heritage Fellowship in Shelby.
His homeschooling led him to earn a high school diploma in 2012.
His sweetheart, Hannah, 21, is back in Texas.
"She's pursuing nursing school. Her call is specifically toward children. She's learning about babies in hopes of becoming a nurse midwife. We text back and forth throughout the week, but we talk about once a week," he said.
His parents are George and Sandy Pendergast. Dad's a handyman and mom's a stay-at-home mom.
What would he say to a nonbeliever?
He gave that question a long ponder and then said, "I'm a First Peter 3:15 person. I believe 'In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that is in you.' I guess it would depend on the question they asked, but I would hope to live my life as a good example."
How did it feel the first time he flew solo?
"It was surreal, actually the first time I was able to see the fruition of a dream that I had for years. I'm actually a pilot now. I could go anywhere and do anything. I've been flying for three years. At this point, God is content with having me here and nothing beyond this God has revealed. That's okay. He's God and he's in control."
He added, "It has become fairly clear that God has given me a gift for flying and mechanic work."
Editor's note: This is the third Rutherford Weekly story generated by writer Pat Jobe hanging out at Willette Automotive in Ellenboro. He likes the coffee and the excellent mechanic work. When Compass Aviation's John Watt heard of the providential meeting between Pendergast and Jobe, he said, "I guess we need to keep pushing broken down cars into Willette's parking lot."