Kids learn how to fly in VBS
By Lindsay Peyton
Pastor Develous Bright, at Salem UMC in Orange, Texas, celebrated his 60th birthday on June 12 and is also in his 20th year in ministry. Those two milestones prompted him to ponder his next steps, as well as his legacy. “What do I do with the rest of my life? What can I build that will last?” he asked. “You’ve got to find new ways of putting passion into your work. You have to see what you need to feed your soul.” He’s finding an answer – and his next steps – in flight.Bright has been flying planes – albeit without leaving the ground – since the sixth grade, when his mother gifted him an Apple for Christmas. The computer came with the software for a jet simulator.
“There was no color,” Bright laughed. The graphics were minimal. But he was intrigued from the get-go.
“I learned the basics,” he said. “And every time there was new software, I would go get it. I just kept doing it.”
Bright has flown jets, space shuttles and stealth fighters on increasingly realistic flight simulators. With each program, he learned more and more.
In college, Bright worked on the assembly line for Compaq. He learned what it took to build computers. And while at Texas Southern University, where he earned a degree in business, he learned about programming.
Later, Bright would incorporate what he learned in college into ministry – including desktop publishing and website creation. He also incorporated his passion for flight in sermons.
He never thought, however, about flying a plane in real life. “Aviation is expensive, even learning,” he said.
But before his 60th birthday, Bright decided to schedule a discovery flight, an introductory trip for individuals interested in obtaining their pilot licenses. He went up in the air last January.
“It was mind-blowing,” he recalled. “It was exhilarating. And I can’t wait to get back up.”
Bright now wants to become a pilot and is studying the official handbook to prepare. While he was in the air, he also had a revelation. “There are a lot of kids who are like me,” he said.
He explained, “The best way to learn how to fly is to have a dad with a plane who can teach you. The kids here don’t have that. Everyone else has to pay for it. If I had a plane, I would teach them how to fly.”
And since Bright does not own a plane yet – he found the next best thing. He will use his own flight simulator, which now has progressed from a keyboard and a screen to actual yoke, or control wheel, pedals and a virtual reality headset.
Bright came up with a name, the “FLY (Fun Learning for Youth) Program” and began to envision a curriculum, one that is totally immersive and interactive. Students would be split into teams and tasked with a challenge.
Then, they would use their imaginations, the flight simulator and hands-on learning to accomplish their goals. For instance, students in mission control would use cell phones to guide pilots in another room who are on the flight simulator. They might also face an engineering challenge at another juncture.
The storyline would tie into scripture and Sunday school lessons. The youth would document their journey, edit footage and present a video report to the rest of the church.
“It’s really ambitious, and I’ve never seen anyone do anything like it,” Bright said. “But we have the capacity to do it. We have the equipment – and the imagination.”
The aviation industry is set to grow, Bright explained. In fact, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization of the United Nations, if trends continue, “by 2036 the air transport industry will then contribute 15.5 million in direct jobs and $1.5 trillion of GDP to the world economy. Once the impacts of global tourism are taken into account, these numbers could rise to 97.8 million jobs and $5.7 trillion in GDP.”
Bright explained there will be jobs for pilots, mechanics and those in technology. “The doors of opportunity will open to you,” he said.
The pastor hopes youth in the FLY Program will catch the bug – and want to continue in the field. He also plans to bring pilots and astronauts to church to meet children enrolled in the program. “They need to see pilots and imagine themselves in the program,” he said.
Texas Southern University has a growing aviation program. Nearby Lamar University added aviation to its offerings this year, Bright said.
Already, the industry is actively recruiting – and Bright wants to inspire the youth. At the same time, the FLY Program could spark an interest in engineering, coding or even communications, Bright said. Ultimately, the course will be about instilling a love of learning in students.
“When we turn on a light, you can’t stop them,” Bright said. “My experience is with kids, that if you point them in the right direction, you can’t hold them back.”
The FLY Program will begin as a VBS offering this summer, starting July 11, and then transition into a year-round youth ministry.
One of Bright’s goals is to eliminate barriers – and to showcase diversity in the field.
“Right now, I’m doing the best I can with what I have to introduce kids to flight,” Bright said. “And they can see me doing this and know that God will open doors for them too. It’s all about being a witness and testifying.”
The pilot pastor is reminded of Acts 16:9, when Paul has a dream about a man in Macedonia who asks for help. “He didn’t say convert me or bring the gospel to me,” Bright said. “He said, ‘Help me.’”
“That’s what these kids need,” he continued. “We need to feed this generation of sheep. They need to be able to take the technology in their hands to the ends of the world with the gospel. And I want to help – and to reach them through technology.”
Click here to watch a video about the FLY program