Flying by Occupation, Grounded in Faith

April 30, 2021
Sherman Fray

I was born into a Christian home in New York City on October 2, 1956, the fourth of five children. At the time my parents were fellowshipping at Grace Gospel Chapel in the Bronx. However, they soon branched off to White Plains, NY, joining with others to start a Sunday School in a garage before establishing Shiloh Gospel Chapel in 1958. I grew up at Shiloh Gospel Chapel, literally! My father was an elder which meant that we pretty much attended every scheduled meeting, many times opening, closing, and cleaning the building. His dedication and commitment to each gathering of the saints would be a lesson not soon forgotten. Put the Lord first and everything else after. My Shiloh “Elder’s Kid” (EK) experiences would guide most of my life going forward.

“In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your path” (Prov. 3:6). In the summer of 1962, our family flew to Kingston, Jamaica to visit family and for the independence celebration of my father’s homeland. I vividly remember boarding the Pan Am Boeing 707, watching the wings gently flex as we taxied, the feeling of acceleration as we raced down the runway, the gentle feeling of flight as we lifted off and climbed away from the ground and then being in and out of clouds as we flew. I was instantly hooked and thinking, “I don’t know what those guys are doing up there (in the cockpit), but that’s what I want to do.” The Lord would not only direct a path for my childhood desire, but along the way further demonstrate the things learned as an EK.

At a Sunday night gospel meeting, when I was just seven years old, the Lord opened my heart to respond to the preaching and teaching from God’s Word. I realized I was a sinner, understood my need for a personal Savior, and asked the Lord Jesus to come into my heart. There and then I was a sinner saved by grace, a child of God, a lost soul that was found and heaven bound, sealed with the Holy Spirit at a very early age. My faith was grounded!

Hospitality was the norm in the Fray household. Typically, guests for the Sunday after-meeting meal would include a visiting speaker and/or someone from the congregation. In the summer of 1974, we hosted one half of Carl South’s family. He was a missionary to Philadelphia with a big family, so the other half went to my uncle’s house. I guess you could kind of say we got the best half? Many times, Sunday guests were not seen again for a long time, but this time our guest Abby South and I made an attempt to stay in touch. We agreed to call and write each other, and I once received a care package of goodies she baked, but with me now off to college in Daytona Beach and her in Philadelphia our correspondence only lasted one semester.

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6). College/flight school was my first “when he is old” opportunity. I knew in my heart that although week nights might be taken up with studies or school activities, there would be something seriously wrong if I was not gathered for the Lord’s Supper with the saints on a Sunday morning. My father looked in the Assembly Guide and found New Smyrna Bible Chapel. I was welcomed, baptized, and able to sit under the teaching of brother Phil Morgan. Away from home the Lord kept me close to His people and fed with me His Word.

Flying came naturally so in tandem with my four-year BS Degree I graduated with all the pilot ratings needed to get an airline job. However, in the late 70s pilot jobs were hard to come by. For three years my occupation was being a ticket agent for British Airways at JFK International airport. With travel benefits, I was somewhat able to see the world, but at work seeing the airline pilots highlighted the fact that I was not where I should be. Fortunately, in 1980 the Air Force realized they had a pilot shortage. The Lord directed my paths to the right recruiter, guided me through officer training school, allowed me to soar at pilot training, landed me an assignment at McGuire AFB, NJ and housed me off-base (near Philadelphia). I give all the glory to the Lord for the abilities, opportunities, and directions He gives His people. Now I was piloting a multiengine transport to worldwide destinations, moving troops and cargo in support of military missions, and being a part of whatever else was happening in the world. Looking again to the Assembly Guide, I found the assembly of believers at Community Gospel Chapel in Voorhees, NJ.

Then I remembered that I knew someone in Philly. It was almost nine years after the Sunday dinner at home when Abby and I re-met. We soon realized that with such similar backgrounds and desires, each of us was the person the other one was looking for; the Lord had a plan for the Elder and Missionary Kids. We married and raised a family of three sons. We became actively involved in the assembly. We continued the Fray norm of hospitality by extending our home to saints far and near, and for many years served as Family Camp Directors for Camp Iroquoina. After my active-duty commitment ended I joined the AF Reserves and got hired by Northwest Airlines. I was ecstatic as the dream of a five-year-old had come true. The Lord had directed my paths through training, provided me skills and experience, and had given me the opportunity to become the airline pilot, a flying soul that He would use for the next 31 years. Of the five different aircraft types I’ve piloted the Boeing 747 was the one I spent the most time on (19 years), spending much time in Asia and Europe. Combined with my Air Force flying I’ve spent the equivalent of over two and a half years in the sky, and have been to almost every US state and six of the seven continents (missed Antarctica).

Similar to my EK experience, there were many experiences and lessons learned during my flying career that kept me grounded in my faith. Here are a few:
“… walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8). Let my speech and actions be my witness. Talk of politics and religion are undesirable flight deck topics due to the potential for heated conversations at critical flight phases, but what you say and how you present yourself can be the only bible some ever read.

God answers prayer, sometimes more than you expect. He not only granted me the skill to fly, but graduated me first in my AF training class, and used me to instruct and evaluate other pilots.

Look for and fellowship with believers wherever you are. Flights took me all over the world and with the help of the Assembly Guide I was able to gather for the Lord’s Supper and meet with fellow believers in many places such as Alabama, Arizona, and Australia. Singing “Amazing Grace” in Arabic was amazing. Find ways to be hospitable. In 1995, as we had a Philadelphia layover, I was able to bring the crew (pilots and flight attendants) to my home for Thanksgiving dinner. What a shared blessing it was!

Although I have spent many years flying around the world, I am thankful that I was grounded in the faith as a child, and that the Lord was and remains my Pilot. May the Lord richly bless you in your walk of faith. Sherman Fray