The organization White Horse Air Support Inc., 723 Pine Harbor Road in Pell City, founded by Etheredge, flew to the girl’s location and brought her back to Birmingham where she was transported to a local safe house.
“That young girl escaped with her life,” Lonnie Welch said. “It was something you’d see in the movies. It was just a mission.”
Welch is a pilot along with Mark Etheredge, who said the organization started out as a group of guys getting together who had a similar interest in aviation. The men started meeting in 2007 and became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in December of that year.
“We didn’t have an airplane or anything like that and we didn’t know what God’s purpose was for us,” Etheredge said. “But we said, ‘God if you want this to happen we’re here for it.’”
The organization now operates its air rescue services as a ministry. They also provide disaster relief support, humanitarian aid, and operate emergency rescues for women and children in abusive situations.
Etheredge said White Horse Air Support was something he was doing on the side but has recently decided to pursue full time. Eleven people are now in training with the program, some as young as 20 and some in their 60s.
Welch said White Horse Air Support was brought to his attention out of nowhere, but said it has been an avenue to get him “back in the saddle.” He was not one of the men in the original group. He only recently became involved.
“It helped me to readjust my focus on what I feel like the Lord is calling me to do,” he said. “It was an answer to my prayers. I was looking and seeking direction through prayer on where I needed to be on the pilot part.”
Welch said he had been a pilot for years but had gotten out of the aviation sector. When he did, he became discouraged and felt an overwhelming desire to get back in the cock pit. That’s when he was introduced to White Horse Air Support.
“It’s a wonderful organization and it’s phenomenal what we’ve been able to do for people,” he said.
Etheredge said the organization has been growing by word of mouth. And word of mouth seems to be working. He said a woman from Oregon recently contacted him in hopes that his organization could replicate out there.
“I don’t see how to do that right now but we’re praying about it,” he said. “Honestly, it took two years of praying and believing. This year the doors have flung open wide. The organization has started making connections and we have been able to do more this year than in the past couple years. Somehow God put us together.”
Etheredge said through his organization things can be done a lot quicker than if a victim flew on a commercial plane, and it is a “quick, clean way to get people rescued.”
He said he recently made the decision to pursue the ministry full time, knowing that a salary would be nonexistent. Joking that he was the founder, chairman of the board, the maintenance guy and even the bathroom cleaner, he said he was simply “putting his trust in the Lord that he would provide.”
One way the Lord has provided thus far is through the volunteers that work alongside him. Etheredge said he has a great group of volunteers, Welch being one of them.
Welch said their funding is tight and the organization needs to raise more capital through fundraisers and donations and drives. He said they get calls from all over the place and people want to utilize their services.
“But we’re strapped on the financial side,” he said. “It takes money to operate. We need to make people more aware. Particularly to let people know that there’s an organization out there that not only provides air support to get people from A to B but for people to realize we’re doing that out of our love for the Lord. We want people to be aware there are genuine people with no ulterior motives other than to show America there’s a group of guys sold out to the Lord and ministering to people. We’re not out to generate revenue but to serve people and minister to people through aviation.”
Contact Lindsey Holland at firstname.lastname@example.org.