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He also feels a responsibility to encourage others to follow in his footsteps. When he started Prayer One, Puckett dreamed that other helicopter pilots across the country would hear about what he was doing and follow suit, taking to the skies to bless their cities once a week. But that hasn't happened. So Puckett has switched tactics. With Southworth's help, he's come up with a question he asks everyone he talks to about Prayer One, whether they're religious leaders or schoolchildren: What's your helicopter?
"Find something in your life that you're passionate about," he says. "It's not necessarily about making the almighty dollar, but it's about giving back to your community and to mankind."
"I'm not a very good singer, and I don't know how to preach," he adds. "I know how to fly a helicopter."
Puckett was honored this past January at the annual Living Legends of Aviation Awards, the so-called Oscars of the aviation world, which are held every year in Beverly Hills and attended by stars with a penchant for flying, such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Kurt Russell. Puckett was the first-ever recipient of the Harrison Ford Aviation Legacy Award, an honor he received largely for his work with Prayer One.
Puckett also volunteers as an honorary Douglas County sheriff's deputy, flying SWAT and reconnaissance missions for the police because they don't have their own helicopter. He serves on the board of the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum in Lowry, for which he helped make a twelve-minute video about aviation that stars Harrison Ford, a longtime pilot who flies his own plane in the film.
"Jeff is a very outstanding pilot," says museum president Greg Anderson. "But he also burns with a passion for sharing flight with others in special ways, and Prayer One is one of those very special ways."
Puckett was almost embarrassed by the star-studded kudos. But he laughs when he thinks about the practical effects of the attention received by Prayer One. "It is kind of fun to make people think that if they see a helicopter flying over the heads, 'I wonder if those are the yahoos that are praying over the city?'" he says.
Part of the miracle of Prayer One, its founders say, is what happens afterward. Though they don't keep strict records or do much followup, Puckett, Melton and company have anecdotal stories of people who have been inspired by the flight.
Prayer One led A.G.E. Sandoval, a Denver-born Christian hip-hop artist-turned-pastor, to the Methodist faith. Sandoval started Tha Myx International in 2006 as an outreach organization for at-risk youth and juvenile offenders. A former member of the award-winning Christian rap group Preachas in Tha Hood, he used Thursday-night basketball games, barbecues and what he calls "holy hip-hop" to spread the word of God.
But by 2008, Tha Myx still didn't have its own building. Sandoval was looking for a new place to host his Hoops and Raps program when a friend introduced him to the pastor of a Methodist church in Lakewood called Light and Life Community Church. The two churches didn't have much in common. One was in the suburbs, the other was in the city. The suburban church had mostly white congregants. Sandoval's had very few.
But Light and Life had a gym and offered to let Sandoval use it. The partnership was going well, he says, but it didn't extend much beyond that. Then, last year, Del Hierro asked Sandoval if he wanted to take a ride on Prayer One, and things changed.
"Up in the air, you can't see any separation at all," Sandoval says of the city. "That was a different experience for me, because growing up in the neighborhoods and dealing with the different ethnic backgrounds, you tend to think these walls set up on the ground are these big things to conquer."
When he came down, Sandoval began thinking more about his partnership with Light and Life. Until that point, Tha Myx wasn't affiliated with any particular religious denomination. "After this ride, it dawned on me that we could have a deeper partnership," Sandoval says. "Why worry about if they're in a suburban community and they're reaching a community that is primarily white Anglo? Why be afraid of that?"
Tha Myx became a member of the Free Methodist Church of North America, which has given it access to financial resources and training. And Sandoval says it hasn't changed what they do: "We continued to do what we were doing: reach the community."
Other pastors say flying on Prayer One helped reaffirm what they were already doing. Dave Runyon is the community development pastor at Foothills Community Church in Arvada. More than a year ago, he helped start a collaborative of churches in the northwest metro area based on the creed of "love thy neighbor." He and more than twenty other pastors encourage their congregants to introduce themselves to the people living around them, offer to help them out, throw a block party now and then.
For Runyon, Prayer One was confirmation that initiatives like his are needed. "For me, it was an incredible visual reminder of the fact that as churches, and as church leaders, we're all on the same team," he says. "When you open up the phone book, it doesn't look like we're on the same team, and that's the problem. Something like [Prayer One] helps you get a global picture that helps you see the forest through the trees."