From Death to Life  

How God used an MAF pilot and a small Cessna to save one life and transform an entire village


“As I landed and shut down the engine, I thought it was strange no one from the village was there to meet me—usually the whole village comes out to see the airplane! That’s when I heard the crying and wailing,” said John Hook, an MAF pilot.

Back in the late 1970s, John (now an MAF Mobilizer) and his wife, Nancy, were based in Kelansam in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. This particular airstrip was one of dozens hand-built by missionaries and the indigenous Dayak people in the first half of that decade. Like other grass airstrips, the villagers cut the grass on this one by hand. John hadn’t landed here in a while and only stopped in to make sure the grass wasn’t getting too long.

He hopped down from the small Cessna 185 and followed a path through the thick jungle, which led to the village.

When he came into the clearing he saw a group of people surrounding a dugout log, where a 15-year-old girl was lying. (This Dayak tribe was known to put their dead in these logs.) John asked what had happened.

“She is not dead yet,” replied one of the villagers, “but will die soon.”

The young, newly married girl was pregnant and trying to deliver, but the baby had turned. There was no healthcare at that time, nor access to it, and the people had no hope that she would live. So they turned to the local witch doctor. He and a few other men had decided to jump up and down on the girl’s belly, thinking this would help. Of course, it only caused further damage.

John checked for a pulse and found one. “Let’s get her in the airplane and I’ll fly her to the mission hospital about an hour away,” he said.

“No,” they replied, “just let her die.”

Ignoring them, John scooped up the girl, carried her down the path to the airplane, and secured her to the floor of the aircraft. Then he took off for the hospital, praying that God would keep her alive.


The Old Way

“Before there were missionaries in West Kalimantan, everyone was animistic,” explained Yusmanto Luis, who grew up in that area and now pastors a church in Palangkaraya, where the MAF floatplane base is located.

Animism is a belief that inanimate objects contain spirits that can affect human affairs in helpful or harmful ways. It involves witch doctors, superstitions, amulets, and charms—to placate the “good” spirits and protect from the evil ones.

“The Dayaks depended on witch doctors, whose power was strong, when they were sick due to their strong beliefs in the spirits of their ancestors,” said Yusmanto.

“MAF helped many people who were close to death by taking them to [mission hospitals at] Serukam or Sintang,” said Yusmanto. “The roads were not good and taking a boat would take at least a week or maybe even a month. MAF opened many landing strips that served as a connection between the villages and the cities.”

Yusmanto had not personally heard the story of the young girl, believed to be named Lihut, but he does recall when Christianity was spreading in her area with the help of missionaries and MAF. He says villages like Lihut’s were sending out their own “missionaries” to other remote villages. In fact, these indigenous Dayak were trained at a Bible college in West Kalimantan, which MAF also served.

“It’s worth noting that MAF has been a big part of building the church in Kalimantan from years ago until now,” said Yusmanto, “and in many places, MAF is very much still needed.”

medical evacuations charity mission aviation fellowship pilot flights

An MAF Cessna 185 at Serukam, West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Bob Breuker.

A New Thing

Dr. Wendell Geary at Bethesda Hospital in Serukam were able to save Lihut’s life. Unfortunately, the baby did not make it. Lihut spent a little over a month at the hospital and, while there, she heard the Gospel and became a Christian.

John flew her back to her village, and when the people saw the girl they couldn’t believe it. They thought she was a ghost! They wouldn’t come near until John rubbed her arm to show them she was flesh and blood. Then they came close and welcomed her home.

“That one little girl, with Jesus in her heart, led her family and then her village to the Lord,” said John. “And if you go there today, there is a large church and they even send out their own missionaries! My ministry was flying an airplane, and yet God used that airplane to bring Christ to one girl, saving one village to become a part of the Body of Christ in Indonesia.”


Special thanks to Rebecca Hopkins for interviewing Pastor Yusmanto, and for Linda Whiting and all of the Indonesian staff who tried to track down Lihut.


Story originally appeared in the summer 2018 issue of FlightWatch. You can view the entire issue here:



  • myrna ward says:

    Wasn’t this the Mission Nate Saint the piolet of “Through Gates Of Splendor fame.?

  • Jerrie Gorenflo says:

    This amazing story is one of untold millions, most of which we will not hear until we get to glory! May it encourage all who read it to just be faithful in whatever task that He sets before us and let Him handle the results. He has a plan. Praise Him! We knew the Hooks and that little airstrip well!

  • Rev. Donald Bryant says:

    I helped build landing strips for MAF in Western Borneo. And saw the great impact the airplane had on the spread of the gospel. Villages that would take two or three days to get to on foot could be reached in less than one hour by plane and that gave a great option to the use of a witch doctor. New believers who became sick or had a bodily injury could be flown to our hospital and away from the village witch doctor. Then when the people returned from the hospital and would tell about their experience. Others would be brave enough to try going to the hospital. At the hospital was a resident evangelist who visited everyone who came in for treatment and many believed the gospel message. So between getting people well physically and spiritually at the hospital the airplane was a great aid in the spread of the gospel there in west Borneo.

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