Passing the Torch

It’s not every day that a veteran MAF pilot gets to see one of his earlier passengers grow up and become a pilot himself. But that happened to John Hook, who now serves as a recruiter for MAF.

While John and his wife Nancy served in West Kalimantan on the island of Borneo, C&MA (Christian and Missionary Alliance) missionaries were frequent fliers. Particularly the Bolser family—Dudley, Nancy and their four children, including Tom, who loved anything and everything to do with airplanes.

“I was at their airstrip weekly, either picking them up or bringing them home … or a medical flight for one of them, carrying their food and supplies in, or their children to and from school,” said John.

Nancy Bolser with her children: Steve (left), Sarah, Jennifer, and Tom.

Nancy Bolser with her children: Steve (left), Sarah, Jennifer, and Tom.

“I’d land at the airstrip and often Tom would have drawn a picture of an airplane for me. And we’d talk about airplanes.”

Tom grew up and left the island and John relocated to another MAF base in Papua. John lost track of him for a time. When he had a chance to talk to the Bolser parents, he’d inquire into what Tom was doing. When they told him they thought Tom wanted to come to MAF, John wasn’t surprised. “I just figured he’d be a missionary pilot someday. And he’s a really good pilot. He still loves airplanes just as much as he did back then,” adds Hook. “Now that he’s with MAF, I’ve been able to follow his progress and talk to him, see him at conferences …”

While John let Tom sit in the airplane with him and explained the different parts of the airplane or let Tom pretend to work the controls, he doesn’t think he had anything to do with Tom becoming a pilot. He feels Tom would have gone that direction whether he was there or not.

“It’s just that I got to watch him. Almost like watching my own grandson grow up and get in MAF,” John explains. “It’s been really neat to see what God’s done with his life. Now he’s training other pilots and he’ll probably have some story like mine … talk to some kid along the way.”

The Balai Sepuak airstrip, where the Bolsers were based, was one of the shortest—not more than 1,200 feet—and most difficult. At one end was the river, at the other a gully. And if the airstrip was wet, there was the chance of sliding off into the river.

In the plane one morning, Hook’s passengers included Nancy Bolser, missionary Jan (Kuhns) Howard, and a Dayak man. Unbeknownst to Hook, a hangar helper had miscalculated the weight and the plane was heavier than usual. Instead of gaining altitude at the end of the airstrip like it normally did, the airplane dipped down into the gully.

Tom recalls standing at the top of the airstrip, watching Hook take off with his mom on board. He remembers the plane getting to the end of the runway and all-but-disappearing into the gully for a few seconds before rising up again.

Pilot Tom Bolser with one of his passengers, missionary Iwan Boersma in Papua, Indonesia. Behind the two is the airplane that Tom flies, a Caravan floatplane.

Pilot Tom Bolser with missionary Iwan Boersma standing next to the Caravan floatplane in Papua, Indonesia.

“All the MAF pilots that served us were my heroes,” said Tom. “But I remember my mom saying on more than one occasion that John was the one pilot who really went out of his way to serve us, even more than others. I always thought that was a great compliment and I believe it is one that I have wanted others to be able to say about me as I serve here in Papua.”

If John’s 32-year career is any indication, Tom should be with MAF for a long time, carrying the torch and continuing MAF’s unique Kingdom work.

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