The Unexpected Passenger

How God used MAF helicopters to save lives in Indonesia—including an unexpected one.


In the 1970s through the 90s, MAF’s Indonesia program used helicopters to support missionaries who were bringing the gospel to unreached villages—rugged, primitive areas where airstrips had not yet been built. Mike Meeuwse was one of those pilots who served in Papua in the 80s.

“That was the main push for the helicopters,” said Mike. “Missionaries would get all their supplies flown in to the nearest airstrip, using airplanes, and then the helicopter would shuttle supplies to areas where they were doing outreach or building an airstrip. We did a lot of shuttle work.”

One of the mission posts that Mike served was Lolat, a helicopter-only base.

“Every evening, about 5:30, I stood by the HF radio for any helicopter request on the whole island,” said Mike.

One night he received a radio call from one of the missionaries based in Lolat. A young girl had just walked in from one of the outlying villages.

“She told them her mom had broken her leg,” explained Mike. “The missionary requested the helicopter to pick up the lady in her village.

Mike responded, “I’ll be there first thing tomorrow morning.”

People gathered around an MAF helicopter in a remote village in Papua, Indonesia.

When he arrived in the village the next day, he asked around for the woman with the broken leg. The people pointed to a hut. Mike walked around it but couldn’t find the door. There was a big pile of wood blocking one side of the hut.

“Where’s the door?” asked Mike.

“It’s behind the wood,” they replied.

“What’s the wood for?” he asked.

Turns out they were planning to burn the woman as soon as she died. And the wood was what they were going to burn her on.

Mike went on to explain: “The people had never seen a leg broken above the knee be able to heal. And a lady is useless over there if she can’t work in the garden. So they don’t feed her anymore and they just let her die.”

Of course, Mike was referring to earlier days and things are different now. But at the time, this woman knew what they were planning to do to her, so she sent her daughter to the missionary’s house. It took her a day to walk there. The woman had been boarded up in the house for two days before Mike arrived.

“I told the people to move the wood and carried her out to the helicopter, then flew her back to the mission station at Wamena,” said Mike. “There’s a hospital there, and a Dutch doctor was there who put her in traction. She had surgery and they put in a plate.”

About five months later she was ready to be flown back to her village.

What was unknown to Mike at the time he flew this woman out was that she was pregnant. It’s likely that the people in the village had no idea either. Mike says you should have seen their faces when he flew her back in and she stepped out of the helicopter with a baby!

That’s just one of thousands of MAF flights that God has used to save lives for almost 75 years now. And Mike will forever remember that particular helicopter flight when he unknowingly saved two lives instead of one.


  • Steven R. Russell says:

    I am the #1 son of the Rev. James F. Russell, Missionary Pilot to Panama, who candidated with MAF many decades ago when Grady Parrott was President. Dad was disappointed when he got turned down.

    But God used it for our good, as Dad became an Independent Missionary Pilot to Panama with Maritime Faith Mission Fellowship, (MFMF), Headquartered in Detroit.

    Dad went home to his Reward February 9, 2018, and his cremated Full Military Burial with Honors Remains, conducted by the VFW, were buried on February 19, 2018, Presidents Day Holiday in the U.S.

    We lived in Panama when the Canal Zone was in its Hey Day, and Dad got a 50% discount on our school tuition, because he was a Missionary. No separation of parents from children in a boarding school. Dad’s remains are buried in Panama.

  • Elinor Young says:

    Hey! I just recognized myself in the photo! The short white woman on the left side of the picture. Can’t recognize any of the Kimyals, but that’s Korupun. Fun seeing this! And during those years was SO grateful for help from MAF helicopters.

  • David Earley says:

    I am an Australian who was with JAARS on the PNG side when Dennis Stuessi (MAF program director Irian Jaya) requested help with the start of the West Papua MAF helicopter program. I spent a month there in 1976 assisting the first MAF pilot with in country checkout in a Hiller 12E. The whole family came back with me in 77 for 3 months when I was asked to return to help with coordinating earthquake relief. I flew the Hiller and Cessna 206 during that time, living at Sentani apart from several weeks at Okbap. I had a similar experience to Mike evacuating a girl from Mapnduma with a badly fractured lower leg that was still not healed several months post injury. I have often wondered what became of her. Last I saw was dropping her off at a clinic north over the range from Mapnduma…can’t remember what the place name was.
    By then the H500 was being used by Pertamina in the relief program and shortly after MAF replaced the Hiller with them.
    Described in my book Beneath Blades.

  • David Earley says:

    Further to my last, the Mapnduma girl had a brand new baby with her on that flight.

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