Remembering Missionary Pilot Joyce Lin
The sick woman was not well enough to sit in the Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) airplane, so pilot Joyce Lin helped her to the floor, tightened the straps to secure her for the flight, and began to pray. Tears welled and her voice cracked as she struggled through the prayer. But these were not tears of sadness—they were tears of hope.
This was a special moment for Joyce.
Joyce took off from the Wamena airstrip, high in the mountains of Papua, Indonesia, and flew the woman to the larger city of Sentani to receive medical care. This was MAF’s first medical evacuation flight since the COVID-19 lockdown.
It was also Joyce’s first-ever medevac flight.
And it marked a momentous step in Joyce’s journey.
A Long Obedience
After earning two degrees in engineering from MIT followed by a decade-long career as an officer in the U.S. Air Force and in private-sector cybersecurity, Joyce felt led to Christian ministry, so she enrolled at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. While in seminary, she discovered missionary aviation and traveled to Papua, Indonesia, for a summer internship with MAF.
“[Ten] years ago, I left Papua convinced I should pursue mission aviation,” Joyce said in a 2019 newsletter. “But there were no guarantees I would actually be able to get to this point.”
Joyce had earned her private pilot license while at MIT, but still needed an instrument rating, a commercial pilot license, and months of training to meet MAF’s standards. She was dealing with back issues and unsure if she would be healthy enough to serve in Indonesia long-term. But “the doors never closed, and every hurdle was cleared.”
“I am thankful to every flight instructor, every friend, and every medical person who contributed in a myriad of ways to help me over those hurdles,” Joyce said. “I am thankful to God, who gave me a vision of what my future would look like and who was steadfastly faithful to keep me on the path that led me [to Papua].”
Living A Dream
She arrived at her new home at the MAF base in Sentani as an MAF pilot and IT specialist, and quickly became a key part of the team. She began by flying essential supplies to isolated villages and helping complete a years-long fiber cabling project to support MAF’s IT work in Papua. And just as quickly, her care for her teammates and the people she served left a lasting impact.
Each morning, Joyce would make the “long” commute from her home to her office—which entailed walking out her front door, crossing the street, and opening the doors to the MAF offices at the Sentani airport. She would settle into her desk and get to work. For Joyce, these daily rhythms carried a weight that transcended the work itself. Her desk was not just a desk.
“This is my desk, where I do IT work,” Joyce said. “It is also the place where God has been working on my sanctification, one day at a time.”
In this far-flung corner of the world, Joyce Lin was living her dream.
“I’m privileged to be serving the many churches and missionaries in Papua who continue to reach out to isolated villages so that people can be both physically and spiritually transformed,” Joyce said.
“Anyone who knew Joyce recognized that she was extremely dedicated. That showed up most in her commitment to being used by God and sharing His love with others, especially those less fortunate. She was extremely generous, giving of herself and her treasures selflessly,” said Brock Larson, regional director of MAF Indonesia and Joyce’s teammate.
“Joyce embodied so much of what we love to see in MAF staff,” said David Holsten, president and CEO of MAF. “She was invested in the local culture, but she maintained a deep connection to her family, friends, and supporters around the world. She was professional in her IT work and in her flying. She was a dedicated teammate and well-loved by those she served.”
Joyce played a vital role in supporting the work of the missionaries, local believers, and communities deep in this rugged landscape. As COVID-19 forced Papua into lockdown, Joyce and her MAF teammates continued to find ways to serve. Joyce found reasons to be thankful even in this unprecedented challenge.
“It may sound strange, but these trying times have enhanced my feeling of purpose here in Papua,” Joyce said in an email update on May 6. “With every flight I see first-hand how MAF is connecting isolated villages with vital supplies and medical care. This can’t be taken for granted in normal times, but especially now with all of the travel restrictions, the people remind us how thankful they are every time an airplane is able to land in their village.”
“We Don’t Mourn as Those Who Have No Hope”
On May 12, 2020 at 6:27 a.m., Joyce took off from Sentani in an MAF Kodiak—a plane she had dreamed of flying since learning about mission aviation. Her cabin was filled with school supplies and COVID-19 rapid test kits, which she was delivering to a remote village.
In that moment, soaring through the beautiful Papuan sky, Joyce was doing exactly what God had called her to.
From a seminary campus on the other side of the world where she first discovered her calling, to countless training flights in Idaho, to visits with churches across the country, to hours spent in prayer, and finally to arriving in Sentani—God walked with her each step of her journey.
Two minutes into her flight, Joyce sent out a distress call.
Later, a search and rescue team recovered her body from Lake Sentani.
But Joyce wasn’t there.
She was where she had always been—in the arms of her Savior.
Hope Worth Sharing
Joyce saw the impact the gospel had made in Papua. The transformation happening in isolated communities scattered across this vast island was evident to her.
“The presence of God has given [the Papuan] people hope, a real hope that I share.”
And she carried that hope with her whether she was touching down on a remote airstrip or settling into her IT desk.
“Just two days before she went to be with the Lord, she shared how she was living her dream,” said Brock. “Her years of effort following God’s calling were being rewarded and rewarding others daily. Joyce was a light reflecting Jesus, and she will be deeply missed.”
Joyce’s road to MAF was a long one and it was filled with challenges. But Joyce was always able to see past hardships to the hope that lay beyond them.
“I am most grateful to personally know God, who has never forsaken me in my lowest times (as there have been many) and has repeatedly turned “mourning into dancing” (Ps 30:11) in ways I could not have brought about on my own,” Joyce said. “While I will always be excited to fly planes and work on computers, I am most excited to share the love of Jesus Christ by helping to transform other people’s deep discouragement and mourning into dancing and joy.”
As we mourn for Joyce, our tears, though tinged with sadness, are the same tears Joyce wept over the sick woman in her airplane—tears of hope.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Joyce Lin Memorial Fund, which will enable MAF to train Indonesian national staff in more technically advanced skills like maintaining and flying aircraft. The family will be informed of any donations made to the memorial fund. Cards and messages of condolence can be sent to the family via Derwood Bible Church, Attn: Lin Family, 16011 Chieftain Avenue, Derwood, MD 20855 or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.