Faithfulness Across Generations

MAF Staff Share Perspectives About Ministry Through the Years

David Francis works on an MAF airplane. Photo by MAF staff.

David Francis works on an MAF airplane. Photo by MAF staff.

An extra headset sat in the passenger seat of MAF pilot David Francis’ airplane. During long flights across the vast Democratic Republic of the Congo, this headset allowed for conversations to take place in the noisy cockpit.

On one occasion, the headset was worn by a young British woman traveling to the jungle to study bonobos—smaller relatives of chimpanzees. She and David had a lengthy conversation during the flight. Months later she contacted David asking him to send her a Bible and Bible studies so she could reconnect with God during her time in the wilderness.

“Opportunities like this open the door to go where the Spirit leads while you are doing your technical job,” said Francis. “You get the headset on and chat—and become salt and light to that person. That is what first-person witness looks like.”

In David’s opinion, MAF’s future in the DRC will continue to look more and more like this. As Western missionaries are becoming scarcer in the country, MAF’s ministry includes supporting NGO’s who provide services such as medical, environmental, and community development projects—as well as the local church. David and other MAF staff are essential to the spread of the Gospel in a country that is seeing a decline in missionaries.

“We are professionals in a service industry. We’re pilots and mechanics and we are trying to do our jobs to international standards,” said David. “But we are also in the ministry and trying to reach people’s hearts and minds. Those two things shouldn’t diverge too much.”

David’s impressions of what being a missionary pilot would be like before he arrived on the field were mostly shaped by accounts like that of Nate Saint in the book Jungle Pilot. The reality of mission aviation in the DRC today looks different than the early years of MAF’s ministry, but the goal is still the same—to share Christ’s love with isolated people.

Craig Hollander serves as the chief pilot of the MAF base in Tarakan. Photo by Tripp Flythe.

Craig Hollander serves as the chief pilot of the MAF base in Tarakan. Photo by Tripp Flythe.

Craig Hollander peered into the crates he had just delivered to a remote village in Kalimantan, Indonesia, and was surprised by what he saw—flip flops and squatty potties. His first flight as an MAF pilot had turned out very differently than he imagined.

As a college student at Moody Aviation, he had listened to his professors, former missionary pilots, describe their experiences—tales of flying American missionaries into isolated areas where the Gospel had never been.

“But that was the mission field ten, twenty, or thirty years ago,” said Craig. “Things have changed.”

Because of earlier missionaries, the Indonesian church is well established in this part of Kalimantan and MAF works with local believers to continue sharing the Gospel with the people of this region. In addition to meeting spiritual needs, MAF also opens the doors for medical assistance, community development, and other humanitarian efforts to reach this isolated area.

“If people in the interior are going to get soap, MAF brings it in. If they want clothes, MAF brings it in. Shoes? MAF brings it in,” said Craig.

Since his first MAF flight twelve years ago with the flip flops and toilets, Craig now serves as the chief pilot of the MAF base in Tarakan. He recognizes the vital role MAF still plays in isolated regions.

“We support the national church and we do medevac flights and we do community development,” said Craig. “These people wouldn’t have flip flops and squatty potties unless I brought them in. We are helping brothers and sisters in Christ. We are also helping Muslims, and others who have never heard and doing it in the name of Christ. So I am very happy to be a part of that.”

Dick Martin (left) and Matt Harris examine the accessory gearbox of a PT6 engine. Photo by Isaac Rogers.

Dick Martin (left) and Matt Harris examine the accessory gearbox of a PT6 engine. Photo by Isaac Rogers.

During Dick Martin’s 23 years with MAF in Papua, he has seen quite a few changes: the tiny village they live in has grown into a city, missionaries have come and gone, remote areas have been connected to the outside world. However one of the biggest changes has been the airplanes MAF uses to serve the Papuan people.

“When we arrived on the field Cessna 206s were the biggest part of MAF’s ministry in Papua,” said Dick who is the chief of maintenance at the MAF program in Sentani, Papua. “Recently the last flight with a 206 in Papua happened. Now we have transitioned to KODIAKs and Caravans.”

The larger Caravan and KODIAK model aircraft enable MAF to not only more efficiently serve these areas by providing higher payloads and lowering overall operating costs. Dick’s role is to help in the transition training for MAF mechanics, so that they are better equipped to work on these new turbine powered aircraft.

“Our traditional role will continue for many years,” he said. “We do aviation well, in a complex and hazardous environment.”

MAF is one of the few, reliable air carriers whose focus is on the isolated people of this vast island. MAF’s work here enables missionaries from other organizations—as well as doctors, humanitarian aid workers, and Indonesian churches—to reach the more remote regions.

“Because of the topography of Papua, I can’t really envision a time when MAF’s service won’t be needed anymore,” said Dick. “It would be very hard for a commercial airline to have the infrastructure and training that MAF has to operate in those really tiny, remote places that we serve.”

MAF’s unique and versatile ministry allows the organization and people like Dick Martin to meet needs in a variety of ways—whether by fixing an airplane so it can bring a Bible translation into a village for the first time or working with both local and foreign missionaries to share Christ’s love in isolated places.

John Miller (left) works with volunteer aircraft mechanics lie Paul Pfluger to support MAF's fleet around the world. Photo by Paul O'Brien.

John Miller (left) works with volunteer aircraft mechanics lie Paul Pfluger to support MAF’s fleet around the world. Photo by Paul O’Brien.

Decades ago, MAF pilot John Miller was sitting in the back of a hut in Papua (then Irian Jaya), while a missionary with TEAM shared the Gospel. Miller pulled out his camera to snap a few pictures. The sound of the lens alarmed the villagers so much that they grabbed his arms and held him down. They began forcibly searching John. One of the villagers gave out a startled cry—he had found John’s belly button.

“We found out that they thought we were spirits,” said John. “They didn’t think we were real people. When they discovered my belly button they realized that I was in fact a human being.”

First contact like this was common in the early days of ministry in Indonesia—encountering people who had no exposure to the outside world. Missionaries, using aircraft to reach these people, were often viewed as gods or spirits.

“We were on the frontline, working with some people who had never been contacted,” said John.

There are still times when MAF pilots encounter people who have had little exposure with the outside world—but often the pilots are just as likely to transport local believers as they are Western missionaries. While the Papuan churches are still finding their identity and working through the issues of new growth, MAF is working to enable them to reach other areas with the Gospel.

Today John Miller currently serves at the MAF headquarters in Idaho and is watching a new generation of MAF pilots and mechanics head to the field.
“I am continually impressed with the kinds of folks that I see coming to serve with MAF,” says Miller. “The expectations the world has today about what a normal life in the States is—to leave that and follow God’s leading—I think the commitment is stronger. I see that and applaud these people; they are just amazing.”

Matt Monson and other MAF staff share Christ with the people of Lesotho. Photo by Andy Luksic.

Matt Monson and other MAF staff share Christ with the people of Lesotho. Photo by Andy Luksic.

“I would say our experience has been a lot more challenging than we imagined in many areas,” said MAF pilot Matthew Monson. “Yet through those challenges we have seen God working more in our lives than ever before.”

Matthew is serving his first term with MAF in the African country of Lesotho. Lesotho is a small kingdom that is marked by high mountains. The medical needs of the Basotho (term for people from Lesotho) are among the greatest in the world. HIV is very prevalent, and because of the rugged terrain and sparse population, transportation by MAF airplane is often the only way the Basotho can get help.

Matthew and others on the MAF team have begun working with a group of Basotho church leaders, the Lesotho Flying Pastors (LFP), to share Jesus throughout the remote areas of Lesotho—areas like the Kuebunyane valley.

Matthew landed the small Cessna filled with members of LFP, in a village in this remote valley—a 27-minute plane ride compared to a daunting trek by foot or car. They unloaded the Bibles and equipment to show the “JESUS” Film and began setting up for the worship service and the screening of the movie.

The time in this village was fruitful; the film was shown, the Basotho pastors preached, and Matthew even led a Gospel song in Sesotho (the language in Lesotho.) Roughly fifty people accepted Christ.

“It was amazing to see the Lord working in the lives of these mountain people,” said Matthew. “I would love to see MAF [continue to] be the outlet that allows the local church to start new churches in places that don’t know Christ.”

Matthew is one of many young pilots who represent the future of MAF’s global ministry. While the airplanes and technology they utilize may be different than those used in MAF’s early years, the pilots still have the same passion—to bring the love of Christ to isolated people.

“It is a real pleasure to look back at the past year and a half [that we have been on the field] and see what God has done,” said Matthew.

Read the full FlightWatch, 2015 Vol. 2

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