Where Passion and Preparation Meet

MAF is committed to strengthening foreign staff and preparing them to follow the Lord’s call


By Jennifer Wolf

“The pilot went full throttle and we were rolling down the runway. My heart started beating fast and I wanted to be up front doing that, experiencing that over and over again,” said Rickson Poki, describing the first time he flew on a commercial aircraft, when he was a preschooler.

Rickson, or “Ricky,” as most people call him, comes from Papua New Guinea (PNG) and is one of several foreign staff members who have spent time at MAF’s headquarters in Nampa, Idaho, to further their flight or maintenance training.

flight training of foreign staff with Mission Aviation Fellowship charity

In Idaho, Ricky Poki, left, flies with Erick Paradizo. Photo by Lemuel Malabuyo.

Whether it happens at an overseas flight program or here in the U.S., MAF is deeply committed to building the capacity and talent of local teammates in the developing countries where we serve.

“There is a big need and MAF leadership sees a lot of potential in the national staff around the world,” said MAF flight instructor Erick Paradizo, who is working with foreign pilots like Ricky.

These are pilots who joined MAF overseas in some other capacity—administration, maintenance, or another role—and haven’t flown for a few years. That was true of Ricky, who served for three years as an executive assistant to the MAF PNG country director. Part of Erick’s role is to give pilots like Ricky more experience, increase their flight hours to meet MAF’s requirement, teach MAF’s standards, and prepare them to serve on the field.

MAF pilot Philip Sutter flying with Ricky Poki in Papua New Guinea. Photo by Ricky Poki.

Foreign staff come to MAF headquarters to further their training, but it’s much more than that. There’s quite a bit of mentoring involved.

“I think it is important to help provide the wisdom and guidance that they need,” Erick added. “So before every lesson, we spend time in prayer. We make our Lord and Savior the first thing of the day and we glorify and praise Him for the good things He has done.”

Ricky went through ground classes with Erick before he began flying with him.

“When we started, Erick got to know me—what I found easy or what helped me learn. So just going through ground class, we’ve actually bonded really well. I see him as an instructor but I also see him as a friend, a big brother, a mentor.”

Following the Call

“Throughout school, I just felt that calling, deep down inside,” Ricky said as he finished the story of where his desire to be a pilot came from. “That passion still is there. I can’t explain it sometimes.”

After graduating from flight school in the Philippines, Ricky discovered YouTube videos showing MAF in action.

“As I was looking at MAF, it nailed two things that I really wanted because I have a heart to serve people. That’s just in me,” Ricky said. “And flying is something I love. And I thought, if I could serve my people in the way MAF does and end up flying at the same time, that would be like killing two birds with one stone.”

While Ricky continues his flight training with Erick, he’ll be working toward passing MAF’s Technical Evaluation and then Standardization. When he passes, God willing, he’ll likely serve at an MAF-US program until he builds up enough flight hours to qualify to serve in PNG (which has a higher hour requirement).

“My ultimate goal at this stage is surrendering to the Lord and to see what he has in store for me,” Ricky said. “If it is to fly, I would like to be an encouragement to my people and to children who want to do this and serve God in this capacity.”

“For me, the purpose is to follow the calling that the Lord has for me. He’s called me to fly. It’s going to be that way.”

Empowered to Serve

Knowing that the pilots he has trained are now serving with MAF back in their own countries, or in other countries, Erick feels he’s been part of their journey to the mission field.

“It feels like I’m going with them, wherever they’re going,” Erick said. “And I just love seeing them serving the Lord in different parts of the world.”

aviation ground class at Mission Aviation Fellowship headquarters in Nampa, Idaho

Erick Paradizo teaches a ground class at MAF’s Nampa, Idaho, headquarters. Photo by Lemuel Malabuyo.

Since October 2020 Erick has trained one pilot each from Ecuador, the Netherlands, Indonesia, and now, PNG.

“In the places that we serve, you see people with the heart of Christ who really want to glorify the Lord and use their skills and talents in their own country, to help their own people,” Erick said. “It’s important for us here at MAF to empower the nationals and give them the tools they need to accomplish the mission of bringing help, hope and healing to isolated people.”


A Look at Foreign Staff Studying in the U.S.

Some foreign staff don’t have the ability to obtain certification or licenses in their own country, either because the cost is prohibitive or it’s just not offered there. One solution is to bring them to a school in the U.S. This year four of MAF’s national staff members are pursing pilot or mechanic training.

Zacharie François
After obtaining his Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) certificate from the School of Missionary Aviation Technology (SMAT) in 2018/2019, Zacharie François has returned this fall to start his flight training. He is the first foreign student admitted to the flight program. And, he’s the first certified Haitian maintenance specialist on the MAF Haiti program. Prior to that he served in an apprentice role. You can read an earlier story about Zacharie’s dream to be an MAF pilot at maf.org/zach.

Waren Lelewa
Waren Lelewa and his family arrived in Waynesboro, VA, in early August. Waren is continuing his studies towards a U.S. A&P certificate at Blue Ridge Community College. He has completed three semesters worth of theory online, and now needs to complete his practical labs and Basic Electricity. Waren is an apprentice mechanic with MAF Papua (Indonesia). He’s served with MAF since December 2014, starting in the warehouse, becoming head of the warehouse, and then moving into the hangar for the last 4.5 years.

Mantlibi Mafa
As part of her automotive maintenance schooling in Lesotho, in southern Africa, Mantlibi Mafa acquired an internship with MAF in the capital city of Maseru. After she graduated, MAF Lesotho called her for odd jobs and then asked her to come on permanently as an apprentice aircraft mechanic in 2017. After a delay due to the pandemic, she’s started her classes this fall at SMAT to receive an A&P certificate. You can see an earlier video of Mantlibi at maf.org/mantlibi.

Juan Antonio Rivera
Growing up in a missionary family in the remote mountains of southern Mexico, Juan Antonio and his family collaborated with MAF. Eventually, his father became country director for Alas de Socorro Mexico (ADS), as MAF is known in Latin America. As a teenager, Juan Antonio started doing projects with ADS and today he and his wife, Amy, are in Michigan. Juan Antonio is attending SMAT and working towards an A&P certificate, which is a one-year program.


This story and sidebar appeared in the fall 2021 edition of FlightWatch. Read the full issue here:


  • Vicki Sontheimer says:

    I so loved reading the stories and the faith, love and passion of all. I could feel the excitement. I will pray for God’s guidance and protection for MAF and future pilots and staff.

  • Marion Dexheimer says:

    I love your stories. Keep them coming! Especially like to see photos with names, locations. You are all around the world. I’m especially glad about your investment in their training, because I know they will serve well, once they return home.

  • Margaret Brown says:

    It is encouraging to see MAF training those who are from the field in various countries, so they may have the opportunity to serve the Lord as pilots and mechanics. This makes outreach so personal and effective in their native lands. God bless each one.

  • anne says:

    Great to learn more about these ministries and folks involved. Wonderful opportunities for nationals and their teachers. Glad to see female involved also. Hope more young women get encouraged.

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