In June of 2016 on a return trip to Kansas from a family gathering in Moscow, ID, we took time to stop at the headquarters of Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) in Nampa, ID. We have been supporters of MAF for over 25 years, but my journey with this organization goes back much further.
The Paternal Connection
After our visit, I began to reflect exactly how far back this journey goes. In fact, it reaches back to my father. In the process of writing a book about my father’s interaction with short term mission trips in Costa Rica, I recalled that when daddy became a pilot, he looked into becoming a missionary pilot. He loved flying and wanted to serve using this passion and new skills. Daddy was also a really good mechanic. He had an instinct for getting things to work.
It seemed a perfect fit, but was not to be. Before finding out what all was involved, he thought that there might be a way to do short term flying missions, but aviation mission does not have a provision for short term pilots. In addition, he was not:
- a certified air frame and power-plant aircraft mechanic,
- nor a certified flight instructor
- or did he possess a license for instrument flying,
all requirements to serve on the MAF aviation team. Daddy found another way to serve in short term missions but, as a result of our conversations, the seed of aviation as a mission tool was planted.
I had heard of the story of Nate Saint, Jim Elliott, Peter Fleming, Roger Youderian, and Ed McCully who were martyred in Ecuador in 1956. I was just three years old. Their stories are told in many different publications, books and even films. There are links to a few in this BLOG, but a google search will bring up many more. No matter your world view, it is worth your while to become acquainted with both the event that resulted in the death of these fine men, as well as the redemptive aspects of the after stories that continue to unfold, even today. It is remarkable.
A Woman Gets It Going…..
Another aspect of mission aviation’s beginnings is the fact that it was a woman, Betty Greene, who flew the first MAF mission. She had served during WWII in as a Women Air Force Service Pilot (WASP) and opened up regions for MAF to serve particularity in Peru and Indonesia. As a woman pilot, I cannot help but gasp in wonder at her courage, skill and dedication.
The Personal Connect Begins
My personal interaction with MAF took on a more direct line in 1993. It was that August I was privileged to be one of four United State Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) technical technical experts selected to journey to the country of Madagascar. We were to conduct an assessment of their civil aviation system. I went as the air traffic expert, along with experts in the areas of:
- airport operations,
- aircraft airworthiness
- aircraft operations.
It was a two week assignment.
As we began to ask the questions required in order to complete the assignment, we had the sense that we were not getting the entire picture. So we headed to the airport to ask the folks that used the system for their perspective: the pilots and mechanics. We talked informally with airline and general aviation folks.
Included in this group were some of the MAF pilots who flew to the remotest parts of this island nation, in many cases, in response to life and death situations. It was through this contact that I became acquainted with and supporters of one of the missionary pilot families posted there. With this connection we received regular updates and information of the work done around the world by this organization.
In the 1990s, MAF celebrated their 50 year anniversary as an organization. A wonderful book outlining the history of MAF was published and I read it. Wow. Through reading this I received an even wider and deeper view of this work. This included the strong connection with the Cessna Aircraft Company based in Wichita, Kansas.
Then in 2005, the movie “End of the Spear” was released. It tells the story of Nate Saint and the others who sacrificed their lives while serving in Ecuador. Because of my reading the history of MAF, we made a point to see the movie.
I stayed in touch with the pilots we supported. They came to Wichita to visit once. During their visit they put me in touch with an MAF advocate in the area and we got acquainted as well. Pilots love to compare stories, and I am no exception, but when chatting with these folks I listen. Nothing I have ever done in aviation is even worth mentioning next to what these pilots do – and, I might add, with an awesome safety record. These are not bush pilots, these are professional pilots who happen to do a lot of flying in the bush.
Because of MAF’s aviation core, it is unavoidably involved with the FAA, particularly the regulatory and certification side. Although I was not a part of the FAA regulatory world, I was drawn to the reality that MAF, from its start gave safety the utmost place in their strategy.
This was made very clear to me as I listened to the the audio version of book, Jungle Pilot. This work is compiled from the letters that Nate Saint wrote from Shell Mara in Equator. His letters are filled with a passion to serve but always with an eye on mitigating the risk encountered daily. These were pilots in the military during WWII. They brought with them the training, skills and instinct for flying in high risk situations, yet doing all they could to manage risk. That core continues in the organization today.
And The Journey Continues….
In all my interactions with MAF, I am moved by the love, humility and professionalism with which they serve. The mission statement of MAF, countless stories and testimonials on their web site speaks better than this space allows.
As we toured the MAF Headquarters, these connections, and intersections with MAF came flooding back to me. In my Stonebridge, MAF is a part of my faith, family and flight stones. It connects to my past, present and yes, future. On the latter, things have accelerated significantly. To find how how that acceleration landed me in Sentani Indonesia, you will have to read coming posts.