Mission Aviation Fellowship

Mission Aviation Fellowship
The plane of Mission Aviation Fellowship missionary Nate Saint is on display at MAF headquarters.

Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) is a Christian organization that provides aviation, communications, and learning technology services to more than 1,000 Christian and humanitarian agencies, as well as thousands of isolated missionaries and indigenous villagers in the world's most remote areas.[1] There are three major operational centers - Nampa, Idaho, USA, Ashford, United Kingdom, and Cairns, Australia. These centers provide operational support to programs in the Americas, Africa and Asia Pacific regions. In 2010, MAF served in more than 55 countries, flying 201,710 passengers with a fleet of some 130 aircraft.[2]



MAF began with several WWII pilots who had a vision for how aviation could be used to spread the Gospel. After WWII, Jim Truxton of the U.S., Murray Kendon in the United Kingdom, and Edwin Hartwig of Australia, with the support of like-minded Christians, founded missionary aviation agencies in their respective countries[3].

The U.S. organization was the first to take to the air, under the name Christian Airmen’s Missionary Fellowship (CAMF), later known as Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF). In 1946, pilot Betty Greene flew the first MAF plane on its inaugural flight, transporting two missionaries from Wycliffe Bible Translators to a remote jungle location in Mexico[4]. In addition to Truxton and Greene, other early members of CAMF include Charlie Mellis, Nate Saint, Larry Montgomery, Grady Parrott, George Fisk, Clarence Soderberg, and Jim Buyers. The earliest MAF fields of service were Mexico, Peru, and Ecuador. Over the years, the organization expanded to serve many countries of Africa, Latin America, Asia, and Eurasia.

In the U.K., Missionary Aviation Fellowship was initially organized as a wing of the Mildmay Movement (a Christian outreach organization), though it later became an independent organization[5]. Murray Kendon was instrumental in the agency’s founding, as were Jack Hemmings, Stuart King, and Tom Banham. MAF-UK conducted a survey of Central Africa in 1948, followed by service in Sudan in 1950. In subsequent years, the U.K. organization expanded service to other African countries.

The organizational meeting for an Australian MAF (AMAF) organization was held on June 30, 1947. Early members included Edwin “Harry” Hartwig, Leonard Buck, John Nimmo, Bruce Morton and Ken Cooper. After the purchase of a de Havilland “Tiger Moth” aircraft in 1949, Hartwig and Alex Friend undertook a survey of northern Australia. Hartwig then completed a needs assessment survey in New Guinea. In 1951 Hartwig, along with Bob and Betty Hutchins of MAF-US, established service in New Guinea, based at Madang. On August 6, 1951, Hartwig was killed when his aircraft crashed in the Asaroka Pass in the Central Highlands[6]. In the years following, work in Papua New Guinea and Dutch New Guinea (later called Irian Jaya, now Papua, Indonesia) continued through the joint efforts of the Australian and U.S. MAF organizations. Later, AMAF established service in central and north Australia (Arnhem Land), Borneo, and Bougainville.

MAF came to worldwide attention when, in 1956, MAF-US pilot Nate Saint and four other missionaries were martyred on a beach in Ecuador by Auca Indians. Family members of those martyred returned to Ecuador and ministered to the tribe, and some of the men who killed the missionaries eventually turned to Christ[7]. The story was featured in Life magazine[8], and several feature films have been made about the life and death of these missionaries, including End of the Spear[9] in 2005.

In later years, MAF agencies were established in other countries, including New Zealand, South Africa, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Brazil, Mexico, and Canada.

MAF Learning Technologies (MAF LT) developed in a similar way to the aviation support. MAF staff saw the needs of isolated church leaders which could be met with the use of various educational technologies including the internet, computers, MP3 players and other communication devices. MAF Learning Technologies is providing support to many other ministries seeking to provide leadership training, education and community development training to people in isolated areas.

Areas of Service

Since its early days as an aviation ministry, MAF has grown and evolved to meet the changing needs of the isolated and impoverished people it serves. Though the airplane remains its primary ministry tool, MAF has emerged as the key provider of communications, learning technology, and logistics services in the world’s most remote areas. MAF missionaries perform tasks as diverse as digging wells in Mali, providing disaster relief services in Sumatra, installing jungle communications and internet wifi networks in Papua New Guinea and Ecuador, operating computer centers in rural African villages, providing air ambulance services in East Timor and Haiti, and showing the “JESUS” film in remote villages. Its learning technologies division provides training and biblical resources for thousands of isolated pastors and church leaders. The organization focuses its mission work in the areas of 1) evangelism and church nurture, 2) medical assistance, 3) disaster response, 4) community development, and 5) training and development of indigenous people[10].

MAF has become well-known as a provider of disaster response and relief services. Following the 2004 tsunami which struck Sumatra on December 26, 2004, MAF provided air and communications support to humanitarian agencies responding to the crisis[11]. In 2007, MAF provided aid following Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh[12] and Hurricane Felix in Nicaragua[13], and worked with the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to halt an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo[14]. In 2008, MAF planes evacuated missionaries and foreign aid workers from Chad following violence there[15]. That same year, MAF airdropped food and medical supplies to villagers stranded by flooding in the wake of four deadly storms in Haiti[16], and served refugee camps in the Democratic Republic of Congo following clashes between government and rebel forces[17]. Currently, MAF is providing relief services in response to the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. (More information about MAF-Haiti here)

MAF PNG Twin Otter at Kafa, Papua New Guinea

MAF also provides internet, I.T. and RF communications to its various projects around the globe. In disasters, MAF uses a mobile VSAT terminal which can be 'checked' onto most commercial airlines as baggage. This terminal can provide emergency communications anywhere in the world and can be quickly deployed. MAF's technology services played a critical role in the infrastructure and emergency aid to Indonesia's devastating tsunami. They have been providing aviation and communications support to remote parts of Indonesia for decades.

A MAF Twin Otter, P2-MFR, unloading in Telefomin, 25km Northeast of Tabubil.
A typical crowd at the Tabubil Airport, 1994, and an ill-fated MAF Twin Otter plane.

Crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Mission Aviation Fellowship is maintaining flights for civilians and aid agencies in two of the Democratic Republic of Congo's current trouble spots. The latest fighting around the eastern town of Goma between government militia and rebel forces has displaced an estimated 250,000 people who are being forced back and forth between villages in some confusion. MAF pilots are flying medical supplies and medical staff to Goma. Relief flights would have increased had it not been for a relatively open road network permitting delivery of aid by trucks. Despite recent staff evacuations and looting of personal belongings, MAF has been able to maintain or resume work in and around the eastern DRC towns of Goma, Bunia and Nyankunde.[18]


Roger Young, in his account[19] of MAF operations in Papua New Guinea, documents the disappearance of MAF Cessna 185 registration VH-MFG on 23rd June 1967. Pilot John Harverson was on a routine short-hop (20 - 25 minute) flight from Telefomin to Olsobip with two passengers when he was reported overdue after failing to radio in as scheduled. The flight involved a climb from 5500 feet (1676m) to over 9000 feet (2743m) to cross mountainous terrain, frequently shrouded in cloud, at the southern end of which is a sheer rock formation several thousand feet in height called the Hindenburg Wall. Despite an extensive 10-day search over 8000 square kilometres, neither the plane nor the bodies of the pilot and passengers were ever found. Some years later, an army helicopter pilot in the area reported seeing wreckage of an aircraft at the base of the Wall while overflying the area. Despite returning the following day, he was unable to re-locate the spot where the supposed wreckage had been glimpsed 24 hours earlier [20].

On 17 December 1994 a de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter 200 with registration P2-MFS, operated by the Mission Aviation Fellowship crashed in Papua New Guinea while en route from Tabubil to the nearby village of Selbang.[21] 28 people were killed, including both the crew and all passengers. The aircraft struck a mountain due to poor visibility and lack of functioning instruments at 6400 ft.[22]

Mourners at Selbang grieve over coffins of the dead in the P2-MFS crash.

On 22 February 2005, a de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter 300 with registration P2-MFQ, operated by the Mission Aviation Fellowship crashed en route from Tabubil to Bimin. The plane hit a mountain whilst trying to detect the village runway. The two pilots, Chris Hansen, 37, and Richard West, 40 (both from New Zealand), were killed in the accident but the cabin attendant and 8 passengers survived and were able to walk to the village.[23]

P2-MFQ in its heydey at Selbang airstrip.

On 23 March 2006 a Cessna 206 aircraft operated by Missionary Aviation Fellowship crashed close to Tari, killing its pilot and injuring 3 passengers.[23] The pilot was a 42 year Swiss man who had been in PNG with the Swiss Mission for 12 years, and left a wife and four children behind. The pilot had reportedly entered the circuit area around Tari airfield and appeared to be flying well, but never made it to the runway. The three passengers were PNG nationals.[24]

On 16 October 2008, 23 year-old MAF Pilot Hadleigh Smith was killed while flying his GA8 aircraft (registration VH-WRT[25]) to several Australian Aboriginal communities in Arnhem Land, Australia.[26][27][28]


Mission Aviation Fellowship provides transport services to missionaries, translators, support personnel, consultants, trainers and linguists; provides medical evacuations; and assists in disaster relief work. In some areas, support is also provided to many Christian mission organizations, hospitals, local people and governments. Since these services involve flying into steep, short, or otherwise difficult runways, Mission Aviation Fellowship provides its personnel with training in STOL and other specialised techniques.

See also


  1. ^ "MAF Fact Sheet 2010", accessed June 22, 2010 from http://www.maf.org/about.
  2. ^ "MAF Fact Sheet 2010", accessed June 22, 2009 from http://www.maf.org/about.
  3. ^ "Giving Wings to the Gospel: The Remarkable Story of Mission Aviation Fellowship", Buss, Dietrich G. and Glasser, Arthur F. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995.
  4. ^ "Flying High: The amazing story of Betty Greene and the early years of Mission Aviation Fellowship", Greene, Betty. Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 2002.
  5. ^ "Hope Has Wings: The Mission Aviation Fellowship Story", King, Stuart. London: HarperCollins, 1993.
  6. ^ "Giving Wings to the Gospel: The Remarkable Story of Mission Aviation Fellowship", Buss, Dietrich G. and Glasser, Arthur F. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995. pp. 133-145
  7. ^ "Jungle Pilot: The gripping story of the life and witness of Nate Saint, martyred missionary to Ecuador", Hitt, Russell T. Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 1997, p.304.
  8. ^ "Go ye and preach the Gospel.", Life, vol. 40, no. 5, January 30, 1956, pages 10-19.
  9. ^ "End of the Spear", Retrieved on June 11, 2009 from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0399862/synopsis
  10. ^ “Case Statement 2009.” Downloaded May 12, 2009, from www.maf.org.
  11. ^ “Indonesia – Earthquake and Tsunami: OCHA Field Situation Report Update No. 13.” UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Jan. 7, 2005. Downloaded Jun. 11, 2009 from http://www.undp.org/cpr/disred/documents/tsunami/indonesia/sr13.pdf.
  12. ^ “Mission Aviation Fellowship still providing aid after Bangladesh cyclone Sidr.” Christianity Today, December 20, 2007. Downloaded June 11, 2009 from http://www.christiantoday.com/article/mission.aviation.fellowship.still.providing.aid.after.bangladesh.cyclone.sidr/15702.htm.
  13. ^ “Air Bridge Ministry Winds Down in Nicaragua.” Mission Network News, Sept. 13, 2007. Downloaded June 10, 2009 from http://www.mnnonline.org/article/10349.
  14. ^ “Mission Aviation Fellowship Transports Doctors to Congo Ebola Victims.” Christianity Today Australia, 9-20-2007. Downloaded June 11, 2009, from http://au.christiantoday.com/article/mission-aviation-fellowship-transports-doctors-to-congo-ebola-victims/3263-2.htm
  15. ^ “No quick return to Chad for Mission Aviation Fellowship.” Christianity Today. Feb. 5, 2008. Downloaded June 11, 2009 from http://www.christiantoday.com/article/no.quick.return.to.chad.for.mission.aviation.fellowship/16652.htm.
  16. ^ “Hurricane Ike adds to Haiti flooding already created by Fay, Gustav and Hanna; MAF focusing on areas with airstrip access.” Sept. 8, 2008. Downloaded June 11, 2009 from Reliefweb, http://reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900sid/VDUX-7JASPW?OpenDocument
  17. ^ “Mission Aviation Fellowship helps aid agencies reach Congo's needy.” Christianity Today. November 3, 2008. Downloaded June 11, 2009 from http://www.christiantoday.com/article/mission.aviation.fellowship.helps.aid.agencies.reach.congos.needy/21792.htm
  18. ^ "MAF flights assist in midst of DRC crises". Mission Aviation Fellowship. http://www.maf.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=217&Itemid=212. 
  19. ^ Young, Roger (2006) Many Adventures Followed. TM Books: Wendouree (Australia), pages 92 - 96. ISBN 0-646-45661-X
  20. ^ Young, Roger (2006) Many Adventures Followed. TM Books: Wendouree (Australia), page 96. ISBN 0-646-45661-X
  21. ^ "Airplane Crash Kills 28 In Papua New Guinea". World News Briefs. New York Times. 1994-12-19. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D03EFD61238F93AA25751C1A962958260. 
  22. ^ "Accident Description". Aircraft Safety Network. http://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19941217-0. 
  23. ^ a b PAC: Expat pilot killed in PNG light plane crash,, AAP News Wire, Mar 23, 2006. 
  24. ^ PAC: Swiss pilot killed in PNG light plane crash, 3 injured, AAP General News Wire, Mar 24, 2006 
  25. ^ "News Update: Arnhem Land Search". Mission Aviation Fellowship. http://www.maf.org.au/. 
  26. ^ "Loss of Young Pilot Highlights the Risks of Mission Aviation". Christian Today Australia. http://au.christiantoday.com/article/hadleigh-smith-memorial-service/4625.htm. 
  27. ^ "MAF plane still not found". Mission Network News. http://www.mnnonline.org/article/11799. 
  28. ^ "MAF pilot missing - but not a MAF plane". Christian Today Australia. http://au.christiantoday.com/article/maf-pilot-missing-but-not-a-maf-plane/4584.htm. 
  29. ^ MAF Flight Training http://www.maf.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=71&Itemid=125

External links


Twin Otter landing in Tekin, Papua New Guinea

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