At the start of 2020, we looked forward both to the 75th anniversary of VE Day and the 75th anniversary of Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF).
To celebrate MAF’s three-quarters of a century vision to bring help, hope and healing to hard-to-access communities throughout Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, we had planned a magnificent celebration at Westminster Central Hall.
But, when coronavirus broke out, everything changed! The celebratory event was rescheduled for 3 July 2021 and the publication of Above and Beyond, a beautifully illustrated commemorative book celebrating MAF’s decades-long history, moved to September 2020.
Things hadn’t gone the way that we’d expected, planned or foreseen. But God knew and through it all, he proved faithful, just as he had back in 1945. Then, a number of visionary RAF personnel banded together to use aeroplanes to save lives, deliver food and distribute Bibles rather than causing death through aerial bombing or battling enemy aircraft in the sky.
Although flying restrictions caused by Covid-19 limited the large number of evangelistic and humanitarian flights normally made by MAF’s 138 aircraft in 26 of the world’s poorest, most vulnerable countries, we were still able to serve people living in some of the remotest places on earth.
Despite all the challenges, we knew that ‘The Lord Almighty is with us’, that ‘the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases’ (Lam. 3:22-23) and that, despite the unsettling crisis, God enabled us to continue helping to save lives and see people physically and spiritually transformed.
Here’s a brief snapshot of just some of the things he has allowed us to do.
Food and floatplanes
Arnhem Land, North East Australia
In Australia, due to coronavirus, most international flights were prohibited. Thankfully, essential flying in Arnhem Land was still permitted. This enabled us to serve the isolated Yolŋu community by delivering food, ferrying children to and from school and enabling the country’s indigenous inhabitants to receive urgent medical attention.
We also provided Laynhapuy Health, a MAF partner serving 20 remote Aboriginal homelands, with hundreds of protective face masks. ‘In any hardship,’ according to Duncan and Ruth Jack, Country Directors for MAF Arnhem Land, ‘God is right in the midst of it all, working things out for his glory.’
In Bangladesh, when many flights were grounded, MAF Pilot and Country Director Mark Blomberg worked closely with the Bangladeshi government and the Civil Aviation Authority to find new ways to continue serving the populous nation.
With appropriate social distancing measures in place, MAF personnel ensured that our floatplane was disinfected after every flight, people’s temperature taken, hand sanitiser provided before boarding and that everybody received a face mask as soon as they entered the plane.
Thanks to our team’s diligence, MAF was given permission to carry out emergency medical airlifts and deliver humanitarian relief throughout Bangladesh. One of the places requiring the greatest amount of support was an area known as Cox’s Bazar, home to the largest refugee camp in the world and completely transformed by the absorption of refugees.
With nearly one million displaced Rohingya crammed into flimsy camp shelters in a country which had more than 10,000 coronavirus cases, requests for MAF flights surged by 20%. Many came from aid agencies serving the Rohingya.
Our floatplane also rescued a Swiss volunteer working in an isolated area near the Sundarbans mangrove forest, flying her back to Dhaka 90 minutes before an international evacuation flight left for the lady’s homeland. Another passenger, from the Christian charity, World Vision, was also flown to the capital. As the grateful aid worker explained, ‘I’ve flown previously with MAF in Uganda, and I know MAF comes to the rescue!’
Out of Africa
With buses in Chad prohibited because of the pandemic, the people there had to rely on MAF more than ever. Our aviation organisation worked with the Ministry of Health to transport coronavirus test kits to hard-to-reach towns such as Abéché. ‘God has been in Africa all the time,’ affirms Henk-Jan Muusse, MAF’s Regional Director for Africa. ‘We can bring any need before him.’
In Liberia, MAF staff answered a call from the health authorities to fly a suspected coronavirus victim’s test kit from Zwedru to the only hospital able to process it. MAF is the only way to safely and speedily transport test kits to Liberia’s hard-to-reach towns. Providentially, for a country with limited health facilities, that test proved negative.
In Uganda, when flash flooding displaced 25,000 people in Kasese, MAF planes delivered valuable cargo to those who were suffering. ‘Our team,’ reports MAF Communications Officer Jill Vine, ‘spent the entire day loading three aircraft. The next day, another plane joined the others. This too was loaded with relief supplies for people who’d seen their homes washed away about two weeks earlier.’
Timor-Leste (East Timor)
In Timor-Leste, MAF delivered 430kg of antibacterial soap and coronavirus information packs to more than 14,000 homes in Oecusse, an isolated enclave cut off from the mainland. We also brought corn to Atauro Island in Timor-Leste, following a disastrous crop failure.
Papua New Guinea
Meanwhile, in a different part of MAF’s Asia-Pacific programme, a boy bitten by a death adder in a mountainous area of Papua New Guinea (PNG), was flown to hospital in the nick of time. Because the deadly snake had only bitten his finger, the poison hadn’t yet made its way into Naha’s bloodstream, so the youngster was able to receive treatment before it was too late.
In Morehead, a lowland district of PNG, the shortage of PPE (personal protective equipment) left healthcare workers’ morale at an all-time low. ‘We feared treating our patients without PPE,’ the despondent medical staff explained. Weeks later, however, an MAF plane brought in workers from the Aerial Health Patrol, along with masks, gloves and hand sanitiser.
The next day, the healthcare workers returned to work, happily providing their patients with the hands-on, personal care they value so much. ‘One of our priorities,’ concludes Todd Aebischer, MAF PNG Country Director, ‘is to ensure that MAF doesn’t transport coronavirus to the communities we serve and love so much! We are careful to properly sanitise our aircraft, observe social distancing, wear face masks and monitor passenger health.’
At MAF, we praise God that, although we weren’t able to celebrate our history in the way we’d intended, the 75-year-old mission established to assist some of the developing world’s poorest and remotest regions was still able to provide the life-saving support that so many people needed.
To find out more about MAF and their work visit www.maf-uk.org