5 Jul 2015

On a wing and a prayer

From Spiritual Outlook, 5:00 pm on 5 July 2015

MAF New Zealand CEO Mark Fox with ZK MAF at Ardmore Airport
MAF New Zealand CEO Mark Fox with ZK MAF at Ardmore Airport, south of Auckland. Image taken by Lisa Thompson

Every three minutes an MAF plane is taking off or landing somewhere around the world… we fly to more destinations than any airline – over 2,500 worldwide.

– Mark Fox, CEO MAF New Zealand

Over the past 70 years, Mission Aviation Fellowship has grown from just one plane, to a fleet of 140 aircraft. And New Zealand provides many of the pilots who fly the Christian organisation’s aircraft around the world assisting missions, churches and aid and development agencies to share the love of God. However, none of MAF’s operational planes have ever been based in New Zealand.

the tail of ZK MAF showing the MAF livery Image taken by Lisa Thompson

But this all changed in March 2015, when a Cessna 206 touched down at Ardmore Airfield, south of Auckland. MAF New Zealand acquired the plane after it was retired from MAF work in Australia and two experienced pilots made the three day journey with the Cessna from Cairns to Auckland. After being registered by the Civil Aviation Authority, ZK-MAF will now be based in Blenheim and will be used to train, test and prepare Kiwi pilots for the challenging conditions they will face overseas. However, MAF NZ CEO Mark Fox says the plane will also be used to raise the profile of the organisation’s work. “We’re going to use it to show the public… taking it to the air shows, all the airports around the country over the next couple of years… we want to use the plane to leverage our profile… and to inspire people to serve,” he says.

MAF Arnhem Land Chief Pilot Lisa Curran Image courtesy of MAF New ZealandAnd one person who has already taken up the call is MAF pilot Lisa Curran. Following her father's advice 'to get a trade', Lisa originally trained as an Occupational Therapist in New Zealand. However, in the 1990s, Lisa’s work took her to Florida in the United States and it was here that her passion for aviation developed. “There was one defining morning where I saw a group taking off very early and I thought ‘Lord, I’d love to serve you with flying’… as my passion for flying continued I thought I’ve got to make a decision here,” she says.

So her passion became her career after she was approached back in New Zealand by Mark Fox and asked to join MAF. After gaining her commercial pilots licence and a Diploma of Operational Aviation and Applied Management, Lisa was accepted into the organisation. Five years ago she moved to Arnhem Land in Australia’s Northern Territory. Recently appointed Chief Pilot for the region, Lisa and a team of approximately 16 other pilot families help cover an area of 97,000 square kilometres.

Serving mainly the indigenous Yolngu people, Lisa says one day is never like the next and MAF pilots can be described as ‘jacks-of-all-trades’. “You are the plane washer, refueler, ticket taker and cabin crew and the pilot,” she says. “You’re also the chaplain… but we’re quite trusted. MAF has been in parts of Arnhem Land for 40 years and so the uniform and name stands for that trust and we’re very fortunate we have such a strong relationship with the local people.” 

Listen here to a longer interview with Lisa Curran.

Mission Aviation Fellowship

For 70 years, the Christian Aviation organisation has been flying to the most isolated places on earth, sharing Christ's love, offering transportation, aiding development and providing training. But the organisation also partners with other charities and NGOs to bring essential medical supplies, relief teams and spiritual care to thousands of people cut off by natural disasters such as the recent Nepal earthquakes.

Videos courtesy Mission Aviation Fellowship.