'I will always remember our first office, on the second floor in a Victorian terraced house in Islington. It had bare wooden floorboards and was wallpapered with maps.'
Seventy years later, Stuart King and I are sitting opposite one another in a cosy meeting room at MAF’s UK base, the first floor of a modern office block near Folkestone seafront.
These walls are papered with posters asking: ‘Will you go to serve?’ ‘Will you provide a lifeline?’ ‘Do you want to transform lives?’
I spend the next two hours listening to a man who has given his life to answering these questions with a resounding ‘yes!’ We begin at the beginning – in 1945.
‘Although Jack, Murray and I were professionals in aviation, we were all amateurs in mission! We just felt the call to go. We didn’t think ahead to what it might become, we didn’t analyse it; we just went.’
They ‘just went’ on a 9-month survey flight across Africa in 1948, armed with a calling from God and only £250 in their back pockets!
‘The sight of Africa was moving and impressive: desert and swamp, later jungle and mountains. That first pioneering survey was exciting, tough and dangerous – but God helped us not to waver!’
‘Even when faced with the wreckage of that first plane?’ I ask tentatively.
‘When the accident happened, for a fleeting moment I thought, “Has God led us up the garden path?” But we carried on. It is God who is paramount, not our circumstances.’
Crash on Burundi hillside, 1948.
Help, hope and healing
Stuart’s stories reveal the pioneering heart these men shared from the outset: bold and visionary, yet meticulous and detailed; brave and fearless, yet humble and dependent.
It’s from this heart that the lifeblood of MAF has been pumped ever since, with the vision to see isolated people transformed by Jesus’ love.
‘I remember once trekking for two days looking for airstrips and reaching missionaries who hadn’t seen white people for six months. That was the isolation they faced. The change the plane made was startling. We served, prayed and cried with these brave people. It was such a joy.’
The tremble in Stuart’s voice shows how precious this time was. As we continue, he shares a story that shows why the sight and sound of our aircraft is a life-changing moment for so many people.
‘One Sunday we received a telegram: “Dick Crossman seriously injured at Loelli. Can you help?” We were startled to see that the telegram was already three days old. We immediately jumped into the Cessna 180 aircraft and took off , heading 400 miles south, picking up a mission doctor en route.
‘Lord, keep us in Your will, help us to live for Your glory – help us to make sure You are first and not the work. Raise up people who will be better than we ever were – more skilled, more in love with You and still pioneering!’Stuart's prayer for the next 70 years
‘As we circled Loelli, we saw the accident site below us. Dick had been digging wells when a huge iron post fell from the rig and crushed his leg. It still moves me when I remember walking into his tent. He looked up at us and said, “I have been listening for you for three days.”’ Tears fill Stuart’s eyes.
‘There’s help, hope and healing. He was hoping, we helped and he was eventually healed. That’s the foundation of MAF.’
It’s a foundation that has built a loyal family of support – some of whom have loved MAF from the minute they saw our Gemini aircraft 70 years ago. I ask Stuart why he thinks MAF’s supporters are so passionate.
‘Our approach has always been personal. You’ve got to love people as God loves us. I hope that we show our supporters just how much we value them, because we do – they’re a huge part of us.’
Every tribe and tongue
Stuart is a man who carries heaven’s perspective. He knows the eternal significance of MAF’s work, but has the humility to call it ‘just a small, but perhaps crucial part.’
He sits back on the sofa as we draw to a close.
‘I see more clearly now than ever how the timing of God’s call to us was so valid, and how it has been continuously confirmed over the years.
‘My hope is that MAF will continue to be part of reaching out to remote and neglected communities – speeding the Lord’s return.’ Amen to that!
Aircraft spanning 70 years.