It is with great sadness that we learned this week of the death, at the age of 96, of Steve Stevens DFC who was one of MAF's very first pilots and, for many years, ran MAF's office in the UK.
Born in England, Steve moved to South Africa at the age of 10 and he came to know Jesus at the age of 14. Always excited by aircraft and aviation, during WWII he served as an officer in the South African Air Force (SAAF) and he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his courageous flying in the Balkans. Later he flew many transport flights, ferrying military staff from Cairo to South Africa.
In 1946, as liaison officer between the SAAF and the RAF in Khartoum, Steve saw how badly the Sudan Interior Mission leaders needed a plane and was determined to do something about it. Shortly afterwards, he was given a copy of MAF's very first leaflet and contacted their office to offer his support. This led to Steve becoming MAF's first operational pilot to be based in Sudan in 1950.
In Sudan, Steve flew a de Havilland Rapide – an eight-seater twin engine wood and fabric covered biplane – not best suited for flying in Africa, but the best MAF could find and afford at that juncture. Over time, more and more airstrips were hacked out of jungle, bush and grasslands, and Steve began to fly to other places where no planes had ever been before.
At the end of 1951, Steve experienced some problems with his vision. He hoped it would be a minor matter but it was later diagnosed as a detached retina and he lost the sight in one eye. He was grounded and his pilot's licence could not be renewed.
Steve felt that his call was still to aviation missionary work so he and his family moved to the UK. He re-established MAF's UK HQ and worked tirelessly to raise financial, staff and prayer support for the ministry. Steve attended meetings all over the UK inspiring thousands with the MAF vision that was steadily taking shape in more and more remote communities worldwide. During this time, he also organised a speaking tour for Marj Saint and Elisabeth Elliot to tell the story of their husbands’ tragic martyrdom in Ecuador and recruit scores of missionaries in the process.
In 1970, after more than twenty years of self-sacrificial service to MAF, Steve and his wife Kay moved on to become early members of the National Festival of Light, forerunner of today's CARE organisation. Steve later became Executive Director of Australian Festival of Light.
Steve Stevens remained a great advocate and supporter of MAF throughout his life and was active in his backing until ill health forced him to slow down. Steve is survived by his children – Merle, Pam, Coleen and Tim – and his grandchildren, all of whom are in our prayers.