As rockets fling explosive colour above Britons wrapped in woollen scarfs, 5,648 miles away in sunny Madagascar, thousands of vibrant pieces of bunting flutter above a crowd of missionaries in the warm African breeze. It is a privilege to be among them, sitting shoulder to shoulder with great men and women of God's Kingdom who spend their lives serving the poor.
We are gathered to honour God for His work in Madagascar, and remember MAF's vital role within it.
For the last quarter of a century, our planes have been flying help, hope and healing across Madagascar – one of the largest and least developed islands in the world.
Twenty-five years is an impressive achievement, and Madagascar is grateful. 'The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy,' affirms MAF Country Director Bert van den Bosch from Psalm 126.
Roughly 150 guests have joined to hear speeches of gratitude, honour and praise for the many days of treacherous land travel saved by MAF's little planes.
Among them is Madagascar's Minister of Economy and Planning, Général de Division Herilanto Raveloharison. He opens with a smile. 'I am here as your friend. A minister is a nomination which passes sooner or later, but friendship – that lasts forever,' he says to the many partners, old and new, who have gathered to celebrate all that God has achieved in Madagascar.
I'm reminded that we are all connected through His Body – the many messages of prayer and encouragement that hang on the bunting are a warm reminder of this. What a testimony of MAF's mission – bringing physical healing, practical help and relationship with people.
God is working across the world to further His Kingdom, and we are all part of His plan, joined together through friendship with Christ.
Over a tasty buffet, many tell of their long-standing relationship with MAF, and how our flights have made a real difference to their work and vision.
'Through MAF, the impossible has become possible,' says French missionary Eric Lagache, who was able to set up a remote bush clinic in Bekodoka because MAF flew in all the building materials.
'MAF is bringing hope to us who are working here, right where He has called us to be,' affirms another frequent flier, Pastor Serge Razafitsambaina [pictured] – a remarkable man of faith who has been serving Madagascar's poor since before MAF's arrival.
'New spiritual life is being born through the Gospel and people are hearing of a life that endures through Christ,' he says.
Through MAF, the impossible has become possible.
Eric Lagache, missionary
Back at the hangar, celebrations continue. Hundreds more pieces of bunting are strung in long lengths across offices and stairways. The team breaks into infectious laughter as a challenging logistical operation unfolds. 'Don't worry, we will reach the rafters!' promises MAF Logistics Manager Andry Rajaobelison. 'Well, I certainly hope so – given your qualifications!' I laugh.
British MAF toddler Bethan Dillingham has been brought along for the occasion, and gladly joins in the fun. Holding up the bright triangles for my camera, she recognises the phrase 'Messages – from England!' by bursting into joyful laughter. 'England!' she shouts, and runs away dragging a stream of bunting behind her.
Bert is equally blessed. 'It's amazing to think that so many people in the UK took the time to write all these messages,' he says. 'We are very grateful.'
As I sift through the messages myself, I am struck by the impact our mission has had on God's family in Madagascar. It stretches so wide; I can feel it all these miles from home.
God's Kingdom is extending across the globe, and so many have played a vital part. Some have shared the joy of honouring one another through these anniversary celebrations.
But those who haven't must also be celebrated for being obedient to God's call. Thousands of missionaries, pastors, medics, volunteers and churchgoers scattered across the globe, serving the poor and downtrodden in their various communities.
Twenty-five years serving one island is a magnificent achievement – but I am sure there will be many more.