A Group on a Mission

Talking with interesting people in aviation is one of the great perks of writing for this magazine. Recent interviews introduced me to a worldwide aviation enterprise that last year operated 58 airplanes, made 33,365 flights totaling 2.5 million miles, and transported 94,961 passengers plus some nine million pounds of cargo — throughout 14 countries in Asia, Africa, Eurasia, and Latin America. The name of the operation is MAF-US. Chances are you’ve never heard of it. MAF is one of the best-kept secrets in aviation.

MAF-US stands for Missionary Aviation Fellowship United States. There are other branches of MAF in other countries. Total worldwide operations are mind-boggling.

Talk about bush flying — MAF-US operates in and out of 1,700 remote airstrips and waterways. Some of the strips look more like ditches than airports, and are surrounded by trees, mountains, and other unyielding solid objects. These are remote strips in rough country. It’s estimated that each hour of flight saves three days of travel by slow, arduous, ground travel. Specialized training is necessary and provided by MAF-US.

MAF-US has a slogan: “Overcoming Barriers, Transforming Lives, Building God’s Kingdom.” That entails so much more than one might grasp at first glance. They preach, certainly, but also perform medical evacuations, carry in medicines, and fly in doctors and other medical staff. They respond to disasters by transporting supplies, food, and personnel, and providing emergency communications and logistic expertise.

In short, MAF-US — like many or most aviation operations — carries important people and cargo where and when they are needed. Life or death situations are not unusual. Navigation aids are limited and seat-of-the-pants flying is raised to both a science and an art form.

I first became acquainted with MAF-US when one of their husband/wife missionary teams — Timo and Laura Harkonen — came to speak at my Presbyterian church. They are a bright, attractive, and enthusiastic young couple (early ‘30s). Timo is a tall blond-headed young man; Laura is a shorter, blonde, young woman. Timo is Finnish; Laura grew up in the States. They differ from the expected in that Laura is the pilot, Timo the preacher man. Their two children, adopted in Brazil, are as cute as bugs’ ears, so what’s not to like? You can see them yourself at maf.org/harkonen.

Timo and Laura have been assigned to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the majority of her flights will be medically related. Timo will be working with and supporting local pastors and others who can use his MBA and M. Div degrees to help the community. The children will attend a small missionary school. I wish them all the very best.

BTW, MAF-US missionaries and missionary pilots must actually raise the money to pay their own costs and even their own income. (Gosh, I hate to give that idea to the airlines.) They do this by seeking support from churches, other organizations, and individuals. If interested, go back to maf.org/harkonen and click “Giving” at the top.