2020 was significant for all who were able to recollect personal service in the Armed Forces, or indeed citizenship during those war years, fearful for so many, including some who read this. Stuart King, at 98, concluded his life amidst those celebrations.
Stuart had joined up in 1941, longing to be a pilot, having belonged to the University Air Squadron at Cambridge while doing a degree in Engineering. But the RAF wanted most of all his engineering experience and skills. The first part of his really interesting book “Hope has Wings” tells in detail some of his wartime story, not least his involvement in the repair work needed on damaged aircraft in makeshift facilities put together in northern France and Holland after the D-Day landings. (Amidst the mayhem, aircraft were landed on heavy wire matting landing strips, and attended to there and then! In the book there’s a vivid account of Stuart’s first months after he and his unit were landed onto France’s war-torn shores. I can lend you it!).
So what followed for Stuart? Well, soon after the war, he fulfilled his desire to learn to fly, gaining his pilot’s licence. His Christian commitment led him to be in conversation with Mildmay, a medical missionary venture active in Africa. Mildmay had begun to visualise how small planes could be invaluable in transporting people and supplies to remote places in many African countries. Out of that vision, a separate group was born, the embryonic Missionary Aviation Fellowship. Today MAF (now Mission Aviation Fellowship) is an extensive agency, of which more later.
Stuart King’s name became synonymous with MAF. Along with a small group of other wartime RAF trained fellow Christians, their focus became Africa. They envisaged a ten month air and ground survey of many countries. This would, they believed, lead to the fulfilment of their vision to develop a service of value to missions and other agencies by responding to the needs of people in remote places. In 1947, the three intrepid ‘visionaries’ took off in a heavily-laden Miles Gemini (cruising speed 120 mph) for the 4,000 mile flight. The flight was not without some more than ‘tricky’ moments!).
Fast forward to contemporary times. In 2019, Stuart King received that year’s Award of Honour from the Honourable Company of Air Pilots for ‘his outstanding contribution to aviation’. Other illustrious men and women who have received recognition with that same award include Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon, Jim Lovell, Apollo 13 Commander and the Red Arrows!
The Clerk of the Honourable Company commended Stuart as ‘an extraordinary and visionary man, who has done so much to enable aviation to bring relief to so many of the world’s most disadvantaged people’. Receiving the award, Stuart honoured the source of all that he had been gifted to do in his life : ‘It is always humbling when we are acknowledged for our God-given abilities’.
Today MAF is very much an international agency. HQ offices not only in the UK, but in Australia, Canada and the USA, South Africa and elsewhere. In addition, there is an administrative set-up looking after ‘local’ operations in every country where MAF is flying its planes today, altogether 26 countries, 19 in Africa, 7 in Asia/Pacific and 6 in the Central and South America. At the present count, 137 small planes are being maintained in airworthy condition, ready to be flown wherever, enabling the work of countless Christian missions and humanitarian agencies.
If statistics are your thing, in 2019 more than 28,000 flights were flown, flying time something over 19,000 hours. Not only pilots but a host of ground staff are required to keep the planes safely and ‘usefully’ in the air. While most pilots are expatriate, ground staff are a mix of expatriate and local. Where possible, citizens of the country where the planes are being flown are recruited and trained. The further statistic which gives a measure of the extent of MAF’s enabling of other organisations, whether dedicated to explicitly Christian mission or responding to varieties of needs of under- resourced peoples, is that such agencies number more than 20,000. The flights transport people and goods, facilitating routine needs or responding to emergencies and crises eg: resourcing Churches, clearing landmines, conveying educational materials, building and medical supplies, every plane involved often also carrying someone in need of critical medical attention as facilities in so many places are simply unavailable within easy reach. A recent story from Madagascar told of an hour long flight carrying a badly injured lady replacing the alternative ….. 15 hours over disastrous roads!
So who finances all this? Aid agencies and sometimes a local government, by enlisting the services of MAF planes, play their part, paying in full or part cost of flights. Then, the purchase of aircraft and maintaining them to a high standard requires a lot of financial resource. MAF UK, plays its part too. In 2019 it raised over £11 million! 50% came from the personal giving of Christians from a variety of the UK’s Churches. This is the sum of individual gifts and does not include donations from Churches that corporately decide to make a donation from the combined giving of their members. Just 7% came to MAF via that route. But thank God for all that those aircraft, their pilots and the extensive ‘ground staff’ are doing to enable all manner of mission and humanitarian work to continue in places of great need and slender resources. For many, the sound of an approaching aircraft, and its landing on the local makeshift but safe landing strip nearby excites and brings great joy.
MAF publish a well-produced, informative magazine three times annually (lots of pictures so very ‘accessible!). If you wanted to see one, I can provide. If you felt you would like to be supportive of MAF’s work through a donation, or to find out more via the internet, just go to their website www.maf-uk.org
I add below our new phone number as a means of Covid-secure communication (enquiries are absolutely without obligation and there will be no follow-up unless requested !!)
Chris Hayward (01943 818679)