MAF pilot Irwin Hodder, stationed in PNG, shares what a typical day might look like for him in this beautiful and unpredictable country.

“It is a typical day. I get up at 6.00 am, get ready and go to the airfield. It’s only 300 metres and I often think while I walk. Telefomin is so beautiful, but the roads are rocky and I tend to look at rocks and puddles. I remind myself to look up. This is God’s creation and I am surrounded by His magnificence.

“I arrive at the airfield by 7.00am and meet our other pilot. We get the Twin Otter ready doing our external and internal checks, while the ground staff are checking in our passengers.

“Our first flight is 15 mins to Tabubil. It is where we do most of our flying. Many people fly between the two places because it takes two days to walk there. There is no road, just a track.

“We take off and fly ‘over the hill’, the Hindenburg Wall. It is an impressive limestone wall and magnificent to fly over. Then we descend into steamy Tabubil at an elevation of 1600 ft. We take ‘trade store goods’, the normal things that most of us take for granted, like food stuffs and building materials for community groups.

“After Tabubil we take off for the isolated village of Tumolbil at about 5,500 ft. It is tricky to fly into because of the mountain beside Tumolbil. We climb to 12,500ft, then drop down into Tumolbil. They have no cash crop and no road so usually buy trade store goods and a few building materials. This time we have passengers.

Tumolbil Airstrip

“We take other passengers from Tumolbil back to Tabubil, then head up to Vanimo on the north coast of PNG. It’s about an hour’s flight, which is long for us. Normally we are up and down every 15-20 minutes.

“On the ground at Vanimo around 3.00pm we do the passenger and cargo manifests as we have no Vanimo agent at present. With the paperwork done we take off after about an hour. Normally the weather builds up in the afternoon but there are no problems getting back to Telefomin.

“It is still clear but I call Telefomin to give them our ETA. They give us the weather and tell us about a medical report from the ‘Haus Sik’ (hospital). We are asked to drop into Gubil on the way back. As it happens, it is directly beneath us. We don’t have much spare fuel, but enough for an extra landing, so I start the descent.

“The people aren’t expecting us. They called the Telefomin Haus Sik and asked for a medevac for a woman who was in trouble with labour, but the Haus Sik said ‘Can’t do’. ‘There are no planes here.’

“So the woman is destined to die or get a miracle from God. I think it is a miracle that we are just overhead, and within minutes are circling down to land. It’s just a bush strip so when they hear the plane they go to get the woman. But it is after 5.00pm and getting late, so we are rushing. It gets dark here early, around 6.30pm.

“The woman and her carer are boarded and we get airborne. Normally we follow up the Sepik valley and over the gorge at the end into the Telefomin valley. But we meet a wall of heavy rain. We could divert to another strip, but I doubt the woman would survive the night.

“We head up the valley climbing steeply to get above some cloud blocking the way ahead.  Rain is falling from higher cloud but finally we pop out into the clear. While still well before last light, the cloud and rain around Telefomin make it appear darker. My wife Gay, turns on the base lights which makes it easy to spot the airstrip and we land without a problem.

“Gay takes the woman to the Haus Sik. They are very experienced in midwifery, and the baby is delivered safely that night.

“Sometimes you think, ‘Where is God working?’ Then at times like this, you know there is no other explanation. Somebody would have been praying and He chose to intervene. He really is working.”


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MAF Pilot Dennis Bergstrazer reports:


“Soon after Christmas, I saw another type of gift that had been given, a gift of life to a little jungle girl, who normally would have died had it not been for someone who interceded.  A year ago I had flown a team of Indonesian pastors into a village called Pogapa, a forty minute flight over the mountain range from where we live in Timika.  A few months before a little girl had been born in an isolated village near there, a four hour hike from Pogapa,

“Tragically, when the helping ladies pushed out what they thought would be the placenta, it turned out to be a stillborn twin and the mom died within the hour.  The father, Aita Selagani the Village Chief, had two other wives but they refused to nurture the new born baby thinking they would only have enough milk to breastfeed their own babies. The new baby girl’s health deteriorated as her weight kept dropping eventually down to about 3 pounds.   With scabies and puss filled boils all over her body her father finally brought her to the church. There he met Pastor R Sumlang and confessed how the extended family had just met and decided to dump her in Kemabu River to put her out of misery, an all too familiar story of how those in desperate health and dying are taken care of.  By this time she had suffered severe malnutrition and was beyond the point where most babies could have survived. 

“It just happened to be the same time that I had flown the ministry team from a church in Jakarta to Pogapa.  They heard about the dying baby and one of the couples, Ramon and his wife Shandy, offered to take her back to Jakarta and nurse her back to health.  They provided the best medical care available in the country; the best formula money could buy, lavished her with love, and called her Deborah, the name her biological father gave her at birth. It was an uphill battle for Deborah and her new foster parents, who already had a family of three foster children as well as two of their own.  In spite of proper nutrition and extra care she only weighted 4 ½ pounds (2.25kg) after five months.  Her boils and scabies seemed incessant, but eventually the doses of scabicide, ointment and formulas helped.  She was a bit slow in her milestones like sitting, crawling, standing, and she barely started walking after her second birthday, 22 October 2012.

“Her foster parents said, ‘Despite slow progress and her small size, we’re glad to see a normal smile, giggles and a playful personality in Deborah. It’s going to be sometime until she can function as a normal child. Some functions may not even fully develop due to traumatic first year growth, but we pray with her everyday so she won’t miss out in discovering the meaning of life and how Jesus died for her to provide the wonderful plan of salvation.’

“When I flew two year-old Deborah back to Pogapa, she weighed a meager 18 pounds (9kg).  But, in spite of her small size, Deborah is now vibrant and full of life.  She is quite aware of her surroundings, and wasn’t all that impressed with my landing at Pogapa, of course I blame that on the roughness of the airstrip. 

“It would seem that the Lord brought together circumstances and worked in people’s hearts in such a way that helped Deborah survive.  Does He have a plan for her life, perhaps as significant as the Deborah we know from the Book of Judges?  Or perhaps the Lord has a work to accomplish in the lives of those who are touched by Deborah.  But, as we think of gift giving this year, let’s think about gifts that can change lives.  They may cost us more than money; like time, inconvenience, sleepless nights, and heartache, but the payback is beyond measure!”

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Article by Glen Sim

As Capt. Mike Davis of MAF Mt Hagen taxied in to the hangar after his last flight for the day, he was met on the ground by the MAF programmer, Sharlene, who had news of a medevac that urgently needed to happen.

Some 40 kms away, in a small mission hospital, there lay a little 4 year old girl named Frieda from the Jiwaka Province who was critically ill. Having battled with Acute Flaccid Paralysis for the last three weeks, she was now paralysed from the neck down. This paralysis was so severe that it affected her respiratory muscles and she was unable to breathe on her own. She required intensive care management, including manual ventilation.

Earlier that day, as the medical staff continuously pumped oxygen into Frieda’s lungs, Dr Susan Myers was trying to book a place at the ICU in Port Moresby’s General Hospital. Although this was a massive 500kms away, it was the only hospital that could provide the level of care needed. As soon as it was found she rang MAF’s nurse who immediately contacted Sharlene to arrange a medevac.

When the ambulance arrived at the MAF Hagen Base from the mission hospital, Frieda was carried onto the tarmac on a stretcher. Dr Bill McCoy and David Wan (the anesthetist) explained the situation to Mike who was able to arrange for seats to be removed from his Cessna 208 enabling Frieda and her parents, along with the medical team to fit on the plane.

When Frieda was stabilised inside the aircraft, Mike took off and headed for Port Moresby.

They departed Mt Hagen in the Cessna ‘Caravan’ just before 4.00 pm and thankfully had good weather throughout the two hour flight. Despite every effort calling and re-calling the hospital, there was no ambulance waiting even though they were told by hospital staff, “Yes, it is coming, it’s coming”!

MAF’s Port Moresby Office Manager, Dobie Bunemiga, had anticipated the ambulance’s unreliability and had the MAF van waiting there for them. As night began to set in, Dobie drove Mike, Frieda, her family and the doctors to the hospital in the van.

A strange illness
Over dinner that evening Dr McCoy spoke to Mike about the illness. “In all my medical experience in the USA I had never seen this illness before. But since coming to PNG in 1997, a cluster of six instances of the illness had come from the Banz area (up the Wahgi valley). Since then there have been sporadic cases, mostly in young children 3-6 years old, with only one quarter of the victims being adults.”

Mike asked Dr McCoy if the condition of the girl would be permanent. The quietly spoken doctor said that she would hopefully regain the full use of her body, as the paralysis regressed and her nervous system healed after the infection.

Funding medevacs
Before Capt. Mike took off on the morning of the medevac, he had been told that the usual source of mission funds for non- Health Department medevacs was all depleted. Government Health Funds do not cover the transportation of all patients from mission hospitals.

MAF and the mission hospitals have a strategic partnership in this medical wilderness of remote communities in PNG. MAF subsidises the flights at mission rates and occasionally the hospital staff pays for the rest themselves. Dr McCoy realised that Frieda’s parents had no funds, so arranged to cover most of the cost of the flight. His parting words to Capt. Mike as they left the plane were, “The medevac will be financed by friends from my church in the U.S, and MAF, of course! Thanks”.

Unlike some patients after the illness who have lingering paralysis in their extremities, it has been reported by Dr Susan of Kudjip Mission Hospital that Frieda has recovered fully and returned home.



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In August 2012, a very significant ceremony happened in what is a small and very remote village called Niksek in the lowlands of the Sepik River basin in PNG.

The ceremony was celebrating the opening of an airstrip they called “April River”.

The local pastor, in a speech given at the celebration, summed up what this event meant for the Niksek people: “We are not here just to celebrate the opening of the airstrip or to eat some pig, but we are here to worship God (that’s the first thing), to give thanks to MAF, and then to re-open and celebrate the connection we have now with other places.”

To understand just how significant this moment was for this tribe we need to take you back – about 30 years!

Building the airstrip
In the late 1970s an Austrian missionary called Fritz Urschitz travelled to the Sepik region (the first European to do so) and established a series of airstrips in the area. During a visit to the village of Niksek in 1977, he supplied the local people with spades, axes and bush knives and began the building of an airstrip that they would later name “April River” (below left).

Just two years later in October 1979, MAF’s Max Chapman did the first test landing (below right).









However, what had become a lifeline for these people was tragically destroyed in a flood that swept through the Niksek village in 1988. Although spending almost two years removing the soft silt from the airstrip, the runway soon fell into disrepair, being frequently closed over the following 20 years.

It is important to realise that the nearest hospital was at Ambunti which is a two-day canoe trip using a prohibitive 400 litres of petrol mix. Consequently, many of the sick and dying could not reach a hospital in this time and many needlessly died.

The rebuild
In 2011 Firtz Urschitz’s son Friedemann (right) came to PNG and purchased spades, bush knives, a wheelbarrow, iron bars, grass knives and 30 strong sand bags to help the Niksek people repair the airstrip.  It was not an easy job, but the people had realised that the only way to get the much-needed service and transport again was to do this maintenance.

Finally, in August 2012, MAF pilots Martin Koehler and Mathias Glass (along with their wives Claudia and Mandy) landed the Airvan P2-MFK on the newly opened “April River”.  They were welcomed by an enthusiastic village who had prepared a ceremony to mark the event that would change their lives.

Martin had brought a special gift of a Bible with him.  “I thought that would be a nice gift to renew the relationship again between MAF and the village of Niksek, to show them that MAF is here to support the missions and the churches. So the Bible was a symbolic gift to the community and all the Wewak staff had signed it. We wrote a Bible verse in the front too – Mark 16:16.”  He stressed in his speech that it is a Bible for the whole community to be in the church and available to everyone.

The Glasses and Koehlers were happy to accept the first flight requests, on the re-opening day, for the leadership team of the congregation to attend their church regional conference at Brugam.

The impact has affected the whole village.  Basic needs are being met, teaching has returned bringing light and growth, and timely transport is available for the sick.  We can never underestimate the impact that MAF brings to these remote communities and we are thankful that God has opened up yet another airstrip for his work.

The villagers say goodbye to the Glasses and Koehlers

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Jason Russell is an independent Baptist missionary from California, serving as a church planter in PNG. In 2005 Jason and his family moved to (the very small) Wipim station on the mainland of the Western Province.

It’s fairly safe to say that most of us haven’t been in a place quite as remote as Wipim station – a town which receives power from 6pm to 10pm, supplied by a single generator. 

In Wipim you’ll find a small unpaved airstrip, a primary school (years three to eight), and a health centre. But what you won’t find are any shops or post offices. Getting supplies is not an easy thing to do.

Wipim is accessible via a dirt/mud track (road) in the dry season. All heavy equipment, building materials, gas bottles and such are brought up this “road” from the Oriomo River. By four-wheel-drive truck, the stretch from Wipim to Oriomo is travelled in two hours in the dry season. In the wet season, the journey may take all day and usually extends into the night hours due to the bad road conditions. 

During the heavy rains of March and April, the main bridge usually floods, and the road is impassable until the waters recede and the rains abate. There is no exact timing on this; it all depends on the weather conditions. At that time, people (including school children) are forced to walk the muddy road and swim across the flooded creeks in order to travel.

This gruelling ground travel is reality for a lot of these small stations dotted throughout PNG. MAF’s light aircraft have the ability to provide some relief for these communities and for missionaries like the Russells. In a letter written by Jason, he summed up well the just how important MAF in these situations. Check it out:

Mission Aviation Fellowship is the only means of air transport for Wipim as well as the other bush airstrips in our district. We rely on them heavily in the rainy season for getting food and other supplies to Wipim. We are able to raise chickens as our major protein source because MAF is able to bring in day-old chicks. MAF is also the only form of emergency medical evacuation available to our area. Without their help, many people would die needlessly.



How’s that for a commute? Missionary Jason Russell makes the long journey by “road” to get supplies

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