The first of a two-part series of the founding history of Mission Aviation Fellowship—the largest mission aviation organization in the world.
The story of Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) is fairly well known in mission circles. Birthed in the final throes of WWII, what started out with a few young Christian pilots has now become an international organisation of nearly 1,500 staff.
What's less well-known is the story of the pilot whose God-given insight and faithful tenacity turned a fledgling dream into a flying reality...
Flying across the Bay of Biscay one night, watching the flak from France, I thought, ‘How come thousands of planes can be found to kill and destroy, and only a handful to spread God’s amazing offer of free forgiveness and eternal life in glory?’
—Flight Lieutenant Murray Kendon, 1944
Born in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1917, Murray Kendon became a Christian when he was 16 years old. An engaging personality combined with a burning desire to share his newfound joy, he soon became a passionate and dedicated speaker, eager for any opportunity to preach the Good News.
When war loomed heavy on the horizon a few years later, Murray was called up to train as a pilot. He learned to fly in New Zealand, moving to Canada and then Britain to finish his qualifications.
Murray's active service was with the RAF 179 Squadron Coastal Command, flying as a Wellington co-pilot. These aircraft were loaded with depth charges and armed with machine guns, 22 million-candle-power searchlights and powerful radar. Their brief was to find and destroy enemy submarines and to comb the Atlantic for U-Boats which were sinking Allied ships.
Murray’s heart was saddened by the brutality of war, but he threw himself into protecting and aiding the men who were desperately fighting for freedom on the sea.
A dream begins
One night, Murray flew alone across the Bay of Biscay. He watched the flak from France over which a British thousand bomber raid thundered. Something stirred in his heart, and he later wrote down his thoughts: “How come thousands of planes can be found to kill and destroy, and only a handful to spread God's amazing offer of free forgiveness and eternal life in glory?”
Years before, Murray had heard the story of a missionary team who set out to find an unreached tribe deep in the jungle, returning weeks later starving and worn out by incredible hardship. At the time, Murray had felt sure a small aircraft would have been invaluable for transport and supplies. Now, as he watched the planes roaring to their deadly task, that story came back to haunt him. Again, Murray’s heart tugged strongly towards the unique impact that an aircraft could have as a mission tool.
Murray couldn’t shake this thought, and in 1944, not long before WWII would end, he shared his vision with Trevor Strong, a fellow Kiwi pilot who had recently survived nine months as a POW. During his captivity, Trevor too had felt a powerful call to missions. Now the friends decided to work together on Murray’s dream.
The dream takes shape
Their ideas were still in embryonic stage when Murray travelled to London to visit Dr. Thomas Cochrane, president of the Movement for World Evangelism. Murray passionately poured out his unshakeable dream and his crazy imaginings of aircraft enabling missionary work. Dr. Cochrane's answer was direct: “God has laid this on your heart, Murray. Perhaps He wants you to do something about it yourself. You pray about it, write an article… and I will publish it.”
Thus, on July 5, 1945, the first recorded thoughts about a mission aviation type operation were published in the English newspaper A Christian Weekly. Murray’s printed plea was simple yet profound, and the ripples were unstoppable. Murray, his new wife Minnie, and Trevor, operating out of a tiny one-room office which they had hurriedly set up, found themselves approached by pilots, aircraft engineers, and even sponsors who had caught the fire of this crazy, wonderful dream.
Fellow idealists in the UK, US and Australia were quickly linked in by Murray, and soon the expanding operation saw several countries unite under the common name of Missionary Aviation Fellowship, later changed to Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF). Things were just gaining momentum, and Murray had no idea that the lone Miles Gemini aircraft he initially obtained for MAF would become part of a global mission fleet.
Today, MAF operates 140 aircraft in 32 countries, with an overall reach of 3,000 airstrips—more than any other airline in the world.
The dream that became reality
Murray Kendon served as a WWII Pilot, and lived to tell the tale. But his service did not stop there, and today countless people around the world have life and hope—the result of Murray’s determination to combine aviation with mission for the sake of the Kingdom.
On May 27, 2014, aged 97, almost 70 years after he fanned the dream of MAF into a flame of reality, the founder of Mission Aviation Fellowship was quietly promoted to glory.
But the beautiful thing about Murray’s story is this: it didn’t end there.
Not only did Murray ignite a movement of aircraft speeding hope and help to some of the most remote places in the world, but he set up a foundation that would continue to fly and serve, long after he himself passed on.
The vision of Murray Kendon and the purpose of MAF is lived afresh every day in the aircraft that “fly for life.” Every four minutes, MAF is taking off or landing somewhere in the world.
For the countless people groups, aid organizations and missions who rely on the planes of MAF, a war pilot's dream of peace has become their reality of hope.
Author’s Note: I would like to thank Murray and Minnie Kendon, who graciously allowed me to interview them in their home in 2012. My thanks also to Ted Crawford (ex-MAF PNG pilot and ex-MAF NZ CEO) for providing extra details and clarification around Murray’s story. I would also like to acknowledge some of the key pioneers who carried MAF through its early beginnings: Trevor Strong (NZ), Stuart King (UK), Jack Hemmings (UK), Betty Greene (USA), Harry Hartwig (AUS).
Find out more about MAF’s fascinating and unique work here: maf.org.nz
Emma is an Italian-South African with a New Zealand passport, living in Papua New Guinea. As well as years of running a puppet ministry and directing student choirs, she has served with Mission Aviation Fellowship since 2007, currently based in PNG. Emma's deep joy is in writing, music, playing with her ginger cats and finding God in unexpected places.
Emma McGeorge’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/emma-mcgeorge.html