Flying Through the Heavens

26 Apr 2016
Flying Through the Heavens

The story of Adventist aviation in Papua New Guinea is one of innovation, sacrifice and blessing. The impact of a transition from weeks-long foot treks up and down the steep mountains of PNG’s highlands, to aeroplane hops measured in minutes, cannot be overstated. Not that it has been easy. Stormy weather, local politics and tight budgets continue to be a challenge and a number of graves in Kabiufa’s pioneer cemetery are a silent testimony to those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their God.
The 50th anniversary celebrations of Adventist Aviation Services (AAS) in Goroka made room for memories, laughter, tears and prayers.

High-flying Christian greetings to each of you assembled for the 50th anniversary of Adventist Aviation! On behalf of the Seventh-day Adventist Church worldwide let me thank you for your wonderful service to the ongoing evangelistic outreach of the Church and the tremendous service to the thousands of people you care for through medical, educational, logistical and humanitarian assistance. Only in heaven will we know the full picture of the many lives you have touched in the name of Jesus and His ministry. Let me pay special tribute to those who have risked danger in their aviation activities [or] lost their lives in service to the Lord and His Church, remembering that soon Jesus will return and resurrect those who have been faithful to Him and His cause. – Ted N C Wilson

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Enthusiastic welcome. Secretariat staff visiting from most of the Church’s Division offices, as well as the General Conference, were greeted at Goroka airport by locals in traditional dress.

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Grassroots perspective. GC general secretary GT Ng was one of up to 15,000 people who attended Sabbath celebrations during the Adventist Aviation Service’s 50th anniversary.

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Box seat. The back of a truck gives this family a vantage point during Sabbath celebrations at Goroka’s National Park.

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Retired mission pilot, 94-year-old Pastor Len Barnard (centre) catching up with some of the men who helped carry equipment through PNG’s rugged highlands on mission patrols prior to 1964, when Adventist Aviation Services was established.

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At rest. The grave of Les Anderson, who was director of Adventist Aviation Services when he died in a plane crash in 2002. Australian and local volunteers scrambled to freshen up the Kabiufa School cemetery and add plaques in time for the anniversary celebrations.

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Local colour. Adventist women from the Eastern Highlands Simbu Mission had been busy knitting and weaving traditional bilum bags to celebrate the jubilee.

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Lest we forget. A commemorative collection of stories and photos has been put together by Adventist aviation supporters. Your local ABC may have a copy.

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Highlands style. A bagpipe and drum marching band on the airport tarmac greets church leaders attending the half-centenary

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One of the many church workers and volunteers involved in helping the weekend of celebration run smoothly.

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Tech specs. Adventist Aviation Services runs two of these New Zealand-made aircraft and is in the process of purchasing a third. It’s a P750XL manufactured by Pacific Aerospace Limited and is suited for XSTOL maneuvers—extra short take-off and landing—perfect for PNG’s rugged bush airstrips. It's powered by a 750hp Pratt & Whitney PT6A-34 turbo-shaft engine, delivering a 300km/hr cruise speed and 1000 km range with more than one tonne of cargo on board.

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Paying tribute. Local Adventists at Lake Kopiago carved a wooden replica of the Andrew Stewart, the world’s first Adventist mission aircraft. Pastor Len Barnard, centre, first landed at the new Kopiago airstrip in July 1964 and commenced evangelistic work there—the first Adventist mission established with aviation support. Many in the welcoming party shed tears as Pastor Barnard spoke to them in Tok Pisin and led the singing of the hymn “When we all get to heaven”. 

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In full cry. One of a number of retired PNG aviation missionaries present at the celebrations, Pastor John Kosmeier shared lively stories of God's protection and guidance in fluent Tok Pisin. Crowd estimates  for the Sabbath service at Goroka’s National Park ranged between 10,000 and 15,000.


* Record Staff