Where are you from and where do you live now?
Yvonne: We’re from a small place in New Zealand called Kaiapoi, in the South Island, near Christchurch.
Doug: We have our own house in Cairns, Australia so we’re close to family and the MAF Australia offices. We are presently living in Mount Hagen, PNG.
Do you mind telling me a little about your family?
Yvonne: We have three adult girls. Two are married, with five children between them, and our youngest daughter, who has Down syndrome, is in residential care in Cairns.
When did you join MAF and why?
Yvonne: We joined MAF New Zealand in 1989 and moved to Ballarat, Australia for 6 months of orientation in January 1990. We both had a calling to mission work early on and went to the Solomon Islands with a different mission before joining MAF. On returning to New Zealand in early 1982, the first of our three daughters was born. During this time, Doug got his pilot’s license (bad timing I said, but anyway). Flying was an expensive hobby, but Doug wanted to use it for the Lord and began to seek out where he could fly for mission work. Our pastor had been a missionary in Papua and knew of MAF, so he suggested that Doug look into MAF.
MAF initially thought Doug was too old – at the grand old age of 36!
Doug: Also, because of our younger daughter with special needs, who was 3 at the time, we had to go through quite a few interviews and psych tests. MAF wanted to see how we function as a family and cope with her and so on, so it took quite some time before we were accepted.
Yvonne: Upon completing all the interviews and paperwork we were accepted and God gave us the verse Isaiah 58:11. ‘The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land (Which was Australia in our minds because it certainly wasn’t New Zealand!) and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.’ That has been a wonderful verse that we’ve clung to many, many times.
MAF originally looked at us going to Papua New Guinea, but I never wanted to go there; I’d always heard these “terrible” stories about it from other missionaries. I was pleased when we heard we’d be going to Arnhem Land. I heard later that all the staff in Arnhem Land were saying, ‘What does MAF think they’re doing, sending a family with a special needs child to Arnhem Land!?’ And yet, through all our 20 years in Arnhem Land, Deb’s needs were met better than if we had stayed in New Zealand or been here in PNG. It’s like the verse said, ‘He’ll satisfy your needs in a sun scorched-land’.
How did God call you to join MAF?
Doug: Around the time we got married, a mission speaker came to our church and, as a result, God touched our hearts to serve in missions. Even though it wasn’t until 7 years later that we went to the Solomon Islands (and then returned to New Zealand for a time after the Solomons), the calling has always been there. It wasn’t specifically a calling to MAF, but it was how God led us to put my pilot’s license, something I’d always wanted to do, to use serving Him. It was just amazing how it all came together.
Yvonne: The seed was planted for me at church as a little girl. We had a mission group for children at church called Rope Holders. You held the rope between yourself and a missionary and prayed for that missionary for a month, then switched with someone else. Missionaries came through our church all the time.
Doug, what is your role with MAF?
We’ve been with MAF for over 30 years, but my present role with MAF is Operations Director in Papua New Guinea. I’m responsible for flight operations, ground operations, engineering, and maintenance control; the managers of all these departments report to me. This was a new position basically created for me when I came to PNG the second time as support to the, then, Country Director.
I say ‘second time’ because in 2007 I was asked to come to PNG to perform an audit on all the housing because of my background in my family’s building business. Then, in the spring of 2008, I toured back and forth between Cairns and PNG as Programme Manager for 9 or 10 months after the Programme Manager stepped down. I put my hand up for this because I had been the Country Director in the Arnhem Land program for 12 years prior to coming to Cairns.
So, the second time was in 2013 when I initially came as Operations Director and soon after took over the position of Country Director. Yvonne came up once Deb was in residential care. Because of my age, I said we need to get a replacement for me, somebody we can be training, if you like. That’s when Todd Aebischer came as Country Director with the proviso that I stay on, returning to the Operations Director role.
Doug, what do you enjoy most about your current role and what is the most challenging?
I did actually love flying, but MAF has a rule that the Country Director of a large program does not fly in an operational context. Therefore, I was mostly behind a desk. Even though my skill set and background prepared me, it was challenging to adapt from flying to managing. There are satisfying moments of being in management, but sometimes you look out the window and say, ‘Wow, isn’t it a great day out there.’
The actual work of MAF has brought a great satisfaction and fulfilment for me. I feel that what I do and contribute is an integral part of a whole. We are both very passionate about what MAF does, making a difference in the lives of people, and it’s been very satisfying to be a part of making that happen. MAF has been a vehicle for us to express our Christian walk to those we meet.
As a manager, one of the challenges I’ve had is understanding the mindset of younger people and their view on work ethic. As a baby boomer, I was taught that the manager sets the goals and direction, then asks folk to carry it all out. Nowadays, people want to be a part of the goal-setting and any decision making that affects them. Whilst naturally I want to bring people along with me, I’ve found it can be difficult. I first ran into this in Arnhem Land; it was a wake-up call for me and my managerial style had to change from then on.
Yvonne, how have you found a way to support the work of MAF or get involved in the community in PNG?
Not very much this time around because Covid-19 still has us pretty much stuck at home. We have to be careful because of our age, so the only times we go out are when we go to the shops and when Doug goes into the office twice a week. One thing I’ve been doing is helping to get houses ready for those who are arriving. When we were living here before I got sick, I handled all the money for the haus meris and gardeners. But I think giving support to Doug is the main thing I see as my support role at the moment; and praying, praying is my big thing.
Doug: Yeah, I did 4 years of touring between PNG and Australia, so having Yvonne here and coming home to a meal prepared is just fantastic. But that’s a guy’s perspective.
We’ve been with MAF for 30 years and half of that time I’ve been a program manager or country director. When you have that role your spouse’s role and what you get involved in is quite defined. It can be difficult to find your place when you change to a different position.
Yvonne: We’ve both done varied things over the years, especially in Arnhem Land. We used to clean the offices and toilets in the hangar. We’ll always remember one Saturday morning when a young guy who was just starting as a pilot was introduced to us. When he heard we were the manager and his wife his eyes nearly popped out of his head! It was as if he wanted to ask, ‘Why are they cleaning the toilets!?’ We just looked back at him and said, ‘It’s God’s way of keeping us humble.’
How has Covid-19 affected you and your family?
Yvonne: Back in Cairns, not a great deal. Our youngest daughter who has special needs is back at her support programs now, which is good because she found it difficult not being able to go to her weekly programs. Our eldest daughter who lives in Cairns didn’t lose her job since it was considered essential. It’s been a bit more difficult for our daughter who lives in Melbourne because they’re in lockdown again.
Up here in Mt. Hagen, we have to be very careful because there aren’t any Covid-19 tests; we really don’t want to get Covid-19.
Doug: It hasn’t affected us mentally like it has some people. Yes, there was the lockdown when we were in Australia where we couldn’t go anywhere for a couple of weeks. But, as far as our work with MAF goes, thanks to the technology we have with Microsoft Teams and the office phone I have in our house, we’ve still sort of kept in touch. Nothing can beat being on-site for face-to-face conversations, though. So I guess there’s been some adapting to the new norm.
Yvonne: Learning to like being by yourself, for one.
Doug: We like each other’s company well. Maybe it’s because we’re older, but it’s not as though we’re social butterflies that need to get out and have tons of interaction…
Yvonne: Speak for yourself, dear. I like the company of other people.
Doug: Well, yes you do.
Yvonne: Not that I don’t like your company.
What does MAF mean to you?
Doug: MAF has been a part of our lives for so long that the values and work of MAF just come naturally to me. MAF has been my life. I wouldn’t go to the extent of saying my identity is tied up in MAF; I’ve learned how to keep it separate. I was very task-oriented at one time, to the detriment of my family, and we had some quite heart-to-heart conversations. But, really, MAF means a lot to us and is an integral part of my life.
Yvonne: When I was a little girl I imagined I had a money tree in the backyard. People would come by, poor people, and I would give them money. I used to think, ‘Oh, I wish I had a money tree so I could help poor people’. I supposed that one day I would be able to help the poor. In a sense, that’s what I feel MAF is; not that it’s giving out money, but it gives life to people wherever it goes. I feel, in some ways, like I’m fulfilling that little girl’s dream to help people who are less fortunate. It’s great to know that you’re part of the kingdom of God and what He wants to do in the world.
What is something others don’t know about you?
Doug: When we returned from the Solomon Islands, I went on staff at our church. There was a time after a couple of years when I was the senior pastor for 9 months. During that time I officiated at the marriage of two couples, dedicated a baby, and buried somebody. I’m happy to say the two marriages are still going fine, the baby I dedicated has grown up, and the lady I buried is still buried!
Yvonne: We met when we were 13 and 14 years of age, him being the younger, and we got married when we were 19 and 20. We’ve known each other a very long time!
Do you have a favourite food?
Doug: This is my Kiwi heritage: I love roast lamb, roast potato, and new peas with mint sauce.
Yvonne: I’ve probably had other favourite foods at other times, but now if I go to a restaurant I like a nice, fresh salmon or barramundi.
Looking back, is there any advice you’d give yourself at the start of your MAF career?
Doug: You need to be assured that God has called you into the role you are accepting. God called us into MAF very clearly and we know that leaving MAF will be the same – a clear calling from God out of MAF or into another ministry – and, to date, that hasn’t happened. When times get tough, and there are plenty of those times, we fall back on that calling. You have to develop a strong relationship with God so you can hear Him speak.
Yvonne: A lot of people have come to us over the years saying, ‘Oh, we don’t think we should be here anymore, we’re not fulfilled.’ They were basing whether they should stay or go on their feelings at that moment and you just can’t do that, it has to be based on your calling. If we had based staying or going on our feelings we would have left a hundred times over the years, believe you me!
I always go to the Lord about everything and I think that’s what’s important to remember at the beginning of any mission work or anything like that.