Where are you from and where do you live now?
Dave: We are from Cornwall in the UK and we currently live in Papua New Guinea (PNG). I’m originally from London, but as a child, we moved down to the South Coast, to Bournemouth. Caroline and I met in that area and eventually made our way to Cornwall, where we lived for about 20 years.
Can you tell me a little bit about your family?
Dave: I grew up in a Christian home and have two brothers and a sister. My Dad left his job as an accountant at the age of 40 to go into full-time ministry as a pastor. As a teenager, it was a bit weird to understand why your father was giving up work to go into full-time ministry with no income, but I saw some amazing God-instances in our family life throughout that time.
Caroline: We have two adult children in their early 20’s who we’ve left behind in the UK. We catch up with them once or twice a fortnight on WhatsApp. It has been about 16 months since we’ve seen them.
When did you join MAF and why?
Dave: In 2018 I had a very serious life crisis; I contracted sepsis and pneumonia together. I almost died, which was shocking. It gave me a moment to stop and think about what I’d achieved in life and consider what path we were on.
I’ve looked on and off over the years for missionary type work or work I could do for God as an engineer, but it’s a bit limited. When I looked for jobs after my illness, I saw a position with MAF and applied. We joined MAF in 2019 and spent the first 5 months fundraising and working out what we were going to do with our house before coming out to PNG in October 2019.
Shortly before I became ill, I made a five-year plan of how I’d work toward my retirement. I guess God had other ideas.
Caroline: It was a bit of a shock to me. David applied for the position when he had only been home from the hospital a few days and down the stairs from his sickbed once! It took me a while to come around to the idea because I was in overprotective mode, having just almost lost him, but we had lots of confirmation that it was God’s leading. David has always wanted to do something like this – something big for God – so I guess that wasn’t a big surprise.
The calling to MAF fit in with prophecies I had had over the years that I just kind of shelved. Things like, ‘you’re going to travel’ and ‘a whole new world.’ But it was totally unexpected for me to actually go to the other side of the world. One of the biggest confirmations we had – at the time I was almost actively looking for someone to say “no don’t go” – was going to see an old school friend who was a non-Christian and hearing, “I can see that everything in your life is leading up to this point.” You can’t really argue with that.
Did you know about MAF before you did that job search?
Dave: I remember MAF coming to my church when I was about seven or eight and bringing the small plane to our church in Bournemouth. When I meet the pilot and engineer, I thought how amazing it would be to do something like that. It’s probably one of the reasons I moved toward engineering.
Caroline: I’ve read lots of missionary books and been involved in church and conferences where MAF has been, so I’ve known about them for a long time.
Dave, can you tell me about your role?
I’m the Property and Vehicle Maintenance Manager. The Property and Vehicle department looks after the 72 or so houses MAF has across PNG as well as 12 bases, which consist of aircraft hangars and offices as well as residential houses for our international and national staff. We also look after the vehicle fleet, which consists of about 14 or 15 vehicles. My role is an underlying role, but critical. Let’s face it, if the pilots’ wives aren’t happy and don’t want to stay, the pilots don’t stay. I have a team of about 8 or 9 guys in PNG who are great. I’m sharing my skills and experiences with them and helping them learn new skills and new ways of doing things, which will hopefully improve the quality of the housing and offices we look after.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
I like mentoring and coaching people, so I like being able to share my experiences and what I’ve learned over the years. I’ve often wondered if we should have come to the mission field before, but I don’t think I would have had the skills, experience, and knowledge to share if we’d come earlier.
What is the most challenging part of your role?
One challenging bit is managing the different opinions and expectations of a diverse workforce. Another challenge is being in a country where you can’t just go down the road and buy what you want off the shelf. I’ve spent 20-30 years working in a place where I can just go to a wholesaler and get what I need. Here in PNG, you have to go find out what’s available and then work out how you’re going to use it. I guess that’s where my breadth of experience comes in handy.
Caroline, how do you have found a way to support the work of MAF or engage in the PNG community?
We are blessed with national neighbors. I go to market with her and Dave often shares a car with him on the way to work, during which they have long conversations. It has really helped us learn something about the PNG culture.
I’ve gone back to being the traditional housewife. I go into the office on Fridays and we do lotu – morning devotions – and then I go around taking peoples’ blood pressure, which has helped me get to know the staff.
Dave: And you pray with people a lot.
Caroline: Yes, prayer is my main thing. People tell me their stresses as I take their blood pressure and we pray about them.
Dave, in a meeting the other day you mentioned that Caroline is a part of your PVM team. Can you tell me why you say that?
I think it’s because we came out as a couple and you don’t do something like this by yourself. I couldn’t have traveled all this way or do what I’m doing without Caroline. We’ve been together a long time and she’s that strength behind me. I know it’s a cliché, but I need someone to support me like that, someone who I can go home and moan at. Ha!
She also helps with ideas and can be my clear thinking. When I’m struggling through the many trees, it’s helpful to talk with someone who is level headed, has known me for a long time, and has picked up quite a lot of engineering knowledge over the years.
I also say that because she has made an effort to become a part of the team. The team loves having her there when she comes in on a Friday morning and joins us for devotions. They’ve made Caroline feel very welcome.
What does MAF mean to you?
Dave: For me, it’s about serving people in remote places. When we came out to PNG for our look-see visit, I was blessed to be involved in a medical evacuation and experience what that means for someone who lives in a remote area. In this instance, the father walked for two days with his daughter who had bad burns – he had to walk for two days just to get to the airstrip. We are really meeting the needs of those in remote places.
Caroline: MAF has become my family away from family. We all live incredibly close together. In normal life, you have a job and then you come home. This is a different way of compound living – it’s 24/7. It can be quite intense.
Dave: You’re a part of the team all the time. Your friends are the people you work with or their spouses, the people you serve, the people you go to church with on a Sunday, and the people you meet for a barbeque.
Caroline: MAF – My Aviation Family.
How has Covid-19 affected you and your family?
Dave: Wow, hugely. We were due to visit Australia at the end of March, but when Covid-19 hit we left early because of my health issues – I’m quite severely asthmatic. So, we left early expecting to only be out for 3 or 4 weeks and we have literally just arrived back in PNG after 8 months.
We are so glad we had 6 months in-country getting to know the team and getting to work with the PVM boys to start making changes and implementing new systems. We got most of that established just before Covid-19, which has allowed me to run the team from Cairns via video, email, phone, and Microsoft Teams. It was interesting to take a team that was just into using mobile phones and teach them technology like video conferencing and remote computer access.
Caroline: We stayed in Cairns so long because of my health. When we started looking at coming back to PNG, we went for a few health tests and found that I had a full macular hole in one eye and tears in the retina of the other eye. We are so thankful we were in a place where that could be dealt with. If we’d been in PNG, I probably would’ve gone blind.
Dave: You know, God is amazing. To be in a country where within 3 days Caroline was in an operating theatre having her eye repaired was just phenomenal.
Caroline: And the other thing Covid-19 has meant to us is that our children and family in the UK have had a really tough time.
Dave: That’s been really hard for us. It was hard enough leaving them behind, but it’s been doubly hard to know we’ve left them with what’s going on.
Caroline: As a parent, you want to leap over to be with them, but, being on the other side of the world, we have to leave them in God’s hands and pray for them all the time.
What is something others don’t know about you?
Dave: We’ve found that if we shuffle all our furniture to the walls – some in the kitchen and some in other rooms – in our little place, we can just about keep up our Argentine Tango practice!
Caroline: We’ve had to give up our Waltz and Quickstep, there’s not enough room for that.
Dave: We thought we wouldn’t be able to get any dance lessons at all while in PNG or Cairns. But, because of Covid-19, our Argentine Tango teachers in the UK have been running online lessons that we’ve been able to join in on, which has been fantastic!
Do you have a favourite food?
Dave: Oooo, bacon. I mean thin, crispy bacon like you get in Europe; not like what you get in PNG. And marmite – it’s a yeast extract that you can put on toast and is nothing like vegemite!
Caroline: I don’t really have a favourite food, but I love the fresh fruits and vegetables we can get at Hagen market – all the exotic fruits.
Looking back, is there any advice you would’ve given yourself at the outset of this journey with MAF?
Dave: I think it’s something someone said to us, actually; “Know your calling.” I really struggled with that at first because I didn’t get a blinding light from the sky and a, “You’re going to Papua New Guinea!” But we started journaling about the confirmations we received along the way and when we put all those little confirmations together we thought, “Wow.” Knowing that calling and being sure of it, making sure it’s scripturally sound, is really important.
Caroline: We initially thought we were too old to be missionaries, but the friends who gave us the advice Dave mentioned went on the mission field in their 50s. That encouraged us.
I would also give the advice to trust the process. We found the process quite slow and frustrating at times. Trust the process because you need time to adjust and transition. I think transition – going from everything you know to a complete unknown – is the hardest part. You need that time to process it all. Trust the process, trust that MAF has done this before, and trust that they know what they’re doing.
Dave: Someone said that PNG is the land of the unexpected, but I think the whole mission thing is the realm of the unexpected. When God’s working you’ve got to expect the unexpected and be willing to go with it when it happens.