MAF is the place where God has called us to serve as a couple in our different areas.
For the people we serve in PNG, MAF is a lifeline.
Where are you both from?
Mathias – Mandy is from a country that doesn’t exist anymore!
Mandy – I am from East Germany. Mathias is from the Black Forest region which is in Western Germany. Funny enough, my place of birth is even located in Papua New Guinea! In the Sepik region of PNG there is a little village called Marienberg. That’s the same name as the little country town in Germany where I was born. In PNG I think it is the location of a Catholic mission station. It’s in the area where Germans spread in the time of colonialism, so there are a few places with German names in Papua New Guinea.
Where do you live now?
Mathias – We have lived in Mt. Hagen since 2015. I started out as a missionary with MAF in 2007 as a single living in Mt. Hagen for one and a half years. When Mandy and I came back to PNG in 2009 as a married couple, we spent the first 4 months in Goroka. After some training at Mt. Hagen, we moved to Wewak and lived there from 2010 to 2015. We still think it is the most beautiful location here in PNG.
Please tell me about your family. You are married to one another so you don’t need to tell who your spouse is, but do you have any kids?
Mathias – No kids, unfortunately, it was not God’s plan for us to have kids.
Mandy – It’s not fine every day, but that’s how it is.
When did you join MAF and why?
Mandy – I joined MAF because I married Mathias!
Did you have any interest in missions before Mathias?
Mandy – I went to Kenya in 2001 for 10 months as a teaching assistant for a German mission family. My conclusion after those 10 months was “well I can see myself working in another country at some point, but never as a single. So what options do I have? I either get married to someone in the diplomatic sector, or who is working in business, or I get married to a missionary!” two years later I met Mathias, briefly, for the first time, but it took another three years to reconnect. That was three weeks before he left Germany for his first assignment with MAF. You don’t plan for those things but if they happen, they happen and you just go with it.
Mathias – I was always interested in flying. As a kid, I had to watch everything in the air; helicopters, planes, balloons, military jets, even birds. When I was a teenager I wondered why I had this desire to fly. At age 20, I talked to my Auntie who had received a newsletter from a missionary pilot in Africa. That was the first time I heard that there are Christian pilots.
I had a big problem, however, because I couldn’t become a pilot in Germany with glasses. It took me another seven or eight years to find out from a friend that it is possible to get a pilot’s license in America with glasses. When I learned this I was electrified and very excited! After checking it out I flew to Florida where I spent five weeks and got my first private pilot license.
It was quite a long journey from the time I first heard about MAF when I was 20 until I joined MAF at age 34. That is 14 years of preparation and not losing the goal, the call, the vision.
What is your role within MAF and the larger community in PNG?
Mandy – I started as a spouse; the dependent wife as far as paperwork and entrance policies go. I was still working part time for my previous employer designing curriculum for German home schoolers (my background is in teaching for special education). That, along with looking after the compound in Wewak, kept me busy.
I also enjoy writing and doing publication. In Wewak I was fairly close to the operations and without kids to look after, so I went along with Mathias on flights when there was space available or on weekend medical evacuation flights. I would then write those stories for Glen Sim , supplying her with stories from the Sepik region.
At one point, I think it was three or four years down the road, Glen went on long term leave. MAF-UK asked the program if I could take over as MAF PNG Communications Officer. That’s how I found my way into this department, starting out as Glen’s assistant.
Besides that, in Wewak I did some prison ministry with women from the EBC church. I also tried to volunteer at the local international school and the disabled centre, but that didn’t really work out. You know, you knock on some doors, some open and some don’t.
Now, being here in Mt. Hagen as the only Communications person, I work three days in the office. I also wear a few other hats; helping with the orientation committee, looking after the compound, and performing other responsibilities.
Mathias – I joined MAF as a second pilot in a Twin Otter crew. In Twin Otter operations you do a lot of cargo flights carrying trade store goods into the remote communities and coffee bags out. You wonder, ‘what does this have to do with mission flying for people.’ It took me a while to understand that the coffee flights are so important because, with the money the community earns from selling coffee, they are able to pay for school fees, medicine, and such things. I came to understand the concept of community development.
In my second term, I was trained to fly the Airvan. This is what I had been wanting – to be the pilot of my own plane. I was surprised to find that I missed the second pilot’s help discussing options, the weather, or problems. I was scared for the first 6 months, but those 5 years flying the Airvan out of Wewak really shaped me into the pilot I am today. I am able to work out difficult weather decisions or mechanical issues, make my own decisions, and be responsible for my flying, landing, and take-offs. I needed this time to learn to be a mission pilot in PNG; to learn how to make decisions, to learn the culture, and to build relationships with the people in the communities. I quite enjoyed that.
Since 2018 I have been a Caravan pilot. In March 2019 I became a full trainer on the Caravan, able to do training and check-outs. I also was interested in aviation safety and in March 2020 the program was looking for a Safety Manager – someone based in Hagen with in-country experience. That is me, so I am now the Safety Manager!
What do you find most enjoyable and challenging in your role?
Mandy – The enjoyable thing is the immediate feedback I get when I post on Facebook and see how much MAF is valued by the PNG community and those who have been serving in the country. Hearing stories of their experiences with MAF – maybe as a teenager jumping on a MAF plane to further their education – those are amazing testimonies. They spur MAF on to continue what we have been doing over the past decades. If I post something when we need prayer, people really join in – praying for a medevac or, recently, praising the success of the sea search off Wewak.
The challenge can be gathering stories from the program. Also, not being a native English speaker and having to publish in a neat, tidy, and correct way is challenging.
Mathias – It continues to amaze me that after all these years of flying in PNG, I still enjoy flying over the country of PNG. It is a privilege to fly over a high valley no one else has walked through or seen except from the air. It is also a privilege for me to help the people of PNG by flying the plane. I most enjoy helping with medevacs, having contact with the communities, and seeing I am making a difference to the communities when I land in a remote area.
On the pilot side, I reach my physical limit at a point. It is hard work to unload and load the caravan, do the paper work, and manage it all during your day.
In the Safety Manager position, I enjoy working with our Safety Management System and raising awareness for safety not only in aviation but in general. The most challenging thing is to manage all the different tasks. It feels like I never have enough time to do tasks right.
What does MAF mean to you?
Mandy – For me it is the place where God has called us to serve as a couple in our different areas. For the people we serve in PNG, MAF is a lifeline.
When we are talking with supporters back home, we compare MAF’s flying in PNG to the Berlin Airlift. The Berlin Airlift was an effort to bring supplies to the western part of Berlin when it was cut off from West Berlin after WWII. Planes took off from West Germany loaded with supplies, groceries, and food for this satellite area. In a sense, MAF here in PNG is an “Airlift”, or lifeline, to remote communities where other forms of transportation are just not possible because of isolation or challenging terrain.
Mathias – I would like to call MAF My-Awesome-Family because over the years I have seen that when someone has a medical need the whole organization does whatever they can to get them to help them. If it means a medical evacuation flight to Cairns, then that is what MAF does.
Mandy – We experienced MAF’s support for ourselves when a close friend passed away this last year and MAF supported us, freeing us up from our MAF duties, and calling a couple up from Australia to do some pastoral care.
What is something others might not otherwise know about you?
Mandy – We got engaged in Madang!
Mathias – It was the Christmas holiday in 2007. Mandy came for a look-see trip for 6 weeks just to have a quick look before she said yes to our marriage.
Mandy – We had only dated via phone calls – pre WhatsApp, Teams, and Skype. We’d do one call a week for 6 to 8 hours or so!
Also, we did one PMV drive from Madang from Goroka – the one and only time we sat in a PMV – and the driver hit a pig!