Where are you from and where do you live now?
Paul: We are from the UK but we are Australian too. We left the UK to join MAF and, in doing so, became dual citizens.
Clare: Australia was the only place after 9-11 where we could do your mission aviation course. So we moved our family to Melbourne to go to the Bible College of Victoria, which has a new name now. We’ve been calling Wewak, PNG home for the last 5 years, but at the end of 2020 we were actually packing up in Wewak because we are just going to be moving wherever we’re needed rather than have a base assignment. We’re sad to leave Wewak – it’s a beautiful place and we’ve been so happy there.
Do you mind telling me a little bit about your family?
Clare: We have slightly older girls – a dietitian and a nurse. They are working in a small mining town in Queensland, a remote place called Mt. Isa. Our oldest son did a science degree and is working in the mines there and living with his older sister. The little one is still at university in Sydney.
When did you join MAF and how did God call you to join?
Clare: When the tsunami struck in 2004, it really made us re-evaluate our lives. I felt God was speaking to me during that tsunami. You know, so many people were going to help, leaving their comfortable lives, going and helping out in the Philippines and other places. I asked God if He was trying to tell me something; if He had a different life planned for us.
I was left feeling very unsettled, so when Paul came home from work and the kids were in bed I said, “Look, I’ve had this really weird day and I really feel that God is saying something. Do you think God is calling us to a different sort of life?” I really thought he loved his job in the city of London and would say, no you can serve God wherever you are. We were settled in our dream home in England and very happy. But he surprised me by saying, “I’ve always wanted to be a mission pilot, I just never thought it could be a reality.” We decided that we would start praying about it and asking other people to pray. If it was God’s will He’d open those doors for us.
Very quickly we applied for a visa to go to Australia, for permanent residency leading to citizenship. We knew we wanted to become Aussies because we knew our kids would grow up as Aussies, they’d probably want to stay, and we needed free education. So, we applied to emigrate and we applied to MAF. In very short order we were accepted by both. We also managed to sell our house really quickly in a bad market. It was really a sign God was saying, let’s get going.
How did you find out about MAF?
Paul: When we got married we joined a mission group and somebody from MAF Asia Pacific, we don’t know who, came and gave a presentation in 1990. That kind of seeded the idea.
Clare: I have to admit, I have no memory of that at all. But it stayed on Paul’s heart for many years.
Paul, what is your role with MAF?
I have two roles, one as a pilot here in PNG and the other as a software writer for MAF.
For the last nearly eight years I’ve written and looked after the flight planning software. We also have a Route and Aerodrome Guide that I’ve been working on. Three years ago I brought it all together in an iPad ‘electric flight bag’ app called MAF Pilot. The app has the entire Route and Aerodrome guide, notices to pilots, the various details for each airstrip we fly to so pilots can see how to fly the airstrip, and pricing information for when the pilot is on the ground. It’s a MAFI project but it’s specific to PNG right now.
What do you find most enjoyable or rewarding about your role? What is most challenging?
I really like the flying a lot. But I think everyone needs two roles here so that when you’re not flying because of bad weather or something you’re not just sitting on the ground.
Being away from family is most challenging I think.
Clare, how have you found a way to join in and support the work of MAF or get involved in the PNG community?
When we were in Goroka, our first posting in PNG, our son went to the New Tribes mission school at Lapilo and I got a job running the elementary library. It was only a part-time job, but I loved it because I love books, reading, and early education. I’ve been a librarian before even though I’m a nurse.
It’s been a bit harder in Wewak. I’ve done some preschool – play school, really, with lots of games and cooking. I also teach ladies how to sew things they can sell like washable sanitary products, school bags, and things like that. Now I’m hoping to teach people how to sew masks – I’ve brought all the stuff with me from Australia.
What was the process of finding that niche like for you?
It was very difficult in Wewak. You can’t just randomly choose a local school because there are too many and jealousy can be an issue. A friend of mine was putting together baby packs and making washable sanitary products for a hospital in Anguganak (one of the places Paul flies to). I’ve been involved in that even after my friend left PNG. I put the ‘baby bundles’ together with all sorts of little things for mum and baby given to me by our supporters and people in Australia. I make the hospital baby bundles specifically for, and am supported by, the midwives of The Anguganak Healthy Motherhood Project, spearheaded by Debbie Butters. The bundles serve as an encouragement to ladies from remote communities to come to have their babies at the hospital for safety reasons.
So, that’s really what I do, sewing and putting these baby bundles together.
What does MAF mean to you?
Clare: For me, it’s a way for us to serve the Lord, but it’s also a way to get involved with the local people and show our love for Jesus Christ by loving others. There’s so much need here, which gives us lots of opportunities to help others and teach.
Paul: I think it’s a great way, like Clare said, to serve the Lord, speak into people’s lives, and do something not many people can really do. MAF is quite a technical ministry and not many people access these communities the way we do. I think it’s great that we can help the people of PNG; they are so pleased we’re here.
How has Covid-19 affected you and/or your family?
Paul: Well, it sent us back to Australia in mid-March 2020. I was really busy writing software while we were there. It was a good opportunity to do some things I didn’t have time to do in PNG and to visit family. The biggest problem from Covid-19 is that my 86 year old father is on his own and we can’t see an opportunity to go to England in the near future. We would have gone back to England or he would have come to see us if it weren’t for Covid-19. But we’re soon back in PNG and ready to serve.
Clare: We come from a place in far North Queensland where there’s not much Covid-19, but our family in England, my mom and Paul’s dad, have been at home for about ten months because it’s not safe for them to go out. We Facetime frequently so that we can stay in touch, but it’s still hard and they’re quite lonely. Two of my extended family have died of Covid-19 and at least four of my cousins who work in hospitals have had it.
Looking back, what advice would you give yourself at the start of your MAF career?
Paul: It’s a worthwhile trip, but you need to be committed. You can’t be committed for just four years – that’s too short. It takes so long to get going; a couple of years to get to the program, a year in program to get settled in, and about six years to be useful in flying in terms of being able to go everywhere. You need to be here for a lot longer than four years. We signed up for 25 years and have another 9 years to go.
Clare: This is sort of our second life and it will be our life until we retire if we ever retire.
Paul: I also think you need good life experiences before coming because it’s so easy to blame the program, to blame the environment, to blame everything when you have problems. If you’re in Melbourne, London, or New York you’ll still have problems. Problems are just different here, and sometimes a little bit worse. For example, if you have new children or are a first-time parent it’s a huge learning curve with struggles wherever you are. Saying it would’ve been easier in another country isn’t right; it wouldn’t necessarily be easy in any country.
So, long term commitment is very important because it’s a long road with knocks along the way.
What is something others might not know about you?
Paul: I’ve been a swimming teacher! I taught for a club when my children were learning to swim.
Clare: I’m a wildlife caregiver – I take in orphaned kangaroos. I can actually take in any wild animals, but I’m only really experienced with wallabies and kangaroo joeys. Paul is really, really handy. He’s one of those guys who can turn his hand to anything. He’s got a chainsaw he loves and he can do plumbing and electricity work.
Paul: And Clare likes hospitality; feeding people and entertaining. She’s the entertainment officer in our family!
Do you have a favourite food?
Paul: Fish for me.
Clare: Probably Indian for me. I love cooking and Indian food is interesting and fun.
Paul: We like our food relatively spicy, even if it is just fish.
Clare: We eat jalapenos or sprinkle chilies on just about everything we eat!