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Career Spotlight: Flying missionsCareer Spotlight: Flying missions

When God is your co-pilot

Chief Pilot Brian Shepson spent three decades serving in Ecuador for Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) and, even in the upbeat atmosphere of EAA AirVenture, tears welled in his eyes as he remembered his service there.
Career Spotlight
Photography by Dave Forney

He knew he wanted to be a missionary pilot from age 7, and his time in Ecuador was a life of service, giving back, flying in challenging places, and spreading the gospel that even his wildest dreams could not have predicted.

If you’ve ever strolled by the booths of mission organizations at AirVenture, you’ve been treated to stunning photos and videos of mission flights in remote areas such as Indonesia, the Congo, and Ecuador, and to a look inside the rugged aircraft such as Cessna Caravans and Kodiaks employed by missionary pilots. Maybe you even had the remarkable treat to meet the chief of the Waorani, an indigenous tribe in Ecuador whose history is intertwined with MAF (just one of the aviation missionary groups based in the United States, albeit the oldest). Yes, the chief used to visit AirVenture even though it is his tribe that killed five MAF missionaries in 1956. Nate Saint and four others were martyred at Palm Beach in Shell, Ecuador, a place where Saint and the others began some of their first missions as MAF. Because MAF delivered forgiveness—a word the Waorani did not have in their culture—the killers and much of the tribe came to Christ.

Saint’s story is the basis of the success of MAF, as the telling of the murders and the redemption of the Waorani tribe convinced many to join MAF and its work. MAF-U.S. today serves in 17 countries around the world, and MAF-International serves in 37 countries. More than 150 pilots and their families are currently working for MAF-U.S. These pilots are sponsored through donations and contributions to churches and other groups that support MAF, and the pilots and their families are responsible for telling their stories and soliciting donations at periods throughout their terms.

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Julie Walker

Julie Summers Walker

AOPA Senior Features Editor
AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.

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