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A Legacy of Service

A retrospect on MAF’s 50 years in North Kalimantan                        

In 1971, MAF pilot Dave Hoisington was flying church conference delegates from Papua, Indonesia, to the MAF base in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. While stopping to refuel on the small island of Tarakan, a woman approached him on the airport ramp. 

It was Elizabeth Jackson, a missionary Dave met on a previous flight to Kalimantan. She asked if she could catch a ride to West Kalimantan. “I had room, so I said, ‘sure,‘” Dave recalled.

The Hoisington family in Tarakan. Photo courtesy of the Hoisingtons.

Before takeoff, Elizabeth asked Dave if he knew where Long Nawang was. He checked his map, which in those days had large sections marked “relief data unknown.” But, drawing a line from Tarakan to their destination of Pontianak, the flight path went right through Long Nawang, one of the few places shown on the map.

“It was then she told me that her husband had been killed there in World War II and she had never seen the spot,” Dave said.

Long Nawang didn’t have an airstrip, so Dave made three low, slow passes so Elizabeth could see the place where her husband’s life so tragically ended.

Elizabeth and Fred Jackson. Photo courtesy of CMA archives.

In 1973, MAF asked Dave, along with his wife, Ruth, and their three children, to move from Papua to Tarakan to establish an MAF base there. They rented a home with no electricity or running water, located near the busy docks.

For the first year, Dave wasn’t allowed by the government to have a radio in his plane, so when he took off in the morning, Ruth wouldn’t know how his flight went until he returned in the evening.

As he flew into the interior of north Kalimantan, he began to learn more about the history of the area and those who had given their lives to bring the gospel here.

Those who went before

In 1938, the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) purchased a Beechcraft Staggerwing floatplane. George Fisk and his wife, Anna, had been serving in Kalimantan since 1929 and George had requested an aircraft after obtaining his pilot’s license. It would cut his travel time to the interior mountain region down from weeks to hours. It is believed he was the first person ever to use a plane for mission work.

George and Anna Fisk, Christian and Missionary Alliance missionaries on the Beechcraft Staggerwing floatplane. Photo courtesy of CMA archives.

When the time came for George and Anna to go on furlough, he handed pilot duties over to CMA missionary Fred Jackson. His wife, Elizabeth, wasn’t allowed to join him, but planned to as soon as she got the needed permissions.

There were other missionaries serving in the northern part of Kalimantan at the time. Ernest Presswood started the first Bible school in the area and was later joined by missionary John Willfinger. The two of them traveled from village to village, sharing their message of hope. They brought a group of young Christians from south Sulawesi to an area called the Krayan to disciple the new Dayak (general term for the Indigenous people of Kalimantan) believers there.

Then World War II erupted, and the Imperial Japanese army made its way to Kalimantan. They wanted to commandeer the CMA mission plane, but it was dismantled and sunk in a river to keep it out of enemy hands. When the Japanese heard this, they executed Fred Jackson in Long Nawang.

Other missionaries met a similar fate. A group of Dayaks offered to hide John Willfinger from the Japanese, but he didn’t want to endanger them, so he gave himself up and was executed.

Ernest Presswood survived several years in a Japanese internment camp but died of sickness shortly after the war ended.

It seemed that missionary efforts would grind to a halt.

The growing church

When Dave Hoisington began opening airstrips in North Kalimantan in the early 1970s, he found that, despite all odds, the churches had experienced phenomenal growth since World War II.

Long Nawang, where he had circled overhead with Elizabeth Jackson, was one of the first airstrips he landed at. The head of the village presented Dave with a ceremonial sword, a token of their gratitude for MAF’s services. “I still have it,” Dave said.

Dave Hoisington receives a ceremonial sword in Long Nawang. Photo courtesy of the Hoisingtons.

Dave learned that the young Christians left behind by Willfinger and Presswood in the Krayan had established a Bible school and trained evangelists to go out into surrounding areas. Another Bible school in the village of Long Bia was also in operation when the MAF base in Tarakan opened, and many flights were done through the years supporting these schools.

Dave said he was inspired by the Dayak believers and had a sense of awe at the sacrifice of the early missionaries.

“The caliber of those Dayak Christians interior was a real testimony to the ability of the gospel to change hearts,” he said. “We felt like we were just following in the footprints of Ernie Presswood and John Willfinger.”

Generations of believers

Pastor Son is a third generation Dayak Christian. His grandparents told him stories of the days before the gospel came to the Krayan, how their people were known as headhunters, bound to animistic beliefs.

Then the missionaries came with their message of Jesus’ saving grace. Pastor Son’s grandfather was one of the early believers baptized by Ernest Presswood.

The Bible school named in memory of John Willfinger is in Kampung Baru, Pastor Son’s home village. A core memory from his childhood is the sound of the MAF plane landing nearby. “Every time the MAF plane landed, we would all leave the classroom to look at the plane and watch everything the pilot did,” Pastor Son recalled. “I often saw how MAF brought people who would study at the Willfinger school.”

Pastor Son speaks at MAF’s 50th Anniversary Celebration in Tarakan. Photo by Philip Limawan.

Pastor Son and his family moved to Tarakan in 1979, flown there by MAF. “At that time, MAF planes were the only means of transportation out of the Krayan. It’s very geographically isolated.”

After graduating from college, Pastor Son led several churches in Kalimantan. He is currently regional chair of the CMA churches (GKII) in North Kalimantan, as well as an associate professor at the Willfinger Bible school, which has trained hundreds of evangelists and preachers.

“MAF has been the most important partner in supporting the ministry of GKII North Kalimantan in providing transportation assistance for God’s servants and goods needed by the church who are in hard-to-reach places,” Pastor Son said. “If it were not for the help of MAF flights, it would not have been possible for us to quickly reach several strategic areas for evangelism in the 1980s.”

Faithful service

Through five decades MAF staff have faithfully served isolated communities in Kalimantan. Countless medevacs, hundreds of thousands of pounds of cargo, and thousands of passengers have been carried on MAF planes.

The planes have changed through the years—from piston-engine driven aircraft with minimal navigation equipment like Dave Hoisington flew, to turbine-powered aircraft with sophisticated avionics and GPS, like the Quest Kodiak that is currently flown.

Though the look of the planes has changed, the heart of the mission has not, and it’s what continues to inspire Kalimantan Program Director Jeremy Toews.

“For 50 years, MAF has made a life and death difference in the lives of the people in the communities we serve,” he recently shared. “Countless lives have been saved through the years,” he said, “from babies born in distress, to burn victims, to typhoid patients.”

MAF does around 200 medevac flights each year, with many of the patients and their families receiving practical help and spiritual counseling from MAF’s hospital house ministry.

While medevacs, cargo loads, passenger and church flights have made up a bulk of MAF’s ministry through the years, MAF also works with Indonesian partners to meet the unmet needs of Kalimantan’s isolated communities.

One new partner is Kartidaya, the Indonesian Bible translation organization that works in partnership with Wycliffe Bible Translators. Translation facilitator Darmaputra Podengge said he learned of MAF several years ago as a possible solution to their transportation needs for getting their translation teams to hard-to-reach places.

MAF families and special guests at the 50th Anniversary Celebration in Tarakan, Kalimantan. Photo by Philip Limawan.

“Praise God, we share with MAF the same vision, which is to serve the tribes in Kalimantan so that all these tribes can glorify God,” he said. “Since 2019, MAF has supported our Bible translation ministry.”

In one of the villages where translation work is ongoing, Darmaputra shared, they were met with great joy when they brought in a recently completed translation of Luke. “A servant of God who ministered there said, ‘I have prayed and dreamed of God’s Word in the Kenyah Lepo’ Ke language for 20 years. Thank God, now this Word of God is in my hands!’”

Looking ahead to what the future might hold for MAF in North Kalimantan, Jeremy anticipates there will continue to be a need for the ministry. “There are many places interior that have not seen much change as far as transportation infrastructure. I don’t foresee it changing that radically in the next 50 years.”

Full-circle praise

The Hoisingtons returned to the U.S. in late 1974, after helping the second MAF family, Paul and Doris Huling get settled in Tarakan. Many more staff—over 100 family units—would follow in the decades to come.

At a recent gathering at MAF headquarters, staff representing each decade of service in Kalimantan shared stories from their time there. Several were hearing for the first time how the program got started in 1973. Dave and Ruth learned what happened in the years after they left, and they said their hearts were warmed to know the ministry continues.

“It was a very hard experience, but we felt it was worth it,” Dave said.

MAF wives at the celebration. Photo by Philip Limawan.
Missionaries Ernest Presswood (far left) and John Willfinger (far right) with believers in North Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo courtesy of CMA archives.
MAF president David Holsten talks with his friend, Ajang, a frequent user of MAF, in the interior village of Paupan in North Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Philip Limawan.
David Holsten (2nd from right) interacts with MAF’s Wally Wiley (left of David) and MAF Chair Joel Barker (far left) and his wife, Donna. Photo by Philip Limawan.
MAF pilot Joel Driscoll in the cockpit with David Holsten, flying to an interior village in North Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Philip Limawan.

To see more photos and a timeline, view the story in the January (Vol. 1) 2024 issue of FlightWatch:


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