What God has done in the lives of MAF international staff who’ve just completed a year of rigorous study in the U.S.
“Airplanes are unique machines. And they’re not just unique because they can fly, but have you ever noticed how there’s always a story that surrounds airplanes?”
David Holsten, MAF’s president and CEO, spoke these words during a commencement speech he gave at the School of Missionary Aviation Technology (SMAT) graduation this summer. He was addressing an auditorium full of maintenance and flight students, and their families and friends, as well as several MAF staff who were there to show support. The event was held at Restore Church in Ionia, Michigan, on Monday, August 22, 2022.
“One day we’re all going to look back on our lives and there will be a story that will be told about our lives,” David continued. “What is the story that you want your life to tell?”
Three of the graduates that night were MAF’s own staff, representing three different countries—Haiti, Mexico, and Lesotho. God is writing each of their stories, and it’s evident by their faith and how they strive to use the skills and talents He’s given them.
There’s Zacharie François, who graduated from SMAT in 2019 with his Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) certificate and served as an MAF maintenance specialist in Haiti before returning to SMAT for his flight training. He’s the first international student to attend SMAT’s flight training program and has earned his Commercial Instrument Pilot’s License with a High-Performance, Complex and Tail-Wheel endorsement.
On graduation night, Zacharie had this experience: “You look to your left and to your right on stage, and all your classmates have captain bars on, and your friends and family are either in the room or live-cheering you on. You tear up how faithful our great Heavenly Father is.”
“It’s so rare that somebody from these countries would have acquired these sorts of skills,” David said, “but the fact they’ve acquired it within the context of ministry, to be utilized for the kingdom, is even more unique.”
Two other staff members, Mantlibi Mafa from MAF Lesotho, and Juan Antonio Rivera from the MAF affiliate Alas de Socorro in Mexico, graduated with their A&P certificates. Mantlibi had done an internship with MAF as part of her auto mechanic’s schooling, and later she was hired as a maintenance assistant. She’ll be the first female maintenance specialist at the Lesotho program.
Of her experience at SMAT, Mantlibi said, “Graduating from SMAT has been such a huge blessing. I am thankful to have had the opportunity for that training and so thankful that I performed well in such a short period of time, and passed. Glory be to God.”
Juan Antonio and his wife, Amy, have a heart to serve in a restricted-access country, and MAF is more than glad to send them to one in the near future. “We are grateful beyond expression for the opportunity He is giving us to serve Him overseas in a closed country where His light has not yet reached,” Juan said. “For now, we are in the process of completing a few more requirements and preparing for this next step as soon as the doors open.”
“It has been a pretty special year for them and for me,” said MAF’s Dave McCleery, former Latin America regional director, based in Michigan. “I felt a bit like their dad at times … ‘Careful driving in the snow. Do you have enough cold-weather clothes? Is your housing working out okay?’”
Several of the SMAT staff had mentioned to Dave that our trainees had a positive impact on this year’s class. “They had a quiet influence in a good direction,” Dave added.
Each of them did well in what is known to be a challenging program. There’s a lot of training compressed into 12 months.
“You could tell they were respected by their peers and faculty. Everybody was speaking very positively about their character, how they handled going through the program. I felt very proud of that,” David Holsten said after the event.
MAF desires to have close relationships with mission-focused schools like SMAT. David says it’s because “we’re not just interested in technical things. There’s an ethos that surrounds the training that helps prepare men and women for the mission side of things. It’s technical training done with a Christian worldview.”
The resources these young adults need are not typically available within their own countries. But MAF’s commitment to strengthen the capacity of our staff in the places we serve, and God’s provision through generous donors, made this training a reality.
“I’m excited because this will increasingly be the picture of what we do around the world, working with brothers and sisters of the countries we serve in. It’s a partnership. In the U.S. we have access to resources that can come alongside of them, both financially and with training,” David said. “It reflects the body of Christ that way.”