Stuart King obituary | Christianity


In the aftermath of the second world war, my friend Stuart King, who has died aged 98, believed that aircraft could be used for peace rather than war. As an RAF engineer he was able to put that belief into practice by helping to create Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF), a Christian missionary organisation that also acts as a humanitarian air service, flying life-saving supplies into countries that need them.

Stuart was born in Wandsworth, south London, to Alfred Sendall-King, a telephone engineer, and Hetty White, a teacher. Moving to Cardiff in 1937, he attended Cardiff Technical College and read engineering at the University of Wales. Enrolling in the RAF in 1941, he joined No 247 Squadron to support the Normandy landings.

After reading a 1945 article by an RAF pilot, Murray Kendon, about using aircraft for peaceful missions, Stuart contacted him to offer various technical ideas, and soon found himself part of the initiative to set up MAF.

As part of that effort, in 1948 he began a six-month survey exploring whether aircraft could help with missionary work in uncharted areas across Africa. He flew to the continent from London in a tiny light aircraft, sitting alongside the former flight lieutenant Jack Hemmings, with whom he made the journey using little more than a map and compass.

Facing hazardous terrain and significant deprivations once they got there, Stuart and Jack discovered that the only way to help many remote communities was to build airstrips. Transporting emergency personnel and equipment by air saved days of travel on treacherous or non-existent roads.

By 1951 Stuart was able to launch MAF’s first African operation in Sudan. There he met Phyllis Bapple, a Canadian missionary, and they married in 1952. Their three children, Rebecca, John and Priscilla, were all raised in Sudan.

Returning to the UK in 1973, Stuart became general director of MAF for the next 13 years before retiring from the post. Appointed president emeritus in 1987, he continued to serve the organisation throughout his retirement.

I joined MAF UK as CEO in 2006, and Stuart became a firm friend. He was always delighted to see MAF grow beyond his expectations, and had a wonderful ability to lead and guide with humility and wisdom. He also had a mischievous sense of humour.

Stuart claimed to be “just an ordinary man, serving an extraordinary God”, but in fact he was far from that. A tenacious and determined pioneer who was dedicated to helping others, he laid a very strong foundation for MAF, and his legacy will change lives long into the future.

Phyllis died in 2003. He is survived by their three children, seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

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