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The Long Road Home

Charlotte Chan, MAF South Sudan’s Deputy Country Director recently joined the MAF family. She talks of the circumstances that led her to MAF, her calling, navigating COVID-19 as she prepared to leave Hong Kong and her first impressions of South Sudan.

Originally from Hong Kong, Charlotte’s first encounter with MAF coincided with her becoming a Christian whilst studying Air Transport Management at Cranfield University in the UK. “I heard about MAF in a campus fellowship gathering,” she explains. “At that time, my reflex response was ‘put knowledge into practice’, but then I switched off completely, until MAF re-appeared to me a quarter of a century later.”

A career in aviation had not been a lifelong goal, but whilst studying industrial engineering, her interest was sparked when she worked as a guide at an aerospace exhibition. Roles in airline planning, aircraft maintenance, and airport management followed and in her spare time she attended classes at a seminary over a span of eight years. It was marketplace theology, which was most useful for what she was doing in her previous roles. Charlotte now recognizes how this has been, in its own way, a kind of missionary training. She didn't plan for it, but somehow it came up in life’s own course. She also asserts “fellowship” was ingrained in her deeply as her calling when she became a Christian. So, she was always actively involved in building up faith in communities in her workplace.

At the end of 2018, Charlotte was working in what many would consider a dream job, something that should carry her safely through to retirement. But a change in her personal circumstances prompted questions about the future. “I was looking after my niece and she turned 18 years old,” she says. “I realised I had fulfilled my commitments. So, I was asking myself whether I could use my skills and experience for kingdom work, whether I could find something to combine aviation and mission, and then MAF reappeared.”

Initially, Charlotte’s response was cautious, but it soon became clear to her that this was the right path to pursue. “In the process of verifying that this is really a missional call from God and not just a personal impulse, somebody helped me to see that God had actually spoken to me 25 years ago and has been preparing me without my awareness.”

Her application and acceptance into MAF progressed quickly, and Charlotte acknowledges that this is a significant change in the direction of her life and has not been easy for her family to come to terms with. She explains how challenging the last year was, not just for her but to her family as well because life moved fast ahead. Yet she can see that this too has been under God’s gracious control.

Charlotte is excited about starting her role, although she freely admits she first thought of South Sudan as ‘a bit scary’. The opportunity to learn more about the location and the job was provided by a five-day visit to the programme in December 2019. “On the last morning, I was on the apron at the airport, seeing how we prepare for flights, how we operate in this difficult and risky environment. I realised, I would love to take care of the welfare of our pilots and other staff so that they can concentrate on their roles, flying or doing ground operations. The job really matches on all fronts with my training, my work and also the desire to build people up; it is an integration of my aviation, non-aviation and most importantly people experience.”

Although Charlotte’s preparations for departure were impacted by COVID-19, she found creative ways to develop partnerships with supporters and to raise awareness of MAF in Hong Kong, where it is not widely known. “My church is an international one, so we are very much missional focused, but I think I'm the first to go to Africa from there,” she explains. “When I did my ministry support raising, I had to give a considerable amount of time to explain what MAF does, because the ministry model is new and unique to people. I shared in various forums. In the seminary, in churches, in different fellowship groups; even in the park! That happened because of COVID-19. I think it created opportunities for people to see what God is doing that they had not known before.”

Having completed all the necessary steps to join the programme, Charlotte arrived in South Sudan in early September, well aware of the challenges ahead. “Joining MAF is quite an ‘overhaul’ (in aircraft maintenance terms!) for me. I have to unlearn some essential ways of how I have been living and operating.”, she says. But she knows she is not doing it alone, speaking frequently of seeing God's sovereignty and His timing throughout her journey, she is in no doubt that this is the right place for her at this time.

Referring again to standing on the apron at Juba airport she concludes, “When I saw the dedication and professionalism of our pilots and ground staff, I was moved; it was a familiar voice of calling home to be in fellowship with believers in Christ. And when I was a student at Cranfield, we had all our lessons in a hangar, so that environment made me feel a sense of déjà vu – a sense that this was home.”

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