Leon Prinsloo is passionate about using aviation to bring God’s blessing to desperately poor people in remote rural areas of South Africa.
But the CEO of Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) South Africa says it took some divine intervention to get him onto God’s path for his life.
After a Christian upbringing in northern Namibia he pursued his own plans, embarking on a career in aviation in 1989 and marrying his wife, Evonne in 1994.
In the early 2000s the Prinsloos moved to Ballito, KwaZulu-Natal, where God used ‘the wrong house’ for His purposes.
“The new house that we were supposed to move into was not ready when we arrived, so we ended up moving into another house which was three houses away from a church. After three weeks and some further intervention [by God] we started going to that church.
“It was a church that was full of life. We got into a cell group, were water baptised a few weeks later, got very involved and grew rapidly. We were like an old boat sent in for repairs which came out like a corvette, ready for battle.”
Prinsloo, who was working as a flight instructor, doing some corporate flying and running an IT business, started to dream of serving the Lord through aviation. He began doing volunteer work for MAF SA, doing presentations at churches and manning stalls at air shows. MAF SA is the South African branch of the international MAF which is represented in 32 countries and which provides aviation services to the church and Christian ministries.
One Saturday morning as he was cycling through sugar cane lands outside of town on his way to meet friends he was attacked by men armed with knives and his bicycle was stolen. That afternoon he returned to the area with a friend and they searched the hillsides for his bicycle.
He was surprised by what he saw in the faces of people in that area as the Holy Spirit intervened yet again.
“I realised how hopeless and desperate many people’s lives were. I could actually see the emptiness, the oppression, the hatred, the anger in their eyes. I really saw a lot there and the next morning I called a few of the church elders and we prayed for the men who hijacked me. And that really fuelled my vision [to serve God through aviation].”
God moved significantly in Prinsloo’s heart again during a prophetic weekend at the church. By the Sunday evening of the weekend he told Evonne they had experienced enough and that he did not want to go to the final session. But she persuaded him to see the weekend through and attend the last service.
“I think I would have missed a lot if we had not gone. They [the visiting ministry team] asked: ‘Is there a pilot here? I put my hand up and they said: ‘Come, come, come!’ A woman said I had been having a dream but it was in fact God’s dream and it was time for me to do something about it. Another couple said that God was going to ground me for a season but I would also see new landings and takeoffs.”
Prinsloo and his wife discussed what it might mean for their three children’s education if he joined MAF. They decided they were willing to make sacrifices to serve God. But still he resisted as he did not feel quite ready.
Then one day, as he was driving, Prinsloo sensed God say that it was time to make a move. Taking a big step of faith he stopped his car and phoned the CEO of MAF SA, Butch Judge. He told him he wanted to join MAF on a full-time basis, and would serve anywhere, any way.
“I remember saying: I can’t cook but if they want me to be a chef in Bangladesh we will go.”
Judge replied that he had just spoken to his board about Prinsloo’s interest in MAF SA and they would like him to lead the organisation.
Prinsloo said he was overwhelmed by the proposal but despite his self doubts he went for interviews and in 2008 he succeeded Judge as CEO of MAF SA.
He said that over the next few years MAF’s financial position began to improve but he felt a need to improve the ministry’s effectiveness.
“Minstry efficiency is one thing but ministry effectiveness is another. And then, while I was at a conference in Kenya, God gave me the vision of a ‘flying soup kitchen’. “
Prinsloo said he did not immediately know what to make of his ‘flying soup kitchen’ vision other than that it was supposed to be in South Africa. But a few weeks later he met evangelist David Ramekosi at a church in Pretoria and heard him say how difficult it was to get to people in remote rural areas of Venda. Prinsloo understood that he needed to start implementing his vision in rural Venda.
He had meetings with the Department of Health and paid visits to Venda. And so the ‘flying soup kitchen’ became a reality in the form of a programme called ‘Flying For Life’ which adopts and supports remote rural communities that are isolated because of poor roads.
Material and practical support
Since its inception last year the focus of Flying For Life has been on providing material and practical support to the rural church, pre-schools, schools and clinics. Early childhood development is currently a special area of focus. Another current goal is to develop children’s ministry.
The ministry, which is MAF SA’s first direct community intervention, is bringing hope to ‘forgotten areas’ said Prinsloo, explaining that poverty in remote rural areas is far worse than in urban areas because people have nothing and they have no access to opportunities. There is often no clean water, no jobs and not even any hope of begging on the street as everybody has nothing. There are many child-headed households in these areas, as well as many sickly old people and people without hope who have returned after failing to find work in towns and cities.
Prinsloo said that because of the great distances and the poor roads nobody will drive out to these places weekly. But Flying For Life is able to fly to them every second day.
“We can multiply the effectiveness of any organisation, or individual or partner who wants to join us in doing work there. We are building relationships and the communities see MAF as part of them and when we come things change.”
Contrary to what people may think flying to remote areas is the most cost effective way to serve them, said Prinsloo.
“Driving is very expensive because of the time it takes. We can fly a doctor out and he can see 70 to 100 patients and be back in his office the next day.”
Prinsloo said people who would like to get involved in the ministry of Flying For Life can subscribe to their free quarterly newsletter by emailing a request to email@example.com. There are also opportunities for people to sow financially into various special areas of funding such as children’s ministry. There is also a great need for intercessory prayer partners; anybody interested in this ministry should contact MAF SA at +27 11 659 2880 or firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to be added to the prayer list.
Reflecting on the prophetic words at Ballito that encouraged him to step into God’s plan for his life, Prinsloo said it was interesting that he has been ‘grounded’ ever since joining MAF, as his role has not been to fly the aircraft but to lead the organisation.