The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


June 18, 2012

Carthage couple’s aviation ministry affected many lives

CARTHAGE, Mo. — Jerry Turner is a pilot with the heart of a missionary. So, it seemed like a perfect fit for the Carthage man and his wife, Donna, to join up with Mission Aviation Fellowship.

For more than a decade, the couple made a lasting imprint with their work at MAF. The missionary organization, based in Nampa, Idaho, shares the love of Christ through aviation and technology. Its goal is reaching isolated people who may be in need of physical and spiritual transformation.

The Turners’ ministry took root 35 years ago with their first assignment in Honduras. Prior to that, they were required to go through six months of MAF training, as well as language school, which Donna Turner utilized later as an English and Spanish instructor.

The MAF ministry began in 1943 as a result of three World War II pilots meeting for prayer, Bible study and discussion of missionary aviation. The ministry relies on airplanes to carry out its mission but depends on a number of other occupations to fulfill it. As her husband flew missionaries and supplies to remote locations, Donna was relied upon as a flight follower.

“If someone would come in needing an airplane, for example, she would call and tell me where I was needed,” said Jerry Turner, who joined the Air Force immediately after graduating from Carthage High School in 1965. He received his pilot training through the Aero Club at the Air Force Academy.

Another important purpose served by flight followers is keeping in touch with the pilots in case of a crash or unexpected landing.

In addition, Donna played a big part in raising the couple’s three daughters, Stacy, Lisa and Gayla. Stacy was 18 months old when the Turners went on their first mission in 1977. Donna also served as a church organist and school music director.

Although the Turners attend First Baptist Church of Carthage, they worked alongside missionaries from a variety of religious denominations since MAF is nondenominational.

The bottom line for the Carthage couple was helping people not only physically, but also spiritually.

It was all about making a positive contribution to people’s lives, according to Jerry Turner, who grew up in Avilla and had his interest in flying sparked early on by his uncle, who was also a pilot.

Dealing day after day with difficult situations in rough terrain, such as mountains and thick forests, was all part of the job for Jerry.

“It would take people living 25 to 30 miles apart a couple of days to get to each other, whereas with a plane, I could get them there in 15 or 20 minutes,” said Turner, who worked as an Air Force mechanic in Thailand while serving in the Vietnam War. “I was always moving people connected with missions back and forth.”

Although the cost of keeping MAF planes in the air is shared by the organization itself and the agencies which it serves, missionaries, such as the Turners, were required to return to the states periodically in order to raise funds for their own living expenses. They would sometimes spend a year and a half stateside looking for people to sponsor them.

Although the Carthage man refers to himself as semi-retired, he admits to being available if MAF should call. His most recent requests involved flying planes to and from Afghanistan, as well as flying missions to Haiti, under MAF sponsorship.

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