The footprints of Jesus are across the history of Australia. In the year 1606, Captain Pedro Fernandez de Quiros gave this continent the name “Australia del Espiritu Santo” or “the Southland of the Holy Spirit”. God has decisively shaped the destiny of our country through a rich Christian foundation and heritage built upon the Word of God and embodied by men and women of faith.
The official “religion” brought to Australia with the First Fleet was Evangelical Christianity, the vital faith of people like William Wilberforce, and this shaped public policy, making a significant contribution to the prosperity of the nation. This is an untold story in the school curriculum as its perspective on Australian history accentuates the mistreatments and mistakes of the past whilst leaving out the stories of people of faith who provided most of the welfare and education for the population’s disadvantaged and did most of the ‘all-too-little’ to protect the Indigenous population.
As Christian teachers, we need to unfold the stories of those who impacted our nation for Christ. We need to help our children to reconnect with a buried past and appreciate the unmined riches of our nation and the lives that made a difference.
John Flynn is one such person and his story needs to be told. Here is his story for you to pass on.
John Flynn – A Visionary Pioneer (1880 – 1951)
Whenever we use a $20 note, we handle his face! Flynn was born at Moligul (near Bendigo) the son of parents of Irish descent, who were teachers. His mother died when he was two years old. At 16 years of age, he responded to God’s call upon his life. He became a teacher in Victoria (from 1898-1902) and then joined the Home Missions staff of the Presbyterian church and was ordained (1911). In 1909, John heard ‘the call of the Inland’ and saw that nearly two-thirds of the continent was without a minister, a doctor or even a nurse. In 1911 he went as a Presbyterian pastor to Beltana (570km north of Adelaide). This town looked desolate. In a parish the size of the British Isles he travelled by horse, buggy and camel to preach and he helped build a hospital at Oodnatta.
It was while serving in this parched, vast wilderness, his heart was torn by the needless grief and pain of men, women and children who often suffered badly and died needlessly beause they could not get medical help.
On the Birdsville track in 1912, he thought “the wings of death are swifter than camels or horses”. (https://ivanrudolph.com/john-flynn-of-flying-doctors/). He pondered this strange expression and wondered whether aeroplanes might be swifter than ‘the wings of death’. But even if they could, how could the poor people of the bush call for their aid? He had a vision to have wireless calls from the bush contacting ‘sky doctors’. When he proposed this idea, planes were viewed as dangerous toys and powerful wireless sets were very expensive. He was laughted at. But he doggedly set about tackling practical problems by setting up a string of cottage hospitals that provided outstanding care.
In the early 1920’s God led Flynn to a brilliant young scientist, Alfred Traegar and after much talking, he designed a cheap two-way wireless set to be used by pilots.
This invention was to change Inlander’s lives forever. Through God’s people, the funds were raisd to lease a single engine de Havilland 50 aircraft adapted for aerial medical work. History was made on 17 May 1928 when the world’s first flying doctor service with Doctor Welch and pilot Arthus Affleck flew from Clonurry to Julia Creek (In north-western Queensland).
Known since 1954 as the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia, it has brought hope to the sick and injured. Flynn did not give up on the face of unseemingly impossible odds but perservered. Through faith in Christ that he would provide what was needed to fulfil the vision that encompassed the continent, his epitaph was befittingly “Flynn of the Inland”. His compassion and commitment, his practical wisdom and singlemindness in completing the work God called him to do still speaks to us today.
In this series, we have listened to the voices of men and women of faith whose lives reflected a whole-hearted love for Christ. They embodied the reality that “God calls us so decisively that everything we are, everything we do and everything we have is invested with a special devotion, dynamism and direction lived out in response to His summons and service”. (Guinness, Rising to the Call, p.10)
As God’s storytellers, may we tell stories to our students of those whose lives fanned the flame of a fire that brought the light of Jesus to many because they spoke of a new and better world: the Kingdom of God.
Let our lives be those who model and teach a life of radical discipleship that is responsive to God as He works in culture and the structures of Society. May we never be content with just enjoying the light of the fire but may the flame of God’s Gospel love grip our hearts and propel us to serve Him faithfully. Always remember it only takes a spark to get a fire going!
“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work in us, to Him be the glory in His church and in Christ Jesus through all generations for every and ever Amen”. (Ephesians 3: 20-21)
Grace and Peace
The Excellence Centre