Wednesday 13 July 2011

John Flynn & the Australian Inland Mission: Faith in Action

West MacDonnell Ranges, Northern Territory

My wife Carmen and I are in the Central Australia this week and in our travels from Alice Springs along the MacDonnell Ranges had the chance, not just to see beautiful countryside, but also to gain some insight into the early missionary work of the Christian Church. One inspirational example is the work of the Reverend John Flynn.

John Flynn is buried in Alice Springs, a town located in the centre of Australia's Red Centre. Flynn founded the Australia Inland Mission. He spent almost 40 years leading it until his death in 1951. John Flynn's work was quite remarkable. Throughout his training to become a Presbyterian minister, he worked in remote areas through Victoria and South Australia. His second posting after ordination was to a Mission at Beltana, a town 500 kilometres north of Adelaide in an extremely remote area.

By 1912, after writing a report for his church superiors on the difficulties of ministering in remote areas Flynn became convicted of the need to address the hardship and isolation that people suffered in the remote centre of the Australian continent.  He observed that any serious illness or injury in remote inland Australia almost invariably lead to death because they had no access to medical services.  He was appointed as the first superintendent of the Australian Inland Mission (AIM). Flynn had two clear interests, the spiritual needs of remote people, and their medical needs in the outback. He conceived the idea of the establishment of a 'Mantle of Safety' for all people in remote areas. He established a number of bush hospitals and began to consider how technology like radio and aircraft could be used to care for people over vast distances.

Alfred Traeger inventor of the Pedal Radio
The development of a pedal radio by Alfred Traeger Flynn gave Flynn an opportunity to develop an aerial medical service that could cover vast distances. On the 17th May 1928 the first aerial service began and by the 1930s the service had gone nation wide. Flynn was a visionary driven by a deep faith that led him to action.

Flynn began fund-raising in order to establish a flying medical service. The first flight of the Aerial Medical Service took place in 1928 from Cloncurry in Queensland. Eventually he lobbied government and the service went Australia wide. In 1934 the 'Australian Aerial Medical Service' was formed, and gradually established a network across the nation.

While the Flying Doctor Service is the thing that Flynn is famous for, his work extended well beyond this. He also established nursing homes and instituted travelling ministries across vast distances on horseback. In 1939 he was elected Flynn to the role of Moderator-General within the Presbyterian Church of Australia.

A Royal Australian Flying Doctor Service Reaching a Remote Patient

What struck me about Flynn's work is that it was motivated by his awareness of the hardships of people in remote areas. He had a passion for the salvation of the people spiritually, but his concern for them extended to easing the suffering of the people in remote regions.

Classroom where teachers broadcast daily lessons
Flynn's vision was eventually translated into the establishment of the world's first 'School of the Air'. One of the Board members of AIM, Adelaide Miethke saw that the radio infrastructure developed as part of Flynn's 'Mantle of Safety' could also serve as the foundation of schooling to children in remote areas. This idea led to the establishment of an educational service to children in remote locations all over Central Australia. On 8th June 1951 the 'School of the Air' was established. Today just weeks after its 60th anniversary, the School of the Air has spread to 16 different services that cover all remote regions within Australia.  In recent times the radio contact between teacher and student has been upgraded to computer and video contact.

Flynn's work is a good demonstration of what James was getting at when he wrote that we  must " doers of the word, and not hearers only" (James 1:22). John Flynn's life demonstrates what it means to live out one's faith and to turn this faith into action.  Our response to the gospel of Christ and God's word as it takes root in our lives is to take action as we share our faith in word and deed.
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (James 1:19-22)

You can read a fuller biography of Rev John Flynn HERE


Timaahy said...


Was Flynn's ministry directed mainly towards white Australians? Or did he minister to both whites and Aborigines?

What about his flying doctor services?


Trevor Cairney said...

It seems that his ministry was mainly focused on the needs of white settlers. He seemed to hold the view that other branches of the mission work of the Presbyterian Church were responsible for ministry to Indigenous Australians. And of course there was a lot of work going on with Indigenous Australians. While there is conflicting evidence about his attitude to Indigenous Australians, it is obvious that he saw his priority as caring for the needs of settlers. Trevor