MAF Arnhem Land engineer Francis Wayambo
Picture: Sean Atkins

Francis felt called to serve in outback Australia, but he’s grateful he didn’t have to sell the idea to his wife

Francis Wayambo is a Papua New Guinean who grew up in PNG SIL (Wycliff) Bible translation base surrounded by missionaries who flew in small aeroplanes to remote places in PNG. This inspired his love of aeroplanes and a heart for mission.

But when he felt the call to serve with MAF in Arnhem Land while training with MAF’s old Australian Centre for Mission Aviation in the Australian state of Victoria, there was no way he was going to try to sell the idea to his wife Hellen.

Francis Wayambo and David Lamboa both work as engineers for MAF in Arnhem Land.

“I was praying about what God wanted me to do and I said Lord if you want me to go to, Arnhem Land – you tell my wife!” he said.

“My wife was still in PNG then, and she went my local church women’s conference and the wife of a PNG missionary couple serving in Australia was preaching at that women’s conference. While my wife was there worshipping, the name Arnhem Land came to her mind clearly as if someone was telling her, but she did not know what it meant or where this land was.

“So, during a session break, she called me up in Melbourne and said, ‘Is there a place in Australia called Arnhem Land?’

“I smiled and said ‘It’s a place in the Northern Territory. MAF operates there and I’m thinking of applying’.”

While my wife was there worshipping, the name Arnhem Land came to her mind clearly as if someone was telling her.
Francis Wayambo

The couple, with their two sons and two daughters, have been settled in this isolated corner of outback Australia for five years, where Francis is using his skills to help keep MAF’s fleet of aircraft running smoothly. The experienced licensed aircraft engineer specialises in avionics (aircraft electronics) so plays an important role in the maintenance team.

But for Francis and his family, a key focus is making valuable connections among the Yolngu Indigenous community.

“When I came here, MAF asked if I wanted to live in town (Nhulunbuy) or in Yirrkala. I wanted to live among the people so I chose to live in Yirrkala. I felt this is where God wants me to live, in a community and to be in the local church,” he said.

Francis Wayambo at work in the MAF hangar at Gove Airport.

One cultural difference is clear on Sundays. In PNG, church services are a big time commitment packed with worship and preaching. In Arnhem Land, there is not the same appetite to sit and listen for long periods.

“It’s quite challenging. Back in PNG on Sunday, we all go to church, growing up in Sunday school, so I’m very familiar with Bible stories,” he said.

His background does give Francis a cultural connection with the Yolngu people.

“For us, when they talk about family, I can relate to that,” he said. “Back home in the PNG, all my father’s brother – I call them father – and all my mother’s sisters – I call them mum. It’s similar here.

For us, when they talk about family, I can relate to that.
Francis Wayambo

“They have been very accepting of us. At funeral ceremonies, we just go and sit with them and we have opportunities to share the Gospel during this time. They see that and respect that.”

Together with David Lamboa, a fellow MAF engineer from PNG, he helps out with the local church activities. He sees the most direct impact when families invite him around to pray with them.

“It’s just trying to make the Gospel relevant to Yolngu to accept it as their own, rather than seeing it as the white man’s God or religion,” he said.