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The MASA Story

Mission Aviation Support Association

The MASA Story by Lee & Debbie Smoll


It all began in the late seventies with a request that Lee pick up Bob Griffin, a JAARS pilot, at the Appleton Airport and deliver him to UWO. Bob was an exhibitor at the EAA and was staying in the dorms at the university. He was representing the work of JAARS, the missionary aviation and logistical/technical support arm of Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Looking back… Lee had long wanted to be a missionary pilot. An MAF pilot from his home town had inspired him to follow that path. The 1956 incident with the Waodani (Auca) Indians and the five martyred missionaries in Ecuador had spread across the globe. Lee and many others were challenged to fly for missions. Lee graduated from college with a teaching degree. This was followed by Military Service during the Vietnam Era. While in the Air Force he learned to fly as a private pilot, but the dream to become a missionary pilot was put on the back burner when the door closed to attend Moody following his tour of duty in the Air Force. Lee settled into life as a teacher, computer programmer, business manager and eventually started his own business as a fresh and waste-water systems inspector for the Real Estate industry.

Because of the growing friendship with Bob Griffin, Lee, and his 3 sons, attended the EAA and camped for the week, next to the small group from JAARS, early in the 80’s. Lee observed Bob’s wife, Louise, cooking all their food over a camp stove and it occurred to him that local churches could help with meals. At the time he was working at Rawhide Boys ranch and living in New London, Wisconsin. But he knew that co-workers, Randy & Marlene McMullin, lived in Oshkosh. He asked Marlene if she would be interested in providing some meals for the group from JAARS. Marlene was delighted to do so and served the missionaries for several years in the eighties, with the help of several people from her church in Oshkosh.

In the mid-eighties, MAF learned about the service that Marlene and friends were providing for JAARS and asked if they could become part of the group as well. Thus began the JAARS/MAF Support Team. The ministry was growing. In 1990 Lee visited area churches to see if they would be interested in providing a meal during the week. Folks agreed, and thus began the MASA ministry as we know it today. Lee met Debbie at Oshkosh in 1990 when her church provided one of those meals. They have served together in the ministry ever since.

In 1999 there was a change in leadership for the JAARS team and they began wondering about the value of coming to the EAA. It was decided that in addition to exhibiting their work on the EAA grounds and exploring the new technology in the aviation field, the missionaries should reach into the community more, and share their stories with the local residents instead of just the EAA audience.

Now, the JAARS/MAF Support Team, was not only providing housing, vehicles, and meals - we were also arranging speaking engagements within the communities. Lee’s job increased greatly! But the reward for getting the missionaries in the churches was great. Also in the mid 90’s we invited other organizations, all members of the trade-association IAMA (International Association of Missionary Aviation), to be a part of the EAA AirVenture participants.

In contrast to the meager beginnings of just Bob Griffin in the early 70’s, our attendance in 2009 topped out with over 400 missionary aviation guests. That year the EAA invited missionary aviation, and humanitarian aviation, to be one of the main features. The event was called “Fly 4 Life.” The missionary aviation organizations, unified under IAMA (International Association of Mission Aviation), manned several display areas across the convention grounds – including over 30 mission aircraft, staggered as points of light, throughout the EAA AirVenture. The scope of that year was a huge stretch for our guest missionary aviation agencies and our MASA Team, providing meals, homes and transportation. BUT WE DID IT!! God is good!

Since 2009 our new normal is about 225 missionaries. With the volunteer hospitality workers and mission guests, our meal counts range between 200 - 300; still a huge undertaking for our faithful meal providers.

MASA was established as a 501 (c) (3) organization in 2001. A governing board was established in 2010. We also have a great Leadership Team of about a dozen individuals. With each of our team members and volunteers doing their job, the huge task is accomplished every summer.

Each spring we have an Appreciation Dinner for our wonderful volunteers. We have a tasty meal, blessed fellowship, music and ministry updates. We also have a featured guest speaker, from one of our supported organizations, who shares encouraging results of their ministry.

Each summer, in preparation for the EAA AirVenture, we rent 14 sites in the EAA Campground. A 40X60 hospitality tent and a smaller “Baggage/Security” tent are erected. Then the supplies come in - much of which is located in a rented unit near Oshkosh. Other items of equipment are borrowed and gathered at the Campground. From our EAA camping site with limited water and generator electricity, we build our attractive and inviting Hospitality Center. Several camper trailers (3 or 4) are also moved onto the site for some of our on-grounds staff.

Here are some statistics from the MASA ministry of EAA AirVenture 2015:

Homes providing lodging: 90
Individuals camping onsite (usually students): 46
Plates of food served: 5,000+
64 guests transported from air and sea ports, 34 trips using 15 drivers
Vehicles Loaned: 36
Speaking Engagements in local churches, small groups, service groups: 69

If you are interested in helping in any of the above areas, we would love to talk to you more. Please contact Bernie Koszewa, 920.585.9800 or [email protected]


2017: July 24 - 30, 2018: July 23 - 29

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