Leonard Barnard, First Adventist Mission Pilot, Dead at 95
Barnard pioneered aviation medical work on Papua New Guinea.
, South Pacific Adventist Record, and , news editor, Adventist Review
Leonard Barnard, the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s first missionary pilot and co-founder of the aviation company used by the South Pacific Division, died this week at the age of 95.
Barnard, an Australian national who began working for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1933, was best known for three decades of pioneering missionary work on the South Pacific island that includes Papua New Guinea.
“A most remarkable life has ended,” said John Hammond, who flew with Barnard many times in the mission plane Andrew Stewart. “We have lost one of our finest.”
Barnard, known to many as simply “Len,” decided to become a missionary on his first visit to Papua New Guinea during World War II when he served as a medic in the Australian Infantry Forces.
One day, he was ordered to examine 50 local men who worked as carriers for the Australian military and had barely survived an arduous trek through the jungle. The men were malnourished and suffering from various tropical diseases, Barnard recalled in his book “Banish the Night,” rereleased by Pacific Press in 2013.
But the last six men, while weak, were noticeably healthier and happier than the rest of the group. After quizzing the six men, Barnard learned that they were fellow Adventists who had learned about Jesus from foreign missionaries. During the trek, they had declined to eat unclean wild animals caught by the party and had worshiped together daily.
“The striking contrast between the mission lads and the other carriers left an indelible impression upon my mind and awoke in me a desire to be a missionary,” Barnard wrote.
He returned to Papua New Guinea 16 years later as a medical missionary, building and operating a leper colony at Mt. Hagen in the island’s Western Highlands. He spent 30 years serving as a pioneer missionary on the island but said his greatest joy as a pioneer was to fly the first Adventist mission plane to go into service anywhere in the world. In the 1960s, he co-founded Adventist Aviation, a company that operates a fleet of mission planes in the church’s South Pacific Division.
Barry Oliver, president of the South Pacific Division, expressed gratitude to God for Barnard’s life and ministry on Thursday.
“We wish to pay a very special tribute to him for the vision and courage that enabled him to pioneer the ministry of Adventist Aviation in the South Pacific,” he said. “To see the sparkle in his eye as he recently spoke to the assembled thousands at the [50th anniversary] of Adventist Aviation in Goroka, was to catch a glimpse of the joy of service and determination which enabled him to do what he has done under the blessing of God.”
Last year, Barnard and Colin Winch, the other co-founder of Adventist Aviation, were honored by the South Pacific Division at an event at the aviation company’s headquarters in Goroka, Papua New Guinea.
“Len was a great pioneer. I had the privilege of starting the flying program in New Guinea with him,” Winch said this week. “Working together, Len and I became very close friends and our friendship has lasted more than 50 years.
“I pray our heavenly Father will surround his family with love and comfort. He has made a tremendous contribution to the winning of souls in PNG and left a legacy which we all admire.”
Information about survivors and funeral arrangements was not immediately available.
Stories from Barnard’s life have been told and retold, including in a 1962 film titled, “The Cry of New Guinea,” available for viewing on the Hope Channel’s website, and the book “Wings Over New Guinea: The Story of Leonard Barnard,” by Goldie M. Down.
“Pastor Len Barnard must be remembered as a missionary in the fullest sense of the word,” said Ken Vogel, a former missionary pilot who works as general secretary for the Australian Union Conference. “Whether it was in service for God in a foreign country or in his home country of Australia, Pastor Barnard was always at the vanguard of missionary action.’
Watch an interview with Leonard Barnard on "Record InFocus" on July 25, 2008.
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