Steve Quigg: Missionary Pilot
By Julia Kayser
In the late '70s, the United Methodist Church in Africa was growing so fast that local transportation infrastructure couldn’t keep up with it. Churches needed a way to quickly transport leaders and supplies across vast expanses of land. Providentially, the solution was already in place, thanks to the efforts of missionaries in the '60s who had the vision to start an aviation ministry with several planes and a handful of pilots.
Steve Quigg was one such missionary pilot. He first felt the call to ministry at a camp meeting as a teenager. But he knew what it would take to be a pastor like his father, and didn’t feel he had the right gifts and graces. So in 1979, he took several leaps of faith: he graduated with his pilot’s license in July, married his fiancée in August, and together they went to Nigeria in November.
As a missionary pilot, Steve enabled bishops and other church leaders to spread the Good News into remote areas. He transported professors to seminaries. He distributed agricultural supplies for the church’s development programs and brought medical supplies to remote health clinics. And he supported other missionaries. “My wife Gail has a heart for ministry with people,” he says. “It’s all about reaching people and touching people’s lives, so I just provide the platform for her to do the real ministry.” Steve and Gail served as missionaries in Nigeria and the DRC from 1979 to 1999.
Steve says that he flew a “flying pick-up truck”… in other words, a Cessna 206. “It was nothing fancy, nothing fast, but a really good work horse.” One of the greatest advantages of that plane was that it could haul a lot of cargo. When a remote church agricultural program ordered 4,000 day-old chicks, for example, Steve could get them where they needed to go quickly. The church members could teach new agricultural techniques as they raised the chicks, sell them for meat as a fundraiser, and boost the nutrition of their community. Steve was proud to support these types of programs, even if it meant “flying for an hour and fifteen minutes and hearing nothing but 4,000 chicks peeping in the back of your head.”
Sometimes the plane was packed with boxes of medicine and first-aid supplies. Steve’s cargo was sometimes the only delivery of medical supplies that a rural clinic would have in a year. Steve also transported critically ill patients to hospitals. “One time a pastor brought his mother to the airfield,” he says. Her health had deteriorated quickly, and her relatives said goodbye to her at the airport, expecting never to see her again. Steve flew her to a hospital that was a couple of hundred miles away, where she was successfully treated. When he flew her back home three weeks later, “it was like bringing someone back from the dead.”
In 1999, brutal civil war forced Steve and Gail to leave the Congo. “When the western missionaries had to leave because of the war,” says Steve, “the Congolese pilots continued on.” Today, The United Methodist Church employs three pilots in the DRC to continue its aviation ministries, in addition to Steve serving as the Aviation Coordinator. The committees that oversee the aviation ministries are also made up of Congolese nationals. Steve considers this a huge victory. In the Congo, pilots are at the top of the social ladder: even higher than lawyers and doctors. Therefore, seeing a Congolese pilot in the cockpit inspires communities served by the Methodist planes. As kids chase the Methodist plane down the runway, they’re not just receiving handouts; they’re finding a role model.
As for Steve, his missionary assignment in the United States is to coordinate the aviation ministries program. Lately he’s been doing a lot of fundraising. Planes like the one he flew as a missionary pilot run on avgas, which has become almost impossible to find in the Congo. This light blue fuel is more concentrated and more expensive than normal gasoline. Steve plans to replace the Cessna 206 planes with Cessna Caravans. The Cessna Caravan seats 14, has more cargo space, and runs on normal jet fuel. “We’re in the last stages of fundraising for the first plane, and fundraising for the next one will start soon!”
To support the airplane fund-raising efforts of the United Methodist Aviation Ministries, you can donate to Advance #3019626.