John Flynn was born and raised in Australia. At first he became a teacher but thought he felt the call to become a pastor. Money was a problem, but his opportunity came in 1903, when he was twenty-two and had the chance to earn a scholarship. He would go into eastern Australia, preach the gospel, and begin the process of starting a church. It was while he was in the outback he discovered his love for the people there.
John earned the respect of the men by working alongside them. He taught them basic first aid, which gave him a lead-in to presenting the gospel. Soon he was holding church services and starting a Sunday School. His sister, Rosetta, help him. All this gave him a place at Ormund College in Melbourne, but he struggled with his studies and spent more time writing articles about his time in the outback. Now he questioned if he was supposed to be a pastor. Then he received a letter from a woman named Jessie Litchfield who told him about a 500,000 square foot area with only 8,500 people in it. There were no ministers to help the people and drugs and alcohol were a problem. She asked if there was anybody who could come and help. John was convinced he was meant to be that man. He asked Mrs. Litchfield to tell him more about the bush and started studying himself. He discovered two million square miles of Australia was sparsely populated with mostly farms and settlements. John developed a book called The Bushman’s Companion which included first aid instructions, a simple Christian burial service, prayers, and the gospel. John and another man, Rev. Andrew Barber, mailed out books and magazines for the people to pass along to each other.
In 1910 John earned his divinity degree and in January 1911 he was ordained. After that he traveled to Beltana and he went about his parish helping where he could. He also opened up a medical and community center in Oodnadatta. As the need for spiritual and physical assistance became apparent he collaborated with the church to produce the Australian Inland Mission (AIM). Robert Plowman, called Bruce, replaced him at Beltana. John began a magazine called Inlander and pressed for more medical centers in the outback. Distance was the enemy for the people in the bush. The few doctors and nurses were spread out and couldn’t get to the scattered areas quickly, resulting in many dying. A young Aussie named Clifford Peel voiced the idea of using airplanes to fly patients to hospitals and doctors to patients. John loved the idea, but the mission board pointed out the difficulties, among which was money and radios. Back then radios didn’t transmit voices; people used Morse code. Those in the bush would have to learn Morse code to even use the radios, which was no easy task.
These problems didn’t stop John and he enlisted the help of several men to produce a workable radio that would transmit voices. Unfortunately none of their experiments worked and John had to abandon the idea for now. But he got permission from the mission board to experiment with doctors flying out and in 1928 Alf Traeger solved the radio problem. After this major breakthrough John took a furlough and traveled all over the world. Once he came back he continued to get the Aerial Medical Service (AMS) on its feet. Doctors joined AMS and saved many lives because they were able to use the airplanes. One Australian authoress wrote a fictional account of John and his work, which raised awareness about AIM and AMS.
In 1932 John floored everybody and married his secretary, Jean Baird, at the age of fifty-one. Jean continued to be his secretary and he was now superintendent of AIM and head of AMS, now renamed the Australian Aerial Medical Service (AAMS). He continued to pour his heart into the organizations. When Japan attacked Australia during WWII he offered AIM’s resources to help fight back. In 1942 AAMS changed its name to Flying Doctor Service, since that was what most people called it.
In 1951 everyone was shocked when John collapsed and was diagnosed with liver cancer. The cancer was so advanced he died seven days after his diagnosis. Today AIM still operates under the name Frontier Services and the Flying Doctor Service continues, only it’s been renamed the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS). To learn more about the organizations, visit frontierservices.org and flyingdoctor.org.au.