John Flynn, 1880-1951, Source: Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS)
In the little country town of Moliagul, Victoria, in November 1880 was born to the school teacher and his wife, John Flynn, their third child. John grew up in a home where Christ was loved and served. His father was a Methodist lay-preacher and trained the children to seek the Lord God of their father. In his teen years he came to know Christ personally and felt the call to full time service.
I will be 21 this day fortnight, and have been thinking that I should give you my thoughts concerning the future. It is four or five years since I first got the idea of becoming a minister. Since then of course my views have changed considerably, but the more I think the more I see the grandeur and beauty of Christianity, and the hollowness of human life considered as complete in itself.
If Jesus of Narareth be indeed the Son of Almighty God; if He was in reality 'God with us' showing us the Father; if it is a fact that we only sojourn on this earth for a while, and then appear before the Creator of the universe; if it really be true that the Power who made us desires us to live in constant communion with Him, well, why are these truths not more responded to than they are? If it is true that Jesus is God's Son, and that through Him 'whosoever-will' may approach the Father himself, what more honourable calling can a man follow than getting his fellows to realize this fact: and act upon it?"
Thus, at the start of his manhood, John Flynn committed himself to the path he believed the Lord had led him so plainly into. From the death of his brother earlier, John Flynn had wanted to serve as a minister of Christ in the Presbyterian Church, of which he was an active member. His early training prepared him for what was later to be his life's work, and it was in that sphere he gave all his heart and strength... the opening up of Inland Australia to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
During travels all over Victoria, in country towns and farming communities he was urged to gather little children for Bible studies, Sunday School and quiet talks about the Saviour. At farm gates, in harvest fields and around the fire he would speak to men and women of their soul's need. Back in the city he commenced a Young Men's Bible Class at Footscray.
In 1903 he became a Home Missionary, the compulsion to serve God not being able to deny. The hand of the Lord was upon him and his church sent him out, seeing already the fruit from his ministry. Flynn laboured eighteen months in the Otways, caring for the spiritual needs of the loggers and woodsmen and their families. These were pioneers, often rough bush folk, moving from camp to camp, but they were souls for whom Christ died and Flynn was given as their shepherd. From cottage to cottage, in public halls and in their forests he sought them. His first aid knowledge was often the only doctoring available. John Flynn was never a man of tight purse, believing that where needs were found, the Christian should provide as able. His quiet friendly ways and skill in practical areas won him the love of many in those early days of settlement.
During his Bible College training at Ormond College, Flynn was a Home Missionary in an inner city suburb of Melbourne. He was not a good student of Greek or Hebrew, but was good at gathering dozens of slum children under the sound of the gospel and providing them with healthy activities and Sunday School. His studies at college were only a means to an end; his heart responded to the call to the harvest field, already over-ripe.
Shearer's missions were conducted in 1909-1910 throughout Victoria, where he travelled from shed to shed, preaching, yarning, counselling - a man's man who was direct with God's word and able to be a "mate" to those who needed one. At this time his journalistic abilities were used to produce the "Bushman's Companion"; the answer to a need for a combination of Scripture portions, funeral service, children's service, hymns, prayers, first aid and other helpful selections for bush dwellers. This little volume went all over the Inland, where no minister ever was seen, or church had been built. During the second Shearers' Mission he was able to distribute two thousand "Bushman's Companions".
By 1912 he had envisioned and set up the Australian Inland Mission - a start of a network of travelling bush padres - moving up and down the Inland by camel, horse, buggy and train, going into the Never-Never with the gospel.
"Can we allow our most valuable pioneers to toil on without inspiration or cheer from the church?" he said to the Presbyterian Federal Assembly. "Is not our simple and almost severe expression of Faith peculiarly fitted to appeal to silent men of the uttermost bush?"
Early men who served under Flynn's mission were true pioneers themselves. Covering an area each as large as Great Britain, and containing only a few hundred souls, these servants of Christ took the love of God and the Bible to many... pastoralists, boundary riders, well-sinkers, station hands, natives, stockmen, miners, railway workers, pub owners and swaggies. Here they found congregations needing preaching, literature, friendship, nursing, doctoring, baptism, marriage and sadly also sometimes burial. Loaded up with everything imaginable (portable organ, Bibles, hymn books, tracts, medicine, food and clothing) the missionaries crossed desert, gibber, flood plains and rivers. Flynn himself knew some parts of the outback so well that he could direct others in the dark.
Congregations of only seven or eight did not discourage him and he had his eyes not on numerical growth, but a mission fulfilled for God and his fellow Australians. Ignorance of spiritual things was so great that Easter and Christmas had not been heard of in many places, and some adults had not in their life-time seen a church or minister. His object was to put the reality of spiritual existence directly before the men of these regions. In 1912 he opened the first A.I.M. hospital at Oodnadatta with these words,
"In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, the great Healer and Redeemer of men... I trust every person entering this medical home will go out cured of his infirmity and blessed in soul as well as body."
Soon John Flynn saw these hospitals dotted all over the continent as the years passed; manned by women, trained Christian nurses of whom he wrote, "Some of God's best women... devoted women to take up Christ's work."
These nursing homes became bases for the circuiting padres and were seen by the Inlanders as visible Christian concern for them.
For over forty years John Flynn served the folk of the outback through the Australian Inland Mission. He counselled those who wished to minister in that field also - "My own belief is that no man is sufficient for any task handed out to him, but that if he faces the task, the Great Father, day by day, supplies all rations as they become necessary."
Flynn was gifted as a leader, a preacher, a writer, a handyman, a mechanic and most of all, with the heart of a shepherd for the dwellers of Inland Australia. He loved his missionary labourers and one padre wrote of Flynn the Superintendent,
"(He) was praying for the A.I.M. family and he proudly and humbly laid them all at the Throne."
John Flynn's work had grown far beyond its small beginnings, when he was a travelling preacher. He became Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, founded the Royal Flying Doctor Service, commenced Old Timer's Homes, Missions, Hospitals, published magazines, edited others, wrote books, and administrated the A.I.M. His spiritual leadership, interviewing new candidates, encouraging those on the field, and answering correspondence, was phenomenal. He covered hundreds of thousands of miles on bush patrol, but his greatest achievement and the strength for it is found in his motto "For Christ and the Continent."
Robin James homeschools her children and resides in Cairns, Queensland. Researching the Christian heritage of Australia's history has been an interest for many years and Robin is presently working on a primary school level Australia in Christian Perspective curriculum for teaching social studies.
View the Bushman's Companion by Rev. John Flynn (founder of the Flying Doctors). The first aid and medical advice is outdated but makes for an interesting read.