Aerial Evangelism

History Book
History Book
History Book

In the early part of the twentieth century, the Apostolic Faith Church pioneered the field of aerial evangelism and became known as the first religious organization to use an airplane exclusively for spreading the Gospel.

Raymond Crawford, who piloted the early Apostolic Faith planes, gave this account: “Our first plane, The Sky Pilot, a 3-passenger Curtiss Oriole, was purchased in 1919, and I accepted the responsibility of learning to fly it. Enrolling in the School of Aeronautics, conducted by the Curtiss Southwest Airplane Company at Tulsa, Oklahoma, I spent five months in training. Upon completing the course, I be­came a licensed pilot.

Raymond Crawford’s aviation license.

“In February 1920, the plane was flown homeward to spread the Gospel message in a greater and more distinctive way. This was the first cross-country flight ever made from Tulsa to Oregon. It was still winter, and storms were in the mountain area, but God’s hand protected us in a wondrous way.

The Sky Pilot was used here in the Northwest for distributing literature from the air. Printed announcements, inviting people to the services, accompanied the literature dropped from the plane. Thousands of Gospel messages drifted down through the air to many in various localities. As a result of this method of distribution, letters came into our Portland of­fice from remote areas expressing their gratitude for having received a little Gospel of John or some Apostolic Faith publication from the sky, and through this method, souls were brought into the Gospel.

The first Apostolic Faith airplane comes in for a landing.

“As an itinerant evangelist, I made numbers of evangelistic tours visiting small communities and towns throughout the Northwest, taking other workers with me at times. When the plane would spiral down toward a town and land in a field, people from every quarter would come to investigate. They were always eager to inspect the plane. When a good crowd had gathered, I would give a Gospel message to them right from the cockpit. Much literature would be distrib­uted when these landings were made.

“When The Sky Pilot fulfilled its mission, and restric­tions were made prohibiting the dropping of literature from the air, the plane was sold.

Raymond Crawford obtained his pilot’s license so he could take the Gospel to remote areas. He also used the plane as a pulpit to preach to the crowds who gathered to listen.

“In 1930, about eight years after we had sold The Sky Pilot, another plane was purchased. Its name, The Wings of the Morning, was taken from Psalm 139:9-10. This plane was used to carry loads of printed publications from the Apostolic Faith headquarters to branch churches and in transporting ministers to other cities to fill appointments in various pul­pits.”

Small aircrafts of those days were not dependable, and the few landing fields available were not in proper condition, so this phase of outreach work was discontinued for a number of years, and the organization concentrated on other methods of evangelism. As the years passed, however, the outlook changed. The services of a consecrated airplane pilot and a co-pilot became available and everything pointed favorably toward resuming aerial evangelism. The third aircraft acquired for Gospel work, also named The Wings of the Morning, was purchased in 1960 and proved valuable in transporting ministers and Gospel workers to various evangelistic fields.

Raymond Crawford in the cockpit.

On its initial missionary flight, The Wings of the Morning carried some of the ministers and support staff from Portland to aid in the dedication service of a new branch church in Denver, Colorado. In the spring of 1964, the plane made its first transcontinental evangelistic flight. On that trip, the overseer and a team of workers visited branch churches in the Midwest and on the Atlantic Coast.

Apostolic Faith branch churches were appreciative of the assistance that the use of a Gospel airplane offered them. A system was devised for an occasional weekend exchange of ministers in the pulpits of the branch churches throughout the North­west. This always proved to be a successful stimulus to the work of evangelism in various locations.

Pilot Silas Ashwell and co-pilot Walt Robanske stand by the plane, The Wings of the Morning, just before a flight with Raymond Crawford and his wife, Edna.

Over a period of time, commercial flying became a more cost-effective method of transporting workers, and in the late 1960s, The Wings of the Morning was sold.