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John Flynn: Founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service

In the 1950s, former Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies said that the Royal Flying Doctor Service was ‘perhaps the single greatest contribution to the effective settlement of the far distant country we have witnessed in our time’.

What wonderful praise for the person who started it all: the Reverend John Flynn.

John Flynn’s parents, Thomas and Rosetta Flynn, were godly people who brought their children up to know Jesus. But John was only two years of age when tragedy struck: his mother died, and very difficult times followed. John was mainly looked after by relatives. However, the difficult circumstances of his childhood did not stop him from caring about the wellbeing of others as he grew up.

In his teens, John made a decision to become a follower of Jesus.

In 1901, John wrote in a letter to his father:

I’ll be 21 in a fortnight and have been thinking that I should give you my thoughts concerning the future – the more I think and the more I see the grandeur and beauty of Christianity and the hollowness of human life considered as complete in itself … if Jesus of Nazareth is 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 … what more honourable calling can a man follow than getting his [fellow human beings] to realise this fact and act upon it?

John decided to travel to remote parts of outback Australia to tell the white settlers and the indigenous people who lived there all these things about Jesus. He headed up a new organisation, the Australian Inland Mission (AIM), which aimed to teach people about the Bible and provide them with practical support. 

The first AIM medical home was established at Oodnadatta in 1912 due to a very generous gift from a friend. This was opened by the Reverend Robert Mitchell with the words, ‘In the Name of Jesus of Nazareth the Great Healer and Redeemer of men, I trust that every person entering this medical home will go out cured of infirmity and blessed in soul as well as body.’

John Flynn cared deeply about people’s spiritual wellbeing as well as their physical wellbeing. And when a young airman, Lieutenant Clifford Peel, wrote to him in 1917 to share his idea about taking medical services into remote areas by aeroplane, John Flynn was inspired. 

Flynn spent over ten years sharing his vision and raising support for an aerial medical service, and in 1928, the Aerial Medical Service (later to be called the Royal Flying Doctor Service) was born.

In public recognition of the work of John Flynn – sometimes called ‘Flynn of the Inland’ – his picture has been printed on the Australian twenty dollar note since 1994. This is well-deserved recognition for a man who was motivated to show the love of Jesus by caring for everyone he met.

Written by Graham McDonald.

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