The Shout from God
Rune and Maria Karlsson were called to the mission field with a loud, crystal-clear shout from God that could not be ignored. It wasn’t a call to just any mission doing any work. God said to go with Mission Aviation Fellowship. It was hard to say no.
The Swedish couple married at age 18. Rune started a sawmill business; they purchased a house and renovated it; and they bought a sofa—an expensive, leather Chesterfield sofa from England that they loved.
One evening, Rune was at a campground with 30 other young people singing and giving testimonies for God. At the end of the program, a missionary woman Rune had never met made her way through the crowd to stand directly in front of him. Poking her finger into his chest she said, “You are going to be a missionary pilot”. She continued, saying she had been flying with MAF for many years, “and that’s what you’re going to do”.
Rune wanted to be a pilot when he was a boy, and as a teenager found the stories of a Swedish missionary pilot who died flying in Africa particularly fascinating, but those thoughts had long since moved to the back of his mind. Now this stranger had her finger on his chest telling him he was to be a missionary pilot. Even 30 years later, Rune knows without a doubt that God spoke to him directly that night.
Selling the Sofa
When Rune informed Maria that they were to be missionaries, she was upset.
“I told God, ‘If you don’t speak to me, I’m not going. I can’t go on his call. You need to call me too.’ I was very upset at God that he spoke to Rune first and not to me.” Maria bursts into laughter at the memory. They owned a house with a view of a lake where she planned to raise their children. If this was God’s plan, why couldn’t He have told them before they renovated the house and bought that expensive sofa? “I said to God, I will not sell the house before you speak to me.”
Soon after, Maria attended a one-month Bible School program in Stockholm where a well-known preacher whom she had never met prophesied directly to her, using her name.
She remembers clearly what he said. “Maria, you will go out and serve me in different countries and share the Gospel like Luke 4 to set the people free in the name of Jesus, and share the joy of the Lord to the people, and your husband will fly. I have mentioned you by name so you know that what I say is for you. Your name is Maria and your husband’s name is Rune.”
“She was completely convinced,” Rune says. “Completely.”
They sold everything: the house, the business and, reluctantly, their beautiful leather sofa. With the money, they went to America for Rune to get his multi-engine commercial IFR, and completed it debt-free.
The next 30 Years
From this extraordinary beginning, the Karlsson’s life serving with MAF took them to Papua New Guinea (PNG) from 1988 to 1993, the best and most challenging flying in the world, according to Rune who always flew the maximum hours allowed and loved the work.
During their time in Papua New Guinea, widespread tribal fighting and violence in the towns often affected MAF and the missionaries personally, but they felt God’s protection over them on many occasions. Rune describes one incident where his rudimentary peace-making skills at a remote airstrip paid off when he offered to fly one side of two warring tribes back to their home to end the fighting.
On another occasion, 15 angry men held knives to the throats of Maria and her daughters, threatening to kill them. “They asked if I was Christian,” Maria says. “I always shared the gospel wherever I went. They said “We hate you, we hate white skin”. I told them, “You can cut me to pieces, but I’m going to heaven”, and the men ran away.
In 1994, Rune and the family moved to Bangladesh along with a Swedish engineer to open the new program and remained until 2001 when they moved back to Sweden for their eldest daughter’s schooling. Rune continued flying with MAF as a relief pilot as well as disaster relief in Aceh, Indonesia following the December 2004 devastating tsunami.
For Rune, the work in Aceh was meaningful on many levels, from the close fellowship with other MAF pilots to the genuine gratitude of the people.
After the tsunami, “Everything was wiped out. We lived in tents. The airport manager’s house was mostly destroyed—no walls, only the roof. There were seven to eight pilots plus people who coordinated. We had only rice and fish. No shower, just a bucket outside a well. We flew from the time the sun came up to when it went down. I landed in open sea, up and down the coast all day. In the evening we shared and talked under the stars in darkness near the sea. It was a very simple life but still my best time in MAF. The people were so thankful. They would say, “You’re Christian. We’re Muslim, and you’re coming to help us. Why?”
Rune continued working off and on in Aceh for three years and part-time in Bangladesh. In 2014, with their daughters now adults, the couple moved back to Bangladesh full time.
During the years in Sweden, Maria continued to work with Muslims but after much prayer, she felt God saying it was time to return to Bangladesh. The last two years, Maria has worked with a Bangladeshi pastor to open a small school in one of Dhaka’s slums, a tremendously meaningful experience for her.
Looking Back and Forward
God called both Rune and Maria to be missionaries, making it clear from the beginning that each had a role to play in God’s plan for their lives, including now as they move back to their native country.
“For me, to be a missionary is a lifestyle,” Maria reflects. “My first calling is to share the gospel, in Sweden or Bangladesh, wherever I am. That’s what makes me happy. They’ve been really wonderful years with MAF.”
Rune is looking forward to spending time with his children and grandchildren and is still on the MAF Disaster Response list.
“My 30 years with MAF have been fantastic. I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Rune says.