Tree Tops Lodge: a fellowship forged in the skies

By Deb Fox | Wycliffe Today Spring 2022 |

On 27 August, a small gathering took place to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Tree Tops Lodge in Cairns. Tree Tops was opened in 1992 as a joint venture between Wycliffe Australia and Mission Aviation Fellowship Australia (MAF). The two organisations purchased an old motel in the tropical rainforest setting of Cairns, Queensland. Over the years, a great deal of work has gone into renovating the property into a peaceful oasis. 

As current managers Mike and Shelley Nankivell explain: 

Tree Tops provides critical support for cross-cultural workers and their families serving in the South Pacific. The underlying reason we are here is to bless them with a safe, relaxing place to stay when they need it. We want to make our guests feel special. It’s affordable accommodation but it’s nice. This is a place of peace. People know they can come here and just be themselves. 

The Tree Tops workers, volunteers and Board include a mix of Wycliffe and MAF members. Yet the partnership between the two organisations on a global level actually goes all the way back to 1946. The relationship was forged in the skies with MAF’s inaugural missions flight. The pilot was Elizabeth (Betty) Greene who had trained in aviation during World War II with the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) team. Betty’s flight was from Los Angeles, California to Mexico City, taking Wycliffe/SIL workers Ethel Lambotte and Lois Schneider to join a translation team in a remote region. Betty then met with Wycliffe founder Cameron Townsend, flying him to ‘Jungle Camp’ in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico. 

This long history of partnership is something that excites MAF Australia’s Finance Manager, Kelvin Maistry. For the past two years, Kelvin has also been serving on the Tree Tops Board as Treasurer. He spent years in corporate finance roles but felt led by God to focus on kingdom work and says it has ‘been a real joy to be a part of what God is doing through MAF and its partners’. Kelvin goes on to explain the importance of organisations supporting one another:

1 Corinthians 12:12 tells us that though we are many, we are one in Christ. We are all parts of the body of Christ working together and complementing each other to go into all the world, preach the gospel, and make disciples of all nations. SIL International and Wycliffe Bible Translators work together to equip field personnel with necessary skills in linguistics and supporting locals to translate God’s Word into their own tongues. MAF provides a logistics solution that enables organisations to achieve their mission in what are often otherwise unreachable communities where they are called to serve. We are blessed to work in partnership to bring the story of Jesus’ redemption to people of all languages, in the languages they can understand and identify with. 

Tree Tops Lodge is available to the Christian community and, when available, to the general public.

For more information about Tree Tops, go to

Addendum: In November 2022, at the request of MAF Australia, Wycliffe Australia became the sole owner of Tree Tops Lodge. Although it is no longer under a joint ownership, Tree Tops continues to serve the mission community, including MAF and many other organisations ministering in the South Pacific.

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