The dream of flight — delivered by prayer

Sanford pastor Todd Bell has relied on the kindness of others to support his Wings with the Word aviation ministry and his mission to “plant” churches around Maine.
The calvary baptist church ministry plane sits in a hangar
Calvary Baptist Church pastor Todd Bell posted this image of his hangar at the Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport on his blog in March 2007. As Bell built the hangar and bought three planes, he would rely on his followers, friends and congregants to fund thousands of dollars to support his Wings with the Word aviation ministry.

Aviation ministry is not cheap.

New and used small craft planes can cost several thousand dollars. Repairs rack up thousands more, and with flights costing roughly $50 an hour in fuel, owning and flying planes is a costly venture.

Two years after he moved from North Carolina to Maine, Pastor Todd Bell prayed to the Lord asking, “if He would allow me to get my pilot’s license and begin to reach out into other towns with the life-changing message of the gospel,” according to his autobiography.

After several months of “receiving peace from the Lord,” Bell started his flight training and fulfilled his childhood passion to fly airplanes.

The first costly step in his aviation ministry was paid for by Tri Town Baptist Church, which Bell founded in 1996. The East Millinocket church, Bell noted, “was very gracious to pay for my private pilot’s license.” 

In the years to follow as Bell built a hangar and bought three planes, he would rely on his followers, friends and congregants to fund thousands of dollars – sometimes asking for as much as $55,000 − to support his Wings with the Word aviation ministry. With the use of airplanes, Bell explained in his blogs, he was able to fly to churches all over the state.

“What a joy it was to begin to reach out to other communities while still being able to pastor the church in the town where I was living. I felt like a circuit-riding preacher, but on a modern ‘horse!’”

The hangar that houses Pastor Bell’s small fleet of planes was built in late 2006 at Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport. This image, taken in December 2006, appears on Bell’s blog.

In 2006, three years after Bell moved to Sanford and founded Calvary Baptist Church, Bell wrote about the airplane hangar that he, his congregants and friends built at the Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport.

“Pray for each of us that God will protect us and also that laborers will join in the effort of finishing this hanger for the Glory of God. I praise the LORD for His bountiful blessings thus far. Please Pray for our Family as we continue to win souls and start churches in the Northeast and Canada.”

In future blog posts over the next 14 years, Bell comments often about his planes, asking followers for money to help save souls in Maine’s rural pockets, where he founded five satellite churches.

In a post at the start of 2008, Bell writes, “The 402 (Cessna) is in the shop with the hopes that the funds will come in to repair it. The truth be known we may have the funds already, but that money is put aside for when the plane goes down to Ohio. The LORD provided it once HE can provide it again. It would be wonderful if we could see the LORD bring somewhere around 3 to 5 thousand. Pray with me about this and I will let you know when it comes.”

On November 11, 2008, Bell shares details about a trip to Chester, Conn. 

“It was about a two-hour flight in the Cessna 150. The RV 8 (plane) that I went and looked at was exciting … Pray with me about God’s will in regards to the 18,500 dollars to purchase it. I will use this plane for our encouragement and mentoring ministry around New England.”

A week later, Bell reminds his ministry to keep his financial needs present in their prayers. 

Pastor Todd Bell posted this poster showing him in front of one of his ministry planes on his Wings of the Word blog.

“Pray much that God would give us the funds to buy an RV 8 (plane) to use in our ministry around the Northeast. I need something fast and economical to get around this region. I thank God for the Cessna 150 but it is slow but hey, it’s better than walking or riding a horse. I’m not complaining, just envisioning something that will help us redeem more time.”

A month later, Bell explains his Cessna is having trouble, and he once again needs prayers and money.

“Now I need a turbo and some work on the plane. Would you pray with me that the money would come in for this???? We have no extra and usually have to raise the money for every part we buy. Thank you for praying for this need.”

In November 2010, Bell wrote about a special gift of $27,000 to help fix his planes, explaining that as he typed his blog his fingers “were in a shouting mood!” 

“We had something very special happen to us yesterday. I received a call from someone who loves our ministry. That someone said in essence that they wanted to see our airplanes back up and running for the Glory of God. The God of Heaven put it on their heart to help us with a gift of 27,000 dollars to pay for both airplanes to be fixed! If this doesn’t make you want to shout!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Amen!!!!!!!!! Glory!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Hot Dog!!!!!!!!!!!!! Whoopee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YiHoooooooo!!!”

Despite the gracious gift, the costs of his aviation ministry continued to trouble Preacher Bell. In December 2010, as the country was just starting to recover from the recession, Bell wrote about transitioning from owning a hangar to leasing a place to store his planes.

“It will save our ministry some 8,000 dollars a year. These are things you have to do when you lose support, but God knows. I have prayed about getting out of this ministry and everything leans toward going forward.

“So during these times of restructuring, your prayers are essential for us. Thank you for your love and help. Oh yeah, if you could please pray that some people would support this ministry financially. It’s hard to take care of three airplanes on around 1,000 dollars a month.” 

A day later, Bell reminds his followers that he needs help to get his fleet “mission ready.”

“I’m trying to get all of our planes mission ready. That’s over $55 thousand for the new engines for the 402. Right now, I would love to put glass cockpits in both airplanes; that’s 15,000 apiece. Right now, I would love to pay off our staff house and not have to be concerned about bills.”

In 2014, Bell upgraded his fleet and bought a 1979 Piper Turbo Lance. On a July morning, he posted about his long-awaited purchase.

“I’m pumped! I can’t wait to see this plane in the air again for the glory of God! I have sought the God of Heaven in where our next church plant will be. I’m so excited to be able to visit all over New England and continue planting churches. I praise God for this long-expected day.”

Bell piloted his beloved planes throughout New England over the next six years to preach, to deliver a sick patient to a hospital and to attend some of his four children’s sports games.   

On a crystal clear August day this summer, Bell flew his wife and himself to Millinocket, where he officiated a wedding that sparked Maine’s largest COVID-19 outbreak, killing eight people and infecting 180 throughout the state.

“Flying out to marry a couple in Northern Maine! #C310 #GeneralAviation,” he posted on his Twitter account.


Barbara A. Walsh

Barbara A. Walsh is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has worked for newspapers in Ireland, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Florida. While working at the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, Walsh reported on first-degree killer William Horton Jr. and Massachusetts’ flawed prison-furlough system. The series changed in-state sentencing and furlough laws and won a 1988 Pulitzer Prize. During her career at the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, Barbara wrote in-depth series on several social issues in Maine. Many of her stories changed laws and earned national, state and regional awards.
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