For 26 years Mac McConnell took the stage at the Fort Lauderdale Christmas Pageant, starring as it’s narrator and a host of biblical characters. The award-winning Christian actor also presents one-man dramas that bring to life beloved characters such as Simon Peter and Nicodemus. But most are unaware that behind the scenes, McConnell plays the role of an angel, flying patients across the state in his private plane so they can receive treatment for life threatening ailments as a volunteer pilot with the Angel Flight program.
An army veteran, McConnell has been a pilot for more than 30 years and once set a world speed record for his flight over a designated course. He first became interested in flying through his hobby of radio-controlled airplanes. An offer in an RC Magazine promising to solo pilot for only $800 caught his eye, and “the next thing I knew I was in the air,” he said.
Angel Flight Pilot
McConnell was introduced to Angel Flights at the “Sun N Fun” Lakeland Aircraft Convention about four years ago. A world-wide organization, Angel flights are specifically for patients who need transportation for treatment who would not be able to afford flying, or the drive would not be appropriate for them and their medical condition after treatment. In South Florida, a lot of cancer patients are going to Tampa to the Moffitt Cancer Center, some to Gainesville and others to St. Petersburg for treatments, analysis or maintenance.
With the required commercial multi-engine instrument pilot rating in hand and having survived his own battle with throat cancer in 2016, McConnell was immediately drawn to the Angel Flight program.“ One of the things I love to tell the patients that I’m flying is, ‘by the way, your pilot is a cancer survivor,’ so we have a nice connection and it seems to put them more at ease, particularly if it’s their first flight. It’s part of my passion and motivation; I’m a cancer survivor, and I love to fly, so it’s a win, win.”
McConnell admits, “Having throat cancer, of all things, as a performer on stage for over 25 years was pretty scary. Fortunately, it was very treatable.” Enduring 39 episodes of radiation over about six months, McConnell lost his voice and about 35 pounds.
“It was pretty difficult for me and my wife for a while before it started to heal. My wife, Linda, was my amazing caregiver through all of that time and today I am cancer free!”
Thankfully McConnell had many people praying for him. “I got cards from hundreds of churches that I had performed at, choir members and fellow performers. It was a positive experience where God showed up time and again,” he said.
An entrepreneur at heart, McConnell had originally expanded a modest picture framing studio into three art galleries, won Small Business of the Year, and was featured in Inc Magazine, and Décor magazine for his innovative management. But he sold it all to go into full-time ministry in 1994, writing and performing hundreds of one-man dramas and church plays for outreach and evangelism throughout the US and the Middle East.
“Many people ask, ‘Have you always been into theater or drama?’ My answer is ‘No, it was a fluke.’ But, after 25 years, over 1,000 performances, in 7 countries to some half a million folks, seeing scores of salvations, it must be much more than a fluke!” says McConnell.
The Fort Lauderdale Christmas Pageant
McConnell credits the Fort Lauderdale Christmas Pageant with the true beginnings of this undeniable desire to present Biblical truths through drama.
“The Fort Lauderdale Christmas Pageant changed my life and touched a lot of people,” said McConnell. A Fort Lauderdale mainstay for 36 years, the Emmy Award Winning Christmas Pageant presented completely by church members at First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale, was seen by more than 1.2 million attendees before its final curtain call in 2019.
“The pageant cast and crew were a tight knit group of people who looked forward to it every year. It was a gift to the city,” said McConnell.
Larry Thompson, former lead pastor of First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale, worked with McConnell in the pageant for 22 of those years before Thompson stepped down from the pulpit in 2016.
“I love Mac. I think he’s one of the finest men of God I’ve ever known and it’s not just his acting ability, I respect Mac a lot,” said Thompson. “I went to college on a full scholarship in theater, so I really loved watching him work, but it’s not just that. He is constantly looking for an opportunity to make Christ known. He’s very bold.”
McConnell travelled with the church to Israel and performed in biblical costume on location in the Holy Land. “He made it so interesting because people would see a character right there where they had lived and the work he had done. People loved it. He was also one of our deacons at First Baptist and he’s very wise.”
While there are other biblical performers, Thompson said, “of the people I know, I don’t know anyone who can hold a candle to Mac. It’s not just his acting ability; I think it’s his passion for his faith and a passion to really tell the story so that people who are there can see not only the person he’s impersonating, but also get the message.”
A faith ministry
While COVID has limited large performances in recent years, McConnell was invited during the Christmas season by Pastor Tom Hunter of First Baptist Church of Plantation, to perform his one-man play “From the Cradle to the Cross” featuring Mac in the role of Simon Peter. He also performed in the Coral Ridge Christmas Spectacular.
Offering his services through his website, www.bibleactor.com, McConnell operates a faith ministry providing most performances on an “As the Lord leads” basis to churches and other organizations, plus travel expense as necessary.
“If the phone rings, I’ll say yes, and if it doesn’t it’s ok. But I’m glad to have angel flights because I am a man of ministry,” said McConnell.
All angel flight pilots are volunteers and cover all their own expenses, providing their own gas, airplane, and maintenance. It’s all a donation from the pilot, and McConnell has flown about 10 -12 Angel Flights per year for the past four years.
“But for me It’s a gift. It’s a delight!” McConnell said, explaining “sometimes my wife or friends will go with me.”
He has become friends with several of the patients, but one in particular stood out in his memory. “There was a gentleman from London who had been given a death sentence of four months to live and he had a new child and family. He was just charming, but what struck me was he didn’t accept that and was seeking whatever treatments options were available. It struck me just how determined and unafraid he was.”
In those moments, McConnell is often able to speak of his faith. “I tell them I’m a man of faith and offer to pray for them, which is typically well-received. Sometimes they’re just quiet and you can’t tell and sometimes they say amen. I definitely consider it a ministry.”
And as the patients step up onto the wing to board his Cirrus SR20 four-seat airplane for the Angel Flight that will take them to treatment, they often notice the sticker on his window that displays www.BibleActor.com.
For more articles by Shelly Pond, visit https://www.goodnewsfl.org/author/shelly/