Eight people who have influenced me
One big lesson in life I have learned is people see things differently and, rather than get on our high horses and have around us only those we like, agree with and are nice to us, seeing things as we do, we sometimes do better when we recognise people offer different, often valid, perspectives on life and it is less about who is right and wrong etc. but rather adapting our outlook to take into account the differences that do exist and, instead of seeing these as negatives, recognise positive aspects, like broadening our horizons, making us resilient and challenging our own prejudices etc. I say this, not just because it is an important point to add to the growing mix of things to consider that may come our way, but as a prelude to this, my latest blog, that considers those people who have had a significant effect on how I have come to view and live life. I have named eight such persons I have met, and one way or another have had dealings with, who each, on balance, have had a profound positive effect on me, and all who are now dead. There are many more of course, some still alive, for which I thank the Lord, even the more annoying ones.
Roydon Barber was my dad. He was for a lot of his life dependent on alcohol and this was a result of his own insecurities, childhood trauma etc. He had low self-esteem and self-confidence. He was a simple man who was often taken advantage of. He went to sea as a cabin boy, aged 14, and when he left being at sea, tried not too successfully to settle on land. He did various jobs to do with manual labour and was sometimes unemployed. One good memory was after an accident with boiling water he carried me to hospital. Another was being his “barrow boy” when he did various gardening jobs. I remember him as someone who could be loving and kind and, unlike mum, was quick to forgive. He often helped those in need, not expecting a reward, and often he sided with underdog. He died aged 58 in a road accident, and I could not help but wonder what might / should have been. I don’t want to psycho-analyse but the characters of dad and (when I get to her) mum had an effect on my own character and what I made of life, more than I could ever have envisaged when alive and with them.
Violet Barber was my mum. My mum grew up in the East End of London, a true cockney. The years that impacted her greatly, besides the poverty she saw before the War, was the War itself, where she spent much of her time driving army lorries and picking up anecdotes that not long before she died asked if I could include in a book to be titled “How we won the War”. She met dad soon after the War ended, when her family moved down to Southend, meeting my dad at a dance, resulting in me and my sister. My dad’s drinking etc. meant their marriage was not easy but they remained together. She did her best to provide a loving home. My mum’s prejudice, antipathy toward those she did not approve of and quick temper, were features of her character. As far as me and my sister were concerned, she was loyal and supportive; the welfare of family and friends were her priority. In later life she developed Alzheimer’s disease and ended up in a nursing home, dying in her nineties.
Doris Rafan was my Sunday School teacher. I grew up on one of the council estates built soon after the War. Miss Rafan and her team of spinster ladies decided to establish a Sunday School based at our local school. It said something for her character that she saw the need to reach out to these unchurched council estate kids and the tenacity to carry on her work. Me and my sister were sent along to her Sunday School, whether we liked it or not (and my parents weren’t even that religious), and we became regular attenders, and enjoyed events like annual Christmas parties and Sunday School outings. Miss Rafan was a headmistress nearing retirement, who lived alone. She was a formidable lady with a sharp mind and the talk to go with it, as well as a heart of gold. She loved God and knew and loved the Bible, who saw support of missionaries as a priority. This came across in the lessons she taught us. My own present love for God, the Bible and mission owes much to Miss Rafan.
Tom Eastwell was one of my teachers. He was my form master in Year 6 of Junior School. Many have been influenced by an inspirational teacher, and while my many teachers ranged from very good to mediocre, it was Mr Eastwell who inspired me most, even if his reign of terror included inflicting corporal punishment on miscreant boys, including me. I recall him as a strong and formidable character and when I later came to learn he was Left Wing in his political views, and antipathetic in his religious ones, it came as no surprise. While his speciality was PE and English, he was adept at tackling everything in the curriculum as well as outside it. What I liked about Mr Eastwell was that, notwithstanding my going on to obtain three degrees, my experience under his tutorship was the highlight of my own educational experience, in that he encouraged his charges to explore the world at large and understand it better, giving them free reign and the tools to do so.
Bryn Jones was my Covenanter (Christian youth club) leader. He was an army sergeant during the War and came to Southend to settle, where he met his wife. I recall him as sporty and musical and somewhat legalistic until he was zapped by the Spirit. Around aged 13 or 14, it was a friend at school who encouraged me to join the Covenanters, which he led. The typical activities included a regular weekday games night and a Sunday morning Bible class with other activities (secular and spiritual) thrown in, including a summer camp, which is where I became a Christian, aged 15. As I recall, I gave Mr Jones and his assistant a hard time and those around him advised that he permanently exclude me, along with my partner in crime. Thankfully, he did not follow this advice, believing there to be potential in this trouble maker. He died relatively young, of cancer, but on the few occasions we were to meet prior to then he invariably sought to encourage me, for which I am ever grateful.
Winston Chilcraft was a preacher who majored on the prophets. One early memory as a newly converted Christian was attending the mid-week Bible reading at the church I was to be part of for many years until it closed a few years ago. I recall the occasion as somewhat stuffy, where the men wore suits and the women hats. The preacher that evening was brother Winston, who reminded me of a slightly unkempt mad professor, who knew his stuff. His subject was the prophet Elijah and Naboth’s vineyard. I was to meet him on a number of occasions after, when I invariably found him gracious, warm and encouraging and interesting. While he could be scathing in his criticisms of the church, it was hard to disagree. In later years, he and his wife joined the church he had preached at and where I was now one of its elders. Winston was not afraid to ruffle feathers and took it as a badge of honour that he had been sacked by a number of churches he had preached at, by upsetting the elders’ wives by his teaching. His love of the prophets, and in his own way he was a prophet even though he did not make the claim for himself, was what inspired me to write Prophets of the Bible.
Alex Buchanan was a preacher who was also a prophet. My own Brethren tradition was not much into modern day prophets but Alex, who was from the Brethren, was recognised as a prophet as well as preacher. I recall meeting him in my late teens and early twenties, as being part of the emerging charismatic movement, which my own church warned me against. He was not one of those know-all types, which put me off in later years, but he was humble and kind. I remember him preaching from the Song of Solomon: my beloved is white and ruddy, and while I enjoyed his exegesis, combining uncompromising forthrightness and gentle winsomeness, it was the fact that he prophesied that was a new experience for me, including on one occasion to me personally, coming at a particularly low ebb in my own Christian experience, which many years later I begin to see the fulfillment of.
Varghese Mathai was an evangelist, who was also my father-in-law. I recall meeting him in 1983 when I literally bumped into him during my first visit to India, when my idea was to travel across this great country, especially the interior places, and to do so as a backpacker. He took me under his wing and afforded me hospitality in his humble home in what seemed to me the middle of nowhere, and he mentored me when it came to preaching and teaching activities. He was a poor man who gave what he had to helping others. He was known to be somewhat eccentric and a bit of a loose cannon, although respectful of others, especially Christians in his own Brethren tribe. He loved the Lord, his family; was faithful in his endeavours; a man of prayer and faith and prolific when it came to ministering the gospel and visiting people. I found he was loved and respected by many, high and low, although sometimes looked down on because of his simple, trusting nature. I later married his eldest daughter. I will be ever grateful he believed in me when others didn’t, including myself.