Since it is my birthday it is natural that I should indulge in my experiences over my 90 years. You know my name but not my other name, the one I was given when I went to work in South Africa!
I was referred to as Rra Paul. When I asked the reason I was told that it was the custom in Botswana for a man not to be named in this way until he had a son and the son was named. I pursued the matter and asked what the reason was. What I was told was an eye-opener. ‘We refer to the father in this way because we know the father through the son!’ I thought immediately of what the gospel of John tells us that Jesus said of himself. “He who has seen me has seen the father.” So I was called Rra Paul, father of Paul.
But to get on with my life story.
It might very well have been that I am not here, alive and with you today. As a young teenager I did a very foolhardy thing one very cold winter. I ventured to walk across the frozen lake near my home. I cannot bear thinking about it.
Following the example of my parents my brother and I regularly attended church in Ballynahinch. I remain grateful for the basics I learned, especially what I learned from the Shorter Catechism – that our goal in life is to worship God and enjoy him forever.
I vaguely remember the war. We carried our gas masks to school and draped dark material on our windows. I can recall the German bombers attempting to knock out the shipyards in Belfast .
My secondary education was delayed because I did not fancy all the travelling to the high school. I made up for this in due course, especially when I made it to Oxford. For a time I worked as an apprentice in a well established hardware and furniture firm in my home town of Ballynahinch. This helped me gain ease and confidence when relating to people.
What was to affect the whole future of my life took place in my 18th year, when I had an evangelical religious experience. Worship of God became more personal and meaningful. It led in due course to my entering theological college in 1951 in Nottingham.
Midway through my four years in Nottingham I got to know Myrtle Skelly. You know what that led to!
I was successful in my studies in Nottingham and was awarded a scholarship to the USA by the World Council of Churches and also a scholarship to Mansfield College in Oxford. My year in America was a great experience, not least hitch-hiking right across the States. Strange as it may seem, it was in the States that I felt the call to work as a missionary in Southern Africa. But first I spent two and a half years at Oxford on my doctorate.
It was from Oxford that Myrtle and I and our 3 month old son John Paul set out for South Africa to work in Adams United College. I was somewhat uncertain about going to South Africa. Apartheid affected everything. At the college we could not have white students. But changes were on the way. The advent of Black Consciousness (SASO) and the determination of Black students to change things led eventually to the overthrow of apartheid.
There was plenty to keep me occupied with the planning of ecumenical Federal Theological Seminary. Sadly its proximity to the racially segregated University of FortHare caused us a lot of trouble.
I was also involved setting up Theological Education by Extension. This made home study and regional tutorials widely available. It reduced the cost of training ministers considerably. TEE has grown and now has somewhat over 2000 students throughout the whole of southern Africa.
Very sadly I no longer have Myrtle, but I am very fortunate in having my two families close at hand. I rejoice in my good health. My lengthy retirement has enabled me to write a couple of books.
I am thankful for God’s presence and help over ninety years.