My Story

Germany invaded Poland 1st September 1939, Australia entered World War II on 3rd September 1939, I was born on 11 September 1939, my father enlisted in the RAAF and I saw very little of him until 1945.

My mother would never discuss anything religious. She said her beliefs were summarised by saying, “hoe your own row then help your neighbour” and that ended the conversation on that topic.

My Father never had anything to say about religion. When he went into a church for a wedding, baptism or funeral etc. he was always keen to get out again.  It seemed as if being in a church building frightened him.

I was sent to Sunday school for a few Sundays. This was held in the local Anglican Church, All Saints Oatley West, a dark brick building which was uncomfortable and mystifying.

The Sunday school was run by Mrs Propsting and her daughter, Alice.  Alice was very nice but Mrs Propsting was short and wide, always wore black and walked with a stick which she banged on the floor.  It was a frightening experience so I rebelled, my parents didn’t care so I ended my religious education early.

Somehow I managed to do well enough in the Leaving Certificate and I was offered a Commonwealth Scholarship and a Teachers Scholarship.  I took the latter because I wanted to be a maths teacher and because it had an allowance included.

Once I qualified in Physics and Maths for a Bachelor of Science degree at Sydney University I spent a year at Teachers College. God had arranged for Ron, an atheist and David, a born again Christian to have an ongoing discussion at lunch times so I learned the essentials of the Christian gospel and arguments for and against. Christianity is a reasonable hypothesis at least. I took what I thought was a scientific approach and conducted an experiment: I would try being a Christian and see if it worked.

A lecture on Romans 12:1-2 made this tricky because you can’t take a trivial experiment with God.  He requires total, unreserved commitment with no strings attached. My experiment had neither failed nor succeeded, so I pressed on.  This included visiting  a different church each Sunday because I thought Christians went to church. After each service when I told the minister I was trying to find which church God wanted me to go to he shook my hand and wished me well in my search. Until one day, at St Pauls in Oatley East I met a minister who was excited to meet a new Christian and urged me to come back to the evening service. 

I was wondering which church to go to and God used this man to tell me where that was.

I also thought Christians read the Bible so I bought a pocket version and started reading it. I have no idea why I started with the book called Ephesians but for me it couldn’t have been a better place to start. I am sure God led me there.

As I read it I found myself thrilled as I understood the marvellous sacrifice of Christ. The power and grace of his Holy Spirit was explained and became a reality in my life. I read and re-read the book.

There were amazing passages like this:  

How could I not be thrilled and caught up in wonder and exhilaration knowing that “God had raised me up with Christ and seated me with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus”! It’s all signed, sealed, guaranteed!

And it seemed this prayer written by the apostle Paul years ago was being answered in my own life:

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith

I was teaching at James Cook Boys High School in the Sydney suburb of Kogarah and just across the highway was St George Hospital. The church was having a weekend house party on the same day as the school fete with which I was involved so when that finished on Saturday perhaps I could give a lift to Elizabeth Derwent because she was finishing her shift as a student nurse at the same time. I happily gave her quite a few lifts after that.

I have never been able to think that my turning up at the same church as Elizabeth and a subsequent series of happenings leading to our marriage as being purely circumstantial. God meant it to be and so he arranged it.

We bought our first home, a little fibro cottage in Grays Point. As it turned out there was a small branch church formed by people converted at the Billy Graham Crusade. We couldn’t have found ourselves in a more loving, supportive and encouraging group of friends.

Because I had started an ISCF group at my school I had become involved in Scripture Union activities, including visiting churches around Sydney for conferences encouraging people to use the SU method of Bible reading and also speaking in churches on behalf of Scripture Union, seeking to encourage regular Bible reading. We still use the Scripture Union notes, Encounter With God, each day for our Bible reading.

In those days there were Sunday schools with Sunday school Anniversaries which required speakers. The most popular speakers were Owen Shelley and Keith Thompson, who was a member of our little church.  Keith encouraged me to have a go at sketch talks which I did regularly in our church and became the reserve speaker for Sunday school and education week events. In all this God was teaching me and it was necessary for me to learn a lot.

I was even asked to be the speaker at youth house parties and one still leaves me amazed.  Life had become exhausting with the commitments we now had - including spending Saturdays and some evenings studying for a Master’s degree in Physics - and we had three preschool boys. When I gave the first talk on Friday evening on the subject “for all have sinned and fall short of the standard of God” I was running on automatic, in a daze and was glad to get to bed. All very ordinary.

As I collapsed into bed the group leader was banging on my door. Young people were in tears all through the campsite, broken before God in repentance.  What was to be done? Should we get together for another meeting? I was too tired to do anything so said we should all go to bed.  If this was a real work of the Holy Spirit it would still be real in the morning. It was. God’s Holy Spirit is very real and wonderfully moved through the people, convicting them and revealing Jesus to them.  The weekend was a wonderful time despite me and God showed his love and power as he wished — I was more of a dazed observer.

Each year there was an ISCF Leadership Conference. Over the years I took part in these first as a team member then leader, chairman and Bible speaker.  For some years Elizabeth was the registrar. God gave us the privilege of working with up to 500 young Christian leaders. They can be so encouraging!

In the meantime the esteem in which teachers were held in the community was being damaged by the media and politicians. Interest rates on mortgages were going up; 11, 13, 18% but when teachers asked for a raise they were told that teaching, like nursing, is a vocation you are called to so you should do it for love, not money. There was the first ever teachers strike. I came to the conclusion the NSW department of education was the least loyal employer you could find. I wondered if teaching in the ACT would be better, applied for secondment there and we moved to Canberra.

At first it was so relaxed and a lovely change but it didn’t last.

At first we walked down to the local church on Sundays and were mystified by the practices of a high Anglican Church. The priest called in one afternoon so we sat down for afternoon tea. He explained that someone - I still don’t know who - had written to the bishop commending me for ministry and the letter had been passed to him. He wanted me to know that he was the only one who had ministry in his church and said that he thought we would be happier going to another church.

We took his advice and began meeting with a house church group which was a real blessing. We are still in touch with and pray for some of those lovely people. 

I was referred to the local SU committee and became part of it. 

This was the time of the Jesus Revolution and Jesus Counterculture. We joined a huge crowd surrounding old Parliament House to pray for our government. There was an outreach coffee shop. We seldom went to the coffee shop but we became part of the team who ran it, acting as something of a sounding board. We were radical, man!

We took part in a Christian encounter group for many months which probed deeply into our personal spiritual lives in quite traumatic ways. God used that to take us deeper into Jesus and to learn to relate and respond to others who had serious issues to deal with; to love those who are different and even difficult.

There were many young people away from home for the first time to attend university or college and others who found us through the coffee shop. Whitlam had made tertiary education free. Some of them looked for a family for support and now our daughter was born, we were a family with four children. As many as 125 people went in and out of our front door in a week  

Fortunately only two attempted suicide on our front porch. 

Sometimes you find yourself wondering, why is this happening to me? I didn’t ask for this! Although it seems everything is spinning out of control when you get a chance to stand back and have a look you see God was in control and doing what he wanted.

I had been assigned to a new school with a principal who was about to retire and wanted to run a permissive school, a school with no rules.  If you don’t have rules nobody can break them so it should be more peaceful and civilised. It even worked! 

CS Lewis in his book, “Mere Christianity” explains the biblical truth that despite ourselves there is an innate sense of morality built into human nature.  There were no rules but somehow we knew what they were and followed them. When problems arose they could be talked through and things sorted out.

However, once again we were overloaded and needed to break away. I decided not to join the ACT teaching service but return to NSW at the end of my secondment. We sold our Sydney home and arranged to buy a property on Berry Mountain. On the day of settlement we were told we were gazumped; the place had been sold to a stranger with the same surname. A few weeks later there was a violent storm which caused damage and washed out the road access for over a year.

God had better plans for us and led us to a much better, much more practical 25 acres near Berry, near Shoalhaven Heads south of Sydney where we built a house.

We attended the Anglican Church in Berry where there was a Sunday school suitable for our family. There were branch churches in Shoalhaven Heads and Kangaroo Valley so the minister welcomed Rob McIntosh and me to take services in these centres. For a time I was taking services three times a month. I had to study the Bible to do this and grew in understanding about what God had for us.

We took the opportunity of exchange teaching and for a year we lived in Liskeard, Cornwall, swapping homes, jobs and cars with a British school teacher’s family. Every weekend and holiday we travelled widely and enjoyed so many experiences in the UK and Europe, including being presented to the Queen Mother and attending a garden party at Buckingham Palace.  

Our children were now 15, 14, 13 and 11. When out of the house the rule was to act in such a way as to fool the pommies into thinking we knew how to behave.  Once together at home be yourself.  The time really pulled our family together. As a group of visiting exotics people were so generous and invited us try out their interests from Cornish Male Voice Choirs, Cornish folk dancing, brass band concerts and more.  

Living Waters was a wonderful group of worshipping people on Wednesday nights, part of the local Anglican Church. They were a real blessing to us and we joined them in occasional visits to little village churches. It was a time of mutual encouragement and raised awareness of the presence and blessing of the Holy Spirit.

When back home we discovered that our 25 acres extended behind 14 village houses and a village zoned street frontage. We were entitled to subdivide and sell off 15 acres of casuarina swamp and 14 neighbours. From 1984 we had the gift of being mortgage free and some money in the bank - a very real and practical blessing from the Lord we hadn’t anticipated!

We met each week with three other couples for Bible Study and the eight of us became very closely bonded as we took turns working our way through the crises of life with the support of each other.  That means you get to know each other very well and those people remain our closest and dearest friends. We pray for them and keep on good terms with them - we have to: they know too much about us.

We both took part in the board which employed 6 scripture teachers in the 4 local high schools and I developed an online database to manage the supporter records, receipting etc.

We moved to another church, one with an active youth group for our children. And began a very exciting time. The principle there was that this was Jesus’ church so we should be seeking to find out what he wanted us to do and do it.  

It was very experimental, prayerful and worship was an essential part of what we did. It was the kind of church you were excited about and wanted to share with others. It involved the whole family with our children involved in music teams.

In a short time it grew from dozen or so to 175 regulars each service, with four music teams, 50 people taking part in them, and the whole church joining together to march down the main street of Nowra as an Easter witness on three occasions, singing and dancing with Graham Kendrick’s “Make Way” songs. My main role was as worship or music director.

This was too much for Satan to ignore.

The minister seemed overtaken by a spirit of paranoia and privately sought to control members of the congregation. One by one they quietly rejected this, as we discovered later. When they left the church to go to another we were told to pray for them as they were “sent out from our church to serve elsewhere”. In reality they had escaped!

Then he turned on us. He sent a letter addressing each member of the family and calling us to task, publicly standing us down from participating in the church.  I hope you are not bothered as much by my pride and petulance he objected to.

While the rest of the family left the church I tried for months to work things out with the pastor but eventually left also.

This had a huge impact on us.  Our children are all believers but none attend a church.  All are too wary of being attacked and humiliated by a church leader, especially a pastor.

I am glad to say that a few years later he emailed to apologise to me and the family.

Elizabeth and I simply went to the little church in Shoalhaven Heads where we were safe, encouraged and supported, something I really needed and God provided. We still give thanks for the wise and gentle touch of the late Rev Eric Bird.

The experience came as a shock and we sought to lead a quieter life to keep out of trouble. My involvement was limited to playing the piano and preaching occasionally.

About then I became bored with teaching so resigned and, with our second son, set up a computer and computer training business in Nowra.  That was hard work and stressful but opened a career for our son, much needed after his wife left him, taking his three children with her. We praise God that we are all on really good terms now, years later.

We sold this business after a few years when I decided it was time to retire. A different experience but, once again.  Once again, the experience could have been a lot easier but provided for us because God knew what we needed

Clinton, a neighbour, horticulturist and landscape gardener started visiting us, wanting to purchase our property which suited his dream business but, after living there for nearly 40 years we had no idea where we would want to move to so did not want to sell.  Only when we visited Bellingen to assist with a grandson after his appendix burst that we saw our present home. The subsequent negotiations with the vendor’s agent gave us no stress because God had a whole series of matters sorted for us. Quite quickly things were settled on very satisfactory terms for us and we moved house.

By the way, what used to be our paddock has been turned into a showcase of garden design and was recently featured on TV on “Better House and Garden” so clearly Clinton has been blessed by our move, too.

 A mutual acquaintance told Maxine Keys we were moving to Bellingen and in the first week she invited us for coffee at the local coffee shop where we also met Barry, Ross and Fay. We accepted their welcome to join them at church and we still do!

189 Modified: 16-05-2024
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