A Tribute to Dad

A tribute by Bernard, read at a “This is your life” event put on by Portobello Baptist Church, November 1997


I cannot be with you in person tonight, but I’m delighted that Jack has given me the opportunity to be with you through the medium of the spoken word.

When I tell my story over here in the States, people are usually shocked that I was sent away to boarding school at such a young age, the age of five. By my calculation, I have spent only ten of my thirty-seven years in the same country as you, and for only three of the last twenty-five years have we lived on the same continent. But I feel closer to you than most people here do to their fathers under whose roofs they have spent their whole childhood. You have exerted more of an influence on me and been more of a role model than has any other person in my life.

You have influenced me through your Christmas and birthday gifts, which have usually taken the form of books. Among the books I remember you giving me in childhood were the Chronicles of Narnia, which I have read many times, and a 16-volume children’s encyclopedia in which I spent much time. In my late teens you started giving me books on theology and biblical studies. Some of these have exerted an enormous influence on my thinking. I think particularly of Geerhardus Vos’s Biblical Theology, and Tom Well’s Vision for Missions, though I think this latter book came through the intermediary of Annette.

I have always known you as a man of books. That has rubbed off on all of us, for we are a book-loving family. Growing up in Thailand we were surrounded by books. You came to have the largest library of any missionary in Thailand with some 2000 volumes. As a largely self-taught man you were always studying. You set a fine example that the teacher must first be a student. Never were you content to merely teach out of a book. Always you taught the fruit of your own studies. In this you have given me a fine model for my studies and teaching. Several aspects of your teaching stand out. Firstly, as I’ve already said, it was based on your own studies. Secondly, it was thoroughly biblical in that it was always based on exegesis of the biblical text. Equally as important it was theological, viewing that text within the broad context of God’s redemption. Your thinking always started and ended with the triune God. Next, you worked hard at understanding the thought processes and understanding of your students. You were a careful student of Thai culture and language. You spent much time talking with farmers, fishermen, Buddhist priests, getting beneath their skin, so that you could proclaim God’s truth with understanding.

Your bookish influence extends beyond the books you have given me, for you have constantly shared in letters what you yourself have been reading, thinking and teaching. For over thirty years you have written me a weekly letter. The continued worth of these letters is attested by the fact that I have twelve years worth of these letters sitting in my files here, and more years in Edinburgh.

I left Europe in 1985 just two weeks before you arrived home from Thailand. When I made my travel arrangements to take a short-term job in California you were not scheduled to come home on furlough for another year. Your return to Edinburgh was hasty, precipitated by a debilitating illness that was eventually diagnosed as cancer. I was far away as you and the rest of the family weathered your surgery, but through your letters I felt I was right in the hospital ward with you. The letters you wrote from hospital I consider some of the most remarkable you have ever written.

I have many other memories of childhood with you, of the times when you put your books aside to spend time with us children. Memories of the energetic activities we undertook together: swimming right across HuaHin bay, walking the hills of the Lake District or of the Cameron Highlands. Memories of you involving us in your work, taking us out into villages on the back of your motorbike, Annette on the petrol tank and Rosalind and me behind you. A number of years ago, when visiting Alex and Faith Smith in Portland, Faith made a comment about you and Mum that has stuck with me ever since. One of the things that Faith admired about you both was that you devoted a lot of time to us kids, never sacrificing us to your “ministry.” I can attest to that: I was never made to feel an imediment to you work.

Among the greatest surprises when I arrived in California in 1985 was the discovery that most of the young people in the church were from broken homes, growing up under the cloud of divorce. Even those who grew up with both parents had troubled relationships. In my teaching here I have found that many have a view of God that has been seriously distorted by their experience of their earthly parents. Their consequent quest for approval from their heavenly Father mirrors their quest for approval from their earthly father. These earthly fathers were distant, or disapproving, or evaluated them on the basis of performance. I am grateful that you passed on to me a healthy view of God; that my understanding of the Fatherhood of God has never been distorted by your own model of fatherhood.

I have also long appreciated the fact that you have never told us what we ought to do. Yet this has been balanced with an intense interest in all that we have been doing. While maintaining this interest, you have allowed us to make our own decisions, and to discover life for ourselves. You have prayed for us, loved us, and followed us, even though I, in particular, have moved in orbits geographically far removed from you,

Thank you for this ongoing interest and investment in us.

Your son,