In 1967, straight from Cambridge University, I took up a newly-created post called: Secretary for Student Work at our Baptist headquarters in London. I was involved in working with 30 Baptist student societies (and chaplains) in universities all over the UK. The very same day I started work, David Russell began too! Except he was at the very top of the tree, as General Secretary of the Baptist Union. His track record even then was impressive. Having been minister in two churches, and college principal in two colleges, he was an academic (focusing on apocalpytic literature) whose eventual output included 13 books, but always a pastor who knew how to lead. And his leadership always had depth with sparkling wit (a rare combination). In the years since, his track record became ever more impressive in his national and international leadership.
You can imagine the service was a long one, as different people paid tribute to various aspects of his life. His family, his ministry beginnings, his principalships and academic life, his Baptist statemanship, his wider ministry especially in the field of human rights and support of E. Europe, and his commitment to the local church. How wonderful it is to live a long life of usefulness to God. At a truly thankful thanksgiving service I find that not only thanks come easily, but you are stimulated to be a better person yourself. A few things particularly struck me:
- the focus on him as a person - several times speakers commented that it wasn't his books and achievements that really mattered but who David Russell was. Personal qualities are paramount.
- how much he valued in old age those who kept in touch. Apparently, hearing from his former students was one of his greatest delights. I guess it's true for most of us that relationships are what count most.
- his witness at the end. Even though he was so ill and needed dialysis three times a week he winsomely shared his faith with others. I am sure few fellow-patients knew his human achievements but they knew his Christian faith.
We were so thankful to be there!