Saturday, September 24, 2022

Oral History (3) Next big influence

Alongside church involvement, my academic life in sixth form blossomed enabling me to enter Jesus College, Cambridge in 1964.  Here a third extremely influential connection was made.  I joined the university Baptist society – the Robert Hall Society (RHS).   My three years in RHS coincided with a peak in membership and liveliness with a range of meetings (many weekly) – prayer, mission focus, bible study, social, Sunday afternoon speakers and, importantly, summer missions. This large group's breadth of theological views and experience challenged my development intellectually and spiritually.  Because it was so embedded in the Baptist denomination drawing speakers and serving local churches it fed healthy denominational commitment.  I served in several roles, including representing RHS on the Student Ecumenical Council meeting in Gt. St. Mary’s.  Each year I attended the Baptist Student Federation annual conference where members of thirty plus student societies across the UK met with BU and BMS leaders with much lively debate.  Each summer we shared in missions based in local Baptist churches.  In 1965 and 66, in Plymouth and Dorking, I learned the disciplines of door-to-door visitation, school visits and teamwork. It is hard to calculate how much RHS’s ethos impacted me. From my period (1964-7) seven contemporaries later entered Baptist ministry.

Entering my last year of study, specializing in geomorphology, I saw my immediate future in further academic study.  Though committed to the Baptist church family and local church leadership, I was miles away from thoughts about full-time ministry. Indeed, I rejected much of what I had seen of my father’s ministry, with its constant demands, financial restraints, and powerlessness when trying to lead a voluntary organization, full of strong personalities. I admired my parents’ sacrifice but sought another Baptist way of living.

Somehow, I learned of the East Asian Christian Colleges Association (EACCA) and its programme of sending new graduates to teach within Christian universities overseas. Impressed by the opportunity to serve in this way, I applied, was interviewed and approved for a two/three year term as a geography professor at Serampore College, India.  A happy combination of mission helpfulness with research possibilities! But my delight was brutally punctured a few months later by a perfunctory duplicated letter informing me that EACCA had collapsed, and all future commitments were cancelled. With only four months before graduation, I had no next step from Cambridge.

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