The Agricultural Missionary

Location : Africa

Now what I’ve got to say really is all based on the fact that in retrospect I believe that God has been in control of my life; He has been leading and guiding by His Holy Spirit, thus I take no credit for what has been accomplished.

I was born in Hendon in 1930, the youngest of nine children in a council house, and in those days Hendon was a suburb of London – not now though! I had an ordinary schooling in a Church school for my Junior school and Orange Hill Senior School for Boys, where I was not particularly bright. I had to give up Languages and that gave me some Sciences, which came in handy for agriculture, which comes into my story later on. I did manage to get the Oxford School Certificate, but that was nothing very special at all. At this point I will mention my aunt, who was a District Nurse in Kent in those days, in the lovely Garden of England just near Sittingbourne. We used to go there often on holidays, and one of my elder sisters married a farm worker, so often in the long holiday, harvest time, I used to go and want to help. I was quite a small, little boy, so they used to put me on the top of the cart when they were stacking the sheaves they tossed up in those days for transportation to the farmyard. Of course no combines. And I did that for one or two summers.

Later on at school when I was old enough I used to cycle down to Kent and pick fruit, earning my self a little bit of money, and after school the same aunt arranged a job for me on a local farm which was mainly fruit and mushrooms. And I stayed on there for several years until I’d earned quite a bit of money because I wanted to go to Agricultural College, but to specialise in poultry. To specialise in poultry means that I started really as a schoolboy of 12. During the War you could only get dried, powdered egg, so I kept some chickens in the back garden and used to sell eggs to my brothers and sisters who were at work, to have fresh eggs, which were like gold dust in those days! So poultry became a very, very great interest of mine at an early age. And I saved up while I was working to go to College.

Called to be a Missionary

I went to Harper Adams Agricultural College in Shropshire, which also had the National Institute of Poultry Husbandry, so I was going on to the poultry side. Now I had to do two years on a poultry farm before I was allowed to go to College, so what I did, I got a place with a very famous appliance maker in Bures in Suffolk, which is right on the border between Essex and Suffolk. And there I stayed for about a year and a half, I think. But there was a little, tiny Baptist church there, and I’d been taken to a Baptist church in London by my parents. So I went and there were just a few old people there, and an organ you had to pump, and as I was the youngest there I used to pump the organ (laughs)! But I was converted there. I’d been to church most of my life, but I was really converted and came to the point where I realised I needed to repent and come to Jesus Christ and accept His salvation, His saving me. And after that I felt the call to the mission field, and being young and not very experienced I thought all missionaries were pastors. So I tried to get into a Theological College, or several Theological Colleges, and that was not available to me at that time.

So I asked the Superintendent Minister for the area what I felt, that I should be a missionary. And he said “Well, what do you do?” So I said “Well, I’m training in agriculture”. “Oh wonderful!”, he said, “We’re just beginning to use agriculturalists all over the world. So carry on in agriculture, but don’t do a specific poultry course, do a general course.” So in that case it meant another two years training on a farm, getting up at 5.30 to milk cows etc. But the farm owner was a churchwarden, so this again was the Lord holding me into His hand specifically with a person who was a believer. Now while I was at Bures the minister changed at the Baptist Church and he had a daughter who in due course became my wife.

After this for two years I was at Agricultural College in Shropshire. That was from ’56 to ’58 and I managed to get a Diploma in Agriculture, and then from ’58 to ’59 we went to a Missionary Training College in Birmingham, after which we were married in 1959. As we were designated for Angola we had to spend one year in Portugal, learning the language, which was very interesting, because I’m not a grammarian, I’m a parrot! So while my wife got on very well with the book work, whenever we travelled on a bus, tram, ferry, I would sit next to somebody who was Portuguese and talk – TRY to talk Portuguese! There was lots of laughter (laughs) to start with, but eventually I could speak Portuguese, so if I had to write it down, having learned the basics of writing and the words, I could just close my eyes and say “How would I say that?” And that way I quickly picked up Portuguese, having been thrown out of the Language section at school!

Agricultural Mission in Angola & the Congo

So we went to Angola with all our wedding presents, because we hadn’t been at home in our house to use them, and as we arrived the problems in 1961 blew up, when the Angolans were against the oppression of the Portuguese. The baggage all arrived in a miraculous time: It usually takes four weeks, they say, but ours came in two weeks, and two weeks later we were out. So we lost all our wedding presents! But we thought “We have come away with our lives, and we didn’t have enough time to appreciate those. But the poor Africans, they’ve got nothing and they’re even being driven out of their homes now”. So we didn’t have time really to get attached to the things, so we didn’t really miss them. So my wife and little boy were evacuated back to England straight away, whereas there were about half a dozen men missionaries who went to a place called San Salvador, which was in the North of Angola, and there we tried to work. But we were virtually in a concentration camp, with Portuguese soldiers all round, and we had to report if we were going out. And the evidence came hard and strong when our doctor, who was there, was called out to somebody in the middle of the night, and he went, and the Portuguese arrested him as soon as he got back because he’d been “accommodating the rebels” against them. And he was deported almost straight away.

So after a not very successful time of about six months in Angola we were moved over the border into Congo to work amongst the Angolan refugees. And while we were there a Centre called Cedeco, Centre for Agriculture and Development in the Lower Congo. Now this meant that we’d got to learn French, because we were in a country where the administration was all in French, so French came along, and I did the same thing! And gradually picked it up. This Centre was quite interesting because they would have a year’s training in tailoring, carpentry, mechanics or agriculture, and I was in the agricultural section, which was quite a big section because there was a lot of land, and we were able to spend quite a lot of our time with the students showing them practically better things.

Now as we got into Angola something called Operation Agri was organised by the Baptist Men’s Movement in 1960 to support Agricultural Missionaries on the foreign mission field. And because I was interested in chicks, you could fly day- old chicks from England to Africa overnight and they’d be perfectly all right. A thousand day-old chicks would come and we would rear them, and then we built up poultry houses, so that we could actually produce the chicks in Africa. Now having started off in poultry, having been pushed out of it, I got back into poultry, my first love, at the Centre, because I became responsible for the poultry section.

And this Operation Agri helped tremendously by giving us a grinding mill and a mixer which would take a ton at a time. And they gave us an incubator which held 5000 eggs and which would hatch 1000 chicks per week. So it was my responsibility to organise this and to build up the chickens. Now I haven’t told you that the breed we used were Rhode Island Reds, because they will survive almost any climate. So we started breeding them and started hatching a thousand chicks a week. Sometimes we would keep them, rear them for local people, but sometimes people over a thousand miles away in Congo wanted chicks so Missionary Aviation Fellowship would come and land at 7 o’clock in the morning and off they would go with a thousand chicks, because they virtually weigh nothing, and, with hops, get right over the other side of Congo to other mission stations.

Another thing was to upgrade, as we would say, the quality of the stock locally. And that’s done quite simply by going to a village and taking Rhode Island Red cockerels, and saying “You can have these cockerels for free provided you give us all your cockerels.” And then the cross there would have 50% Rhode Island Red and 50% African in it, which wouldn’t be much better, but it would be a little bit better. And a year later you go back and do the same thing, so that you then cross – what they call top crossing – the Rhode Island Red again with the offspring, which gives you a poultry which are 75% Rhode Island Red and 25% local breed. But if you top cross a third time, and take the cockerels in another year later, then what you get is a bird with 87½ % Rhode Island Red and 12½% local, which will give them an animal which is much, much better, and the 12½% will give them resistance to local diseases, which a pure Rhode Island Red wouldn’t have.

We would also go out into the villages and give simple demonstrations like contour hoeing. The reason for contouring is that it’s natural for African people to use their hoes uphill so they don’t have to bend so far to make the impression with the hoe and turn the soil over. But by doing that you’re encouraging rain, when it comes, to run down the hill and wash all the soil away into the valley, but if you use the simple contour system where you get a little piece of soil on the hillside and dig out to make it level for about a metre around the side of the hill, and have a ditch at the end of that level piece, and then do the same down a bit lower, you are stopping erosion and improving the quality of the soil where you’re using the contour system. And by doing this they don’t lose the soil to the bottom of the hill when the heavy rains come, but it keeps the moisture there, which all plants need to live, and it gives them better conditions for working in as well.

There were several ways in which we were able to help the local villages with simple mechanical aids made out of old tin cans and things. We could get a small grinder which would be able to grind up maize and soya bean to make a balanced diet for the poultry and we would give them away to a village where the people were interested in doing their own poultry feed. And from there to enable them to hatch their own chicks we could also give away 25 egg incubators run on paraffin which again they could use in the villages. And as we visited the villages we would always have a pastor with us to preach the gospel and show that we were not doing it for our own benefit, but we were doing it for their benefit because God had called us to do the work.

Also the one man who actually worked very closely to me in the poultry section was able, when we had to leave, to take over the whole poultry section on his own, because he knew the whole gamut from putting the eggs in the setter and putting them in the hatching section, and actually sorting the chicks out when they hatched and putting them in cartons and sending them off to wherever they had to go. So I was very pleased with Tata Mbula, I’ll tell you his name, because he was a conscientious chap and didn’t mind getting up at 5 o’clock in the morning when we had to get chicks off at 7 o’clock, and he was a really lovely chap.

There’s one thing that used to happen because we were able to sell poultry feed, we would be sitting down just going to have our lunch and somebody would come along wanting some poultry feed, and we would say to them “Well, excuse us, but we’re just about to eat. Would you mind coming back?” And the African would say “What’s the matter with you? Why don’t you sell us something? ‘Cos look at the money you’re going to make out of it.” Used to the white man making money out of them. But then we could say “Well, we’re not here to make money out of you. We’re here simply because God wants us here to help you to build up your own agriculture in various ways. And having good quality feed for your chickens is one of the ways where you can improve your stock, and improve the quality of the stock you do have”.

How did the worship part of the mission field work? Did you have a local chapel, did you have open air services?

There were local chapels, and in the villages there were just thatched roofs for a local chapel. But because we were at a centre where there was actually a Missionary Hospital and a Teacher Training College – you wouldn’t recognise it as a College in this country, but a Teacher Training College – and they were about a mile apart. And the land in between was ideal for – it wasn’t good soil, but it was wide enough and big enough for us to set up the agricultural part of the Mission. But as far as worship was concerned we used to worship with Africans from the very beginning.

So would there be local pastors or mission pastors?

Mainly local pastors, sometimes missionary pastors, but missionary pastors were usually at big centres to teach, train other pastors, so we often had African pastors, pretty well from the beginning, and we had to learn Kikongo. It’s difficult to start with but after a little while you get to learn Kikongo.

So you ended up with about five languages!?

Four. I only speak four: English, French, Portuguese and Kikongo (laughs)

Return to England : Christian work in East Anglia

But in 1975 my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and we had to come home for an operation, but we were soon back, so by the end of the year we were back in Congo, working still, but unfortunately in ’76 she had secondaries and we had to come home, and she died in 1977. Now by this time we had five children, four boys and a girl, and while we were abroad they were able to spend their time at boarding school or with the guardians in the holidays. Now we only sent them home with guardians because the Lord arranged it. We never asked anybody to be our guardians, but people from England said “We don’t feel like being missionaries, but we feel we need to help a missionary – we would like to be guardians.” And they were lovely people who did very, very, very much good for the two boys who went to school first and for our middle girl. But when my wife died I said to the children “What do you think would be best for you? Whether we should carry on as we were and I go back, or do you want me to stay at home with you?” And they all felt that I should stay at home, so at that point I stayed home. And after being a widower for five and a half years another lady came into my life through Dereham Baptist Church, and she is now my wife.

But now I was at home again and had to find some means of sustaining the family, and there was near Dereham, at Bawdeswell, the headquarters of Shaver International poultry business, and they often had visitors from France, and as I could speak French I was useful to them as a translator, which I often did. But I also worked in the office, and later, to pick up the threads of how they worked, I worked in the different parts practically, at the poultry farms and in the hatchery etc. etc. But after a year or two I felt that I was not producing anything purposefully. All I was doing was feeding people who’d got too much to eat already, and serving a business which was worldwide, which didn’t really need me except that I had experience in French and was able to talk to the French people coming to visit the headquarters. So I left. I didn’t know why, but I left simply because I felt that I was not doing anything purposeful.

After a few months I had a phone call one evening from a gentleman who said “Are you I.P.?” I said “Yes”. “Would you mind visiting some people, as a Christian, in Dereham for me?” So I said I wouldn’t mind at all. “I’ll do it”. He gave me the name and address which I followed up, and at the end of the conversation he said “What are you doing?” So I said “Well, at the moment I’m not employed at all”. So he said “Oh, come and see me in the morning”. Which I did. So the following morning I visited him, and he was one of the founder Directors of the Forum of Private Business, which is a Christian organisation to help small businesses with all the legislation and to fight their corner in a specific way. I won’t go into the details; it would take me too long, but they were certainly able to get the ear of people like the Chancellor and the Manager of the Bank of England, because they could always produce specific figures from private businesses all the time. So he showed me two or three presentations during the morning, took me out for lunch very nicely, and then he said “There you are, it’s yours now, carry on”. And from that time on till I retired I was an agent for the Forum of Private Business, helping small private businesses. So that’s really the climax of the Lord leading me other than work in the church which followed on.

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