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Chapter 9: The Evangelist and Christian Education

My little sister Ann and I were sitting up to table under the apple trees in the orchard: I remember the summer of 1940 as exceptionally sunny and warm. I remember vividly the contrails of the fighters in the sky above but they meant nothing to me at the time. We were trying to listen to Lambert, the French refugee nun, who seemed to us as old as the hills, and in her very French accent trying to teach us reading, writing and arithmetic. Golden Girl, a huge chestnut mare, was wandering about having arrived a few weeks previously in a very smart dark blue horse box - she had been a trooper's horse in the Blues and Royals and for some years had been one of a group of golden chestnut coloured horses playing their part in the Trooping of The Colour. As soon as war was declared, the horses were demobbed and ended up on farms like ours. Lambert constantly endeavoured to persuade us to call her Sister Lambert, which was something we couldn't cope with at all as she obviously wasn't our sister! She and other members of her Order were billeted in the village in a requisitioned mansion and I clearly remember my father's intense anger that a criminal regime should pose a threat to such delightful people. The lesson went on and on, and we paid attention as best we could.

We knew that a huge treat was in store ... soon we were rewarded. Lambert produced her puppets - ten little characters which appeared over the edge of the table. She did it so well it was ages before we realised they were actually on the end of her fingers! They all had French names we could never remember but they were tremendous fun and with them she taught us basic Christianity - how Jesus loved us and wanted to be our friend. We were absolutely enthralled and I can remember the excitement today, 60 years later. In a remarkable way Lambert made Christianity relevant and alive for us even though we were very small, and obviously our ability to understand most of it was very limited. She came each morning dressed like a French schoolteacher in a long, grey dress down to her ankles and I remember the excitement with which we ran to meet her as she opened the 5 bar gate and came up our grassy driveway. (Uncle Frank was off to the war and I remember his arrival too - in a Lagonda sports racing car with no doors - the handbrake was on the outside and he was so dashing he would arrive at speed, put the handbrake on and lock the back wheels, and be over the side walking alongside the car before it came to rest.)

My father's anger about what was happening in Europe sent him to London to volunteer for the Royal Navy, but the War Office, on hearing of his qualifications, drafted him as a member of the team laying out new airfields, which disappointed him very much. However, as a civilian he was obliged to join the local Home Guard and as he was the only member of the squad able to ride a horse - or who had a horse, for that matter - he was official Dispatch Rider, and was often deputed to be the "enemy" on manoeuvres.

He would disappear on Golden Girl with his work and more often than not could spend a quiet day not being found on Ashdown Forest!

The memory of those first lessons by Lambert and her puppets made an indelible impression on me and I am very conscious that our Christian presentations in schools today, with good quality representational paintings on the sketch board, and the new figures and extra words that are painted up as the story unfolds, have a very powerful impact on the children.

One Saturday I was preaching in Broadmead, the city centre shopping precinct in Bristol, when a school teacher called Mrs. Parry came up to me and asked whether I would be willing to lead a 20 minute school assembly, using my sketch board with cartoons etc. the following Wednesday morning. Of course I was thrilled to accept, but was somewhat apprehensive, not having set foot in a school other than for a few days when I was about eight. My father had been an amateur boxer and had always given me strict instructions that one must not hit anyone smaller than oneself; after a few days at school, walking past the Headmaster's study, I saw him caning a small boy. I was absolutely horrified as it went against everything I had been taught, he was obviously very much bigger than the boy and should certainly not be striking him! I was so put out by this that I marched into his study and remonstrated with him, and said I hoped I wouldn't see that sort of behaviour again! The Headmaster was clearly quite taken aback and had no response at all other than to complain to my father, who removed me from the school. Eventually he secured the services of a Methodist conscientious objector, Michael Beamish, who provided us with the required lessons at home every morning.

Accordingly, on the Wednesday morning, arriving at Mrs. Parry's primary school in Southmead, I was very curious to see how it all worked. The delightful behaviour of the children and the buzz of interest as they saw the painting of Zacchaeus on the sketch board made quite an impression on me, and as I told the story I could see that the children were totally caught up in the events as they were described. It was as if they were actually there on the day, watching Jesus and seeing the reaction of the crowd and listening very carefully to the words Jesus said to Zacchaeus. They were all very struck with the appalling things Zacchaeus had done to his own people and really took on board the need for real repentance and forgiveness. I explained that a few days later Jesus went on, up to Jerusalem to pay the penalty for Zacchaeus' sins, but not just for him, for us too. The hall was very quiet. The staff had never seen anything like it. Nor had I. After a very quiet pause, I led them in prayers, and unknown to me an 8-year-old girl sitting near the back made her decision to receive Christ as her Saviour. Three years ago I was thrilled to meet her working as a missionary in Vienna.

On a monthly basis I went back to Mrs. Parry's school and the Bible stories became part of the life experience of the 300 or so children. One of the advantages of using representational paintings on the sketch board is that they can be left at the school - mine were put up round the walls of the assembly hall, where the children could be reminded of the lessons they had learned about Jesus.

I received many invitations to make these sketch board Bible story presentations in family services in Anglican churches in different parts of the South West. On one of these occasions in our home church, a 15-year-old girl made her commitment to Christ too. I had been doing a course on the use of illusions or tricks as a means of illustrating the Gospel truths, and that morning I had been using the "Gozinta" boxes, which show very nicely the relationship a Christian has with Jesus. A young couple were also very moved by the message and understood for the first time what being a Christian was all about. A week or two later they both committed their lives to Christ at a crusade in Bristol led by Jean Darnell.

The 15-year-old girl wanted her school to hear the message. She asked if I would be willing to lead morning assembly at her private secondary school where about 400 girls attended in smart uniforms. She said they had never had an outside speaker to lead assembly as far as she knew, but she would talk to the Headmistress about it. Eventually the invitation arrived and I duly attended - with sketch board and paints. The school is in a large Georgian building with modern additions, rather out of character with the original. I walked through the front door wondering what to expect and was met by an absolutely ferocious lady who looked me up and down and endeavoured to make me feel uncomfortable. I explained that I had come to lead assembly and she said she realised that, and it was most inconvenient, and I could have only 7 minutes. I responded as graciously as possible that that would be marvellous and frantically thought how to compress my 20 minute message on the Conversion of Saul on the Road to Damascus. I was horrified to discover this was only the School Secretary and wondered what the Headmistress must be like... Ushered upstairs into The Presence, I discovered an imposing figure who was the daughter of an ex-Governor of Bristol Prison. She promptly reduced me to 6 minutes. On being allowed into the assembly hall to put up my sketch board, I realised that this was the largest group of people I had ever spoken to. I was praying very busily that it would all be just right.

The girls duly trooped in and were very subdued. The Headmistress and I walked in, in convoy. I was introduced rather peremptorily and was allowed to speak. I told them about the Resurrection of Jesus, Paul on the Damascus Road, and my own testimony - all in 6 minutes, with cartoon illustrations. The impact of this must have been considerable, because as soon as I finished and before I could lead them in prayer, they all stood up and gave me a standing ovation, with cheers - the Headmistress was obviously very angry at such unseemly behaviour. I could see from her colour she was about to explode, and as we left the hall I thought I should say something quickly. "Good Heavens, Headmistress, you are remarkably popular!". At this she crumbled and went very self-conscious and coy, and said "Oh, really, Mr. Davey, that was for you!"

On another occasion at Bristol Grammar School I did completely the wrong sort of message for teenagers and didn't really feel I was making contact with the 1,000 or so who were listening. On leaving the school I was literally in tears walking down the street having, as I felt, missed such a fantastic opportunity. I felt compelled to put a great deal of effort into learning how to talk to teenagers properly and have since realised that without that commitment there is very little point in worthies from local churches attempting this sort of work. However, God is able to do far more than we imagine. I was astonished to find years later that five young men at that assembly I had regretted so much had become committed Christians, having made their decisions on that very morning.

Over the next few months many schools started to telephone me asking for bookings but I was surprised that in each case I was required to give a definite commitment to fulfil the booking. Apparently many had been let down by Christian workers. An ex-missionary friend who was a senior teacher at Ralph Allen School in Bath, Peter Whitehead, told me that on 30% of occasions when church workers are booked to lead assembly at school, the person concerned did not show up. This lack of commitment to take schools work at all seriously does characterise the Christian church in England today. It astounded me.

Because of the impending Billy Graham Mission in 1984, we began in 1982 to broaden the scope of our schools ministry so that we would be able to provide coverage of all schools in our area - hopefully with the assistance of members of the Billy Graham team. Something like 30 schools a day were phoning in asking for someone to come and talk about the Crusade and we realised we had to greatly broaden the size of the team in order to complete the task. Difficulties were caused by some schools who would not have certain organisations in the school again. Apparently some youth organisations had visited Bristol schools from London and caused many problems for the staff through their lack of knowledge of the Education Acts. Most people at that time were unaware that it was outside the guidelines to call for conversion decisions as proselytism is not allowed under the Act, which states that "Each school day shall begin so far as is practicable with an act of worship of a mainly Christian nature". This wording takes account of the different ethnic groups in our society today, many of which are adherents of different Eastern religions, so one is well advised to use forms of words such as "the Bible teaches" and "Christians believe that..." and in leading prayers, always to make participation optional for those not wishing to take part.

Teachers are very much aware of the huge influence of the Church on our society historically, and the fact that much of our legal system is based on fundamental Christian principles such as the Common Duty of Care, whereby all of us are required in our daily activities not to injure the well-being of others. O.F.S.T.E.D., the official Government schools inspection agency, take the view that proper Christian teaching on these matters should take place for the benefit of all students, and many immigrant parents have said to me that they regard the Bible stories we tell as highly beneficial, as they help to make English culture more intelligible to their children. In some schools we visit on a regular basis, about 98% of students are Hindu, Muslim or other ethnic or religious background.

The key to successful schools ministry is the ability to tell the Bible stories in an interesting and relevant way. To do this, each talk requires a great deal of work and research - it really is important to read up and try to understand the culture of the people to whom Jesus was speaking. Important doctrinal issues such as the Atonement require a lot of careful preparation and are best taught using visual aids. We often use the three block trick to illustrate this tremendous truth, by which means the message becomes truly memorable for many years afterwards.

The fundamental principle in Christian education is that in the stories of Jesus, the person of Jesus is revealed to us.

Because we have been in this ministry for so many years, we now have a great deal of "customer feedback". A Deputy Head, who was in Primary school in the early years of our schools ministry in Bristol, tells me that we were the only visitors to the school with the Christian message, and that the highly entertaining nature of the presentation made the occasions memorable to the point where "even the boys were still discussing the message two weeks later". The Head of a large comprehensive school, where I have been taking assemblies and occasionally classes for the past 22 years, reports that we have been the only visitors who make real contact with every one of his pupils and secure their full attention, apart from a local newspaper reporter, who for some years now has been talking about events in the community. I remember one instance where the Headmaster instructed me to preach the Gospel and make an appeal! Not aware that he was a believer himself, and very conscious of the Ministry of Education guidelines, I questioned this instruction - to be told "Do what I say, and I'll explain afterwards." I did as he said, and offered counselling leaflets too, many of which were taken by the students. Having coffee later, the dear man explained very emotionally that two teenagers in that group of 900 were not expected to live more than another couple of months and he wanted them to have a clear opportunity to respond to the Gospel. The total commitment that so many teachers have to their pupils has impressed me enormously down the years. Most seem to be well aware that without proper Christian teaching, their pupils are "sitting ducks" for the cults in later life.

Because of the imminent arrival (within 18 months) of the Mission England events, we commenced a weekly training programme for all those who might be interested in assisting with schools ministry in the future. Local teachers such as Peter Whitehead assisted and local churches advertised the opportunities to come and be part of the team. As a result, 400 or so local churches recruited 20 trainees, about half of whom made it to the end of the course, and actually got started. The course included a lot of work on the sketch board, and how to tell a Bible story, the objective being to equip our workers so that they would be able to talk about the Lord in a lively, interesting and relevant way. In the weeks and months leading up to the Crusade, our local schools team reached far larger numbers than attended the actual Crusade meetings at Ashton Gate football ground.

During that week, assisted by members of the Billy Graham team, many of them nationally known figures in the United States, a number of Secondary Schools were absolutely delighted with their presentations to extended whole school assemblies. The excitement was quite infectious and probably resulted in substantial numbers of teenagers attending the Crusade meetings, who might not otherwise have come.

The very considerable extension of our regular schools work which resulted from the Crusade was the only substantial long-term benefit to Christian ministry in Bristol, apart from one or two small counselling ministries which began around that time. I had realised that for the work to develop and grow in the future, it would be essential to establish schools workers in every church fellowship, working in their local schools to form an effective bridge between the church and the community. Karen Dillon and Ken Barrett were attached to a small Brethren fellowship in Southmead of about 35 members. The three elders were teaching 35 people Sunday by Sunday, whereas Ken and Karen were doing on average 6 school assemblies each week - which adds up to about 1500 children, plus all their teachers. Being very much aware that Karen and Ken were teaching tomorrow's church, I was confident that one did not have to be too intellectually challenged to appreciate that this was a very important ministry. However, those particular elders never did catch on to the vision and appear to have learnt nothing from Ken and Karen's time as members of their fellowship.

Within a few years of Billy Graham's Mission England campaign, we were working in several hundred schools, and a few people were coming from different parts of the country to join us for a week or two weeks' training. I myself visited Cheltenham, Gloucester, Hereford, Exeter, and Bournemouth, leading church weekends with a view to introducing the idea of working in local schools. Open Air Campaigners nationally had by then begun to see schools as a valuable local ministry, and the training of others for this work as an important objective - in fact an ideal complement to open air work which took place at other times during the week, and not dependent on the weather!

Throughout these years, as we developed what must be far and away the largest schools ministry in Europe, I was becoming increasingly aware of similar opportunities in countries overseas. I found that as an Anglican, although not ordained, Roman Catholics found me perfectly acceptable, and were willing to open their schools too. Some but not all Orthodox priests were willing for me to lead school assemblies and classes in Romania and Bulgaria. I have found Roman Catholic priests often more evangelical than evangelical Anglicans!

Five years ago, the Bishop of Central Buganda invited me through Alan Reader, who used to teach in a high school in Kampala, to undertake the training of school teachers and Parish workers in modern methods of Christian education in his Diocese. Alan Reader has taken responsibility for organising our ministry in Uganda as Bristol Diocesan link representative with the Diocese of Central Buganda. The quality of these mature students is superb and in the dreadful difficulties they face, they are a stunning example to us all. They have a marvellous sense of humour and as the need to care for their families means that they can't attend seminars for more than 5 or 6 days, they cram the maximum amount of work into the week by working from soon after dawn until midnight each day. In our first four years, we were able to take 3 schools workers to Trainer level and Pip'n'Jay church agreed to fund a local co-ordinator. This on-going ministry in which teachers, church-workers and clergy have been encouraged in their ability to relate the Jesus stories to children far more effectively, has, we are told, greatly improved teaching ability in church as well. The link of these people with the most missions-oriented church in Bristol, Pip'n'Jay, has been a huge encouragement to the Ugandans and a means of providing significant help in all sorts of ways. (The recent visit of the Uganda children's choir to Pip'n'Jay - all of them orphans rescued from oblivion by an American church organisation - was the most thrilling Christian meeting many of us had ever attended. In missions it is really lovely how the ministry flows both ways.)

Driving through the bush in the Bishop's jeep to lead assembly at a local school is also a very moving experience! Only about 45% of children are able to get to school, because so many must help with cultivating the family's small-holding to produce the food they all need. Many girls as young as 11 or 12 are now in charge of the whole family of smaller children, their parents having fallen victim to AIDS. Sometimes the school will be a collection of mud huts with grass roofs and the children will have walked several miles to get there, having already walked quite a long way to fetch the family's daily water supply in large plastic containers carried on their heads. They stand neatly in class formation in front of the teachers, who sit on chairs on a raised platform; there will be 7-10 teachers for 800-1,000 children. The high incidence of malaria means that only five or six teachers may be present at any one time. The children regard being at school as such a privilege that most have a burning desire to learn everything they can, and view our visits with huge enthusiasm. By the time they have heard the elaborate ceremony of introduction, the Bible story fully explained and applied, and the final prayer - all of which must be by translation into their own local language making the presentation twice as long - they will have been standing for over an hour.

Normally, when visiting a school for the first time, Alan and his wife Margaret will ceremonially present the school with a couple of footballs (and a pump!) - a red ball for the girls, and a black one for the boys. Remember - they have no television, and most of them will never have seen one before: somehow they seem to know what they are! There is huge excitement at break-time as two very large football matches begin, with maybe 200 players a side. I have been into a great many schools out in the bush in both Nigeria and Uganda, and must say that those have been the most fulfilling days of my life.

The opportunities that face us today for serious ministry in schools are so great that I continue to be absolutely astounded by the low priority afforded them by all the major church groups. I am very much of the opinion, as I drive down through Gloucestershire or Somerset very early in the morning to lead half-hour school assemblies for hundreds of children somewhere or other, that these are much more significant congregations than I may meet in many churches. Here are very bright young minds, uncluttered by cynicism or prejudice, making their own important voyages of discovery into faith in Jesus Christ.

A few weeks ago I had an hour-long telephone call from a young Bible college graduate who had just been taken on by one of our Christian youth organisations as a Schools Worker in South London: he was hired to take assemblies in local primary and secondary schools and to run local church youth clubs. Having heard of us he rang me to ask "What sort of things can I do in a school assembly?". He wanted to know whether it was all right to mention Jesus or not. Never having seen a Christian assembly, he was wondering what sort of things he might try as he had booked a few up for the following week. A girl working with a church in Bristol had been asked to do a school assembly on behalf of the fellowship, and was expected to go ahead and do one although she had never actually seen a Christian assembly led by anyone else. Over the last 20 years this sort of approach has created all kinds of barriers, particularly in Secondary schools where ethnic issues are so important, and has even led to the break-up of a marriage of a schools worker with a major organisation who simply had no resources to undertake a ministry to young people. Once he had played his guitar (which he was very good at) and given his testimony, he had little else to offer.

On another occasion, a senior school teacher who happened to be a Head of Department resigned his position as he felt God's call into full time Christian work in schools. After a number of years I hoped that his fellowship would get behind him, but instead the elders decided to set up an organisation of their own, under their own personal control. Observing David talk to 120 Sixth Formers on a General Studies course one morning, I was very impressed with the way he was able to secure the interest and co-operation of all those present with an imaginative 3-hour programme, which provided lots of opportunity for participation and enjoyable feedback. He has never secured the support of his fellowship - they do not pray for him, they are not aware of what he is doing, and their niggardly and irregular financial support have not done anything to assist his wife, who has suffered from depression. The best you can say about this kind of thing is that it amounts to gross mismanagement by a group totally oblivious to the leading of the Holy Spirit in their fellowship.

Looking back over the last 25 years, I realise that I have been exceptionally naive; I had not realised that to many Christian organisations a successful worker is a valuable asset. Representatives of a number of organisations passing through Albania in recent years, for example, have asked the Lorings to leave O.A.C. and join their particular group, which would enable them to stick another flag in their map and present themselves to the churches back home as having a ministry in Albania.

Some years ago, a Christian organisation set up an organising committee in an area where we had established a successful schools ministry with a full time worker, and sought ways of "co-ordinating" so that their organisation could take the credit for doing that work. Raising funds for Headquarters in London by publicising the work as their own, they then recruited our team member with the offer of a substantial regular salary. Unfortunately the organisation was in fact unable to meet that financial commitment, and their highly divisive "separatist" attitude led to the schools worker being cut off from a team who had been actively supplying him with the resources he needed to continue his schools work. Being part of a large team which meets regularly and shares ideas is a huge advantage in front line work. Taking an individual outside that situation leaves him isolated and open to discouragement - in fact he did not survive. I am convinced that Christian organisations should refrain from such policies, which in the secular world would be an offence i.e. obtaining money by deception.

Hyde Park
The solution for them is to have an effective professional training programme so that they can establish their own workers properly, with the tools that will enable them to succeed. As many organisations involved in evangelism do not appear to be able to do this, it has been a delight over the last 21 years to train candidates who have gone on with confidence to join other groups and succeed in brilliant and inspiring careers - as "grandparent evangelists" now, it thrills us to receive news of their trainees, and to see photos of crowds of people - many of them hearing the Gospel for the first time - with a sketch board in the background.

In schools ministry in England the desire somehow to get the children into the church building seems to be the major concern. I was delighted to speak to a "Youth Service" in a Brethren Chapel and due to their imaginative poster campaign outside the building advertising the cartoons and Gospel magic, four small children from the estate came in to listen. The whole fellowship were absolutely thrilled by this and obviously felt that their L 10 gift presented at the end of the service had been well spent! However, they did not appear to be at all interested to hear that we had already spoken to 6,500 similar children in their local schools that week and I am sorry to say I never heard from them again.

In rural parishes, schools "ministry" has in the past involved a weekly visit by the whole school to attend an hour-long service in the little parish church. I think it is hoped this will help them to get into the habit of attending "God's house" and in fact children are often told "This is God's house and this is where we meet him". It appears not to be understood that when we go to church, we do not go to meet God, he is actually coming to church with us - he is with us anyway! Dr. Samuel Abiara told me of the first missionaries arriving to evangelise his own tribe, the Yoruba, in Nigeria, constructing a little stone Gothic church in the centre of the capital; "This is God's house" they told the astonished tribesmen who somehow or other knew of the great Creator God and considered the idea that the Great God could be confined to such a small stone structure to be absolutely hilarious! Dr. Abiara's churches are the fastest growing in Nigeria because of their emphasis on ministry in the community.

Regular visits to the parish church by schools are now much more difficult to achieve because of time constraints and greatly increased pressure on the school curriculum. The success of such services is very dependent on the skills of the local clergy who generally have no formal professional training in children's ministry.

School teachers today are highly trained professionals who expect visitors to have similarly high standards.

It is unfortunate that many of them dread visits by Christian workers because past experiences have been so amateurish. Because of the heavy burden the pastoral ministry imposes on clergy, the future success of church ministries in school must of necessity require the recruitment of part time and full time professionals. These may often be local housewives with teenage children, able to give one or two mornings a week to schools work. Experience shows that with 6 months' part time training, they are able to achieve a very high standard and form an invaluable resource as part of the local church ministry team. As a regular link with their local schools, with the skills to sustain a good Sunday school ministry, many of the children who see them during the week in school will be keen to join groups at church. Their parents will discover a new respect for their local church and its ministry too, and will attend prize-givings and special events, and hopefully one day become regular church members themselves.

The "Omega" programme I presented to the Archbishop's Advisers in Canterbury a few years ago may one day be a means of a properly co-ordinated training programme for schools workers being made available country wide.