Bishop John Reid passed away on 2 January after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. His legacy of leadership within Bible and Medical Missionary Fellowship (BMMF)/Interserve is not widely known but is very significant. John became the International Chairman of BMMF International in 1986 and continued in that role until 1998, when Rose Dowsett succeeded him. In his first two years as Chairman John helped to steer the Fellowship through the difficult transitions from BMMF to Interserve and from its base in India to Cyprus.
John’s interest in cross-cultural mission began in his days in the Melbourne University Christian Union and through his close friendship with Howard Barclay, who left for missionary service in India in 1952. John’s first of several visits to the Barclays was in 1966 when they lived in Amppipal in the remote hills of Nepal. The other strong influence on John was his senior colleague Bishop A Jack Dain who was Executive Chairman of the Lausanne Congress of World Evangelization (LCWE) in the 1970s and concurrently Chairman of BMMF. It was this connection that led to John’s significant roles in the LCWE: from 1981 he took over from John Stott as Chairman of the Theology Working Group and was LCWE Vice-Chairman at the time of the Lausanne II Congress in Manila.
Despite John’s heavy responsibilities as Bishop and Chairman of both LCWE and Interserve, his leadership was characterised by calm, astute wisdom and insight, and a remarkable attention to individuals, which flowed from his love for people. This was manifested in two ways: firstly, in prayer – John and Alison used the Interserve Prayer Diary daily – and, secondly, in correspondence – in his first year as Chairman of Interserve John tried to write personally (pre-emails!) to all Partners. His letters were brief and to the point – insightful, challenging and encouraging. John was a mentor to many a “Timothy” in the fellowship.
John had many leadership qualities. He had a tinder-dry wit and could tell the funniest stories with an impassive face; his levity often diffused tense discussions in meetings. He was deeply thoughtful, wise and humble and he had the ‘personal touch’, a quality that is often lacking in more charismatic leaders. John loved the people he led – not in a superficial way, but with genuine interest and prayerful concern.
I experienced this myself on several occasions. I will never forget the way John led the concluding communion service at the Interserve Quadrennial Conference in Kathmandu in 1994. He commented on what a remarkably gifted and competent group of people was present representing the wider Interserve fellowship, but then continued on to make the point that we were flawed and frail and in need of God’s grace and sanctification (how true that was).
After John retired, he and his wife Alison joined United Mission to Nepal as personnel counselors and they were both instrumental in helping me professionally (Alison) and pastorally (John) to survive two very difficult and challenging years (1994–95) at Gandaki Boarding School. One of John’s letters to me during that time referred to the “tottering fence” imagery in Psalm 62; it has been a consistent source of encouragement over the years when times are tough.
John wrote recently to Dr Saphir Atyal, “I often reassure myself when the going gets tough that I do not have anything that a good resurrection will not fix”.
John Barclay (returned Interserve Partner)