Sitting in a Giant’s Seat

On the door to my office it says, Executive Director: Eddie Arthur, which sounds very impressive. To be honest, there are times when I wonder what on earth I’m doing in that office anyway. This isn’t because of the fine sounding title, it is because of some of the men who have sat in that office before me. John Bendor-Samuel, one of my predecessors as the Wycliffe Exec. was perhaps the most remarkable person I have ever met.

John was an academic linguist of some renown, with numerous publications to his credit, including the Encyclopedia Britannica article on the language family to which Kouya belongs. John was also a well know missionary statesman, renowned and revered in many parts of the world; especially in Africa where he invested so much of his life.

John occupied many significant roles in Wycliffe and other organisations and the list of his achievements is truly staggering, but what truly impresses me is that the thing we remember about John is his humility, grace and service. John Hamilton writes this about him:

I recall him arriving at our home in Belfast one afternoon, removing his shoes at the door and extracting a pair of slippers from his bag. After tea, he was promptly in the kitchen, sleeves rolled up and washing the dishes.

For my own part, I recall our early days in Wycliffe, before our first trip to Africa. At that point, John was the International Vice-President of Wycliffe a distant and somewhat daunting figure to a new recruit. On the first occasion that I bumped into John, I wasn’t entirely sure who he was – I didn’t mix in those elevated circles. But he greeted me by name and asked a number of questions which demonstrated that he was very aware of me and my circumstances. He cared for people deeply, even the newest recruits.

Over the years, I grew to know John well, and to know something of his life story and the passion that drove him. John loved the Bible, he was passionate about the need of people to have the Bible in their own language, but above all he was a disciple of Jesus Christ and he devoted his life to serving his Lord. It was inspirational to spend time with John and his wife, Pam. Truly remarkable people who achieved great things, but who kept their feet firmly on the ground.

… he seems never to have forgotten that he serves Christ within a Christian mission. He is, first and  foremost, a man of God. He is warm, approachable, humble, wise, prayerful, and possesses buckets full of common sense.

Sitting in the seat that John once occupied is daunting; his legacy is hard to live up to. I know I don’t have John’s academic ability or his capacity for sheer hard work (very few people do). He was born with those things, and I wasn’t. However, his example as a leader, a husband and father and as a disciple of Jesus is something I can learn from. His memory will always be an inspiration spurring me on to be a better Christ follower.

John was struck by a car and died yesterday evening. You can read a short tribute on the Wycliffe website.

“John’s vision to see the Bible translated into vernacular languages inspired people all round the world to become engaged in the work of Bible translation, but above all, he was, quite simply, one of the finest Christian men I have ever known.” – Roger Welch: Board Chair, Wycliffe Bible Translators International

“John was a towering figure on the international mission scene. He was well known and widely respected around the world for his passion for God’s word and the needs of minority people groups. He was also a humble and devoted disciple of Jesus Christ and a wonderful example to those who knew him.” – Eddie Arthur, Executive Director, Wycliffe Bible Translators UK

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4 replies on “Sitting in a Giant’s Seat”

Thanks for your reflections on JBS. I had the privilege of serving under his leadership 1984-87. I got to see his passion, prodigious work ethic and unbelievable command of detail. He was and remains an inspiration. I remember traveling with him from Auckland to Los Angeles. He worked non-stop across the Pacific and continued working onward from LAX to LHR. From that day onward my affectionate and cheeky term of endearment for John became “Lord Ironbottom!” I would look at John and understand how a small island nation could rule the world! Such intellect, such compassion. A rare combination. My prayers are with Pam and the family as well with my friends and former colleagues who mourn the loss of a remarkable friend, mentor and leader.

Thanks, Eddie, He was truly one of the greats and leaves such an incredible legacy. What in Wycliffe and SIL has he not touched and made better?

this morning before work, only slightly before getting the news, I was reading the very end of George McDonald’s “Lilith” which has quite a striking portrayal of heaven and “home coming” and that was fresh in my mind as I read the news.

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