Bishop John Reid passed away on the 2nd January 2016 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. His legacy of leadership within BMMF/ Interserve1 is not widely known but is very significant. John took over from Mario DiGangi as the International Chairman of BMMF International in 1986 and continued until 1998, handing over to Rose Dowsett. 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. At around the same time, John held significant roles in the Lausanne Conference for World Evangelisation (LCWE), and was Bishop of South Sydney until 1993.
Despite John’s heavy responsibilities, his leadership was characterised by his calm, astute wisdom and insight and a remarkable attention to individuals flowing from his love for people. This was manifested in two ways: first in prayer – John and Alison used the Interserve Prayer Diary daily. Second, 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 ‘Timothys’ in the Fellowship.
John’s own journey was similarly encouraged by others. His interest in cross-cultural mission can be traced back to his days in the Melbourne University Christian Union and 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 Amp Pipal 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 LCWE in the 1970s and concurrently Chairman of BMMF2. It was this connection that led to John’s significant roles in the LCWE.
John had many leadership qualities. 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 – commenting on what a remarkably gifted and competent group of people were present representing the wider Interserve fellowship (how true that was), and continuing to make the point that at the same time we were flawed and frail and in need of God’s grace and sanctification – how true that was too.– JB
After John had retired he and Alison joined UMN as Personnel Counsellors (1995-97) and they were both instrumental in helping me professionally (Alison) and pastorally (John), to survive two very difficult and challenging years 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. — JB
One of the less ‘glamorous’ areas of John’s leadership which I appreciated was his ability to chair meetings. This might sound like a boring and fairly unimportant skill, but anyone who has attended meetings that are poorly chaired will attest to the huge difference it can make. I experienced on several occasions John’s chairing of Interserve’s international meetings (some of which were very large), and smaller meetings as well. He could deal with complex issues and negotiate tricky committee procedure, apparently effortlessly. He would also liven up some fairly deadly patches with very much to-the-point humour. — AS
A celebration of John’s life was held at St Andrew’s In the service booklet was a wonderful quote by Dr Saphir Athyal, Former Principal of Union Biblical Seminary, India. Dr Athyal wrote:
In the last email he (John) wrote with health problems and faltering typing but with warmth and depth. He wrote, “I often assure myself when the going gets tough that I do not have anything which a good resurrection will not fix. I live in that hope of that great day when we shall see Jesus.”
Compiled with contributions from John Barclay and Andrew Schachtel. Images courtesy John Barclay and Ramon Williams.
Editor’s note: Over the last week I have been privileged to receive and read many stories about Bishop John Reid. It has been both humbling and heartening. I never met John — I joined Interserve 14 years after he left — but wow! What a legacy of discipleship to be part of! It’s also been an opportunity to give thanks for those people who have spoken into my journey, and to pray about how I may (God willing) serve and encourage others as John did. — EA
1 Since its foundation in 1852, Interserve has had several names, reflecting its evolving areas of focus. From 1887 it was called ZBMM (Zenana Bible & Medical Mission), and in 1947 changed to BMMF (Bible and Medical Missionary Fellowship). In 1987, BMMF moved to Cyprus and became known as Interserve. For more information, see interserve.org.
2 From 1981 John Reid took over from John Stott as Chairman of the Theology Working Group and was Vice Chairman of LCWE at the time of the Lausanne II Congress in Manila.
3 Jack had earlier been the General Secretary of ZBMM (Zenana Bible & Medical Mission) during the years of transition to BMMF in the 1950s. John Reid wrote this tribute to Jack in 2003.