Gratias – Dr James Howard Bradbury (AM)

howardIt was my honour and privilege to speak at the thanksgiving service for Howard Bradbury at the Australian National University last Saturday. I first met Dr Bradbury (as I knew him then) early in 1975 when we moved to Canberra. I last met Howard (as I’ve known him for some time) at the ICU at National Capital Private Hospital only days before he died. Our lives have connected in so many ways over so many years, and I truly thank God for our friendship and his lasting influence upon me.

Dr Bradbury completed a PhD in polymer chemistry at Birmingham University in record time. After a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University, and working at CSIRO Wool Research Laboratories, he joined the Chemistry Department at the ANU in 1961. He has pursued sabbatical research at Cornell and Oxford Universities. He has been award a DSc from both Melbourne University and ANU. He received the David Syme Research Prize from Melbourne University and the Rennie Memorial Medal and H G Smith Memorial Medal from the Royal Australian Chemical Institute. In 2007 he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for his contributions.

The Director of the ANU Research School of Chemistry, Professor John Carver, was Professor Bradbury’s PhD student and friend. He spoke highly at the thanksgiving service about Dr Bradbury’s lasting impact in the lives of so many people—both academically and personally. Dr Bradbury was a scientists’ scientist. And yet, I knew next to nothing of this influence prior to his passing.
I’ve been aware for some time of Dr Bradbury’s extraordinary commitment to using his science for humanitarian good. He retired from his salaried position at the ANU at the early age of 61 so that he could devote himself more fully to exploring the chemistry of food and providing solutions to the plight of the poorest people in the world. He continued this brilliant work, unpaid for another 28 years, inventing and producing simple and affordable techniques to remove cyanide from cassava. Thousands and thousands have been rescued from the debilitating paralysis of konzo. It was deeply moving at the thanksgiving service to be reminded of the generous humanitarian impact of his work.

Yet my experience of the impact of Howard Bradbury, together with Ruth—his wife of 64
years—began with their hospitality. As a young teenager I was welcomed into the world of university student ministry at Reid Methodist (Uniting from 1977) Church. Howard and Ruth would reach out to students in the colleges, invite them into their home, provide transport, cook meals, offer support, encourage fun, and generously pour out Christian love. Howard and Ruth loved students and, even more, they loved students to enter into a real relationship with God through Jesus Christ. And this has left its legacy on me.

When I left home for university it made sense to seek out a church that understood university students and that had a passion to see their lives transformed. This I found at the University of NSW with the ministry of Phillip Jensen and St Matthias. Howard’s passion to impact students with the message of Jesus became my passion. I pursued this with vigour and eventually moved back to the place where I had seen it first—the ANU—where I started the ministry of FOCUS and later Crossroads Christian Church.
Howard and Ruth supported Fiona and me as we began this new work in Canberra. They would ask us how we were going and pray for us. Howard joined the committee to support the university ministry and, together with Ken Mackay, opened up many doors for ministry on the campus.

Version 2Over the last decade or more of Howard’s life our friendship has been enriched in new ways. Being unimpressed with the compromise of the Uniting Church on some matters of biblical importance, Howard led the planting of a new church called the Canberra Christian Fellowship (in the Methodist Tradition). I would visit this congregation often, regularly providing preaching support, and always dropping the average age significantly! While small in numbers, this body of believers has always been big in heart, no doubt encouraged by the wisdom, grace and love of Howard and Ruth. Each time I would join with this fellowship I would come away encouraged to keep on going myself.

Howard Bradbury was a man of science, esteemed across the globe. He was a man of the people, loved by his wife, children, grandchildren, and 20 great grandchildren. His love for people shaped his application of his science to the needs of others. But deeper still, Howard was a man of faith in God through Jesus Christ. His knowledge of God laid a solid foundation for his scientific passion. The mercy and kindness of his Saviour pushed him to love, respect, and invest in people.

At a time when it is normal to view Science in opposition to Christianity and reason as the antithesis of faith, Howard causes us to pause and reconsider. Here was a man whose faith was founded on good reasons. Jesus Christ, who died and was buried, was raised and appeared to eye-witnesses, who testified to what they saw. These events in history transformed Emeritus Professor James Howard Bradbury AM, PhD (Birmingham), DSc (Melbourne), DSc (ANU), to apply his immense scientific brain to consider the claims and promises of God.

Will you do the same?

Gratias – Mr Nicholls

IMG_1387Over the last weekend I returned to the city of Launceston where I’d lived from 1972 to 1974. I felt a sense of nostalgia flying over the Bass Strait. We drove past the church in Margaret Street where I’d been to Sunday School and boy scouts. Faces and a few names came to mind. Happy times. Times of mischief. Losing my voice for a couple of weeks as I dived to catch a ball and coat-hangered myself on the edge of a wooden bench.

I remembered a man at the church—I think it was Mr Nicholls—asking me if I was left or right handed. He planned to buy me a fishing rod and reel and he wanted to know what type of reel to get. I was right handed, so he bought me a left handed reel! I’ve used the same fickle approach with my kids as he thought it made more sense to have your strongest hand on the rod.

Mr Nicholls was simply a kind-hearted bloke in our church. Neither of my parents fished, so he stepped into the gap. He introduced me to what would become a lifetime hobby. To be fair, my dad sewed my first rod and tackle bag, and my mum would reimburse me for bait if I provided fish for a meal. I thank Mr Nicholls because he demonstrated that adults can have a major influence on the life of kids—even when they’re not our own. He taught me something about being generous and taking an active in interest in others.

IMG_2031I still love throwing a line in the water. It doesn’t happen that often, but there’s something peaceful about watching the sun rise over the ocean as I wait for the first bites of the morning. There’s not too many other things that get me up before dawn. It’s thrilling to hook into a boiling school of tailor, to watch a massive barramundi do all it can to throw the hook, or to come home with a heavy bag of fresh fish. I enjoy the solace of being alone with my thoughts.

IMG_1155Fishing has also been fun for my family. Fiona and I used to share a kiss if we caught more than one whiting on the same worm! The kids would spend hours with me digging for pippis, catching little (and sometimes bigger) fish. Sometimes we’ve depended on catching fish for food and managed to catch enough to keep us going. One time we caught so many fish my reel seized up and our bags broke from the weight of our catch.

We’ve had some unbelievable moments, like the time Matthew got a fish hook through his finger, while it was still attached to a live barramundi, with our whole family in 4 meter tinny in crocodile infested waters in Kakadu. This was after someone yelled at him to stop hanging his feet over the side. And this was just before a 5 metre croc leapt vertically out of the water to take a large bird. He got to publish his story in a national fishing magazine at the age of 9!

There’ve also been some sobering moments. Like the friend who took his two boys fishing and only brought one home, after a large wave tossed his son into the ocean. Fishing has brought me great joy, but it’s also been the context of major tragedy for others. We bathe in the wonder of this beautiful creation and yet we’re so small and exposed. Each time I return home without having caught a fish I’m reminded that I’m not in control of this world—I depend on the one who made it and sustains it. God is the one who gives me my daily bread and my occasional fish.

And I thank God for introducing me to Mr Nicholls.

Gratias — Peter Nelson

This is the first of a new series of posts that I’m planning, called gratias (or thanks). I’m indebted to so many people throughout my life who have influenced, shaped, challenged, and supported me in so many meaningful ways. My plan is to pay tribute to some of these people, and in so doing to bring a word of encouragement to you.

Peter Nelson

Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 1.45.13 pmDuring my student ministry in the late 1990s I got to know a number of athletes associated with the Australian Institute of Sport. Each of them spoke of the impact of a chaplain at the AIS, called Peter Nelson. Peter demonstrated concern for the personal and spiritual welfare of a large group of athletes, of various ages and maturity, across many different sports. It was a daunting responsibility that Peter exercised with humility and grace, without regard to thanks or reward.

I was privileged to meet Peter and discover his servant-hearted attitude to the athletes. He invited me to share in this ministry with him, and so I was introduced to the world of sports chaplaincy.

A number of things stand out about Peter. When we first met, Peter would work a newspaper round in the early hours of the morning so as to fund his ministry among the athletes. He wanted to offer a service without cost to others. He lived out the words of the Apostle Paul:

For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:16-18)

Peter has maintained this attitude, not looking for perks or privileges. He is committed to giving rather than receiving, often investing his personal funds into buying bibles, books, or other things to offer to the athletes.

I worked alongside Peter for four to five years with the chaplaincy at the AIS. During this time I witnessed a consistent model of gentleness and respect for others. Peter was a great listener who displayed deep empathy for others. His counsel was valued by many, but it was his faithful and generous service of others that left the deepest mark. To this day, I hear testimonies of Peter’s graciousness from those who have met him. I expect that there are many who would say that it is the calibre of Peter’s life that has led them to take the message of Christianity seriously.

Peter is one who labours in prayer for others. We held a weekly prayer meeting at the AIS and Peter would always be there praying. Even if no one else was to turn up, we could be confident that Peter would keep his promises to pray for us.

After leaving the AIS and beginning chaplaincy with the Brumbies, I would continue to seek time with Peter on a regular basis. I’d be encouraged by his questions and genuine interest in my welfare. He demonstrated his faithfulness in consistently praying for others. Though he was a very busy man, he always conveyed a sense of being available and interested.

Peter agreed to be a member of our church (Crossroads) board of reference. This is a body of men and women known for their maturity and wisdom. We had cause to engage Peter on a number of occasions to assist us to make careful decisions as a church. He imparted much wisdom as we navigated our way through some difficult and painful relational issues. In these matters, Peter would often help us to slow down and consider the various sides of the matters. I’ve never heard him say a bad word about others—ever!

At a time when many are thinking merely of themselves and personal pleasures, Peter uses his ‘retirement’ to invest in the lives of others. And at 71, he’s still a pretty handy cricketer. More significantly, he continues his chaplaincy, mentors others, and provides leadership to the Canberra Aboriginal Church and the Canberra Austral-Asian Christian Church. Most of all he loves and serves Jesus. He reminds me of Timothy.

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. (Philippians 2:19-22)

I thank God for letting me learn from Peter Nelson.

(Photo by Matt Bedford, Canberra Times)

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