When we risk all – for Jesus.


One cold and wet evening in autumn 1925 a young Church Army captain caught the ferry to the Pier Head to attend a meeting in Liverpool about missionary work in Paraguay.

Which was strange as Alfred had no links with anywhere in South America. No idea why he went to this particular meeting. His background was from a small fishing village in Norfolk. Two years with TB had truncated his schooling and so he worked in the local garage before being commissioned in the Church Army.

Shy and reserved Alfred eschewed up-front ministry. He felt more at home in social action, working with young offenders in Birkenhead.

Not many turned up to the meeting which was just as well as the speaker was boring and long-winded. And yet this was to be a pivotal moment: Alfred responded to God’s call to go to South America.

And as a direct result of Alfred’s obedience Jacqui and I will be flying to Argentina next month to meet up with Alfred’s grandson, Andrew Leake who along with his wife Maria continues to serve God in the far north of that vast country.

But the Argentina Alfred travelled to was in a very different world than today. Travel for one. Today you can do the whole journey in less than 36 hours, no problem.

For Alfred it began with a 30 day voyage from Tilbury to the Argentinean capital. Then four days by train to the railhead at Embarcación. The final 40 kms to Misión Chaqueña, where the mission to the Mataco Indians was based was by mule-drawn cart.

There you were effectively out of contact with the rest of the world. Mail was intermittent. And more, if anything broke you had to fix it with the resources at hand – something which Alfred was good at.

Health was always an issue in such a very hot climate. Swarms of mosquitoes and particularly menacing blood-sucking bugs called the vinchuca. No doctors, no modern medicines. Oh – and it becomes a war zone as Paraguay and Bolivia slug it out over oil rights.

Then remarkably some eight years later Alfred’s sweetheart from East Runton, Dorothy, joins him and they are married at the mission with most of the congregation being the indigenous Toba.

Fittingly the main part of their service was in the native language, fittingly because within a few years Alfred was to able a key role in translating the New Testament into Toba and Mataco, two of the local languages.

For Dorothy it must have seemed that she had landed on a different planet, for the love of Alfred and for the love of Jesus.

I write all this because I have only just finished reading the book entitled
“Under an Algarrobo tree” written by Alfred’s son, David – who has visited Christ Church and until he ‘retired’ was the (Anglican) Bishop in Buenos Aires.

These courageous men and women who left all and risked everything for the sake of the Gospel simply puts our nesh Christianity in the shade. Here I am, somewhat apprehensive before our three weeks in Argentina – will my Mastercard work? Where can I jog safely? And above all, what will be the quality of their Wifi?

The temptation is to value our comfort before our commitment, to play safe rather than risk all for the sake of Jesus, “who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Certainly Jesus made it very clear – no small print here – that discipleship means total commitment to him. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23).

And there are key moments when our true motives are tested. Those times when we hear God speak – and know we need to respond one way or the other. Like Alfred at his meeting in Liverpool. “Do I trust God that much?”

“The defining moments of my life have not been my sins or successes,” ponders marine-turned-monk Brennan Manning. “They’ve been a depressingly small number of decisions that involved real risk.”

During Holy Week we focus on Jesus, on the events leading to his cruel cross, above all his willingness to drink the cup his Father had given him.

Such obedience did not come lightly. For as he prayed alone in Gethsemane Luke tells us “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (22:44)

From that key decision everything else followed, no less than the healing of the whole of creation and more to the point, for me to become a beloved child of God, renewed and restored in Christ.” I owe him no less than my complete trust and willing obedience.