A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children (Prov. 13:22).
On the northern tip of Australia lies a nondescript outpost called “Thursday Island.” Sparsely inhabited by indigenous people from Papua New Guinea, and surrounded by the deep blues of the sea, the small and quiet community serves as the commercial center for the Torres Strait Islands, a small cluster of tropical islands just off of Cape York.
On the 22nd of October, 1928, a child came into the world on this little-known island; his birth going unnoticed by all except a few. It was an unremarkable entrance into human existence, in an unremarkable location, far from the cities and headlines that concerned the rest of the world at that time.
The second of two children, the child grew through humble means and hard work in a land that was raw and full of potential. As the son of an educator, he learned his lessons well, many of them the hard way. He made music upon the violin and mandolin and learned his three R’s by the light of a gas lamp when the day was through.
When he was 16, his father died. With no earthly father to guide him into adulthood, he turned to his Heavenly Father for direction, stability, and a model after which to shape his life. In the words of the Bible he found all he needed; the Book fed both his passion for learning and his heart for his Lord and Creator.
As the world began to heal from the wounds of World War II, the son of the educator chose to become an educator himself, investing his career in the next generation as a teacher, administrator, and principal. With his new bride in one hand and his Bible in the other, he set out to make an eternal difference in his world. As his passion for truth and the lost continued to grow, he became a powerful and articulate defender of his faith and the Word he so desperately loved, in his home, his schools, his church, and his community.
Then, on October 20, 1951, in the northern town of Cairns, he did a most remarkable thing: He became a father—but not just any father; he became my father—the man I will forever call “Dad.” On the day I was born he became the most important man I would ever know on the face of this earth.
With a family now in tow, and the decades beginning to slip away, he seized every day as an opportunity to influence his world for truth and to shape his children into those who would love God and His Word. Through his words and through his life, he imparted lessons that will be forever etched in my mind and in the hearts of my four living siblings, and in the heart of my late brother Robert:
Whatever you do, you do it 100 percent.
Dad never did anything half-heartedly. If it was worth doing at all, he did it as best he could. His reports as an educator were first class; his interaction with students and other teachers was always focused and intentional. He had chosen to serve the world as an educator, but he approached the task with an intensity that reflected the truth in Colossians 3:23:
Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.
In those days, Australian educators were transferred every few years as they climbed the promotional ladder. Approximately every three years or so we would pack up the family and move to a different location throughout the state of Queensland. Finally reaching the top as a principal of a class 1 school, we settled down in the city of Brisbane, where he continued his work and his parenting with passion and devotion.
Dad showed us that a leader has responsibility, because those who follow are greatly influenced by the one out in front. In Luke 6:40, Jesus said:
A pupil is not above his teacher, but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.
By his example, Dad illustrated this truth in clear ways, both in his schools and in our home. Who we are impacts those in our charge, either for good or for bad. While other principals (and many teachers) hit the pub after work and wondered why their teachers were sluggish in the mornings, Dad upheld his moral integrity . . . and his teachers and faculty followed. His schools were simply the best in the territory.
Through our parents, we learned about godly generosity. Our house was a well-known stopping-off point for missionaries, and Mum and Dad freely gave whatever assistance they could to ministers of the Word—they had such passion to see the gospel proclaimed and people saved. On one occasion, a missionary needed money to continue his journey, and my parents gave him the little they had, never letting on what a phenomenal sacrifice it was for them.
If my parents acquired some household goods, resulting in them not needing a piece of furniture or some other item, they would look for a needy person to give the excess piece. Generous with their finances, possessions, and time, they always exhibited such joy in helping others. They understood and practiced Matthew 6:19–21:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
As their children, we recognized that the Lord is good and generous, so why not help others? Where did I learn that? Mum and Dad for sure.
Dad was a risk taker and a man of action. He and Mum never really wondered how to get something done, they just did it. Whether it was bringing missionaries into town for a campaign, starting a Sunday school, or giving more than they reasonably should, they rarely counted the costs. If they felt the burden that something should happen, they made it happen. They were like Nehemiah, who, when he saw the walls of Jerusalem and the temple of God in ruins, was burdened to do something about it. When he saw the leaders treating the people unjustly, he asked the question “Why isn’t someone doing something?” He acted and took it upon himself to rebuild the holy city and ensure justice for the people. Daniel 11:32 says:
The people who know their God will display strength and take action.
My father and mother were known as people of strength and action, even when the task before them was filled with great risk. Did this affect us as their children? Of course it did. When they took risks and acted, we saw time and time again the provision of God, giving us the faith to act as well. Like my father, I’ve been a risk taker, too. When I look at the history of Answers in Genesis I just shake my head. I don’t know how we did it back then, and I don’t know how we are doing it now. The people involved, the growing vision, the incredible provision of God every time we take a step . . . it’s miraculous, I think. I doubt I ever would have learned to take risks (which are really just steps of faith, carefully and prayerfully thought through) and to take action had I not grown up with the model of my parents.
Australia is quite a large country; about the same size as the 48 states of the continental United States. The population, however, is rather small, currently about 19 million. It is a land of rich natural resources, but spiritually, it is a dry, dry desert. The number of born-again Christians in my homeland is probably only two percent. Only five to seven percent attend churches of any kind. In this land of great spiritual need, our parents instilled in us the conviction to be missionaries and defenders of the faith, no matter where we happened to be.
Some of the small towns we were transferred to only had one or two churches, and sometimes there were no Sunday schools at all in the rural areas where Dad’s school was located. I remember my parents starting up Sunday schools so they could reach children with the truth of God’s Word and the gospel. Sunday after Sunday they would drive from house to house, picking up kids and packing them in the car like sardines . . . with no seatbelts, of course. (I know, you could get arrested for that today, but back then it’s just what they did to do what they knew had to be done.)
The lack of churches in the cities we lived in often made it difficult to find one that stood on the authority of God’s Word. Not all the churches we attended had pastors who took the stand they should have on God’s Word. Many times I recall my father, with my mother and us children in tow, going up to the pastor after a service. With Bible in hand he would challenge the pastor about some of the things he said in his sermon, quoting Scriptures that resounded with the words “Thus said the Lord,” or “It is written. . . .” Dad just loved the passages that proclaimed “Thus says the Lord,” “It is written,” and “Have you not read . . . ?!” (To this day, when I quote verses that contain these phrases, an image of my father confronting liberal pastors pops into my mind!)
As we were transferred around, my father served on many different deacon/elder boards of churches throughout the state of Queensland. Often he would come home from a meeting really upset that someone didn’t seem to want to take a stand on issues he believed were vital. Whether it was Sunday school material, mission outreach, or discipline that needed to be applied to a wayward member, my father wanted to do what God’s Word clearly taught, but many times others in leadership didn’t want to “rock the boat,” or they wanted to smooth over the situations without confrontation. Not our dad. He wasn’t afraid to shake things up when necessary. I heard them call Dad “Merv the stirrer” because he didn’t hesitate to jump in and ruffle some feathers if the integrity of the Word was at stake.
Was he correct in all instances? Of course not, and I’m not even aware of all the situations he was involved in. Even if my father wasn’t always right in every situation, I know his heart was in the right place every time. To the best of his understanding, he wanted to do things God’s way. If that meant being called a “stirrer,” then so be it. He put God’s Word before losing church members or friends if someone needed confronting in a biblical manner.
We learned that vital lesson well as his children, and it’s important that you do the same. If you take the Bible seriously, live by it, and defend it when it is compromised, you will likely be tarred with the same brush. Both my brother Steve and I have experienced the same stereotyping as my father. No matter how graciously you put across scriptural truth, you will also potentially be viewed in a similar manner.
Yes, Dad was considered a “boat rocker,” and he was prepared to make waves when necessary. He felt that if you needed to create a tsunami to make things right, then so be it. Sure, he cared about what people thought of him, he cared about them very much . . . but he cared about the Bible more. The Word of God was the foundation of his life. It was the air in his lungs and the blood in his veins. He never ceased to read it, contemplate it, apply it, and defend it. In 2 Timothy 4:1–5, Paul exhorted Timothy with a great challenge, a challenge that my father accepted as his own:
I solemnly charge you . . . preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they . . . will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Daily, he would study and study so he could be prepared to defend the Christian faith against false teaching and the claims that the Bible contained contradictions. Whether it was the worldwide Flood, the feeding of the 5,000, or arguing against the possibility that man evolved from molecules to ape to man over millions of years, Dad defended the Word of God as if his life depended upon it . . . which, in fact, it did.
He was always very adamant about one thing—if you can’t trust the Book of Genesis as literal history, then you can’t trust the rest of the Bible. After all, every single doctrine of biblical theology is founded in the history of Genesis 1–11. My father had not developed his thinking in this area as much as we have today at Answers in Genesis, but he clearly understood that if Adam wasn’t created from dust, and that if he didn’t fall into sin as Genesis states, then the gospel message of the New Testament can’t be true either.
When it came to apparent contradictions or scientific conflict, he would say something like this: “Kenneth, even though I don’t have the answers in this area doesn’t mean there aren’t any—it just means we don’t have them at this time. We need to ask God to provide us with answers—but even if He doesn’t, this is no reason to reject God’s Word.”
Dad, by example and through his teaching, had helped me understand something that has been with me since that time: When something we learn contradicts Scripture, we need to first of all go to the Bible and study the words in context very carefully. If, after doing this, we are sure the Bible still clearly means what we had previously gleaned, then we need to question the ideas that contradict the Bible’s words. Then, even if we can’t find an explanation that shows where the secular idea is in error, we need to continue to search and wait for the answer. Even if we don’t find answers in our lifetime, we cannot reinterpret Scripture. To do so would be to make man’s ideas infallible and God’s Word fallible. This would put us on a course of compromise and unbelief through the rest of Scripture, and Dad often warned us of this “slippery slope.”
These were some of the lessons we learned from our parents; lessons that shaped our lives in every way and continue to shape the lives of our children and those around us. God used them both to impact our lives in ways we still cannot imagine. In the end, their example taught us vital priorities: We learned that life was to be lived with God first, others second, and self third.
Throughout my childhood and teenage years, two aspects of Dad’s life made impressions on me more than all the others. First, he hated compromise. He would never knowingly compromise the Word of God, and he took the scriptural warnings about compromise, purity of doctrine, and contending for the faith very seriously.1 Second, he obeyed the pointed command made in 1 Peter 3:13–15:
Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (emphasis added).
Okay, in all honesty, he sometimes forgot about the “gentleness and reverence” part (none of us Hams will ever claim he was perfect!), but he had the rest of the passage down firm. He would stand up strongly for what he believed was true. He was a leader who listened to advice, but he was never intimidated by people who weren’t willing to suffer in order to stay true to the Word of God.
He was an uncompromising witness and defender of the gospel. God used him to lay a rock solid foundation for our family and prepare us not only for this present life—but also for an eternity with our Creator. I cannot fathom the value of this inheritance which he left me. There is no doubt in my mind that the legacy of my father and mother, together with the Lord’s calling on my life, is the reason I came to be in the ministry of Answers in Genesis—now reaching millions of people around the world.
Who would have guessed that God would use a simple man like my father to shape our family in such powerful ways? Who could have speculated that through the faithful obedience of a boy from Thursday Island and the humble devotion of the woman we still call our Mum, God would choose to make such an impact on the world?
They were simple vessels that served a mighty God. As their children and His, we will be eternally thankful to the One who loaned them to us, who guided them with His Word, and who empowered them with His Spirit to raise a godly family in an ungodly world.
He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light. . . . To Him be honor and eternal dominion! (1 Tim. 6:15–16).
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