We are sad to announce that our good friend and brother in Christ Ralph Gunn died peacefully on Monday 24th April. We are very thankful for the years in which he served the Lord through zambesi mission as an Honorary Representative. Ralph’s connection with zm came about through a series of God-ordained ‘co-incidences’. In the latter part of his career Ralph became Assistant Principal at Bell College (now the University of the West of Scotland). He was given responsibility for the college’s Malawi Millennium Project and travelled to Malawi on a number of occasions. During one of these visits he met Rev Bill Wilson who was then zm’s Field Director. Ralph and Bill both grew up in the same part of Scotland. Bill invited Ralph to stay with him and his wife Myra in Blantyre. After a minibus accident Ralph had an extraordinary experience. Although miraculously no one had been badly hurt, Ralph and the other occupants of the minibus were badly shaken and a crowd had gathered. A young Malawian girl came and clasped Ralph’s hand and said “God is good” – before disappearing into the crowd. This encounter stayed with Ralph and he felt that the Lord was calling him in some way to serve his brothers and sisters in Christ in Malawi.
After retirement Ralph applied to become an Honorary Representative for zm, a role that he started in 2008. He served in this voluntary capacity until the end of 2019. In addition to his visits to speak at churches, he also represented the mission at conferences: the Keswick Convention, Keswick in Buckie and Keswick in Motherwell. Ralph was a treasured member of our staff team. He took his role very seriously and was committed to it. He rarely missed our staff meetings in York and went out of his way to help others in their role. Travelling with Ralph would always be a pleasure. Mission Director Mike Beresford recalled travelling to Stonehaven to meet Ralph Gunn and Simon Chikwana. “It was a real treat to be picked up by Ralph in his rather nice Jaguar. From then on we travelled to Scottish churches in luxury”.
Ralph’s times in Malawi hold many precious memories for us and our team in Malawi. Ralph’s culinary skills were put to the test when making a large bowl of porridge using the microwave in the guest house. A cry came from the kitchen “Oh Mike, the porridge has exploded!” Ralph was always prepared for an adventure. Twice he had barely set foot in Malawi before he was whisked away – on one occasion it was down to the Lower Shire (the very hottest part of Malawi) to look at a defunct windpump and be entertained by a crowd of villagers and orphans from an organisation that we were considering partnering with. Another time, we went straight off to the very under-developed north east Mozambique. We wanted to visit a certain church called Chindiwo ZEC. Ralph was driving. We reached a ‘bridge’ consisting of two very slippery and rotten looking tree trunks. Ralph concluded bluntly, “I’m not driving over that”, pointing at the tree trunks. The leaders from ZEC Mozambique responded: “the church is very far, unless we drive over we are not going to be able to visit it”. Ralph was not going to be swayed. He was wisely not keen on the idea of a vehicle getting stuck in a ravine in such a remote location. Then an elderly man came down the hill pushing his bicycle. A conversation ensued in Chichewa. The elderly man convinced everyone that the church was “pafupi” or not very far. So off we set in the drizzle, with the man rushing on ahead of us to alert the church. The church was not much in man’s eyes, but it was such a delight to join them. We rejoiced at the old man’s faithfulness and his enthusiasm to welcome visitors.
Later on that trip Ralph’s driving skills were again put to good effect. Driving to Duya ZEC along a road designed for a motorbike, Ralph kept up a Stig-like pace along the rutted road. The vehicle had extra passengers inside, so Mission Director Mike Beresford had volunteered to climb into the luggage compartment (a normal travel option for Malawians or Mozambicans). After we arrived at the church thoroughly shaken up, Ralph said “Sorry Mike, I was just trying to keep up with the motorbike!”. Ralph did like to drive fast when he was able to.
We were very thankful that Ralph was able to represent the mission at an award ceremony hosted by the Scotland Malawi Partnership, during which HRH The Princess Royal presented zm with an award following Cyclone Idai in 2019.
Ralph retired when his health started to deteriorate. Our opportunity to say thank you to him in person for his nearly 12 years’ service to the mission was thwarted by COVID – our leaving presentation to him took place via Zoom. We have missed Ralph’s dedication to the mission’s work and his prayerful commitment to our brothers and sisters in Christ in Malawi and northern Mozambique. We continued to pray for Ralph when his health grew worse and were very sad to hear about his death. But we were honoured to join his family and friends to give thanks for his life on Friday 5th May. In his usual way, Ralph had organised the order of service. His son Alan gave a tribute to Ralph’s life and his friend George Finnie spoke movingly from Scripture. Ralph’s other son David read a moving poem entitled Heaven that David himself had written some years previously. A very generous retiring collection was made towards the work of zambesi mission.
We give thanks to God for Ralph’s life. We pray for his wife Jean and for their sons Alan and David and their wider family. Farewell Ralph. We know to be with Christ is better by far, but nonetheless we grieve your loss and we will miss you. But we do not grieve like the rest of men who have no hope. For “we believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him” (1 Thessalonians 4: 14).