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Two faithful servants

On Saturday 4th March, former zm mission worker Miss Jean Murray celebrated her 100th birthday. This article is an appreciation of her life thus far. We also remember with thanks another faithful servant from the same era, Mrs Elsie Stewart, who passed away peacefully on Wednesday 1st March aged 100 years.

Jean Murray was born in 1923. She grew up in Croydon, south London and went on to qualify as a nurse and then a midwife in local hospitals. In the late 1950s Jean was working in Cambridgeshire as a peripatetic midwife. There she had a colleague, Constance Biart, and they became close sisters in the Lord.

In 1960 Constance, or Con as she was known, went to Nyasaland, as it then was, as a missionary with zambesi mission. Jean visited her there for a holiday and Con challenged her to come and work there as there was a great need for medical staff in the mission’s health centres and rural hospital. By this time Jean was working in the Brighton area and going to Holland Road Baptist Church. Fairly soon after her return from Africa, the church held a missionary conference and Jean went forward in response to an appeal for people willing to go overseas to serve God.

Jean applied to zm and in 1965 went out to what was then the newly independent nation of Malawi. She was based first at zm’s HQ, called Mitsidi, on the edge of Blantyre, Malawi’s largest town. On the site was a school, church, printing press, offices, health centre and staff accommodation as well as fruit trees and crop growing areas. Whilst Jean loved being involved in everything, she was in greatest demand in the health centre running a day clinic, overseeing a pharmacy, going out to the villages around in a Land Rover she bought and of course delivering babies. In an emergency, nurses like Jean were called upon to do whatever they could, including pulling out teeth without anaesthetic. In 1969 she wrote an article for Polished Shaft, zm’s magazine for supporters, about the work with children at Mitsidi.

In 1971 the old Mitsidi site was taken over by the President as part of the grounds of his new Palace. So Jean worked with the others to make the move to a new site three miles round the hillside a success. Jean wrote an article for the Polished Shaft in December 1971 reflecting on the move.  

Also based at Mitsidi until 1978 were Gladys and John Simons, an Australian couple and their three young children: Jennifer, Gillian and Stephen. The children loved being looked after by “Aunty Jean” and for her to join their family trips to the mountains outside Blantyre – some more reflections from the Simons are below.    

We have warm memories of ‘Aunty’ Jean Murray who joined zm in 1965. She was a dedicated nurse who worked tirelessly in rural Ntonda and New Mitsidi.  She had a real depth of character and great courage, while also being very reserved.  Accommodation was basic and she made the best of things. Over the years we remember that in two different zm houses that she lived in her room opened directly onto the verandah; she had to enter the rest of the house by going outside at all times of day or night.  She always had her trusty torch and a calm attitude.  After she moved into a new house at New Mitsidi we realised that leopards where actually frequenting the mission property.  She knew that as long as she had her light then her way was safe.  This analogy was used many times when remembering at Jesus is the Light of the World and there is nothing to fear.  “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119: 105).

Jean Murray was fond of her green Land Rover.  She used it to visit people in the villages and take patients to hospital or pastors to distant churches.

’Aunty’ Jean talked fondly of her wider family and spent time with us as part of our family on birthdays, Christmas and outings to Zomba Plateau.  She also loved animals and looked after our dog each time we went on furlough to Australia.  We left zm in 1978 and Jean Murray retired back to England in 1988.

Jennifer, Gillian and Stephen Simons (children of the late John Simons and his widow Gladys Simons)

Jean spent much of her later years at Ntonda, a mission station in the remote hills towards the Mozambique border where zm ran a rural hospital. From here Jean went out in her trusty Land Rover, to support medical work in various health centres around. By this time all the premises, including the churches, had been handed over the Zambezi Evangelical Church – the mission staff increasingly worked alongside Malawians, training them to take full responsibility for their facilities and work.

Jean retired in 1988 (the last missionary nurse to do so) aged 65 and returned to live in Brighton, joining again with her home church, Holland Road Baptist Church, where she continues to be a member to this day. Over these years she has shared at church events about her experiences in Malawi to challenge and inspire future generations to share the gospel – just as she has done. As Jean built on the legacy of those who went before her to Africa, so the African believers have built on her legacy to continue the growth of the Malawian church throughout that beautiful country.

Jean said to me: “I remember your Dad; he was such a kind man. One time I was flying back from Malawi and as well as changing plane, the plane also had to make stops for refuelling. At one change of plane stop, we had to have our luggage with us and we and other flights were badly delayed. There was a large crowd waiting to depart. Finally we were told that the two planes on the ground in front of us were going to London and it was “first come first served”. I must admit I picked up my case and ran as fast as I could to get on the first plane – which I did. A group from my church had gone to Heathrow to meet me but after I did not arrive on the planned day and they could not get any information about when I would arrive, they returned to Brighton. So a few days later I arrived at Heathrow very tired, no one to meet me and no English money. The only person I knew of in London was Bert Matthews, a zm trustee. With the operator’s help I made a reverse charges call to him and explained my predicament. “Get a taxi across London to my home in Ilford, tell the driver I’ll pay him on arrival and we will sort things out from there”. And that’s exactly what happened. After a couple of days rest, I was happily on my way home to Brighton.

Trevor Matthews, zm Chair of Trustees

Mrs Elsie Stewart (5th July 1922 – 1st March 2023).

Gillian Simons heard from Mrs Elsie Stewart’s son that his mother had passed away on 1st March 2023. She had been at the heart of the mission’s Western Australian Advisory Council for over 40 years. The council had been responsible for sending many mission workers to Malawi, including Joan Clifton and John and Gladys Simons.

Elsie worked faithfully behind the scenes for many years. You regularly read about her support in the mission’s Polished Shaft magazine. When Gladys Simons (nee Ravenscroft) returned on furlough to Australia in 1960 she said: “Mrs Stewart had many headaches, working out the itineraries, and was with me much of the time in the city and suburbs helping to tell the Zambesi message”.

British mission worker Mary Caverhill opted to spend her furlough in 1963 in Australia. She wrote: “I praise the Lord for the very warm welcome I received at Freemantle from Mr and Mrs Stewart. They were there on the quayside to greet me with a bright blue banner over their heads with words in letters of gold, Zambesi Mission, Nyasaland, Central Africa. I praise the Lord for the next three weeks of rest and refreshment I had a Mr and Mrs Stewart’s home. Elsie Stewart insisted that I should not be rushed into meetings, so this gave me time to readjust myself to my new surroundings, and to discover afresh with her the blessedness of a ministry of intercession for those back on the mission field. Elsie knows many of our pastors, elders and teachers by name, and has a burden for the spiritual welfare of each missionary. What a joy and challenge and comfort it was for me to discover this, and to realise that I was one for whom she had been earnestly praying, though we have never met before.

It is hard to single out a special memory of dear Elsie as there are so many.  Doug and Elsie both served faithfully for over 40 years on the local Council of the Zambesi Mission which works in Malawi and Mozambique, Central Africa.  Elsie gave much time – in hospitality, prayer, meetings, communication with the UK and Field Councils and with the missionaries.  That’s just the skeleton in which the personalities of the mission lived and worked day by day.  When problems arose, Elsie had a godly perspective and wisdom on whatever the issue was. Sometimes hard decisions were necessary.  Her faithful service and unswerving dedication all those years meant missionaries were uplifted and encouraged to carry on.

We’ve been settled back home now for sometime but the friendship and fellowship has continued. Thank you Elsie for your faithfulness and encouragement, ever onward and upward.  We honour you.  God bless you and keep you.    

Gladys Simons

We give thanks to God for Mrs Elsie Stewart’s life of service and ministry. We pray that our God, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort would comfort her family as they grieve her loss.

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