Wednesday, 25 January 2017
You can learn a lot about someone by their home.
When I walked into Grace Dixon’s house for the first time, it quickly become apparent that she was a woman with many stories to share. She is warm and hospitable, making me a cup of tea and finding some Scottish dog shortbread biscuits. When we sat down to chat, I asked her about the unusual pot on the table next to us.
Her eye twinkled. “I bought that pot when I travelled to Iran in the time of the Shah. I went with a Canadian colleague at the time…”
For every trinket scattered around Grace’s house, each is attached to a memory. Behind each treasure is a story. Having lived 95 years, many decades as a missionary in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh (formally East Pakistan), Grace was eager to share with me God’s faithfulness throughout her life.
Grace was born in 1921 and grew up in Dulwich Hill, the Inner West of Sydney. She attended a local Anglican church as a young girl with her mother. Grace was twelve-years-old when she made her own personal decision to follow Jesus.
“Despite living in a loving home, I sensed that there was something missing in my life.That night I knelt by my bed and asked Jesus to be my Saviour. I did not fully understand all it meant but I sensed the presence of the Lord Jesus with me when I prayed.”
As Grace grew in her love and knowledge of God, she also grew a burden for those who were lost and an interest in world mission. As we spoke, she identified one day in particular as a turning point. It was the day that she went with friends to an open afternoon at SMBC to hear graduating students share where God was leading them to serve.
“One woman, a nurse, was going to work amongst people with leprosy in India. Her testimony impressed me. That night the Lord challenged me – was I willing to follow her example? My answer was, ‘No Lord, I couldn’t do that.’ I slept poorly. My Bible reading in the morning was from Hebrews 3 and the Lord spoke to me through verse 7, ‘Today if you hear His voice, do not harden you hearts…’ Later, in the morning church service, the Bible Reading from the Prayer Book was about the cleansing of the nine lepers. My resistence was broken down. One cannot say ‘no’ and ‘Lord’ in the same breath. If Jesus is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all.”
With the view of serving lepers in India, Grace applied to study nursing. To her disappointment, her application was not accepted. “It was then that I realised that the Lord only required my willingness to do whatever He asked of me”
, Grace reflected.
At age 21, Grace enrolled for two years at Sydney Bible Training Institute to prepare herself for ministry. Afterwards,she applied to the Ceylon and India General Mission and was accepted. Although Grace was eager to go, the year was 1943 and the Second World War acted as a barrier to her leaving the country. As the book of Proverbs instructs us, we may try to plan the course of our lives but it is the Lord who determines our steps.
When Grace heard about a shortage of teachers, she successfully applied to the Education Department for a job as a temporary teacher. This new job took her to Mulgoa, and then Collarenebri in rural New South Wales to teach Indigenous children. In Collarenebri, Grace taught the Indigenous children in the Town Hall who were segregated from their peers.Upon reflection, Grace can see that this job was good experience for what God had in store for her future ministry in South Asia.
Eventually the Lord did open the door for Grace to leave and on the 1st of November 1946, she sailed for India. Grace explained that things were very different in those days – there was no pre-departure orientation and certainly no internet for her to research where she was going. When she arrived she was thrown in the deep end, gaining her first experiences of an Indian train ride.
Two months later, she headed north to the heart of the Himalays for language study. Grace’s morning ritual of prayer sustained her throughout her days learning language. Grace would reap the benefits of learning Urdu and Hindi later in her decades of ministry, which ranged from acting as a Mission Treasurer to teaching literacy. She shared with me one highlight from teaching in Pakistan.
“Nominal Christian families in Pakistan lived in small villages where there was no school for girls. One of the American missionary women had a jeep and brought ten young teenagers into town for a week. The girls stayed in a hall owned by the mission attached to the house. We taught them from the Word and introduced them to reading. Some came to know the Lord on that first occasion. We, three single women, continued to repeat the process for girls from other villages over several years.”
There were also many testing times on the mission field. During these times, prayer played an important role in reminding Grace of her dependency on her Heavenly Father. Grace described the atmosphere in 1947 when th British Raj ended. India wanted to become an independent Hindu nation and pressure was mounting for Pakistan to become a Muslim nation.
“In August 1947, East and West Pakistan were created, with much blood shed. Muslims fled from the majority Hindu country of India and Hindus fled from the now majority Muslim state. On both borders people were slaughtered. Though Language School had finished we were not allowed to return to our work places. There were around one hundred of us language students that attended a night of prayer – from 6pm to 6am!”
Grace also saw prayers answered for guidance in 1968 when she learnt of her mother’s passing. She returned home to Australia to care for her father but was unsure whether to resign or take a leave of absence. She felt the Lord’s answer was to take leave of absence and leave the door open to returning to Pakistan.
“This decision proved right when I was diagnosed with bowel cancer and when roughly a year later my father passed away. Since I had recovered well from surgery I decided to return to Pakistan. I was praying that the Lord would show me what ministry to do as I was now limited by my health. I was delighted when I was offered a position with a Bible Correspondence School in Faisalabad. The courses were studied by both Christians and Muslims. I spent ten years at the school leading up to my retirement in 1985.”
Grace became a member with SIM in the late stage of her ministry before her retirement. Returning home provided some challenges for Grace including where to live since her father had not owned a house. God proved himself faithful and a friend invited Grace to share her house. Grace admitted to feeling like a “fish out of water”, caught between two worlds after having spent so many years living in Asia. Despite this, Grace found that something she could do when she arrived home was devote more time to prayer for world mission and SIM.
Grace has a reputation amongst many at SIM for being a faithful, loyal pray-er. She attends a SIM prayer group at Westleigh every month. Her dedication sees her take the train one leg of the journey, before being picked up by a friend and fellow SIM-er. “It is always an enriching time as we pray together for the many requests”
, Grace commented.
As someone in my mid-twenties, my life and experiences seem worlds apart from those of Grace. As we spoke, I found myself astounded by her discipline in prayer. I was surprised when she showed me a thick wad of paper. Prayer notes spanning different missionaries, ministries and mission agencies. With meticulous care, every bullet point is prayed for.
“I rise early (around 5am) and take as much time as I sense the need to pray through the stack of prayer notes. Reading the Word, journaling and praying may take up to an hour or more.”
When I ask Grace for advice for younger people, or people who just struggle to be disciplined in their prayer life, Grace shrugs.
“Everyone seems busy. Everyone seems rushed. I think that time has become our greatest enemy. Young people often stay up late and are simply too rushed in the mornings to pray. Just set your alarm to wake up earlier. It won’t hurt you and you will see the results in your life. The more time we spend in communion with our Lord, allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to us through the Word, the more we grow spiritually.”
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