Excerpts from the sermon given by Fr Chris Wallbank MAfr in Rutherglen
One thing that comes to mind when thinking of John is how his whole missionary life was marked in so many ways by the Cross. Named to go to Uganda he was unable to do so because of ill health, suffered even while he was in his final years of preparation for his missionary oath. Nonetheless, John’s desire to be a missionary remained strong and he would go on to serve Africa here in his native Scotland and in the United States faithfully and devotedly all the years God gave him, serving the African world wherever he found it.
For the first nine years of his missionary life John served the Society in England and here and in Scotland where he was much appreciated by the boys of the junior seminary and well known and popular, here in Scotland, with the Young Missionary Group.
By the end of this time John was ready for a change and still unable to go to Africa he accepted an appointment to the United States.
It was there in those early days that John faced his biggest personal challenge physically and spiritually, battling alcoholism. Perhaps the disappointment of not going to Africa and the constant changes of appointment contributed to this. We do not know and we do not judge.
One cannot begin to understand how this must have been John’s Way of the Cross, shared with his Lord and Saviour. But John believed in the power of Jesus Christ to subdue and overcome all things. Like his Saviour, John emerged from his struggle victorious and stronger in his own personal faith and commitment to his missionary vocation.
From here on John is the one we have all known and loved. The wise counsellor and in the words of Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer. Indeed throughout his ministry he showed the healing and compassionate face of the living Christ to those in any kind of difficulty,.
Sadly, as we know, it was on his way to a support group meeting that he was tragically killed. A sudden end for which there was no preparation, but John had most certainly prepared all his life to meet the Lord in whose promise of rest from all weariness and eternal joy he firmly believed.
Truly, John lived what we read in the Letter to the Colossians (1:24)
“I complete in my flesh what is still lacking of the sufferings of Christ for the good of his Body, the Church” and we may add the “African Body of Christ.”