He was born in 1898 in London, England. While studying engineering, World War One was devastating countries, people’s ideals and families. The Army Flying Corp which later became the Royal Air Force became his home and occupation for the next few years. But the highlight of his time in the army was during his service in France when someone introduced him to Christ. With a whole new outlook and meaning to life, he was drawn to Hudson Taylor and the work of the China Inland Mission.
After being commended from his assembly in Lewisham, England, he sailed off to China to introduce others to the Christ he had grown to love and serve. He was not to know what awaited him there. Trials of all descriptions, growth in the knowledge of Christ and even his future bride were several of those things that the Lord had in store for Him.
A young sweet lady working as a school teacher caught his eye and the Lord graciously gave them each other in marriage in December 1928, at the British Consulate there in China. Medical treatment involving x-rays that were not adequately utilised, resulted in the young wife being unable to bear children so they set their hearts and hands to the job ahead and trusted Him who knows all things. They lived and worked in Tungku in Kiangsi Province, teaching others about God, dispensing medication to those in need and discipling the growing Christians.
In the late 1930’s, World War Two brought some changes to their ministry. Ill health was a constant trial for her and there was even a time when they were separated from each other. This period of time in China’s history was uncertain and complicated and these two lived through them despite much pain and persecution. The Communist Party influenced and took over China and there was much rough, unfair treatment of all foreigners. They had to leave after twenty seven years, reluctantly but of necessity.
1952 saw them move into a new scope of ministry. This time it was Sabah- a province in Borneo. Many Chinese people lived there, so in time they were able to start up a Chinese speaking church in Jesselton, the capital of Sabah and set to work doing what they loved best. Their seventeen years here were much freer and they saw many come to Christ as well as having opportunities for discipleship. There were more avenues for communicating with the outside world and their ministry bore much fruit.
Ongoing ill-health and retirement brought them to Australia in 1969.They moved to the quaint town of Maryborough. A little duplex made out of fibro cementwas where they set up home. Much memorabilia of their long years in China and Sabah decorated their home. Photos of precious, loved ones left back there adorned the walls. Lots of floral patterned furnishings surrounded and filled their little home. One photo stood out amongst the others- a large photo of them surrounded by many Chinese people from the church they were part of in Sabah. When asked who they were, she would say with deep slow British accent, “These are our children!”
They were not about to let those left behind fail in their knowledge of God,so he set up a correspondence bible study, regularly teaching his Sabah students through the mail. Eventually this led to him teaching through the use of Emmaus Bible Correspondence- an avenue he used for many years to teach God’s Word to others.
He had opportunities to preach at the local assembly in town and others have noted the fervency and intenseness of his preaching. His sermon outlines and Bible show detailed, precise study- so neatly written and produced- able to be read, copied and modelled for when required. They kept a prayer list over the years and faithfully prayed for those ones they loved who lived in different areas of Communist China not knowing if they were still alive or not but knowing God knew.
This is where I met them, where I found a kind, gentle elderly couple who modelled God’s love to a little girl and her parents and siblings. He made time for my father- newly saved, newly eager to know God’s Word and he taught him Christ- the reality of who He is. They celebrated fifty years of marriage in 1978- a day of rejoicing in God’s goodness and faithfulness to them.
It’s likely you don’t know their names. You probably never would have as no book has been written about these two quiet servants of God. They just did their service as “unto the Lord” and many, many people heard about Jesus Christ. Numerous folk who heard and believed were also harmed, hurt and killed because of their belief in Him. But many endured sacrifice with love and care because of the example these two showed them.
Even a period of having non-Hodgkin’s disease of the lymph glands and having radium treatment then being healed of it within a year, brought its own set of trials. This man knew what Psalm 66:12 meant. “You have caused men to ride over our heads; We went through fire and through water, But You brought us out to rich fulfilment”.
Comforts were brought to ease the elderly woman’s ongoing pains. She would smile and graciously receive them. One night in February 1983, the Lord called her home and she quietly went there in her sleep. Her husband held her for some hours before calling the ambulance- precious moments with his lifelong companion and loved one who had been through so much with him.
A move to a retirement home saw the last years of his life. He continued corresponding, mentoring, telling others of Christ as much as his physical body would allow. He died in October 1987, knowing where He was going and Who he was going to.
Looking through their Bibles, sermon notes and hearing others tell stories of their life, I see two people I wish I had known better. I would have taken the time to appreciate their wealth of life experience and their biblical knowledge that was before me but I was only a child.
Now, I don’t want to waste the time. I want to remind us that everyday, all around us we have people who influence us, who do and can make a difference in our lives. Listen, learn, take it in. Don’t wait till you’re forty (or sixty or eighty) to acknowledge them. Acknowledge them now.
I thank the Lord for Fred and Sybil Pucknell- for their work and ministry but most of all – may God be glorified through and because of their lives. That’s the way they would have wanted it to be.
By Alana Milson