I’ve spent the past two months researching the lives of Fred and Sybil Pucknell. Not a minute has been wasted. Not one email or one letter. I have enjoyed receiving every piece of the puzzle. I have been thrilled when someone has given me information and it has linked with someone else’s view or knowledge of them. It’s been bit of a rollercoaster. I’ve gone from exhilaration to disappointment to being very puzzled and then to having connections and details sorted out and things making sense.
The downside of this project I feel, is that too many years have gone by and the means for finding out more information has been lost along with those who were the Pucknells’ contemporaries especially during their years in China and Sabah. Yet my Maryborough connections have been extremely helpful.
The other issue is the many, many places that their possessions went too. Some people have the Pucknells’ bibles or their poems, sermon notes and ornaments. Some have newspaper and magazine articles that were written about them. Some would love to know where Mr Pucknell’s diaries went… In a library in England, there are journals and letters that belong to them. I wonder then what is in China and Sabah? It makes me sad. I mean, when you have no children and no other relatives- who does your stuff go to when you die?
So I suppose this all means hard work if I want to keep researching or else just let it lie. But I don’t think I can. The upside of it all is just too good. Too exciting. Too thrilling. I’m moved and stirred by the example of Fred and Sybil Pucknell. So I thought a look at what I have learnt from studying the lives of these two dear servants of God would be worth me pondering. And that is what you do in Pormpuraaw isn’t it?
I know three people who have in their homes a Bible that belonged to her. Here’s what Neil Connell has to say- “Her Bible is well used. She had a habit of reading through the Bible each year. We noticed that many verses were underlined. There are also many notes in the margins and lines connecting verses or words on the same page. She has also written many quotes, poems and songs on the pages at the front and the back of her Bible. It’s a KJV and in the front it says ‘Appointed to be read in Churches’. She has crossed out the word- ‘Churches’ and written in, ‘everywhere’. In the middle there is the heading- ‘Deaths’ and she has crossed out that and written ‘with Christ which is far better’. Her comments and quotes display the depth of both her faith and her spiritual walk.”
My sister has sent me quotes from the Bible that she has-
Psalm 29:11 “Claimed and proved true 1942 China.”
Psalm 34:7 “He delivered us in China many times.”
Ex 19:8 “How easily I too say such things. How sadly possible to fail as Israel did!”
Ex. 33:3 “I too can forfeit blessing by my unyielding behaviours.”
2. God supplied what they needed.
They didn’t have the means for communication that we do nowadays, but what they had still worked. The Gospel was still preached. They may not have had microphones, data projectors or Power Point but they had a voice, a heart for others and a love for God. Those that supported them financially and prayerfully were able to read of their work in missionary magazines. Letters and Emmaus Bible School lessons that were sent from them and to them were precious and treasured– never just deleted by the click of a button.
Clive Connell recounts, “When WW2 was happening, Mr Pucknell was amazed to hear that the British Army was coming. Mrs Pucknell was very sick in bed and he had to continually turn her over from side to side. He wondered how much longer she could live. When the Army arrived, they asked Mr Pucknell to be their translator, offering him a position as officer on full pay. He declined saying, “I’m a missionary but I will be only too happy to translate for you.” The Army asked if there was anything they could do for him. He told them of his sick wife and discovered they had two doctors who could come to see her. The doctors said she needed milk which was unprocurable as the Chinese people didn’t have milk in their diet. But the Army had plenty of powdered milk which they provided for her. Mr Pucknell believed the British Army achieved nothing from a military point of view, but that God sent them there to restore his wife to health.”
3. Mr Pucknell preached God’s Word.
A story in a Brethren missionary magazine, tells of a trek into the mountain districts. Mr Pucknell and a Mr Elliot had just reached the market town of Si-shang. “In the evening, hanging up a pressure lantern and with a large meat block making a convenient pulpit, we started off with accordian accompaniment to sing the Gospel. The people began to collect and presently with a great crowd listening we preached the Gospel till we were hoarse. They listened very well indeed and then asked for more. “Preach a little more to us- we still want to hear more!” So we preached again and then sold a number of gospels.” Later on in the article, he says in regard to the whole trip- “How one’s heart ached to be able more adequately to reach them with the life-giving message.” (Pucknell, 18/12/1948, Kiangsi Echoes)
Stories from those who knew them in Maryborough tell of Mr Pucknell’s fervent preaching. His sermon notes show a man who really studied the Word and then explicitly taught it. There were tapes made of his messages- one day I hope to hear them.
There’s so much more but space and time holds me back. I still have so many questions… Where and who are those people who heard about Christ and were discipled by the Pucknells? What remains of the Church they started in Sabah?
One thing I do know though – they lived the words of Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek”.
By Alana Milson