A man who knows God: Remembering a missionary, teacher and critical thinker

[The following article was originally published at Sight Magazine on 19/7/2012. Since it is almost one year after Pastor Paul Grant’s passing, it is a good time to post this to remember his legacy. I also want this article to encourage us to learn to know God. Nothing, it seems, is more important.]

The apostle Paul famously says, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11) Do you know anyone who is like the apostle Paul, whose life exhibits the passion and character as one who truly knows God? I think I know one. In fact, his name is also Paul. Here is my reflection on this wonderful man of God.

On 26th June 2012, Reverend Paul E Grant passed away and entered into God’s presence. He was 86.

My first interaction with Pastor Paul took place when I was doing an external study on the Book of Acts. He was the principal and lecturer of a Bible College in Queensland through which I did my studies. I remember that the textbook was F. F. Bruce’s commentary, which, at the time, was quite a technical commentary and Paul expected us to read it in its entirety. It was quite an effort, but it was certainly worthwhile. I listened to Paul’s (recorded) lectures, and it was a treat. He opened my eyes to the mission of God in the pages of Acts. Paul talked about the cross-cultural God who led his people to proclaim the gospel through signs and wonders so that Jesus’ name might be heard across the Roman Empire. Paul and his wife Dulcie were missionaries in Vanuatu for 13 years, dedicated their lives to the work of God. He taught me that I should read the Bible through God’s heart of mission. This is my first memory of Pastor Paul, the missionary.

In 1994 Paul came to Melbourne to teach a one-week intensive course on culture and cross-cultural communication. My wife and I jumped at the opportunity to attend. We invited Paul and Dulcie over for lunch and we had a good chat. What impressed me most was their interest in our (Chinese) culture. Indeed, they showed interest in us. They exhibited the heart of God, who loves every person and is interested in every culture in the world.

We kept in touch with Paul and Dulcie over the years. Dulcie was amazing, for she replied to every letter we sent her. Paul would write as well, with gems of wisdom. They walked with us when we decided that I should leave my career to become a minister. Later when we were struggling to start a family, they prayed for us faithfully and regularly wrote to us to encourage us. They were our pastors.

When our son was born, Paul and Dulcie happened to be in Melbourne – which was, of course, in fact a divine appointment. Dulcie sewed a special cross stitch for us. Pastor Paul and Dulcie came and prayed for us at the hospital. What an honour it was to have them pray for our son!

In recent years we only correspond with them once or twice a year. During those years Paul wrote plenty of poems about God, the God whom he had served all his life. As mentioned, Paul was a missionary to Vanuatu. At the age of 59, he went to Fuller Seminary to complete an MA in missiology. He came back to Australia and became the principal of a Bible college, one that had a definite major focus on mission and the Scripture. In fact, if my memory serves me right, they even had modules on women in ministry and holistic mission (mission that includes serving the poor). Paul was a critical thinker, with a heart for God, his mission and his people.

Not only that Paul was a critical thinker, he was also a sharp observer of contemporary culture. Over 10 years ago I had a long conversation with him when he was in Melbourne. We talked about the postmodern generation, and I wondered how we could define it. He said that postmodernity would best be described, not defined. I think it was insightful, and indeed quite amazing for someone who was over 70 to have that discernment about a generation that was much younger than he.

I had quite a few phone conversations with Paul in the months before his passing. We shared our concerns about certain developments in contemporary churches today as well as the downward trend of biblical literacy. We talked about the cost of discipleship and the need to be faithful followers of Jesus. Even though he was in his 80s, his heart to serve God was still strong and his love for him continued to grow. He had no fear of death and looked forward to meeting Jesus face to face.

One week before his passing, Paul’s son, Ian, rang and told me the news that Paul was critically ill. Ian, a pastor himself, said that if Paul passed away, people would be flying in from all over the world for the funeral. Ian said to me that all that his Dad wanted from us was that we would honour God and that Christ would be at the centre of our lives. Although I am only one of the multitudes of people whose lives have been blessed by him, Pastor Paul’s desire for us to honour God and to be Christocentric has a profound impact on me.

I know that Paul’s heart was indeed that I would honour God all my life, and that Christ would always be at the centre of my heart and desire. I think that was why Paul and I (and Dulcie and my wife) kept in touch all those years. I want to honour God and I want Jesus to be at the centre of my life. Maybe it was because there was something very special in Paul that God had put him in my journey. I think that very special thing was the fact that Paul knew his God. He was more than a missionary, a thinker, a pastor or an observer of culture. He was someone who knew his God intimately and wanted nothing else but him. He was a man who had been faithful to God’s call all his life.

Thank you, Lord, for Pastor Paul, who was such a good example of your love and power in people’s lives. Amen.

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