Michael Lapage Fleet Air Arm pilot, rowing silver medallist in the 1948 British Olympics, and missionary teacher in Kenya

02 November 2006

‘The 1948 Olympics were very amateur, very pleasant’

In 1948, we won the first heat, then went straight through to the semi-finals against Canada and Norway. We won that, and that put us into the final in which we met the USA, represented by the University of California. There was no challenge from the Germans just after the war; and the Russians, of course, were not there. It was very amateur and pleasant.

The 1948 Games cost £170,000 for the whole thing. It was very much a quick decision, agreed the year before. There had been no games in ’40 or ’44. I can see why getting the Olympics is probably a good thing, its great prestige. But it’s an awful responsibility, and outlay of cash.

I didn’t feel happy sculling last Sunday at Monkton Combe. It’s probably the last time. The equipment didn’t suit me. It’s about the angle of the oars as they enter the water. If you put your weight on them without it being exactly right, before you know where you are, you are in the drink. You need to exercise caution.

I came from an Evangelical background. I still attend a church in Tavistock. It’s got a strong tradition of Bible-based ministry. It’s a mix of inspirational worship based on the Anglican service, and the congregation is growing. I don’t believe the Church is losing ground.

I feel like Elijah, “I, only I, am left.” My contemporaries have left, gone on before, to something greater. But there’s another generation. I look forward to being a great grandfather soon. One of my daughters is working with Emmanuel International, a kind of Canadian Tear Fund in Tanzania. The other is married to a farmer in Devon. My son is a teacher in Shrewsbury; a grandson is a great oarsman, he is rowing for the J15s.

I remember hearing my grandfather talk about CMS and the Quetta earthquake. He was a vicar in a church in Shaftesbury. The seeds were planted then. And there was scouting, helping the less fortunate, and there was a sense of noblesse oblige. I was nearly shot down by a Japanese Zero fighter. When I got back to the carrier I felt I had been “saved to serve”.

The most important choice was meeting my wife, Margaret. She was the daughter of a missionary in Kenya. We had both been praying about our meeting before we met. When we met we got engaged after a week. I always liked languages and so did she. Margaret’s father was responsible for the Union version of the Swahili Bible.

I am reading the Folio Society’s four-volume history of England . I just did the Tudor period before, but now I have discovered the Middle Ages: John of Gaunt and Edward III. I like historical novels, they catch the atmosphere of the period. I used to read Margaret Irwin.

I would like to be remembered as a missionary, someone who helped plant the gospel. The excitement of opening up the gospel for the first time to a group of people. Knowing I was doing God’s will.

I remember talking to one young man who said, ‘I have heard the name of Jesus, but I don’t know anything about him.’

I would call my autobiography Managing Without. The secretary to CMS, Mike Warren, was ahead of his time. He wanted us to integrate with the people we were going to, but not lose our identity. I was willing to accept their way of life.

My favourite text is “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God.” Not to worry about the future. He certainly did fill up our cup, Psalm 23. And 2 Corinthians 4: “We preach not ourselves but Christ Jesus our lord and ourselves as your servants for Christ’s sake.” We were challenged to learn to be servants in Kenya when the new government was taking over.

I get annoyed about the way people in this country seem to blame others for their own mistakes. The faces you see on TV — they are angry and unforgiving for anything done against them.

I am happiest in trying to serve others. I take the occasional service. I find gardening therapeutic. I am happy when I create things: garden furniture, growing crops.

I drink fair-trade tea, coffee and occasionally Green’s chocolate.

I still have a canoe. I walk every week on Dartmoor, and swim in the local pool.

Bishop Obadiah ordained me at what was then Fort Hall, now called Mount Kenya, in 1961. He challenged me about my pride. Not every African could say to a European: “You are too proud.”


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