Chai Yeo writes:
THE Rt Revd John Ball, who died on 5 September, aged 81, had a notable career with the Bible Churchmen’s Missionary Society (BCMS), later Crosslinks. He was Assistant Curate at St Jude’s, Blackburn, when he first contacted BCMS in November 1961.
He had married Anne in August 1960, and they had just had their first child, Mary. John and Anne were accepted as BCMS mission partners in July 1962, and, in February 1963, they embarked on their first mission placement in Eldoret, Kenya, where John was Diocesan Youth Worker. Anne was kept very busy with the family; Philip was born later in 1963, and David in 1966.
John’s next job, which really set in motion the distinguishing feature of his Kenyan work, was as Diocesan Literature Co-ordinator. The family moved to Nakuru and later to Nairobi, where John served provincial boards.
As Provincial Literature Co-ordinator, he set up the Uzima Press, which still functions as the official publishing press for the Anglican Church of Kenya. John and Anne wrote many of the training manuals for the Province that were published by Uzima. They left it as a flourishing organisation, under the leadership of Horace Etemesi. Their final move in Kenya was to St Francis’s, Karen, a historic, settler suburb of Nairobi, where John served as the last white vicar.
During their 16 years in Kenya, John and Anne offered hospitality and mentoring to many mission partners — John was the BCMS field representative. They also made an impact on the lives of many Kenyans whom they encouraged in ministries from pastor and evangelist to Sunday-school teacher. John travelled great distances, linking with church leaders in Uganda and Tanzania, and encouraging them, besides doing official BCMS business.
John and Anne returned to London in October 1979, so that John could take up duties at the BCMS Headquarters as Deputy General Secretary, understudying the then General Secretary, Canon Alan Neech. John succeeded Neech in February 1981, as the fourth General Secretary, and the only one to have resigned before the age of 65. John told the Executive Committee that he did not expect to remain General Secretary until he retired, because mission was moving too quickly. He also indicated that he and Anne would be prepared to return overseas.
While General Secretary of BCMS, John’s wisdom and sensitivity was as well evidenced in a late-night listening and caring time for one or other person on the mission field, as it was in his chairing of meetings and contributions to strategic committees. John was instrumental in the name- change of BCMS to Crosslinks in 1990. He believed that our Christian brothers and sisters from other cultures were just as able to be partners in mission as those from the West. This desire to live out what it meant to be inclusive, and see all people as valued and loved by God, typifies what John stood for.
John also championed the financing of mission through mission societies rather than through individual church links. He recognised that some of those who would be most effective as missionaries did not attend churches that would be able to support them sufficiently, and so needed to be supported by the wider Church.
He also served in many other capacities: on the Trinity College Council, Evangelical Missionary Alliance Council, Church of England Evangelical Council, Partnership for World Mission Executive, and Board of Mission Executive. He travelled widely, and regularly visited Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe, South Africa, India, Morocco, Spain, Portugal, France, Russia, Ireland, Peru, and Bolivia.
The current Mission Director of Crosslinks, Andy Lines, said: “I write as one who is still discovering ways, policies and processes that were put in place during John Ball’s tenure as General Secretary, now more than 20 years ago. I still regularly turn to his handover notes, although I was not the one to whom he was handing over.
”John’s influence on the Society has been massive, and he established relationships in the UK, Ireland, and around the world that we have benefited hugely from.”
In 1995, a “chance” conversation at Heathrow Airport between John and the late Bishop Mdimi Mhogolo, of the diocese of Central Tanganyika, in Tanzania, brought about an invitation for John to join the work there as an assistant bishop, with the main remit of teaching and pastoring. There was a sense of loss and sadness for the Society, but pride that the General Secretary should be given such an honour.
In November 1995, John and Anne embarked on their second phase of missionary service in Dodoma, Tanzania. John was consecrated Assistant Bishop of Central Tanganyika on 14 January 1996. Their five years in Tanzania were characterised by tireless hard work and commitment, assisting Bishop Mdimi to build the strong diocese that it is today. The great joy for John and Anne was to work in ministry together.
Among their many achievements of these years was the steady promotion of study partners, whether to colleges in Tanzania or the UK. They promoted training at every level in the diocese: Sunday school, clergy, Mothers’ Union, an English language institute, a well-resourced library, and a computer-training unit. Msalato Bible School built up strong certificate and diploma courses. John and Anne travelled ceaselessly on confirmation safaris, and were loved and revered wherever they went. Their home was a refuge to many expatriates and nationals. Crosslinks mission partners in Tanzania could always rely on them for hospitality and wise counsel.
John retired in 2000, but never stopped working. The diocese of Chelmsford benefited from his ministry, as an honary assistant bishop, particularly when there was a vacancy in see or a shortage of bishops in the diocese. Latterly, his ministry was mainly preaching the word in Holy Trinity, Chelmsford. He also continued to love cricket and other sport, and enjoyed going to the Essex County ground with his grandson.
John knew that without the love and support of his wife, Anne, he would never have been able to achieve all that he did or have the family he loved so dearly. He leaves Anne, their three children, and their families.