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Obituary: The Rt Revd Robert Beak

27 April 2018

The Rt Revd Rob Martin writes:

THE Rt Revd Robert Michael Cawthorn Beak, who died on 13 January, was Assistant Bishop in Marsabit, a huge area of North Kenya, from 1984 to 1989, and later an Hon. Assistant Bishop in Derby diocese.

Born in 1925, Bob came to faith through Crusader classes. From then on, his passion was to grow in faith and spread that faith to others. At school, he joined the Air Training Corps and, among others, was instructed by Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson, who claimed that they were such bad pilots that they were only allowed to fly biplanes. He read geography at Cambridge.

When called up in 1944, he applied to be an RAF pilot. His geography and meteorology training meant that he flew reconnaissance Dakotas over Burma and was not a bomber pilot, much to his relief. While in Burma, he saw Allied prisoners repatriated from Japanese camps, which profoundly affected him, as did his time in Burma. It was here that his missionary calling was clarified.

After the war, rather than return to Cambridge, Rob went for ministry training, at the London Bible College, and also Tyndale Hall and Wycliffe Hall. He served his title at St John’s, Tunbridge Wells, where he met his first wife, Eileen Forbes, whom he married in 1956. He hoped to return to Burma on mission, but, owing to civil war, he was posted by the Bible Churchmen’s Missionary Society (BCMS), now Crosslinks, to Uganda among the Karamojong. It was a remote place, and, when his first child, Liz, was born in Kampala, he arranged to get news from a friend, who flashed car lights from a distant mountain.

The following year, he and Eileen moved to North Kenya, to work among the Samburu. He learned their language and customs by going on foot safaris for weeks on end, staying in Samburu manyattas. He would take water, but no food and wait outside a manyatta until people would come and ask him why he was there. Then he would join them, listen, find out their news and talk about Jesus. His humility, gentleness and positive outlook won over many hearts. The people, many living in fear of evil spirits, responded well to the gospel and the freedom found in Christ. His many adventures included dodging rhino charges and climbing trees to escape elephant. His children Gill and David were born here.

These long safaris, however, and poor diet meant that his health deteriorated; so they were transferred to Molo, in the highlands, where they ministered to a more mixed community. In 1966, they moved to Nakuru, where Steve was born.

In 1969, the family returned to England. Bob was instituted Rector of Heanton, in Exeter diocese. He was appointed Rural Dean of Barnstaple in 1977, and, in 1982, Prebendary of Exeter Cathedral. He was also the Officiating Chaplain for RAF Chivenor, which he loved. The rectory overlooked the airfield; so he could check unusual plane engine noises. Sadly, in 1982, Eileen died from cancer. This was a really tough time for Bob, but the family were a real support.

The following year he applied again to BCMS and returned to Kenya in 1984 as Assistant Bishop to Bishop (later Archbishop) David Gitari of Mount Kenya East, with responsibility for the remote northern deserts of Marsabit. Here, he planted churches, trained evangelists, and brought development, travelling by Land Rover, not on foot. The roads were so bad that he continually broke his shock absorbers and eventually recommended a design change to Land Rover. His first serious challenge was a terrible famine in 1984. He mobilised support through Crosslinks, oversaw feeding programmes, and helped the Government distribute, too. He would go out even at night in defiance of curfews imposed because of shiftas. For his work during the famine and in Kenya generally, he was later awarded the OBE.

In 1987, he married Peggy Daynes, also widowed and a former missionary to the Samburu, whom he had known for many years. She was his loving companion for 30 years until her death in 2016. Marsabit was a missionary area, but Bob laid the foundations for a locally led church, with its own assets, fully staffed by its own clergy, and was succeeded by a wonderful Gabra, Andrew Adano, from a nomadic background, whom he mentored. Marsabit became an autonomous diocese in 2011.

Bob and Peggy retired to Derbyshire in 1989 and lived in Tibshelf, and then Ashover, where they were much loved. But they still returned to Kenya to raise funds for Marsabit. Though he never rode camels in Kenya, he helped organise a memorable camel safari from Oxford to Cambridge in 2000, raising funds to feed schoolchildren in Marsabit. After I became Bishop in 2008, he rang regularly to find out Marsabit’s prayer needs.

Bob never really retired. His passion was sharing the gospel whenever an opportunity came, whether in Samburu, Marsabit, Derbyshire, schools, pubs, even the retirement home, and hospital. He was positive, gracious, humble, and compassionate, and wanted to bless others, because he knew what the Lord had done for him. He will be greatly missed by his children, family, friends, and the churches where he ministered in England and Kenya

At the start of his Christian life, he said: “If Christ has given his life for me, then I will use my life for Christ.” And he did, to the end.

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