Both Ian Kemp and TSCF’s first student groups were born in the 1920s. Here he revisits the year 1950, one they spent together.
The day after his 88th birthday, in his central Auckland living room, Ian Kemp studied some old conference photos through a magnifying glass. He recognised many faces from the 1940s, back when he served as president of Auckland EU, and from the early 1950s, during his time on staff.
He was a recently minted theology graduate when he accepted a pioneering role with Inter-Varsity Fellowship (now TSCF). The “travelling secretary,” as he was called, was the equivalent to today’s staff worker. But as the lone man on the job he covered many miles.
The men in the photos sport suits and ties, and the girls have their hair in neat pincurls. The scale of the work was also tidier in Ian’s day. There were 2000 students at the University of Auckland; today, there are 42,000.
Groups had also formed in Palmerston North, Wellington, Canterbury and Dunedin. Many of the challenges Ian faced and the work he did remain the same today.
“The biggest challenge was to encourage people to bring non-Christians to these gatherings,” he recalled. Culture was more “Christian” by default and most students had at least attended Sunday school but, even then, Bible study and evangelism were seen as fringe activities.
Ian still champions the value of Bible study and teaching, which he said kept him grounded. He had left for England in 1947 and earned his theology degree at a college in Oxford where he said the climate was quite liberal.
“I managed to keep my evangelical feet on the ground by throwing my weight into the Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union,” he said. “I attended its prayer meetings, went along to weekly Bible studies, did evangelistic outreach. That was my salvation in those days.” Then he received the invitation from IVF to return to his old stomping grounds.
“If they had examined what I had been studying, they might not have been so keen,” he said. “My heart was in the right place, but my mind was very much confused.”
He spent his first year back working with students as they organised weekend retreats (which they called house parties), Sunday afternoon teas, and events with popular speakers. Those were the spokes around which the early groups formed community and invited non-Christians to hear the gospel.
The names of the speakers he recalls still echo around evangelical circles – Howard Guinness from IVF in the UK, whose first visit to NZ in 1930 catalysed the movement’s formation here, and Oswald Sanders from the Bible Training Institute (now Laidlaw College).
The most popular speaker was Dr E.M. Blaiklock, classics lecturer and a founder of the Student Bible League. In the 2013 book A Rising Tide, Stuart Lange wrote that for decades Blaiklock was a leading mentor for the Auckland EU.
“As an increasingly well known writer, speaker and columnist, Blaiklock in the postwar era arguably did more than any other New Zealander to raise the public profile of evangelical Christianity in New Zealand,” Stuart wrote. “In the secular-minded and sometimes hostile university environment, Blaiklock’s support was very important.”
Those meetings, gathering a good number of students to hear a prominent speaker, are largely a thing of the past. Ian worked on campuses where students’ lives and schedules were less fragmented, and they shared information through a few set channels rather than our plethora of media.
In the decades following his stint as travelling secretary, Ian became a pastor, missionary, Bible teacher and principal of what is now Laidlaw College. But looking back on that year with IVF, Ian’s highlight is a personal one – coffee breaks with the neighbouring Scripture Union staff (then called Crusaders). A woman named Elizabeth was part of their team. And a couple of years later, he married her and together they had three children.
Elizabeth passed away in 2010, but Ian’s story has another chapter. Six decades after his first trip down the aisle, Ian married his new bride, Juliette, at the Auckland Baptist Tabernacle, his church home and former pastorate.
Postscript – January 2017
Ian Kemp died in his sleep on 23 December 2016 after a short illness at 90 years of age. Friends published this notice in the NZ Herald:
A passionate worker for His Lord, as expressed through his ministry and support of Laidlaw College, Interserve, Scripture Union, TSCF, Union Biblical Seminary (India) the Auckland Baptist Tabernacle and other churches, missionaries, and in prison ministry. Countless individuals across the world found faith and a love for the Scriptures through his life of service, preaching, teaching, mentoring and friendship.
Maryanne Wardlaw is TSCF’s Communications Manager.