There is a great emphasis these days in encouraging ordinary people to tell or record their stories for posterity. History is not just about Kings, Queens and Presidents, but about the lives of ordinary people. Veterans of the world wars are invited into schools to relate some authentic experiences of war, history in the making! Others, tape or video-record some aspect of their lives to pass on to their children and grandchildren. This of course is part of a long tradition stretching back many millennia and used to strengthen the sense of stability and continuity of a family or tribe, particularly in rapidly changing times like ours. Indeed this was one of the ways the Children of Israel retained in their consciousness the mighty works of God. Similarly for some of us in our generation our early impressions of family, church and community life will have been obtained by eves dropping on to the conversations of older folks in front of a coal fire and around a paraffin lamp and then surprising them all by asking a profound question!. Perhaps that was more common amongst families which fostered relationships, than is now likely in our TV dominated lives. Yet the questions aroused by natural curiosity still come – what was it like Grannie when you were a little girl, It is for this reason that I’ve tape recorded several interview conversations with older relations about their early lives, and then passed the recording on to their grandchildren. I’m now also involved in recording some of the interesting highlights of my own life. While I kept a diary for most of my professional life, which was mainly about appointments and deadlines I regret to say, rather than reflections on the day’s events, people met and impressions made. Sometimes I would write detailed impressions when away at a conference or having meditated on a particular passage of scripture, or on how I thought God was impinging on my life. It is interesting to note now how my present memory of events correspond with accounts I wrote 30 years ago!
In his short autobiography Yves Benett (1) traces what he understands is the hand of God in his life from birth, through various stages of life in Mauritius and a range of evolving professional experiences in Teaching and Teacher Training developments in Further Education, Polytechnic and University Schools of Education in England.He writes for his family in warm tones and witnessing style to all readers. He wishes to share the conviction that he has witnessed the hand of God vividly at work in the development of his personal and professional life. He exudes the view that co-incidences are more than accidental occurrences.His story is an interesting one starting off in Mauritius where he spent his childhood and school days, with the influence of family, the Seventh Day Adventist Church and sunny skies. Winning a scholarship he intended to come and study dentistry in the United Kingdom, but quickly changed his mind on arrival, eventually settling for a London University degree in Science, combining Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics, graduating in 1954. His return to Mauritius was delayed until he completed his PGCE, this time at Southampton University, falling in with the Christian Union there and meeting up with his wife to be. The return to Mauritius to teach Science and raise a family for a few years was followed by a year at Hull University doing a further post-graduate course in Education, which also saw his Christian life develop significantly. Back in Mauritius they settled down to a busy life of moderate affluence. However that intriguing academic interest in Education was gnawing away, so he registered as an external student doing a London University Advanced Diploma in Education, to be followed up eventually by doing an External MA by research. As he was allowed a sabbatical every four years as an Education Officer in a colonial country, he spent these opportunities in England. Various factors which he describes led to the decision by the family to leave Mauritius after ten years and to live in England (despite the loss of service pension), to find a Chemistry teaching post at a secondary school in London and thus complete his M.A. degree. In all these many moves he describes, he discerns God weaving through the warp and the woof of the events of his family and professional life. The story continues with a move into Further Education and eventually Higher Education with the various academic and bureaucratic struggles. This allowed him to supervise research at M.Phil and Ph.D levels and to become a consultant with valuable overseas opportunities. This eventually led to his being asked to establish and head up a Research Centre in the field of Training and Education, in the School of Education at Huddersfield University where he had the title of Reader. However he does not leave it there since he sets out in an earlier chapter to examine the validity of his religious experience in terms of acceptable social educational concepts and principles. He briefly summarises some of these he thought might be relevant to his own area, and though interesting he discards many as unhelpful. He recommends a review of his life in terms of a case study approach, and looks to others to validate their lives in a similar case study way. In a private communication Canon David Winter the well known BBC Radio4 broadcaster writes that he found the book stimulating and thought provoking. He further comments “Autobiography is a powerful medium and when used, as you do, as a kind of extended case study it is a powerful apologetic. I imagine many people will find it helpful in their own search for meaning and purpose in the pattern of their lives. It is both theologically and pastorally convincing…. I shall make a point of of recommending it to people whom I feel would be helped by it.”
1) Benett, Yves. The Faith of an Economic Migrant, Trafford Publishing, 86pp, 2007
Further details from:- www.trafford.com/06-3315 Yves Benett is a an International Consultant, undertaking research in Education. Before retirement he was Reader in Education at the University of Huddersfield. He worships at a Baptist church in Huddersfield. As a frequent traveller his church association transcends denominational boundaries.
Reading this short autobiography may encourage other academics in different disciplines to also expose their narrative of Faith and Work as a Case Study. GD
Gwynne Davies is a Chartered Structural Engineer who before retirement was Reader in Structural Engineering in the then Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Nottingham. He is also a member of the C-A-N- Leadership Team.