CHRISTINE STONE, OBE (1941-2018)
A number of us travelled to Fort William on Saturday 21 April, to Fort William Duncansburgh McIntosh Church to share in the service of celebration and thanksgiving for Christine’s life. No-one who knew Christine could fail to delight in someone who was such a unique and gifted individual, whose entire life was pledged to the service of the Lord.
Christine was the archetypical non-conformist, whose instructions for her funeral service reflected her breadth of Christian contact and, one suspects, her delight in causing some head-scratching for those of us charged with taking part. The “Te Deum” to be read (it was - although initially she had asked for it to be chanted!); excepts from the Anglican funeral service (bits included); absolutely no eulogy (absolutely no chance, Christine!).
There is a Bible Proverb that tells us that those who follow the Lord’s way of wisdom will make the right choices in life:
Then you will understand what is right and just and fair - every good path. 10 For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Proberbs 2: 9-10
It is said that we are the choices we make, and the choices we make reveal who we are. Christine made an indelible mark on the lives of countless many people because she chose to be a teacher. Christine chose to be a teacher because she had become a follower of Jesus Christ.
Why would someone who had a passion for science, a brilliant undergraduate career graduating in Natural Science from Girton College Cambridge, with the offer of a PhD place to allow her to pursue her love of her subject, choose instead to become a school teacher? The answer is that Christine’s values, and sense of her own life calling, was shaped by her new relationship with Jesus Christ.
Christine was gloriously indifferent to what was different - witness her distinctive dress style - but she gave priority to what was important. What would mark her life from now on was meeting the needs of others. In particular, she desperately wanted youngsters, especially those who were in any way disadvantaged, to develop their human potential through their God-given abilities to explore and enjoy the world God made. It was her infectious love of learning, and her delight in God’s world, that made her so effective in teaching.
Christine first taught in Abbeydale Grammar School for six years and then moved to teach in an international boarding school in Eritrea. In 1972 she arrived at Thorntoun School in Kilmarnock, a school for senior boys (and some girls) with severe behavioural needs, where she was to teach maths, science, geography and adventure activities. My suspicion is that with Christine, even maths, science and geography would become adventure activities. It was here at Thorntoun that so many important lifelong friendships were formed, not least with many here in Dalry Trinity. This was also the time when Christine was escorted off the Isle of Arran and asked by the police not to return; an adventure holiday with these troubled boys could troublesome.
Her next adventure took her as a teacher to Tristan da Cunha, a remote volcanic island in the South Atlantic with approximately 200 inhabitants.
However, all this was preparatory to her life’s work which was to be education in Nepal where she worked with the United Mission to Nepal through the Department of World Mission of the Church of Scotland. Christine spent 33 years tirelessly serving in that land. Those who were taught by her, or mentored by her, remember just how effective and inspirational she was. Christine wanted to inspire a love of learning in students, encourage teachers to move away from mindless rote learning and find ways of opening young minds to the excitement and joy of knowledge and discovery. It was therefore natural that she should move into teacher training and curriculum development and textbook writing. In fact a new book of Christine’s is soon to be published.
“Christine basically wrote Nepal’s secondary science curriculum” one colleague remembers. Another wrote “She was in enormous demand, and the teacher training took her all over Nepal, on a schedule that only Christine could have coped with!”
Life in Nepal through all these years could be very difficult. Travelling to meet her self-imposed punishing schedule was hampered when Maoists blocked roads and hindered already difficult travel. Typically, the Maoists would demand money at checkpoints. Christine would have none of this. One one occasion when they made the mistake of demanding money, she gave them a prolonged and angry dressing down, explaining how she was travelling to help the neediest in this country and had done so for decades. They gave Christine money!
It was entirely appropriate that Christine was rewarded with an OBE for services to education in Nepal, although this presented her wider circle of friends a real challenge as to how to persuade Christine to abandon the habits of a lifetime and nod in the direction of social convention by something other than joggers and flip-flops to meet the Queen.
Not everyone who knew Christine would be aware of how keen was her razor sharp intellect (although when she disagreed with you, she would bluntly and pugnaciously burst any bubble of pretence and say exactly what she thought!). Her gifts and interests were breath-taking: a linguist, a mathematician, a cosmologist, a geographer, an ornithologist (through her part in a penguin study in the South Atlantic), and a budding archaeologist and historian too. Right to the end Christine remained fascinated by God’s world - whilst receiving palliative care she was still following her UHI classes in European History, in her pyjamas, over video-link from her bed!
When she retired to Fort William, Christine typically threw herself into numerous charitable and voluntary causes, helping where she could. Rev David Kirk of the Free Church, said at her Thanksgiving service of her short time in Fort William:
“During less than three years in Lochaber, she made such a difference. She found great enjoyment and fulfilment in driving all kinds of people to all kinds of places with the fantastic Lochaber Care car scheme. And she was very fond of her co-workers there. She worked with KEY, caring for the vulnerable. And she worked to maintain and restore the beauty of that special place near her own home, Glen Nevis, as a volunteer for the Nevis Landscape Partnership. Time will fail me if I try to recount all of her deeds(!); tutoring, school workshops, Nevis Radio, Claggan Residents Association, befriending and commitment to churches here as a Christian sister to so many in Christ …”
And it was as a Christian that she did all these things. Not to rack up merit with God, but out of love for Jesus Christ who she believed so firmly had taken all her demerits on the Cross, and had given her salvation as a gift.
In my last letter to Christine, written just a few weeks ago, I wrote to her:
“Christine, you have been, and remain, a tremendous inspiration and encouragement to me. It is SO encouraging to look to those who have travelled on with the Lord, and whose lives are testimony to His love. Your ministry has borne, and will bear, much fruit in Nepal and here in Scotland and elsewhere.
Pericles said ….”What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone, but what is woven into the lives of others”. You have, and continue to weave, much of God’s grace in the lives of many.
(There then followed a phone call when she wanted to discuss - tongue in cheek, I think - why the Dalry minister was choosing to quote a pagan statesmen. Answer: Paul did!)
There is so much more that could be said about Christine but the key to a life of such abundant usefulness in the Lord’s service, which impacted fruitfully on so many lives, was her love of Jesus. During the Thanksgiving service we listened to her broadcast on Hogmanay at the local station, for which she had adapted Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress” and heard her speaking candidly, and with eager excitement, about her approach to the end of her life, and meeting Jesus in the heavenly City. She was challenging her listeners to take time to think about the Gospel.
Christine was a brilliant educator, but she was far more. She had knowledge (in spades), but she also had wisdom. Christine knew much about life, as a supremely gifted teacher, but she knew Life, for she followed Christ in whom alone is found life in all its fullness. The Proverb says:
But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shies brighter ad brighter until full day. Proverbs 4: 18
With thanks to the Lord for Christine,