Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Geoff Richards: A Joyful Cancer Pilgrim to the World

'I don't live under the shadow of death, I live in Christ who is my life,' he says

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

IRVINE, CA (ANS) -- World missionary, Geoff Richards, who has served in India, Nepal, the Middle East, the UK, and his homeland Australia, has become a cancer pilgrim to the world despite battling prostate cancer now for several years.

Geoff Richards at KWVE after a previous interview at this radio stations in Southern California
He has sold up everything in his native Australia, and is now a "Joyful Cancer Pilgrim to the World."
This amazing Christian, who has suffered a series of terrible set-backs in his life that would have crushed many, is again touring the world bringing his message of hope, and I caught up with him during the most recent leg of his tour.

I met him at the train station in Irvine, California, train and we soon settled down to do a Front Page Radio show that will soon be broadcast.

I had first met Geoff in Cyprus when he was working with Open Doors, Brother Andrew's ministry, that was reaching out to the Middle East and we had kept in touch over the years.

I began by asking him to share about his early life and Geoff said said that he had given his life to Christ many years ago in Australia while attending a meeting addressed by Dr. J. Edwin Orr (born in Belfast in 1912) who Billy Graham once described as "one of the greatest authorities on the history of religious revivals in the Protestant world." (Dr. Orr passed away in 1987).

Richards said that the date of his conversion -- May 11, 1957 -- was also a time he will never forget because he said on that same evening he felt God's call to be a missionary to India, where he went a few years later and met and married his wife Jan, who was the daughter of a family that had pioneered a wide-ranging Gospel literature service in Mumbai (then called Bombay).

Geoff and Dan after the latest interview

"I found a delightful life in India for eleven years and then, subsequently the Lord took me onto Nepal for a couple of years helping to set up student work in Kathmandu and later we had a couple of years in Kenya and then onto Cyprus," he said. "So that was a very happy time indeed before the Lord took us back to Australia for our children's education."

I had once had the privilege of staying at the Richards' home in Sydney, and met his wife, children and his father who was born in England. I was there to co-author a book called "Lost For Words" with Stuart Mill about his pioneering work in the Solomon Islands with Gospel Recordings.

But then, after I returned home to the United States, Geoff began to face a series of incredible setbacks.

"The first was when my father suddenly became quite ill in January of 1991 and died within a few days," he said. "And then, on the following morning, my son Timothy, at the age of twenty-one, was also taken home. He had a massive seizure in the night and was suffocated. We had a double funeral and it was a huge wakeup call for me.

"It was like hitting a brick wall at 60 miles an hour, and at that time of pain, the Lord really met me, and He just said, 'I love you'. It was then that I realized, as never before, just how deep that love was. I had been a very driven missionary before then and I now knew that I needed to get to know the Living God; the tender, very present Father, an immediate help and a constant presence, and I found that to be the greatest joy of my life as I went on from there."

But if that wasn't enough, Geoff's wife Jan, then became seriously ill with cancer.

The book written at the Richards home in Sydney

"My wife was brought up in India and we met there and the Lord had us marry in Bombay and gave us Timothy, our first son there," said Richards. 

"She developed cancer around about December 1995 and the Lord led me out of mission leadership at that time and into a whole new ministry of caring for her.

"My dear wife subsequently went home to be with the Lord in 2006 and we we had eleven years of learning to walk together at a level of helplessness and weakness which taught us so much about the nature and the kindness of our Father."

He then spoke of the last few days with Jan.

"That was a very challenging time and she was very helpless," he said. "She was in the hospital for the last several months and was very well cared for in Australia. She was looking forward to going home to be with the Lord and yet she also wanted to be here to watch her grandchildren grow up, but the Lord had better things for her.

"I spent the last night with her lying on a bed in her hospital room where she had been in a deep coma for several days, and I'd asked the Lord, 'Please give me the joy of being there at the moment when she goes to be with You,' He heard my prayer and woke me up as with an alarm clock just on eleven twenty, and two minutes later she breathed her last and it was a very precious and tender moment."

I then asked Geoff, if after serving the Lord for so many years and then suffering such set-backs, if he got get angry at God.

"No, I didn't," he said firmly. "The Lord showed me very clearly when my son died how much He loved me and that this to be the beginning of a new walk with Him. I remember saying to the Lord that very day, 'Lord, I don't really understand what's happening here, but all I know is this is the most important thing that's ever happened to me and I don't want to miss a moment of it.

"That came from a very deep place place in my spirit and I knew that was the desire of my heart and God met me at that level. I remember saying to him, 'Lord what you do is good.'"
But if all of this wasn't bad enough, Richards then discovered that he had prostate cancer.

"I was having the usual type of older men syndromes and finding life a little bit difficult on that level and so I went to see my doctor and he wanted me to have a biopsy which subsequently showed in 2001 that I had early signs of prostate cancer," Richards explained.

"At the time I was deeply involved in caring for my wife and when I heard the news we talked to the Lord together about it and the Lord spoke to me one morning and from Ephesians 5: 25."

The verse reads: Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (NIV).
Geoff then said, "To me that was a very clear call that I was to care for my wife and she made it clear that she needed me around at that time so I didn't have the usual kinds of procedures and so, as a result, the cancer spread."

He went on to say that once she had passed away, he went back for more tests.
"By that time, the PSA levels had risen too high to for them to do anything by intervening by way of surgery or anything like that," he said.

Amazingly, rather than being completely crushed by his latest problem, he saw it as a way to start new ministry of encouragement to other cancer patients.

Geoff says he took his example from Romans, 12:8 which reads: if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (NIV)

"It's been an ongoing ministry, and it is something that I have always wanted to do" he said. "It is an outgrowth of what I really am in myself. I have been deeply encouraged in the Lord and I decided to make it my business to 'choose life' instead of death."

As with all that he does in his life, Richards has based his decisions on scripture and one that has deeply impacted him is from Deuteronomy 30, 19,20, This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (NIV)

He added, "To me, when I read this, it was a word from the Lord which really resonated deep in my spirit and I decide that I would live. I don't live under the shadow of death I live in Christ who is my life."
Since then, Geoff made the unusual decision to go on a series of pilgrimages around the world, and has since then has constantly been on the move, linking up with old and new friends and spreading the joy of the Lord.

"I see myself very much as a world Christian," he explained. "I don't feel terribly Australian. I have the privilege of traveling with two passports; my father was British and my mum was Australian. But I'm very much at home where Christ is."

Dan Wooding interview George Verwer wearing his famous world atlas jacket

Not long ago, he was able to meet up again with his dear friend George Verwer, the founder of Operation Mobilization and worked at his office in Forest Hill, London, for several months.

"I offered myself to work with him and on Christmas Day 2009, George called me and said, 'Come,' so I did!" he laughed. "That was an exciting time for me."

Verwer, like Richards, has a deep love to India, so that made his time in London even more special him as they chatted about the pioneering OM days in India.

"George Verwer is a man of great compassion who has a thirst after righteousness and longs for the souls of men," said Geoff. "He has been a seminal influence in my life. I have vivid recollections of travelling with him in an old bread truck in central India back in 1967 as we went around the country in the sweltering heat in his vehicle with no air-conditioning.

"When we would stop, he would insist that, every hour or two, we'd have to get out and he'd make us walk or run for a mile or so in front of the truck. I still remember him dictating to his secretaries as we bumped along those terrible roads in India. I have seen him being shaved with a wicked looking cut throat razor under a tree and still dictating. He never wasted a minute.

"Working with him was a privilege and now he's now seventy-two years old and still acting he is thirty-two! He's usually got about twenty irons in the fire at one time."

Richards says that as he travels from city to city, country to country, he asks God to bring suffering people in his way so he can encourage them.

"When I meet with people who also have cancer, I tell them, that 'cancer does not have me, but Doctor Jesus does', and 'He's on my case,' he said. "I tell them that He's teaching me to live in joy no matter what my circumstances and my relationships with people who are very dear to me.

"I've said that friends are my 'pilgrim points' and, as I go from place to place and see them in many different parts of the world, they are the ones who actually encourage me to reach out and to expect so much more of the Lord
Jesus because many of them are having it far tougher than I am.

"For instance, I'm in touch with a number of homeless people in LA through mutual friends and I'm struck by the fact that many of them are living hand to mouth at a level which would not be out of place in a Mumbai slum, but when I talk with many of them, I see their joy in the Lord and their hunger for God. There are many people I meet along the way, who challenge me in my complacency."

On his latest trip, Richards began in South Korea and then went on to Hong Kong and is now criss-crossing the United States.

He says he has made many contacts on Facebook and enjoys meeting up with them face-to-face.
"I have made a whole new circle of friends and have had new opportunities to speak life to whole groups of people who I'd never met before," he added.

I concluded the interview by asking Geoff what he would like to say to someone who, like him, has cancer and is now facing their mortality.

Geoff and Dan having brunch with old friends, Jim and Sandra Baker, after the interview

He said, "The most important thing of all is to recognize that for a Christian, there is no such thing as a death sentence. I once heard of a commentary from a hundred years ago, that if we truly love the Lord Jesus and we've given our lives to Him, then what a difference it makes to the grave that we all face, is to know that our Lord Jesus himself once lay in one when He as on this earth.

"He has taken the sting and pain of death and our part is to live. The Lord calls us to life not to death. My only counsel would be focus on life because the Lord has a life for you there that you have probably never known before and at a level which you've never experienced before and so this is precious invitation to know Him, to please Him and to preach Him at a whole new level.

"I am more than happy to be in a place where simply God has called me to be a servant. My Lord was a servant and, if my place is at His side, then I too will serve because He said, 'I'm among you as one who serves.'

"My heart's desire is simply to be available to God's people wherever they are and whatever their circumstances; to be there to encourage them to reach for their highest in Christ. I love that word of Oswald Chambers who said, 'Hold each other to the highest' and that is really my heart's desire, especially with young people who have got all of life before them. They've got all of that challenge before them with no health issues and lots of energy and vision. And I say 'go for it with all your heart and soul' and that's what I want to be -- an encourager to the end."
If you would like to e-mail Geoff Richards as he continues his trek around the world his address is:pilgrimgeoff@gmail.com.

Note: I would like to thank Robin Frost for transcribing this interview.

Dan Wooding, 70, is an award winning British journalist now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for 48 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. He is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS) and was, for ten years, a commentator, on the UPI Radio Network in Washington, DC. He now hosts the weekly "Front Page Radio" show on KWVE in Southern California which is also carried throughout the United States. The program is also aired in Great Britain on Calvary Chapel Radio UK and also in Belize and South Africa. Besides this, Wooding is a host for His Channel Live, which is carried via the Internet to some 200 countries. You can follow Dan on Facebook under his name there or at ASSIST News Service. He is the author of some 44 books. Two of the latest include his autobiography, "From Tabloid to Truth", which is published by Theatron Books. To order a copy, press this link. Wooding, who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, has also recently released his first novel "Red Dagger" which is available this link.

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