vendredi 13 août 2021

Pierre (Peter) Norman Wheeler 1928-2021

Probably less well known in the UK, as he left England at the age of 23, to serve the Lord in France. He received his home call in the early hours of Monday 26th July 2021 at the age of 93 years.

Born on 12.02.1928 to Christian parents in Essex, he came to the Lord at an early age. As a conscientious objector during the 2nd World War, he enlisted in civilian service on a farm. After the war, he had the call to the ministry confirmed and studied at Matlock Bible College then later in life he obtained his theology degree from London University.

His answer to the call to France was a step of faith and with conviction, it verged on recklessness as he arrived at Le Havre off the ferry on his bicycle with the address of a local Christian contact -albeit with some support from UK brethren assemblies. 

With a group called French Village Workers in northern  France and a tent evangelism campaign using a handcart  which moved up country and with local Christians, they went around various villages. Then Pierre served in a more settled manner in Hazebrouck. 

In 1954 a young lady called Jean arrived on a UK evangelism team. They were married 2 years later, lived in Hazebrouck and moved to Dunkirk/ Petite-Synthe in those days, to be mentored by a French couple and learn about church planting in France together with their french Assembly.

They became known as Pierre et Jeane.

Using his gifts, he created a bible exhibition to allow the French to read God ‘s Word, as at the time it was forbidden by the RCC. (Catholic Church). This ‘Expo-Bible’ became a tool for outreach throughout his and Jeane’s ministry in collaboration with other pioneers in this work after WW2. One has to remember protestants are a very small minority in France, evangelicals were more or less unheard of. This has changed in the last 60-70 years with slow but steady planting of bible based churches throughout France. Be in no doubt, there are still many regions without a local Christian witness.

In 1966 they moved on to Arras in the Pas-de-Calais region with their then 4 children, (their fifth and last child was born in Arras) and a deep desire to see this town hear the good news of the Gospel. Their home and particularly the basement became the meeting and evangelism room during the first 7 years. Planting a viable church in France is a long job. 

Pierre said to the author that unlike other parts of the world where a missionary can have a viable church with its own pastors/elders and deacons within 3-5 years, the lead time in France is 10-15 years plus. A Macedonian call for a few mature members of neighbouring assemblies to help start a work does not happen as usually there is no near neighbouring church!

Nevertheless, with steadfast handing out evangelistic calendars and leaflets, childrens’ outreach, youth outreach and the continued use of a public Bible Exhibition in the centre of town and of course other established Christians, the Eglise Protestante Evangélique d’Arras started in the Lord’s timing during the 1970s.

In 2003 the assembly finally obtained their own premises on Rue Diderot in Arras. Pierre and Jeane’s basement continued to be used by Pierre as his study and library of numerous amounts of books.

Retirement was not a term familiar to Pierre. He handed the pastorate at Arras over to David Sutherland in 1999. David looked after the assembly to 2012. From this point, the assembly elected 3 elders from the members. This allowed Pierre to continue writing books, giving conferences, animating bible expos, preaching , teaching etc. As Pierre reached his late 80s, various brothers in the assembly had to step in to offer to drive Pierre to his engagements (if only for Jeane’s peace of mind). He was still able to drive locally. The author remembers a weekend he took Pierre in his late 80s to Houlgate (Normandy) with the bible expo which accompanied the outreach work for Missions Vacances. He had the energy and drive of someone half his age and still as concerned for soul winning of the lost and the sanctification of the converted as ever.

Despite failing health, and increasingly regular hospitalisations, he was always with his Bible, praying for the other patients, nursing and medical staff and witnessing. Even at the end, following his stroke in April 2021, he continued to pray and openly read the Bible which was noted by the staff. The last weeks he lost his mental capacities.

The funeral was held on Thurs 29th July in the church building in rue Diderot, Arras. Despite it being the traditional French holiday season, the building was full, from collaborators in the Lord’s work from 71 years ago to the current church youth to thank the Lord for His goodness in Pierre’s life.

David Sutherland presided and eulogies were given by three of Pierre’s children.

He is survived by his widow Jeane, 5 children, 14 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren.

Alexander Hardstaff
(Pierre Wheeler was an occasional supplier of articles to the Evangelical Times.)

Aucun commentaire:

Enregistrer un commentaire