I heard last week, from Andrew Page, that two of my heroes Bill and Shirley Lees have both recently gone home to be with their Saviour. I told their story to new CU leaders in March, just a two weeks before Bill died, as examples of endurance and legacy in the gospel. Shirley followed him home in May.
Bill and Shirley were in the 1950s and 1960s missionaries in Borneo before returning to the UK where they became significant figures in the history of the UCCF, their local church in Reading, and in sending many more overseas with the gospel. Bill was converted as a teenager, and if I remember rightly Shirley was converted while studying at Cambridge, a contemporary of John Stott.
I met them in the autumn of 2000 and was - by the grace of God or some administrative fluke - a member of their home group for a couple of years. Week after week sitting as a very arrogant young man under the shadow of the spear that hung on their living room wall and in the warmth of their generous hospitality.
They were good friends to us then, and for the past decade they had supported us prayerfully and financially as I've worked for UCCF. I'm just one of many Reading CU Staff Workers they'd coached over the decades, among many thousands of students they influenced for Christ. I know I never mined fully the depths of their wisdom, which would've taken a lifetime. I never truly appreciated the handiwork of God at whose feet I sat on many evenings.
I remember they gave us our first car in 2004. It was an old Vauxhall Nova, and Bill (who I now realise was 78 at the time!) took me out for a test drive around the estate in which we (and they) lived. Their generosity with us in so many ways was an evidence of the grace they enjoyed in the gospel.
I remember fondly the evening in 2003 we hosted a student gathering at Wycliffe Baptist Church to introduce that generation of students at Reading University to Bill and Shirley. We sat in the presence of beautiful trophies of grace that Sunday evening. I remember the stories others would tell me about them. I remember the way they would ensure that those going after them would have a home to live in on their return.
I remember his stories of training preachers in Borneo, he'd preached to them, and send them to say what he'd told them, repeating it for them if necessary. Always empowering others, always leading people to know Jesus.
I remember the friend who had been rebuked by Bill and Shirley for only telling the positive stories in his prayer letter and not revealing his vulnerabilities. My last prayer letter, written in deep weakness, was a letter I couldn't have written without the ripples of Bill's influence. It would've arrived on the mat at 1 The Crescent just after Bill went home to Jesus. We moved out of Reading in 2007 and I only saw Bill and Shirley a couple of times in the last six years since then. I'll sorely miss their prayers and wise counsel, but I'm thankful that they now cheer us on from the cloud of witnesses with the Lord for whom they lived.
Their hospitality and generosity and commitment to relationships have been a formative influence and I give thanks to God for the privilege of knowing them, even briefly, in their latter years.
I commend these tributes and reflections from their Thanksgiving services...
Bill's Obituary by Ray Porter of OMF
Val Cookney on Bill and his family:
Andrew Page, former UCCF worker for Reading University, on Bill and students:
Heather Henderson, on her father Bill
Phil Holder of Wycliffe Baptist Church on Bill:
Tribute to Bill:
Tribute to Shirley: