David Pearce’s autobiography is titled Kondoa 31 – One Man’s Journey Through Life. But equally it could be titled something like ‘The Great Adventures of an Englishman who became a Kiwi and then an African resident – before taking up the mantle of ordained ministry.”
His 86 years were packed full of action, not because he was a thrill seeker in the sense that we know it today, but because he never shied away from a challenge. In the life of David Pearce, life was for living. How right then that the scripture read at his funeral on September 29, and included in the acknowledgments of his autobiography is: John 10:10 ‘ Life, life in all it’s abundance.’
David was born in 1931 in Lancashire, England to Marjorie and Jock Pearce, one of five children. Jock was a GP in Walkden, Manchester and in the family’s early years the surgery, consulting room and dispensary were also part of the house.
David was sent away to boarding school at age eight, and then onto secondary school (another boarding school) where he didn’t fancy the obligatory public school occupations.
Farming was what appealed, so in his late teens he took up a job in Dorset moving between farming jobs.
He attended church at times, although it didn’t feature prominently. He was too busy working, riding motorbikes (and then cars) as well as enjoying a social life.
Then in 1953, the same year Queen Elizabeth II was crowned, David spotted an advert for a herd tester in NZ.
It was a two-year contract; he applied and was accepted, boarding a ship in June 1953.
David had no idea what herd testing work involved, he didn’t know a soul in NZ but – like so many other times in the following years – he took the plunge.
Seasickness, homesickness and apprehension marked the six-week journey halfway across the world.
The UK herd testers reached Wellington and before even setting foot on dry land, were loaded onto buses with David being ‘designated’ New Plymouth.
He spent two years learning the ropes, travelling from farm to farm before chancing across Jen Prankerd at a farm in central Taranaki.
He describes their first meeting in 1955: “As I go past the clothesline a really stunning young lady appears, collecting the washing.”
They were engaged three weeks later, and then married in June 1956.
Over the following years the couple owned several farms before settling on a property in Lepperton. They raised four sons: Michael, Malcolm, John and Robin and immersed themselves in the community.
David was on the board of the Lepperton Dairy Company; there were Scout gatherings, hockey matches, school board meetings and both he and Jen became increasingly involved in St Mark’s at Lepperton.
David’s relationship with God was building, culminating in ‘Life in the Spirit’ seminars at Fitzroy Holy Trinity church. This was a life changing experience for he and Jen.
Over the following years the couple kindly took people into their home: Lloyd who they found living under a hedge, Andrew an apprentice with the chicken industry, Rick who went onto work in hospitality and Geoff who is still a part of the family.
In the eighties, Jen and David embarked on a series of overseas mission trips. They turned over their Lepperton farm to son Malcolm and daughter-in-law Kim, before heading to a World Vision-run Somaliam refugee camp.
As project co-ordinator of the Las Dhure refugee camp, David was in charge of three shifts of medical staff, drawn from around the world.
Home to 50,000, mostly women and children, Islam was the dominant religion.
He writes: “Culture, language, homesickness, heat and so many decisions being called for every day were challenges that I had never really thought about before.”
His autobiography is full of wonderful – sometimes frightening – stories.
The time, for example, when he’s heading back to the camp late one day and it rains, for the first time in three years. The roads are flooded; he loses control of his Land Cruiser and the vehicle tips into a shallow trench.
He waits throughout the night, reading from his Bible, upended but protected. In the morning his lucky escape is apparent. Water gushes through a canyon less than 50 metres away. If the vehicle had not rolled, David would have plunged into the gorge and lost his life.
There are many successes during their year including the introduction of a successful immunisation programme that helps eradicate infant diseases such as diphtheria.
Back home in NZ in 1982 the couple embarks on evangelism around NZ, travelling in a caravan as part of the Church Army.
In 1985 World Vision sends them to Africa, this time to Sudan to head up an aid project for refugees fleeing war between Chad and Libya. There’s no refugee camp – yet – it’s their job to set it up.
The challenges are extraordinary; David’s writing littered with phrases like: “But and this was a huge But…” or “Yes. It was time for another of those prayers. HELP.”
NZ is home again for a few years before the couple embarks on their longest stint, six years in Tanzania, beginning in 1989. They learn Swahili; their home is Kondoa and over the years’ special friends are made (including Given Gaula, now Bishop of Kondoa). David’s practical, can-do nature, Jen’s gentleness means that together they introduce many to the Good News: A large prison camp, groups of Masai warriors, and villagers in remote locations.
The construction of a Bible School to accommodate around 40 students is one of their greatest achievements. David builds as well as oversees the construction after rudimentary plans are sketched.
David’s autobiography ends at the point at which the couple returns to NZ in 1996
In the same year David takes up a ministry post at Brooklands Co-operating Parish in New Plymouth where he remains until 2001. The next chapter starts at the cathedral where he ministers alongside Vicar David Hollingsworth and, later on, Dean Jamie Allen.
Alpha courses, a contemporary service, ministering at rest homes, delivering donated bakery goods to low-income families, as well as regular duties demanded of a ministry team, mark out the following decades.
We will remember David for his humour, storytelling and an unshakeable, joy-filled faith. Jen and he have sprinkled seeds of spirituality and the fruit is flourishing.
Matthew 13: 31-32:“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
Jen and David Pearce hosted Bishop Given Gaula for his 2015 visit to New Zealand