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David Winch (1934–2020)

January 2021 | by Jonathan Winch

‘Show me, Lord, the purpose for which I was born, that I may try to achieve it in the strength that you supply and for your glory!’

These words, written in David’s characteristic hand under the Greek of the text he was expounding, appear in the introductory pages of his commentary on John. He was writing in retirement, at an age when most men look back to measure their life’s achievement. David’s impulse was to look ahead, for to him to live was Christ.

Despite growing frailty, his life continued to express the simplicity of purpose that had distinguished forty years of missionary labour amongst the Turkish people.

To ‘live for Christ’ had not always been David’s purpose. True, he had sensed a call to the ministry while still a child, but when after compulsory military service he arrived at Mansfield College, Oxford, he had merely a scholar’s interest in the Scriptures. Knowing Jesus Christ little better than he knew Julius Caesar, the summit of his ambition was to distinguish himself in his denomination. As John J Murray has written elsewhere, ‘The Winch family were products of the twentieth-century Congregationalism that had embraced theologically liberal teaching.’

Fellow-student John Marshall was the instrument used to introduce David to the living God. The Bible, previously a historic manuscript riddled with error, became a means of sweet fellowship with the Saviour who had loved him and given himself for him. David’s conversion impacted his parents and the church they attended together in Hemel Hempstead. He would later recall:

‘A group of us were gathering to pray for revival of true religion… I well remember the early rising, cycling the five miles into Hemel, the excitement and air of expectancy… At these meetings we pleaded with God for the man of his choosing, a true man of God to be called to the Alexandra Road church.’

In 1961, David used a prize he had won at Oxford to fund an expedition to the Holy Land led by Professor Ken Kitchen and Dr Martin. It was an eventful trip for all as surviving letters indicate, but for David it was life changing.

The route took them through Turkey, and it was in this land of history and romance, once the centre of Eastern Christendom and home to the first Ecumenical Councils, that David received a shock: in a land of twenty-eight million, just two Turks were known to be Christian. The thought never left him: ‘How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?  And how shall they hear without a preacher?’

Back in England, David was able to repay a debt to a dear friend: he became the means of bringing John Marshall to his parents’ church in Hemel. John would devote the remaining forty-five years of his life to that pulpit (and to open-air preaching in the town) to great effect. And it was John, alongside the church at Alexandra Road, who sent David and his young bride Ann to Turkey as missionaries in 1966. Ann was pregnant with their first child as they took the sea voyage, and their primitive wooden house in the historic centre of Istanbul soon resounded with a baby’s cry.

Despite recent reforms by President Kemal Ataturk, religious freedom was so little advanced that to share the gospel openly amongst Turkish people meant likely deportation.

To secure residence, David worked as an English Teacher. David and Ann joined a church in Istanbul where David preached by translation until he reached fluency in Turkish. For ten years he travelled the country, making contacts and taking Bible studies in villages and towns. Two of those years were spent in Gaziantep on the Syrian border, where his young family formed the entire congregation each Sunday.

In these early years, there was much hard ground to be broken up and much discouragement. David was constantly interceding for the lost; the excitement and air of expectancy that characterised his prayers as a young convert compelled him to rise early and give the first part of every day to intercession. The conviction that God is sovereign in salvation and that all Christ’s lost sheep would be found gave him the strength to witness day after day, confident that his labour was not in vain in the Lord.

In 1977 the family – now five in number – returned to the UK for the children’s secondary education; Turkish schools were fiercely Islamic, Western schools too expensive. London was now home to tens of thousands of Turks and Kurds, and David went from door to door with the gospel, conducting Bible studies when invited in – as often happened.

He planted a Turkish-speaking church in North London, and Trans-World Radio broadcast his evangelistic messages throughout the Turkish-speaking world. In the summer he would return alone to Turkey for journeys into territory that would have been dangerous with a family. After the children’s education was complete, David and Ann returned to Selćuk, near Ephesus, where David taught at the newly established theological seminary.

A gentleman and a scholar, David was trusted by his Muslim contacts who knew instinctively that he loved them. He spoke of his Lord without fear and never with aggression or superiority; he also commended the truth of his words by the consistency of his life. He was called to plough and to sow more than to reap, but during the span of his ministry Turkey has changed. When David went out he could count the number of ethnically Turkish evangelicals on the fingers of one hand, whereas today the estimates of Turkish Christians start at 7,000.

During his last and long battle with Alzheimer’s, David lost the use of his mind by degrees but retained the gentleness, consistency and integrity of character that endeared him to the Turkish people. He never lost his love for the Scriptures; unable to talk in his final months, he would nonetheless read the Bible in private, maintaining his daily practice of 66 years.

On Monday the fifth of October 2020, David died peacefully after three days with his wife by his side. He is now worshipping Christ in his immediate presence, fulfilling the purpose for which he was born.

Jonathan Winch

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