Born Kenneth John Gilmore in October 1930, John died peacefully in his sleep on 23 January 2017, aged 86. He had been diagnosed with inoperable cancer last October and took it very calmly, astonishing medical staff that he was so sure of his final destination. His funeral took place in Norwich on 17 February, with just a small gathering of about 20 there, many of whom were from Italy, but he would have been assured of an abundant entrance into heaven itself with the welcome from the Saviour, “Well done, you have been a good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of the Lord”.
John was an Essex boy from a Christian family but had gone his own way until he met the Saviour. When he did so, he the felt the change to be so profound that he desired above all things to serve the Lord in some full time capacity, which was fulfilled at first as an evangelist with the National Young Life Campaign (NYLC). He had attended Moorlands Bible College in Matlock – it has since moved to Christchurch near Bournemouth, well known now to many of our campers – and struck up a lifelong friendship with Rev Stephen Olford, who became a well known preacher in New York.
John had long had a real yearning to serve the Lord in Europe, but no door seemed to open. His cousin, Stuart Bellis recalled at the Thanksgiving Service held in Eckling Grange Home in Dereham, Norfolk, “The crunch came when he told me that he had reached a state of perfect flux in that he was at last prepared to go anywhere, do anything, with no strings attached. The amazing thing was that from the time that John made that commitment with no strings attached, a door opened for him to go to Europe – where he met Maureen, and subsequently ended up in going to Sicily. Some years later I vividly recall John saying that from a human point of view, Sicily was the last place he would have chosen to go but in the certain knowledge that the Lord had called him there, there was no other place for him to be. I do not propose to try and recount the years of service that John and Maureen gave to the people of Sicily, other than to say it was never an easy ride.” But he was faithful to the heavenly calling. Their son, Jonathan, and their daughter, Debbie, were born there.
Sicily was the land of the Mafia and 5 million fiercely independent people; that is why John’s book about the work was entitled Five Million Islands. They set out to build bridges between these ‘islands’. They established a church in Messina and a ‘daughter’ church at Rometta Marea. They tried to develop a piece of land for local service known as Amore in Accione (‘love in action’). (AIA in Italian means ‘threshing floor’). They served there for about 50 years, and many came to know the Lord. But life in Sicily was hard and work was scarce, and so it was that many new converts moved north to find work. There were violent run ins with the Mafia, but God saw them through all these trials and difficulties. You could read a little more on our church website, under Spreading the Gospel.
Retirement from the work was also beset with great hardship and sorrow. They felt terribly let down by the American mission who had been supporting them. They had to vacate their home at short notice and moved north to Biella, where Debbie and her family live. We wondered whether the Lord meant them to have a new ministry there, but when Maureen fell, it became obvious that they needed nursing care – first in Asti, Italy and then at Eckling Grange. Increasing infirmity resulted from an exhausting life in the ministry and sadness over the way it ended.
At the Thanksgiving Service Debbie sang a song in honour of her father, and Jonathan spoke of his father as a meticulous, precise man who took time to be thorough, enjoying mechanical and electronic things, but he was also cheerful, whistling his way through the day; and musical, he was indeed an accomplished pianist. He was also a gentleman, polite, genteel. They knew him as a kneeling, praying father, daily. In hard times, he would have a saying, “Grace, plus nothing”.
Our involvement as a church was through Maureen (Jenkins), who was converted in Heath while studying drama in Cardiff. She too had felt a call to serve full time, at a time when many young people here received their call, during Rev Jack Sharman’s pastorate (1954-61). You can read about them in the history of Heath Church, Holding Forth the Word of Life, p 29-30.
Asked what he thought the main legacy of his 60 years of ministry had been, he was not willing to refer to anything he had done, but he was glad that his son Jonathan had responded to a call to continue the preaching of the unsearchable riches of Christ in Italy. But a new fund has also been set up, known as the John Gilmore Fund, to provide financial help for those who are training for Gospel ministry in Italy. It would be a fitting legacy to this fine servant of the Lord’s for people to contribute generously to this new fund for the sake of Gospel witness in Italy.
John and Maureen have two children, Jonathan and Deborah, both born in Wrexham, as well as six grand-children. John is the author of Five Million Islands : European Missionary Fellowship 1968 and member of the Pastors’ Association. (Italics for the book title)
In 2011, John and Maureen finally retired after their more than sixty years of service. Sadly, John passed away in January 2017; Maureen still lives in a home for retired missionaries in Dereham, Norfolk. Two tributes for John can be found here.