The 2017 Petra Address
Given on Founders Day 23rd May 2017 at Petra Primary School
By Senator David Coltart
“Let us not become weary in doing good for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up”
Just over 31 years ago on 12 March 1986 at the annual general meeting of the Bulawayo Presbyterian Church I spoke about my concern for the education of children and proposed combining with other churches to set up a school. That proposal was accepted and taken up by several spirited people from the Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist churches in Bulawayo.
One man in particular, John Cuddington, took up that original vision as his own and almost single-mindedly devoted the rest of his life, until his death, in 1999 towards making the dream of a Christian school a reality.
In 13 short years John, more than any other individual, was responsible for transforming a barren dusty stretch of land into Petra Primary School and then subsequently Petra High School. It is hard to imagine when we look at the beautiful buildings we have today, the lush green playing fields, our swimming pools and all the other developments at the schools that this was just a stretch of bush. When we started we had no land, no money to build the schools, no teachers and very little enthusiasm from people outside of those three churches to build the schools.
When we started Petra there was still a civil war raging around Bulawayo-people were still being killed by dissidents and soldiers . In other words it was a very difficult environment in which to build a school. John himself was not a particularly well man and had a variety of health issues. He had a young family and a very busy accounting practice which gave him very little time to devote to building a new school. But despite those obstacles he soldiered on and he, with others, transformed that barren stretch of land into what you see today.
It is entirely appropriate that the Avenue of trees which join the primary school to the high school is named John’s walk, after John Cuddington. One thing that always impressed me about John was his indefatigable nature. Although confronted by obstacles at every turn he truly never became weary. Even when he was opposed in his plans , even by some of his closest friends he persevered. For example John always wanted to build a High School whereas I was not sure it was the right thing to do and opposed his suggestion. He quietly, but doggedly, persuaded me and others round to his way of thinking and through that the high school became a reality.
John died suddenly in April 1999 and I wondered at the time whether the High School in particular would survive without John’s courageous leadership. As we know since 1999 Zimbabwe has been wracked by political instability, hyperinflation, the exodus of thousands of Zimbabweans and the near total collapse of the economy.
It is important to note that John in fact never saw the completion of the High School because when he died it was still small and most the buildings we have today weren’t built. In fact if we had known in 1999 all that the country was about to go through few would have given us good odds that the schools would have survived.
And yet survived they have. In fact despite ongoing challenges our schools are growing stronger as evidenced by superb academic results and the ongoing construction of facilities such as the swimming pool.
It is good to be inspired by others. The Bible in Hebrews 12 says this :
“Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles us and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
John Cuddington, arguably one of our greatest Founders of the school, is one such person in this cloud of witnesses, but there are many others throughout the world who are part of this cloud of witnesses who are there to inspire each one of us, as we run the race marked out for us. Because – believe me – each one of us here has a unique race God has marked out for us to run.
As you study history I urge you to study the lives of people who have gone before us to see how they have run this race.
One of my greatest heroes is Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America who almost single handedly brought slavery to an end in the USA. Because Lincoln is such a massive figure in American history one might think that he was a person who was powerful all his life, and that he achieved what he did through good fortune. In fact Lincoln struggled his entire life. He was born into a a poor, uneducated, family. His mother died when he was 9 years old and he had a difficult relationship with his father. He married a rather difficult woman and they suffered greatly in that they lost 3 of their 4 sons before they turned 18.
When Lincoln first publicly opposed slavery in the USA in 1854 it was not as popular sentiment and he attracted a lot of hostility. When he ran for the Senate in 1854 his views did not enjoy the support of most people and he lost. Three years later the US Supreme Court in the case of Dred Scott versus Standford ruled that black Americans were not citizens and had no constitutional rights – which demonstrates just how out of step Lincoln was with most white Americans. Lincoln criticized the judgment saying that ” this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free” – and in so doing predicted the civil war that engulfed the USA 3 years later.
In 1859 Lincoln consolidated his record of failure by standing for the Senate again and again losing.
But he never gave up and just a year later he was remarkably elected President of the USA. But that was just the beginning of his battles – just weeks after his election secessionists started speaking publicly about r plans to split the QUSS and to secede. A month after he was inaugurated President in March 1861 the US Civil War broke out. The war went badly for the Union forces under Lincoln and Lincoln was blamed for choosing poor Generals.
The war of course was all about slavery. Had Lincoln relented in his views on wanting the end of slavery he could have satisfied some of his critics and brought the war to an end – but he persevered in the face of criticisms across the political spectrum. So called
“Copperheads” criticized Lincoln for refusing to compromise; others criticized him for moving too slowly in abolishing slavery.
And yet in the face of setbacks on the battlefields and widespread criticism he persevered and on the 22nd September 1862 he announced the Emancipation Declaration, freeing all slaves in the USA. When he did so he said:
“I have never felt more certain that I was doing right” . But when he announced the Emancipation Declaration many feared that all he had was prolong the terrible war. The Declaration in fact spurred the Confederate armies and emboldened them. Last year my family and I were able to walk across the Gettysburg battlefield – one of the great battles of the US civil war fought in 1863. It was a horrendous battle which cost the lives of thousands in a few days.
Soon after that battle was fought Lincoln himself visited the battlefield and delivered his famous Gettysburg address. A dignitary who was one of America’s most famous orators, rambled on for two hours before Lincoln spoke. Lincoln was feeling terrible – he was feverish and had a severe headache – he delivered a short speech which only lasted 2 minutes. The speech was only 272 words long and yet it became one of the most powerful speeches ever delivered.
It was in that speech that Lincoln coined the phrase and proclaimed the resolve that “government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth”. In ten short sentences he was able to inspire a nation to victory. That phrase has since been used
on countless occasions to inspire people struggling for freedom across the globe.
The Civil war however raged on until April 1865. Shortly before it ended when Lincoln was inaugurated as President for his second term on the 4 March 1865 he said the following words:
“With malice towards none, with charity to all…as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds – to do all we may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves.”
In other words Lincoln endured – he never became weary in doing good, as God showed him what was good. And yet Lincoln too never saw the final harvest. Although the war came to an end a month later Lincoln was assassinated on the 14th April 1865. It happened on Good Friday. A few days before Lincoln had indicated that he was not satisfied with simply ending slavery – he spoke about giving black people the right to vote as well – words that inflamed his assassin.
You may all be thinking – just what is the relevance of all this history? Well I believe that from just the the lives of two of this great cloud of witnesses, one a founder of these schools, John Cuddington, the other one of the world’s greatest leaders, Abraham Lincoln, we have much to learn.
Note the following:
All of us have a race marked out for us by God. None of us are exempt. The younger people here have your lives stretching out ahead of you and you can choose early on how you are going to live it – are you going to be influenced by this great cloud of witnesses or are you just going to ignore them?
The lives of these people show that striving for good isn’t easy. It is guaranteed to be a struggle. The easier route will be to go with the flow. If you decide to do what is right in your life you will face opposition and obstacles. Both John Cuddington and Lincoln faced opposition their entire lives but they never gave up.
Failure is part and parcel of running this race. Lincoln was considered a filed politician having lost so many races for the Senate. Even after he was elected President many people remained critical of him and thought that he was doing disastrously. Lincoln was often isolated and felt as if he was fighting a one man battle to end slavery.
It doesn’t matter what you background is – you can be used by God to achieve great things irrespective of whether you are poor, white, black, male or female. Lincoln came from the poorest of backgrounds, lost his mother at an early age and had to struggle his whole life.
Note how both John Cuddington and Lincoln never lived to reap the harvest they had sown. Both were taken before they were able to enjoy the fruit of their labour – and yet as we see in these schools today because John Cuddington never gave up his harvest has been reaped. Likewise Lincoln never saw the fruit of his work but the world has reaped the benefit of his great work. In other words the “proper time” we read in that verse in Galatians is God’s time not ours.
But the greatest lesson of all is how both John Cuddington and Abraham Lincoln did not become weary in doing good all their days.
In that same Hebrews verse I quoted if you read on you will see the following words:
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfectos of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Both John Cuddington and Abraham Lincoln were both men who placed their full trust in Jesus. They were inspired by how Jesus never tired in doing good, by how Jesus endured opposition from religious and political leaders of the time and how Jesus was persecuted for doing good. They were both able to see that although Jesus was crucified on a cross he rose again and through that the good news of salvation has spread throughout the world.
John Cuddington and Lincoln both knew that their strength to carry on in the face of tremendous odds came solely from trusting in Jesus. Because of that they never waivered in their lives and God used them to do great things, despite opposition from “sinful men”. They were both also guided by God in the work they did – remember the words of Lincoln – he said “as God gives us to see the right”.
In ending I have a few things for you to ponder:
Do you want to do great and good things in your life?
What is going to characterize your life?
If you do want to do great things how are you not going to become weary in the face of the opposition which will surely follow your efforts?
Have you seriously considered the claims of Jesus in your life because, both in my own experience and from this cloud of great witnesses, we have evidence that you will not be able to run with perseverance that race marked out for you without His help?