David Claydon: The homeless orphan who served the Lord for eight decades

Lost, nameless, homeless, fatherless. This is how Anglican minister Roger Chilton described the formative influences of the much-loved pastor, scholar, missionary leader and international Christian statesman, David Claydon, at a thanksgiving service for his life in Sydney on Monday.

Chilton’s reflections were just one of many tributes to David’s extraordinary life during the service at a packed-out St Andrew’s Cathedral.

David Claydon

David Claydon, who died on July 28, had the humblest of beginnings in life. He never knew his English parents, who were killed in a local war in Jerusalem before World War II. Thankfully, he was given a name and a home and discovered the love of his Heavenly Father, whom he went on to serve for eight decades.

“He was found in the Bethlehem baby home by a single social worker, a former CMS missionary named Lora Claydon,” Chilton told the congregation.

“He was a very sick little boy. He was about four when he was taken by her to the CMJ hospital in Jerusalem, and he nearly died. But as he convalesced from a life-threatening bout of measles, a visiting pastor spoke to this little boy from Bethlehem about Jesus.

“He showed a particular image of the Lord with a lamb across his shoulders and this little boy thought to himself, as he heard about that shepherd, ‘If Jesus cared that much about a lost lamb, he must care about me, so I belong to Jesus.’

“David said he took the name David after the famous Old Testament king from Bethlehem who wrote the 23rd psalm. Lora became his adopted aunt and so he took her surname. He now had a name and was not homeless. This little boy whose parents had died sometime prior to World War II was no longer a lost child, but now had someone to care for him. He had Lora in his life and eventually, after many privations, dangers and challenges of moving around countries and so many schools, David found an earthly home in Sydney. And he established a home and family after he married Robyn.”

“He was still at work by phone just days before his recent death.” – Roger Chilton

Chilton said that at the tender age of eight, having survived many hazards, David realised that the God of the Bible had kept him alive for a purpose.

“He knew he was not fatherless, but had a Heavenly Father who had protected him and provided for him, so he made a promise to his Heavenly Father that he would serve him in some form of full-time ministry for the rest of his life. And he was still at work by phone just days before his recent death. What a full life, what an amazing ministry here and around the world! What a blessing David has been to us all. And there’s so many others who have never met him but whose lives he’s influenced for good.”

After David married Robyn Hickin in 1961, they served together for over 60 years in Christian ministry in Australia and around the world. David served in various cross-cultural contexts, including many years leading the work of Scripture Union in the East-Asia Pacific Region (ANZEA).

In the 1980s, he was Rector of the Anglican Church of St Matthew’s, West Pennant Hills. Later he was the missiologist for the Australian College of Theology and taught in seminaries in Boston (Gordon Conwell), Manila, Singapore, and Malaysia.

He was appointed the Federal Secretary of Church Missionary Society Australia in 1988 and actively promoted mission, recruiting and supporting missionaries, and growing networks worldwide. He was particularly active in developing a ‘Vision for the Nineties,’ which had a new focus on unreached people groups. One result of this new vision was an increase in the number of countries in which CMS missionaries served, from 15 in 1988 to 24 in 2001.

“My baby is born a Christian, Australian baby because of him.” – Mahmoud

David also championed the training of leaders of local churches through scholarships and support. His interest in outreach to Muslims remained a personal passion. After his retirement, he worked as International Director of the Lausanne Movement for World Evangelisation and chaired the Human Rights Organisation for Middle East and North Africa. In this capacity, he worked with representatives in the Gulf and North Africa to bring to Australia persecuted people, in consultation with the Minister for Immigration.

Mahmoud [surname withheld for security reasons] told the congregation that he was one of the people David had helped escape to Australia.

“I am a refugee, a Christian from a Muslim background. I came from Egypt in 2017 through Dr David’s ministry,” he said.

“I was persecuted by my own country and my family, and through Dr David and Robyn’s ministry, I landed safely in Australia with my wife. I owe Dr David much. My baby is born a Christian, Australian baby because of him. I had the pleasure to serve with Dr David in his ministry to bring 14 families to Australia safely. Since I came to Australia, I will always be grateful for him and for the ministry he had. Dr David was living proof of God walking the earth.”

“He opened my eyes to God’s work in a way few have been lucky to experience.” – Kim Barker

David’s daughter Kim Barker told the congregation: “Dad was born in Jerusalem without a known birthdate and without a name. He was found in an orphanage by an Australian missionary who was clearly sent by God to rescue this little English boy with red hair. He didn’t grow up in a loving family, he had to fend for himself, and as a child didn’t even know what a birthday was. But this man of God, protected many times from death, was an extraordinarily loving and fun man who served God until his very last breath.

“He and my mother Robyn gave me the most loving family imaginable and the three of us travelled the world together and witnessed extraordinary things. He opened my eyes to God’s work in a way few have been lucky to experience. I will be thankful to God for him for the rest of my life.”

Robyn and David Claydon

Robyn recalled that many years ago, when she and David were sitting on a rock, overlooking the water at Middle Cove in Sydney, he told her that when he was a small child, the doctors had told him that he had a heart condition which they could not treat.

“One of the doctors said to him, ‘You will live for about 25 years.’ The day that David and I sat on that rock at Middle Cove, he was 25, and now we had been married for 61 years.

“David’s life was extraordinary, as most of you know, and throughout the service this morning, you will hear a few more facts about this extraordinary life, but you see, it’s not a funeral. There are no eulogies. There are no long speeches. There are lots of memories and reflections about David, how much we loved him, the various ministries that he had. And so it’s a thanksgiving service … We thank God for his wonderful care of David, especially in the early years, and for his gifting of David for such varied ministries all around the world.”

Among the more amusing reminiscences were those from his grandchildren, Georgia and Andrew Barker.

“He could never be trusted to score his own answers as he would always give himself 100 per cent.” – Georgia Barker

Georgia recalled “Pa’s” cheekiness during the Christmas games of Scattergories, where you have to answer each question with a word beginning with a particular letter of the alphabet.

“Let’s just say that all of his answers were unique, and by unique, I mean imaginative – Andrew and I would never believe him. So Grandma would act as judge and invariably tell us that the words were made up. This would cause Pa to burst into fits of laughter. He could never be trusted to score his own answers as he would always give himself 100 per cent, convinced that he was always right, regardless of how many words were from his imagination. These games and holidays are very special memories for us and among the so many wonderful times we had with Pa.”

Andrew said his grandfather was his role model and mentor.

“Many of you will know that he never knew his parents, but since the day that he died, I have hoped and prayed that he will now meet them and they will wrap him in their arms and tell him, ‘We are so proud of you.’ Or if not, I am so thankful that he’ll be wrapped in the arms of his loving Heavenly Father. Pa, more than anyone else I have known, will surely hear the words, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.’”