You set me in your presence for ever

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Words from Psalm 41, set on the grave of Paul Barr, sum up a life which was celebrated at a Memorial Service at Nanjoka in October

It is a year since our friend and colleague Paul Barr died unexpectedly. While, a year ago, we mourned his passing, this year we celebrated his life and ministry during a Memorial Service held at Nanjoka Farm which had been home for him and wife Marilyn for many years, and where he is now laid to rest.

“The theme for the day is ‘life’,” Marilyn told the assembled congregation at the Memorial Service. “Last year we were together to cry because of Paul’s death but now we celebrate his life and all that he has done while here on earth, and also his new life in Heaven.”

Theme echoed to much laughter

And this was a theme that was echoed, to much laughter, by local people, such as the manager of Nanjoka Farm who worked with Paul to develop the site, through representatives of SIM Malawi, local chiefs and Church districts, to the Deputy General Secretary of the AEC, Abusa Kondwani Kanyimbiri, who gave the address at the service.

‘Life’ was also the theme for Paul’s grave, again as Marilyn explained.

The Barr family, (left to right) Andrew, Cheryl, Marilyn and Jeremy, at Paul’s grave in Nanjoka

“This grave is unusual for a Malawian grave because it speaks of life and it shows Paul’s love of Malawi and all things Malawian,” she said.

“The rock at the head represents Paul’s strength of life and of spirit. It, and the stones around the grave, come from right here on the farm where he worked so hard.  The light pebbles on top of the grave are from a beach at the lakeshore where we spent many happy hours in both ministry and relaxation. Again, they represent his love for Malawi.”

Memorial Garden

The grave is also covered with living plants, and more were added to their number as guests brought their own ‘living gifts’ to adorn the Memorial Garden, again as a representation of life in all its fullness on both sides of the grave.  The significance of this was emphasised as Paul’s youngest grandson, and then the whole congregation, read from Psalm 1 (one of Paul’s favorites) which likens a righteous man to a tree planted by a river and bearing fruit.

Paul Knox Barr was born in Malawi’s Thyolo district on 5th June 1945. His parents, Robert and Elinor, were missionaries with Africa Evangelical Fellowship (AEF), based with the Africa Evangelical Church (AEC) in the small rural village of Chididi in Nsanje district, southern Malawi.

Paul grew up in Malawi, with occasional visits back to the USA whence his parents had originated. He went to school in Zambia and Zimbabwe, followed by college in the USA, where he studied agriculture and biblical studies. He also served four years in the United States Navy. He and Marilyn, the daughter of Canadian AEF missionaries in Zambia, were married in the USA on 23rd October 1971.

Women from local Africa Evangelical Church congregations singing around the grave

Africa Evangelical Fellowahip (AEF)

Paul and Marilyn returned to Malawi in 1974 to commence their own 40-year period of missionary service with AEF (continuing with SIM) in discipleship, practical and building work, and nursing roles, firstly in Lulwe (also in Nsanje), then Blantyre, where Paul was field leader for ten years, and most recently, at Nanjoka in Salima, and the lakeshore area since 2000. Paul was also ordained as a minister within the AEC.

Speaking on behalf of SIM Malawi, former Country Director Hans-Jörg Richter spoke about a phrase used at Paul’s funeral last year which had stayed with him ever since.

“That phrase was: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’” he said.

Paul's 'bags of gold'

“Those words, which so apply to Paul, were spoken by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel when he told the parable about the servant who took bags of gold and made a profit with them for his master. What has struck me was, what are the bags of gold which Paul was given and how had he used them?

“I think these bags of gold included God’s Word, which was so important and influential in Paul’s life, the people he served and with whom he worked, and his practical skills. If we look at all of these ‘bags of gold’, we can see how he used them to the service and glory of his Master, our Lord Jesus Christ, and we can see the ‘profit’ all around us.

“What we see now is a heritage which is the work and the life of Paul Barr. It is now up to us to take hold of that heritage and to take it forward so that we all may be as fruitful in our service to God as was Paul Barr.”

Marilyn still serving Malawi

Marilyn continues to live at Nanjoka Farm, and continues to serve the Lord and the people of Malawi through the Africa Evangelical Church, as she and Paul did together as a team for many years.  One son lives in Australia, another in Zimbabwe, and a daughter in the U.S.A.


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