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Missionary couple honoured for life’s work


Monday 22 June 2015

When medical missionary Russell Clark heard that his wife, Reverend Kay Clark, was being considered for an Order of Australia Medal, he wasn’t particularly excited.

Kay was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour in 2011 and had already defied doctors’ prognoses of survival.

Russell and Kay Clark

Russell and Kay Clark

“I just thought she’s not going to be here. What’s the point in giving a posthumous award?” said Russell at their home in Castle Hill, Sydney.

That was a year ago, and today Kay is still keeping her husband company at their brand-new apartment at ARV (Anglican Retirement Village) Castle Hill. Her speech and balance are a bit wobbly but her tumour has shrunk to the point where it is not visible on an MRI and is inactive.

“There is no explanation. A lot of people have been praying and I’m grateful she’s still with us,” Russell says.

To his surprise, both members of the couple received awards in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. Kay received an OAM for her service to the Anglican Church and the Church Missionary Society while Russell was awarded an AM for his service to geriatric and rehabilitation medicine and for his work as a clinicians and educator in Asia and Africa.

Russell said his notification letter arrived a week before his wife’s, and he was cross at first because he thought Kay should be the one getting the honour.

The young Russell was just 10 when he was inspired to dedicate his life to being a medical missionary by the Jungle Doctor books, written and narrated on radio by the late Dr Paul White based on his missionary service in Tanganyika (now Tanzania).

“We are glad to have these awards if they give us an opportunity to speak for the Lord.”

Russell met Kay at a Crusaders Camp when he was a medical student and she was just 16. “I was attracted by her vitality, energy and fun. She was the centre of attention of all the boys,” he recalls.

“I was impressed with him as a Christian, and he had nice eyes,” explains Kay, who made a commitment to Jesus at the age of 11 during a talk at Crusader Camp about being “written in the book of life”.

So when Russell got down on his knees to propose in the moonlight on New Year’s Eve, Kay was not at all put off by his proviso that she would have to be prepared to be a medical missionary’s wife. She had studied science and biochemistry, thinking they would be useful on the mission field.

Russell says the story of their lives together was just turning up at the right time in various situations. Their first posting was to United Christian Hospital in Hong Kong, even though they had made detailed plans to go with CMS to Indonesia.

Russell says he never worked harder in his life as during the 10 years in Hong Kong from 1974 to 1984. “I had the privilege of leading the first geriatric department in China, in the East,” he says. He also pioneered a treatment for kidney patients at the hospital. “It was very rewarding because I was training young doctors, many of whom went on to become very prominent in Hong Kong.”

On returning to Australia Russell was the founding director of geriatric services at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney. When the youngest of their four children started preschool, Kay decided to study theology at Macquarie University. “At the end of that I was offered two jobs. One was writing scripture materials for CEP (Christian Education Publications) and the Anglican Church at Pennant Hills asked me to join the ministry team.”

Three weeks after she started at Pennant Hills, in 1995, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After she was cured, the couple decided they would like to go overseas again, so Kay decided to be ordained as a Deacon in the Anglican Church.

From 2002 to 2008 they lived in Tanzania, where Kay lectured – in Swahili! – at the Munguishi Bible School in Arusha and Russell was senior physician at Kilimanjaro Medical Centre and taught medical students.

“The Bible school I taught at was 80km from our home, so I only worked three days a week. I taught men and women to be pastors and I was the only white person there,” says Kay.

“It was the hardest thing I have ever done but it was very rewarding. The students were so thankful to get an education.”

One of Kay’s former students is now a teacher at the Bible school.

Russell proudly pointed out that the Bible School at Arusha was about to close when Kay came along and that she had given it stability for a crucial period of time.

The couple returned to Australia when Russell turned 65. He is now 71 and Kay is 65.

“We are glad to have these awards if they give us an opportunity to speak for the Lord,” says Dr Clark. “It’s important that people keep hearing contemporary stories.”

Photo: Ramon Williams, Worldwide Photos

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