Tribute to John Howard Barclay, AM

On Sunday 10 February 2019, an Interserve statesman and a great man of God finished his earthly work and passed into the presence of the God he loved and served. Howard Barclay – missionary, leader, encourager, pray-er and family man – faithfully and graciously served with his wife Betty the people of India, Nepal, Afghanistan, Mongolia, Australia and New Zealand during a lifetime commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Howard grew up with a family heritage of prayer and concern for Nepal. His father co-founded the Palmer Street Mission, which had a focus on prayer for Nepal from the outset and his mother prayed for Nepal for nearly 80 years until she died at the age of 97. He attended Melbourne Bible Institute (now Melbourne School of Theology) and went on to attain a diploma in teaching.

In December 1950, Howard met Betty Cane, who was about to leave for India in February 1951. Following Betty to north India in January 1952, he brought with him an engagement ring, which was presented at the first opportunity – waiting for their tickets at Lucknow Railway Station. According to mission regulations, single missionaries could not get married until they had passed their first year Hindi exam, so Howard married Betty the day after, in Motihari, near the Nepal border. This began a loving and supportive partnership of 64+ years which included four children: John, Ruth and Heather, born in India, and Margie, born in the hills of Nepal.

The move from their base on the Indian border into Nepal in 1960 entailed a five-day trek with the family from Kathmandu to the remote village of Amp Pipal. Howard was the Project Director of a United Mission to Nepal (UMN) effort to open schools to help address Nepal’s literacy rate of about 2%. Howard trained teachers and spent much of his time trekking to schools around the district, providing teaching resources and supporting fledgling teachers. Within five years, he had established nine primary schools including the nationally–renowned Luitel High School and founding the prestigious Gandaki Boarding School.

Howard held many walking records! A two-day, 98km trek from Pokhara to Amp Pipal with Bishop John Reid in the monsoon of 1966 involved crossing flooded rivers, climbing steep ridges and surviving on sardines, biscuits and chai. John Reid said of these arduous journeys, “They were great experiences, because ultimately when you got to the Barclays’ home, that was like this eagle’s nest on the ridge of the mountain, there you saw two people pouring out their lives for the boys and girls, men and women of Nepal and seeking to show them the way of Jesus – it was worth doing.”

In 1972, Howard became Interserve Director for Australia and New Zealand, serving in that role for seven years. He was a convincing preacher and speaker, spending time in churches, universities and professional groups every week. He listened and he encouraged many to deeper commitment to Jesus and to serve Him full-time – where appropriate, cross-culturally.

In 1980, Howard and Betty returned to Nepal, serving as Personnel Counsellors in UMN before Howard was appointed the Executive Director in 1984. At this time, UMN was involved in healthcare, education, rural and industrial development. UMN was a complex organisation with over 400 expatriate mission personnel, and employing more than 2500 Nepalis. He had a wonderful relationship with the Nepali church leaders whom he mentored and encouraged. Howard had a role in seeing the church grow from just a handful of believers to many thousands in his lifetime.

Howard and Betty returned to Melbourne in 1990 and served in post-retirement interim executive roles in Kabul, Kathmandu and Mongolia. He received a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) award from the Australian Government in June 1994 for “service to international relations in the Asian region, particularly through the provision of humanitarian aid to Nepal”. Betty passed away in October 2017.

Howard inspired, mentored and encouraged countless Partners and remained a key member of Interserve’s prayer community right to the end. God has deeply blessed Interserve through his work and we mourn the loss to his family and our fellowship.

With thanks to members of the Barclay family, Berys Nixon (former Interserve Personnel Director) and Dr Graham Toohill (former Interserve Partner) for sharing their memories and photos.