Tributes paid to Norfolk farmer and evangelist
Hundreds of people attended a memorial service for well-known Norfolk evangelist and farmer, Tony Gardiner, at Soul Church in Norwich yesterday. Mike Wiltshire reports
The large congregation of family, friends and colleagues heard heartfelt tributes to Tony as “a big man with a big heart . . . who loved a joke . . . who lived for others . . . a true spiritual father.”
From Belgium, Rik van Neste, director of the Full Gospel Businessmen in that country, told how Tony led him to faith in Christ, 28 years ago – Tony’s legacy lives on in the lives of hundreds of Christians in that nation.
John Wright, international director of FGB, said: “Tony was always totally positive – he saw every crisis as an opportunity for God.”
Many tributes have been paid to Tony, aged 79, a man with a message who travelled ‘two million miles’ around the world, sharing his story. He had a remarkable testimony of ‘God’s life-changing power’. He estimated that he and his wife, Jean, travelled over two million miles in 35 years, sharing the Gospel “since God changed our lives, miraculously, especially through the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship.”
But his early life was very different. Tony had been a nominal Christian and the lay chairman of 23 village churches – but he frankly admitted his life became “a mess in the battle to earn money to live an extravagant lifestyle” which led to severe depression, despite 26 medical pills a day.
Then a new vicar in his village spoke about “the need for heart-felt conversion and the Spirit-filled life” - a new message to Tony who, surprisingly, was encouraged to visit an evangelical retreat in Darmstadt, Germany, led by a well-known woman of faith and prayer, Mother Basilia Schlink, (1904-2001), author of more than 50 books, including “The Spirit-Ruled Life” and “My All for Him.”
Tony returned from Germany “a totally new man . . . born-again, trusting Jesus . . . and delivered from depression and drug dependency!”
For the rest of his life, Tony combined mission work at home and abroad with farming interests, especially in training operators of combine harvesters. He became a regional director of the Full Gospel Businessmen (FGB) and an advisor to the Women Aglow fellowship. Tony and Jean had three children - and their family home, aptly named “Shalom” (meaning “Peace”), was at Green Farm, Shelfanger, Diss, Norfolk.
“Every day is a bonus for us,” Tony said recently. Driving hundreds of miles across the UK to a meeting for a group of perhaps 60 people “was a small matter” compared to the joy of seeing even one person coming to know Jesus Christ, or seeing another healed, or lives transformed by the power of God”.
“This life in Jesus is an absolutely wonderful treasure-house of miracles,” said Tony who was also continuing his nationally-known work of “training tractor drivers to plough and operate combine harvester.” He and Jean also managed to help run two Alpha Courses a week at the former Norwich Family Life Church (now Soul Church).
“Wherever we are, God has prepared a people who are desperate for meaning in their lives, and needing a fresh touch of God, which we know is only possible through the promises of the word of God.”
Tony was active on Twitter and had 12,700 followers and 44,000 Tweets. Very poignantly, his final Tweet message was from the classic hymn Amazing Grace. He quoted the verse - which was also his life-message, because he overcame the destructive depression of his early life:
"My chains are gone,
I've been set free,
My God, my Saviour has ransomed me,
And like a flood His mercy reigns,
Unending love, amazing grace."
Tony, who was married to Jean for 56 years, had surprising talents: he was a gifted artist, “who also loved speed all things mechanical” and became one of Europe’s foremost experts in training farmers to use combine harvesters and other machinery. He loved entertaining people with trailer-rides around his farm.
Reflecting on Tony’s Christian testimony, Michael Cant, a Norwich architect and long-time FGB colleague, said: "There are not many people you meet in life who you can say are heroes of faith. For me, and I am sure for many others, Tony was one of them. His contagious enthusiasm, his breath-taking stories and his unwavering faith are all quite monumental icons of what it is to be a Christian. His legacy will be long remembered and often retold to inspire the new generation of Christians.
"Tony ‘fought the good fight of faith’ – active to the end, and he finished well. We will greatly miss him.”
Pictured above is Tony speaking at a UK Christian convention and, with Jean, at an FGB conference in Belgium.
Please feel free to add your tributes or memories of Tony below.