Remembering Dr John Ridgway

By Mike Swan

I met John for the first time on 19 June 1972. In a few months, that will be fifty years ago. I know the date as well as I know my birthday, because it became my ‘new birth’ day. In the space of 48 momentous hours, I travelled ‘the road less travelled’ from unbelief to faith in Jesus, and by the grace of God, John Ridgway was decisive in that journey. I thank God for him!

It all began on a Sunday night in my accommodation block in Anzac Hall at the Royal Military College Duntroon. I was six months away from graduation as a Lieutenant in the Royal Australian Signals. I had wandered into a friend’s room (as you do) and noticed a book that caught my attention. It shouldn’t have, but it did. It was called Man Alive, written by Rev. Michael Green. It was about the death and resurrection of Jesus.

I decided to borrow it. My friend wasn’t around so I just took it (as you also do!). I read it from cover to cover. I was smitten! I had no idea that Jesus was really raised from the dead and that it should mean something to me personally. What to do? I remembered my best friend from high school in Bunbury, WA. He was a Christian, and he would know what to do. I wrote to him that night.

The next day God showed up in an even more decisive way. A fellow cadet and friend accosted me with the news that he had just become a Christian! He could have had no idea about Man Alive. I pressed him. He responded, “You have to go and see this man; his name is John Ridgway, and he lives at Burgmann College at the ANU”. That night, I reread Man Alive and decided I would visit Burgmann College.

“You have to go and see this man; his name is John Ridgway…”

The next evening, I drove to the ANU and found my way to John’s room (he was a tutor there). I knocked, he answered, and I said something like, “I need to become a Christian and someone said you could show me how.” We sat and talked. We had things in common. We both played hockey. He was in the Army as a national serviceman. We had both studied physics – well, sort of. After all, he was Dr John Ridgway, having completed a PhD in Solid State Physics at UNSW.

Eventually, we got down to it. John showed me ‘the Bridge Illustration’ which helped me to make sense of what had happened in my heart and mind since picking up Man Alive, two days before. I understood enough of repentance and faith, of the significance of Jesus’ death on the cross for my sins, of the momentous significance of his resurrection from the dead, and of the opportunity being extended to me in this good news.

I left Burgmann and returned to Anzac Hall determined to get on my knees before God and commit myself to him, just as John had shown me. I did so. That was 19 June 1972. Within days I recall a car pulling up outside my room at Anzac Hall. It was John, with some other men, and he had come to see what had happened since we spoke earlier in the week.

John and Mike – 1970s

Over the next few months, John visited me many times to help me get started as a disciple of Jesus. We read the Bible together, I started memorising verses, and reading the Bible for myself, and he involved me in fellowship meetings with a bunch like me, who became the first Canberra Navigators. Gary Allan was one of them. He was in his first year at the Royal Military College.  A matter of months later, John left the Army and went to the US where he served as Administrative Assistant to Dr Waldron Scott, the Director of the Pacific Area Navigators. Later, John would go to India to open the Navigator work in that great nation.

Fifty years on, by the grace of God, I am persevering in the faith of Christ and seeking to be involved in some modest measure, in the discipling of the nations through spiritual generations of labourers. I thank God for John’s obedience to the Holy Spirit who called him into the work of the International Navigators from obscure beginnings in the physics laboratories at UNSW. And I especially thank God for John’s obedience in a meeting with an ‘about to be’ young Army officer who, though reading about Jesus, yet needed someone to guide him into the full meaning of that wonderful story (Acts 8). Amen!

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