Recently Maureen, my wife suggested, ‘Why don’t you write an article about Meg Lapworth especially as she will be leaving us soon to go and stay with some of her family in Coventry?’ I airily agreed that it seemed a good idea, little realising what I was letting myself in for…
I visited Meg recently in her flat in Southampton and we chatted about her life. As we talked I became aware of what a full life she had led, in her words – ‘A very rich life’. It seemed complicated, encompassing many countries, even encircling the globe. It included learning classical Arabic, French and Wolof and ministering in those languages, nursing, midwifery, teaching, being a housewife and bringing up four boys over several decades. How could I convey all that she, and her husband Bill, had done? I felt overwhelmed and I know that in this little article it will not be possible to properly describe all that Meg has lived through. However, I hope that it will serve to inspire others and that we might be spurred on to higher levels of service.
Meg was born into a Christian home but she did not want to become a Christian. She had a very strong- minded mother who was telling her what to do all the time and so she did not get on terribly well with her and was wanting to be free.
When she was nine, her younger sister died of leukaemia. Before she died, the local vicar came to the house to see mum ‘I’ve just been to see your daughter who loves the Lord Jesus and knows where she is going to go.’ Meg ran upstairs to be alone and think. A year later Meg became a Christian as follows:- On Good Friday her Mum took her to a meeting where there were missionaries. They spoke of their daughter who had died in China and how they knew they would see her again. Meg felt that she would never see her sister again because she had not trusted in God and committed herself to Him. Because Meg was brought up in a Christian home she knew what to do though – she had to obey God, do what He says and trust in Him for forgiveness and eternal life.
She knew from an early age that God wanted her to be a missionary. In fact she was aware of this by the time she was 13.
Meg was born and brought up in London and that is where she trained as a nurse. One day she attended a missionary meeting and felt that God was telling her to ‘get going’ which meant enrolling in a Bible college. She was 22 when she started in the WEC* missionary training College in Glasgow and was there for 2 years. It was during this time she met her future husband, Bill, who was training as a teacher at Goldsmiths College in London, but it was some years before they were married. Their paths followed remarkably similar paths. He-teacher training in London and she – nursing in London. Both independently felt a call to missionary work in West Africa and attended the WEC missionary college in Glasgow. Both learnt French and Arabic. In the 1960s Meg spent some time at home to look after her father and younger brothers as her Mum was convalescing after an operation. This is when they first met.
Bill felt convinced that he would marry Meg, but Meg did not know this and was very cautious about relationships because of a mistake she had made in the past. If Meg was to work in West Africa, she also had to learn French. She went to a Bible college just outside Paris for one year. She soon realised that languages were not her gift so when an opportunity came to be an au pair she took it and later worked in a hospital in Paris . Next was classical Arabic, which she learnt whilst living with an English family in Morocco. Realising that she needed to keep up her French, when asked if she could help a French-speaking family with their 4 children, she accepted. While with them she got a serious ear infection and had to return to the UK. Sometime later she applied to do midwifery and for 6 months worked in Camberwell, London, going around on a bike . Meg had not seen her parents for 3 years as they were in New Zealand so with a friend travelled there on a ship, going via the Panama Canal and returning via the Suez Canal. They stayed with her parents and brothers and worked 8 months as a junior sister in the children’s ward of the Auckland Hospital and earned enough money for the return journey back to the UK!
On returning to England she went straight to Senegal arriving there in November, 1966. Bill was already there studying Arabic. He met Meg at the docks .Meg was asked if she would help out in the south of Senegal in a dispensary, which she did. During this time Bill proposed they should marry, which they did in November 1967. Before they were married, Meg’s Mum asked Bill, ‘Are you getting married for your stomach’s sake?’ She knew what an appetite he had as he always had Sunday lunch with them when at college.
Meg joined Bill in Dakar where he continued his Arabic studies Meg started learning Wolof , the language understood by many people in Senegal and beyond. After a year they moved to the North of Senegal with their first-born son, where they pastored a small church, and Bill was chaplain to the West African Military College. During this time they visited small Arabic-speaking villages and were made very welcome.
The currency was the same as the neighbouring country and the schools and hospitals were jointly run by the two countries so there was a lot of communication between the communities and so after 10 months they moved to the neighbouring Muslim republic where Bill worked at a secondary school, teaching English through the medium of French for 4 years. During this time Peter and Paul were born. Because Bill was a native English speaker, the authorities wanted him to move to the capital, and teach English there. The family lived there for 3 years. Bill preached in the Catholic Church, and had Bible studies and prayer meetings with the Catholics. Christian worship was allowed so long as they did not evangelise. Bill and Meg also ran a church at their home. After 3 years, they decided to have a break in the UK.
After a year, they returned to Africa where they were for 6 years in the north of Senegal, Meg worked in a village dispensary which Bill had built, as well as a house for the family on land which the villagers had given to them. The 3 boys were away at boarding school in the south of Senegal. During this time another son, Daniel, was born. Meg called him her ‘consolation prize’, because she missed the boys away at school. However, they had great times when they were home. When Billy was nearly 15, the family came back to England to finish his education.
At that time WEC asked them to come to Southampton as representatives of the mission. There was a headquarters of WEC in Southampton at that time. They lived in Westridge Road for 7 years.
They returned to Africa for another 5 years.
John Symons, the minister at Portswood Church, Southampton, asked them if they would be part of a church plant in Bevois Town and they were involved with that from the time when the property was bought.
They moved to Derby for 3 years to look after Meg’s Mother in Bill’s family home. Both Bill and Meg, by this time, were in their 60s and retired.
When Meg’s mother passed away, they arranged to go to France to work with WEC. They could not go as far as Africa as they had to be available for providing respite care for Bill’s mother. Whilst they were sorting out all the necessary arrangements to go to France, Bill was diagnosed with cancer. He received treatment in the form of injections. They were not sure whether or not to go to France because of Bill’s illness but the doctor said, ‘Do what you want to do.’ They went to France but after 4 or 5 months he had a relapse. They came back to England and within 10 months, he went to be with the Lord. Before they went to France Meg had put their names down for David Lockhart Court, a housing complex for retired people in Southampton, otherwise they would have nowhere to live on returning to England. Bill's mum had passed away and the house had been sold.
Later, Meg mused, ‘We longed to see men and women, boys and girls turn to Jesus for salvation but we only saw a few. This caused a lot of heart-searching and we wondered if our lives had only produced wood, hay and stubble, not the gold, silver and precious stones that the apostle Paul speaks about. We just commend ourselves to the mercy of God.’
As I consider Bill and Meg’s story, I am reminded of what Jesus said of using the gifts and abilities He has given us, as we will have to give an account to Him of how we have lived – Gospel of Matthew chapter 25 and verses 14 to 30.
What will Jesus say to you and me – ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’ or ‘You wicked, lazy servant!’?
*WEC= World Evangelisation Crusade.