Obituary: John William Blanchard

JOHN BLANCHARD, who has died at the age of 88, began life in Guernsey in 1932. He was the first son of Jack and Ivy Blanchard, who lived at Castle View, St Sampson’s Harbour.

John William Blanchard (29639679)
John William Blanchard (29639679)

In 1940 island life was shattered by the impending German invasion and occupation. The Guernsey authorities announced the evacuation of all schoolchildren and on 20 June, John and his younger brother sailed from St Peter Port harbour on SS Felixstowe. The two boys were separated and John did not see his brother again until the end of the Second World War.

He spent the next five years on the Scottish island of Islay, in the Inner Hebrides, where there were more sheep than people.

He lived a crude and simple life on a farm and was given a tough daily work routine which involved the back-breaking business of digging and cutting peat.

The islanders spoke Gaelic and within a few months John was fluent in their native tongue.

He went from primary school to high school until 1945, when arrangements were made for the evacuees to return home.

On 6 September 1945 SS Hantonia sailed into St Peter Port harbour bringing Guernsey’s children home.

John was enrolled at The Intermediate School for Boys (L’Ecole Intermediare) after an interview with the headmaster, F.E. Fulford, and in June 1948 he sat the Oxford School Leaving Certificate and was offered a post in the Guernsey Civil Service working in the Greffe Public Record Office.

John joined the Holy Trinity Church choir and the youth group, then later taught in the Sunday school.

He played competitive snooker and won trophies at the Imperial Club, home to Guernsey’s best players. He was chosen to play against the visiting Jack Rea, one of the world’s leading professionals, and was expected to become the Channel Islands Champion.

He joined the National Association of Youth Clubs (NAYC – now UK Youth) and was involved in introducing the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award programme to the island.

As a Sunday School teacher and youth leader, John now described himself as a ‘good religious boy whose Christianity was a performance but not an experience’.

In 1954 he heard a visiting Canadian preacher, speaking in Candie Gardens Auditorium, explain the full meaning of Christianity. John decided to commit himself to the service of God and this changed the direction of his life forever.

In 1955 he was elected chairman of the NAYC’s National Members’ Council. He led the next annual conference and hosted the guest speaker, Earl Attlee, who was Britain’s first post-war Prime Minister.

In 1957 he married Joyce McKane and they were instrumental in the founding of the Guernsey branch of the National Young Life Campaign.

In 1958 Blanchard was appointed general secretary to the ‘Guernsey for God’ project, a unique event in the island’s history.

The team was welcomed at a civic reception by the Bailiff of Guernsey and commissioned by the Dean of Guernsey.

Meetings were held in Ebenezer Methodist Church, the largest on the island.

It was a landmark in Guernsey’s spiritual history.

In 2008 John felt privileged to be invited to ‘return home’ to do an interview for BBC Guernsey and to speak at a dinner held at La Grande Mare Hotel to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the campaign.

By 1961 John was H.M. Deputy Sergeant to the Royal Court of Guernsey, which gave him a steady income and job security. Yet he felt he was being called to full-time Christian service.

He was accepted as an evangelist with NYLC and the family, which now included three small sons, moved to Weston-super-Mare.

In 1965 John was accepted to join the Movement for World Evangelisation, where he remained until 1980.

In 1966 he wrote his first book, Read Mark Learn, which was to become the first of many.

He also visited Northern Ireland for the first time when it was about to enter ‘The Troubles’, a 30-year period of conflict. His engagements included an opportunity to share his faith with 200 inmates of Crumlin Road Prison in Belfast.

His travels took him to Greece, France, Germany, Austria and Yugoslavia, which were part of hundreds of engagements in the next few years.

He hosted a tour of the Holy Land during the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel and preached in Jerusalem and Nazareth.

The door to Eastern Europe opened unexpectedly and he made more than 80 visits during his work with MWE, taking the good news of the Christian gospel behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ and supporting needy pastors.

This became a feature of his ongoing ministry and something that was very close to his heart.

In 1969 John was nominated by MWE to preach in the US and he crossed the Atlantic for the first time. He would make that journey more than 160 times in the next 50 years.

In 1980 he formed Christian Ministries with two like-minded friends and funds were raised for missionary work in India, enabling church buildings, a Bible school and an orphanage for 300 children to be built.

Money was sent for medical supplies, food and vehicles.

In 1987 he wrote what was to be his best-selling book, Ultimate Questions, which has sold more than 15m. copies in over 60 languages.

By the beginning of the 21st century John had more than 20 books in print, addressing contemporary issues in light of the Bible.

In 1988 he made his first visit to South Africa and returned many times during the next 30 years.

He was now a globe-trotting apologist who tirelessly shared his personal faith in God at every opportunity.

At the end of the 1990s John felt deeply concerned about the rising tide of atheism and scepticism in the UK. He had no doubt where his future ministry lay and he launched the Popular Christian Apologetics project.

As 1 January 2000 approached, John wrote Why Y2K? to show the true significance of the millennium. He produced a special Guernsey edition and a copy of the book was placed in every home on the island. In recognition of this, and his international ministry, the media company Guiton Group presented him with a Guernsey Ambassador of the Year Award.

In March 2000, Does God Believe in Atheists? was published.

This was a masterful and comprehensive defence of belief in God written with devastating logic yet with a compassionate heart.

Within four years John had delivered an accompanying presentation in every county in the UK. This also incorporated universities and colleges including Oxford, Cambridge and Eton.

He was inundated with invitations from around the globe to widen the scope of the project.

Despite having reached retirement age, he dedicated the rest of his life to this huge task, which was to include the delivery of many hundreds of international presentations and the publication of a further 27 books.

John discovered the game of golf at the age of 40 and soon became a single-figure golfer and a tenacious competitor. This was his way of relaxation and he played all over the world. Yet of the many trophies he won, the one he valued the most had been presented to the Free Church Ministers’ Golf Society by Samuel Ryder in 1902.

In 2010, after almost 53 years together, John’s wife Joyce died, which was a huge loss to him and his family, but he firmly resolved to continue his ministry.

This included a special visit to Holy Trinity Church, Guernsey in January 2014 for the first showing of Going Strongly for the Summit, a film of his life story.

In April 2015 John married Pamela Robertson, who shared his passion for defending the Christian faith and interest in Eastern European countries.

The Covid-19 pandemic brought John’s travels to a halt, but he continued to deal with a daily influx of emails asking for spiritual advice and guidance.

His death brought an end to a life totally committed to do ‘As much as I can, as well as I can, for as long as I can’ for the God he loved and served.

He is survived by his wife, five sons and seven grandchildren.

John William Blanchard, born 10 July 1932, died 14 May 2021.

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