Challenging words from a blind headmaster

As a result of my membership with the local men’s group, we get to hear about other groups in the area one of which is in Frome. This evening they are holding a men’s curry night and here is the advertisement:

Speaker: Dr John Bradshaw.

John, a committed Christian, grew up on his family farm in Zimbabwe. He shares his inspirational story – from when a booby-trapped land mine exploded in his face causing blindness; subsequently obtaining a PhD in Computer Science from Cambridge University; his path to becoming the only blind Headmaster in the world of a ‘normal’ school – the top girls boarding school in Zimbabwe; he now lives in Sherbourne.

I very much look forward to this. Most people stop studying altogether when blinded but he goes on to get a Ph.D. and becoming a headmaster.


There were about 40 of us men gathered together in the social Hall of Frome Football Club. After a do it yourself buffet of three different types of curry the speaker took to the floor. What is the best way to introduce a speaker? So many times I’ve heard people say “this speaker needs no introduction” and then go on to introduce him or her. I have heard chair people forget to introduce someone, give out endless notices, introduce a speaker at far greater length while people fret. I think two or three sentences just to help the audience to tune in and get their mind away from everyday things is ideal.

John decided to go into the Army to experience things he would not have experienced otherwise and decided to go into the engineering Corps. This was in Zimbabwe by the way when Robert Mugabe was in full flood. He spent his time defusing  bombs. One day, something did not look right, something behind an anti-tank mine. The “Something” blew up in his face and shrapnel went into his eyes. He was protected from greater damage by the far bigger anti-tank mine that if it had gone off would have blown a hole six-foot deep and there wouldn’t be much of him to bury. Luckily, a person passing in a light aeroplane landed at an airstrip 200 m away and John was quickly taken to the hospital at Harare

.As luck would have it, the chief eye surgeon of the whole country was there having decided to take one of his six days doing general duties in the accident and emergency Department that particular day. Equipment at that time was nothing like today but they managed to draw the shrapnel out of his eyes with magnets but both eyes deteriorated to nothing because what the doctors could not take out was the sand that was blasted into the eye. The deterioration took about 10 years so he had time to prepare for blindness. He is now totally blind.

I found strangely pragmatic about the whole thing. He said that although he had his up days and down days he never felt alone. Another stroke of fortune happened when after the accident he decided to go and study at university and a complete stranger gave him a sum of money enough for five years study at university.

Prior to that, he had owned a farm with his father in Zimbabwe. Mugabe’s forces came along and told him that he had two hours to get out. After some negotiation, they got was extended to 24 hours. He said that there were 12 different types of vehicle volunteered by the neighbours to help him move. They were told that at five o’clock the following day the doors would be locked and if they were still inside they would be imprisoned for trespass. He had his father lost the whole farm. Shortly after the accident his wife separated from him and went back to Africa.

He spoke of having lost count of the number of operations he had. He had had nine corona implants and 60 operations over a period of 10 years. After the accident he volunteered to be a headmaster of a school in Zimbabwe a post he held for some years. A retired headmaster in the group asked how he managed without sight and he said he had a wonderful PA and he mainly concentrated on giving support to the teachers and students. He said that people in Zimbabwe go to church in great numbers and talk openly about Christianity whereas in England, this does not happen nearly so much. He felt he should leave the Christian life openly so that others can see it, living in the light so to speak

He said that only with Jesus help can you join the dots and that he gets most comfort from reading St John’s gospel and Paul’s letters, I’m talking about the new Testament. He said that the main benefit of the accident was that he ‘made me be myself’ though what he described as a “heavy boot” was necessary in his case.

He was asked whether he had asked the question why did all this happen to me and he answered in the negative saying that we have to figure out how all the particular unfortunate event can be used to develop us as individuals. He described himself as a simple man and gave the analogy of having to trust your guide dog and go wherever it goes.

After numerous questions we were asked to pray for Bryce who was going to Ely Cathedral to be questioned over three days about the possibility of becoming ordained. He was a young chap with long hair and I thought he would be absolutely ideal to reach younger people with the Ministry.

I went along to that evening to meet a group of complete strangers but there is such a thing as the ‘wavelength of belief’ and I just turned up and started talking to people as if I were with my own group or in my own backyard so to speak. People were very open and one Came up to me, called Andrew, who has an allotment in Bristol. he said the allotments were in poor repair for the most part and I asked who manage them. Apparently the local council manage them or try to manage them but alas there is no one on-site, no committees, so tenants do more or less what they want. I think my allotment in Midsomer Norton / Radstock is one of the better ones if not the best in the area. Please notice I am preening myself here but we are full and everyone is doing a great job. We do not do politics at all.

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