Russell Grigg a fulfilling life

At 90+, still actively contending for the faith

Creation magazine talks to industrial chemist, former missionary, and now staff writer and editor for CMI, Russell Grigg, who turned 91 in February 2018.

Russell-Grigg
Russell Grigg

Those passing by the glass-panelled office of Russell Grigg, in the Brisbane HQ of Creation Ministries International (Australia), will most frequently observe him busily engrossed at his computer. His capability and enthusiasm in the job are such that most are astonished to learn that he has been doing this for the past 29 years. When he was born (in 1927, in Auckland, New Zealand), it was just nine years before that the First World War had finished.

Early Church Memories

Russell told us he could never remember a time when he did not attend church; from an early age his parents took him along. He said, “This was before the days of ‘Kids Church’, so I used to sit in the gallery and regularly heard the Gospel preached.”

One day Russell, then nine, responded to an appeal by the minister, who afterwards unwittingly ‘bypassed’ him. “He had not seen me stand, so no one counselled me that day,” said Russell. “Nevertheless, that was when I first made a response to the Gospel.”

In the years following, he said, one Bible verse in particular stuck in his mind—Ezekiel 33:8. “If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.”

Fascinating Heritage

Russell’s great-great-grandfather on his mother’s side was Charles Baker, who sailed from England to New Zealand in 1828 to be a missionary to the Maori people. On Christmas Day 1835, Charles Darwin and Captain FitzRoy (of HMS Beagle) attended a church service at Paihia in New Zealand’s far-north Bay of Islands, at which Rev. Charles Baker preached.

Russell’s paternal grandfather, John Grigg, arrived in Auckland by sailing ship in 1863. An amateur astronomer, he built a revolving observatory on his house roof. The Journal of the British Astronomical Association1 describes John Grigg as “New Zealand’s leading amateur astronomer during the first decade of the twentieth century [who] independently discovered four comets, three of which now bear his name.”2

The road to missions

Russell-car
Russell’s transport in Djakarta

Baptized at the age of 13, Russell said: “The church we attended had a vigorous Christian Endeavour Society. When at 17 it was my turn to speak on a text, I used Ezekiel 33:8. This reinforced its message to me, about my responsibility to warn others of the consequences of rejecting the Gospel.”

At high school, Russell remembers a fellow student “who was a communist and used to bring his communist newspaper into class and try to sell it to fellow students, teachers, or whoever. This made me think, ‘Does my Christianity mean as much to me as his communism means to him? Am I Christian?’ Well, I believed Jesus had died on the cross for my sins, and had risen again, and I had asked Jesus to forgive me. So yes, I was a Christian. But I think I can relate to both those Christians who can point to a day when they responded to the Gospel, and also to those who gradually came to the point where they understood the Gospel and appropriated it for themselves.”

Practical Career Advice

Russell-BPK
BPK, the Indonesian Christian Publishers, sponsored Russell’s 11 year ministry in Indonesia.

Russell, ever practical, said he chose to study chemistry at university “simply because that was the subject I got the highest mark for in the entrance exam.” He graduated with a Master of Science with Honours.3

For six years he worked for a firm making big-brand enamel and lacquer paints. Not especially fulfilled, he read a book titled How to Get and Hold the Job You Want. “The concept was: decide what you want to be doing five years from now, work out what you need to do to get there, begin, and keep going until you arrive. I decided I wanted to be the general manager of a N.Z. manufacturing plant.” So he studied things like accountancy, management, etc. in evening classes, passed, and soon thereafter reached his goal at another small paint manufacturing firm.

Becoming a missionary

Although he could never get away from the implications of Ezekiel 33:8, Russell said: “I was reluctant to become a missionary myself—until at 29, I finally said ‘Yes’ to the Lord on this. So then I thought, ‘How does one become a missionary?’ The answer seemed to be the same as for the other positions I had held—I needed to study for it.” So he resigned to do a two-year live-in course at the N.Z. Bible Training Institute in Auckland.

Russell-family
Russell, Merle, and children Julia, Rosie, and James

As his course neared completion, he pondered the next step. Of the many talks by visiting missionaries, the speaker from the China Inland Mission seemed particularly inspiring. By then its work had expanded to several other Asian countries, so it was also called Overseas Missionary Fellowship. “The most compelling of the missionary material I read was that by CIM/OMF’s founder, Hudson Taylor.” One day he realized he did not need to wait for ‘more guidance’. He applied to OMF and was accepted, arriving in 1959 in Singapore, where the mission was headquartered, to await designation of his role.

“It so happened”, said Russell, “That literature for all nine countries where OMF worked was produced in Hong Kong. Fearing communist influence, Indonesia had just passed a law forbidding the importation of any literature from China—but this meant Christian books printed in Hong Kong were blocked, too.” OMF thus needed someone with business experience to manage the publication of Indonesian literature within Indonesia. So they sent him to their publication office in Hong Kong to learn about publishing while waiting for his Indonesian visa, which took six months.

In mid-1960, he arrived in Indonesia’s capital Djakarta, sponsored by the Indonesian Christian Publishing House (Badan Penerbit Kristen or BPK). BPK published books for students in Indonesian theological colleges. OMF wanted to supplement their booklist by producing titles for lay Christians that included books on prayer, Bible reading, Christian living, biographies, Gospel tracts, and Bible portions in comic-book form.

Marriage & Memory Loss

Russell-Merle
Russell and wife Merle

In Djakarta, Russell met his Australian wife-to-be, Merle Cornelius, already with OMF and teaching English at the Christian University (Universitas Kristen Indonesia) there. They married in 1961. “Two weeks after our honeymoon, Merle was hospitalized with comatose hepatitis and encephalitis, which brought her to the brink of death. With many praying for her, she regained consciousness, albeit with complete loss of memory for the past two years, including our wedding and who I was.”

Repatriated to Australia, Merle’s health gradually improved, as did her memory—aided by repeated viewings of many photographs. Eventually, she was well enough to go back to Indonesia, where Russell resumed the task of publishing. The first of their three children was born in New Zealand, in 1963; the others in Indonesia, two and four years later.

Leaving Indonesia

In 1971, Merle had developed epilepsy and the mission doctor prescribed permanent repatriation. So they settled in Merle’s home city of Adelaide, South Australia’s capital. Needing a job, Russell applied for the position of Manager of Children’s Books at the well-known Rigby publishing firm. In his application, he described his publishing experience in Indonesia which included ‘listening patiently to the many and varied excuses from printers as to why our books had not been printed’. Russell said, “I later heard that their CEO was impressed, saying, ‘He seems to know something of the problems of publishing’.” Accepted, he worked there for ten years before rejoining OMF as their Adelaide Representative, later State Director—eight years in all.

Working For CMI

Russell-throwing

“In 1978, Dr Carl Wieland, in Adelaide, had started up what is now Creation magazine, later the official organ of what is now Creation Ministries International (CMI)”, said Russell. “He and Peter Sparrow [well known for his later ministry with CMI’s Creation Bus] were holding regular creation meetings, and I started going along to help out. I had always held to the truth of the whole Bible, including Genesis, but had become increasingly aware of how crucial this issue was for others in regard to the authority of the Bible. If we couldn’t trust the history in Genesis, of how a once-perfect world became corrupted by the entry of sin and death, it seemed that the whole reason for the Cross was gone. Both Carl and Peter had once been atheists because of their belief in evolution. So this was a cause worth being involved in! Dr Wieland later transferred to Brisbane as head of CMI. Approaching retirement, I wrote to him and asked if he could use somebody with a science degree and experience in publishing, deputation, and bookselling.”

Carl accepted, and in late 1989, the Griggs moved to Brisbane, where for some 29 years Russell has been a staff writer and editor at CMI. In that time, Merle’s health deterioriated, and, said Russell, “The Lord called her home to Glory in early 2009.”

An amazing colleague

The staff in the Brisbane office of CMI have long regarded Russell with deep affection and respect, increasing as the years have passed. He says that his work “gives me a reason to get out of bed—the best possible one, being useful to the work of God’s Kingdom.” CMI has benefited immensely from his talents, which, from the beginning of his time here, were provided on a largely voluntary basis.

Just a few months short of his 90th birthday, Russell wrote that though he was now slowing down, he was “still writing, and looking forward to one day making the most marvellous journey it is possible for any human to take—the one Merle took to be with her Lord in Glory, some seven years ago.” (Compare Philippians 1:21–23).

We’re so glad that God has to this date chosen to delay Russell’s home call, for some quarter of a century past normal retirement age. And we’re grateful for the privilege of having had him for so long as a valued and dedicated colleague—and a brother in Christ.

Russell-medals

A feast of articles

In addition to editing and proofreading, Russell has been a prolific writer of original articles. Though Russell stopped counting long ago, a partial listing at creation.com/russell-grigg. reveals well over 100. Many of these have become oft-cited classics of creation literature. The most striking aspect of the very worthwhile process of working through this list is the huge range of topics. To name just a few:

Athletics—And cancer

During WW2, then in his early teens, Russell showed a penchant for athletics, rugby, and boxing, eventually winning some minor awards.

“At the age of 48,” said Russell, “I was diagnosed with cancer of the colon, which involved surgical removal of part of it, and my becoming a permanent colostomate.” But he is keen to tell anyone who might be facing the same situation that it has never hindered his activities—including athletics.

Russell-walking
At the 2016 Pan Pacific Games, Russell then aged 89 was the oldest competitor. He won seven medals—in the throwing events and the 3,000 m walk.

With a characteristic twinkle in his eye, he told us why, approaching his 70th birthday, he joined a local gym: “They phoned me with a discount offer that was just too tempting.” He went on: “After a couple of years there pushing the weights, it occurred to me to start throwing them.” So he joined the local Brisbane Masters Athletics club, and eventually took part in the five throwing events: hammer, shot put, discus, javelin, and weight throw. He also took up race walking and running, and for a while held the Australian record as a participant in the 4 x 100 m relay in the Men’s 80–84 age group.

Russell says, “As my age bracket increases, it looks like I have to do less and less to win—maybe just turn up and finish the course alive.” In reality, many of his younger colleagues have wished they had a fraction of his drive and stamina. His total medal count is a staggering 146, most from the Queensland Masters Championships held annually in Brisbane, and the biennial Pan Pacific Masters Games on Queensland’s Gold Coast. At the age of 75, he participated in the World Masters Games in Melbourne, earning bronze medals in the high jump and 10 km walk. In 2014, he set a new Pan Pacific record in the 5 km walk, and another in the hammer throw in 2016, both in the Men’s 85–89 age group, in which he currently holds the Australian record for the 2 km walk.

References and notes

  1. Orchiston, W., John Grigg, and the genesis of cometary astronomy in New Zealand, 103(2):67–76, 1993. Return to text.
  2. 1902 II P/Grigg–Skjellerup, 1903 III Grigg, and 1907 II Grigg–Mellish. John Grigg was twice awarded the Donohoe Medal of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society (F.R.A.S.), in 1906. Return to text.
  3. From Victoria University College, Wellington, N.Z., in 1948. Return to text.

Readers’ comments

King T.
Ahhh, this is such an inspiring story! Thank you very much for telling it to us. May God bless all who participate so vigorously in His work!
Linden W.
Russell, you have long been an inspiration to me with your record of faithful service. I always enjoy your articles, which are an inspiration to me in their clarity of thought and accurate summation of various issues. May God Bless you in your retirement, should that ever occur!!
Paul G.
Thank you for this beautiful story. It is a ray of sunshine on this day in which the cold and the gray of winter has me inside reading CMI stories. Very inspiring, I pray that God would use me in such a way, if that is his will.
Julie S.
Lovely to read. Such a precious soul. Thanks for publishing CMI
John C.
My Dear Russell,
Please accept this as a high compliment (I couldn't tease about your age, because I'm 65 next September!), but I have always pictured you as one of the younger authors at CMI. Your energetic writing and sympathetic heart do much for the cause of our Creator. Thank you for your years of service, and for sharing your wonderful story with us through this web-page! May God richly bless you!

Comments are automatically closed 14 days after publication.