The childhood shows the man,
As morning shows the day.John Milton, Paradise Regained
As a writer of biography, I have had to consider the effects of a person’s upbringing on the direction of their life. It is the traditional way to begin a life story: birth and ancestry, childhood years, parents and siblings, childhood homes, education and locations. Milton expresses poetically what we all know – that adults are not formed in a void and the imprint of their early days often becomes clear as they mature.
The Jesuits have famously expressed it this way in their maxim: “Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man.” Anyone who has watched the film series “Seven Up” would surely agree that there seems to be truth in that observation.
As a teacher for many years, I would say that children often show their personality, character and gifts when quite young. I am constantly delighted to hear news of ex-students who have progressed to all sorts of achievements as adults, most of which do not surprise me.
If this were universally true, however, we would have to subscribe to a fatalistic view of learning and development, and as a teacher, I am equally amazed at the transformation over the years of students who did not show ability or perseverance at school. Maturity, the input of friends and mentors and just serendipitous circumstances can all play a part in surprising trajectories; thank goodness for that! Children can also rise up out of challenging homes and situations to beat the odds and throw off their childhood influences. Equally, we all know of wonderful families with children who have not thrived despite having many positive and protective factors in their lives.
Ross, the subject of my latest biography, journalled often about throwing off his “inner custodian”. That voice of his family of origin that kept directing him well into adulthood; his father’s strong beliefs and values that were not negotiable for Ross and his siblings in their upbringing; the strict Salvation Army milieu that dominated his life until the late teens. At times, he did not know if he was battling his father, his church, God, or all three.
Perhaps the most influential factor for Ross was living overseas in another culture while his parents served as missionaries caring for post- war orphans in Hong Kong. Spending his childhood from three to eight years old ensconced in an extended family made up of three hundred Chinese children in an Asian country would inevitably impact Ross’s world view. He grew up speaking fluent Cantonese, went to a school for wealthy expatriates while living with the poorest children and was shaped by his parents’ sacrificial service to others.
In the first chapter of Living for Shalom: the story of Ross Langmead, the exploration of his early years sets the stage for the years to follow. A traditional way to commence a life story, perhaps, but it was no accident that Ross Langmead became a leading Australian missiologist: he was shaped by his childhood while spending his life trying to throw it off.
Living for Shalom: the story of Ross Langmead to be released soon! (www.wipfandstock.com)