1957-1958 / NZBTI Diploma (Queen Street Campus)
Born and raised in England, 22-year-old Gillian Eland-Stewart sailed to New Zealand in July 1955 after completing nursing training in London. She took a position at Nelson Public Hospital, expecting to stay a year. She joined other young Christians at Christ Church Cathedral in Nelson and helped out with the youth as her nursing shifts allowed. A talk from a missionary from Borneo cemented a growing conviction that God was calling her to mission work. In her application to the NZ Bible Training Institute she wrote: “through missionary talks and films it has been brought home to me again and again the crying need of the millions who have never even heard the Gospel” and of the death of unsaved souls “for which I shall have to give an account some day.”
It was at NZBTI that Gillian met a young farmer called Roy Orpin, who also felt a strong call to overseas mission. They both applied separately to serve with the China Inland Mission (CIM, later Overseas Missionary Fellowship). In his reference to CIM, the Registrar, Les Rushbrook, noted that Gillian was “keen and bright, with a winsome and vital Christianity” and that the College “gladly recommend her for missionary work”. After Graduation, Gillian and Roy were engaged. Accepted as CIM candidates, they sailed to Singapore in April 1951 with other BTI graduates, Russell Grigg, Jessie Hamilton, and Dorothy Beavan. After their orientation course, Roy and Gill were designated to work with the tribes in North Thailand.
The mission’s policy stipulated a two-year wait before marriage, so Gillian went to Tak and Roy to Chiang Rai for language study. They were married in Chiang Rai Thai church in April 1961; Gillian was aged 28, and Roy, 25. They moved to live in a Hmong tribal mountain village, accessible only after a day’s climb.
In 1962, the villagers moved to a new location on a neighbouring mountain where the people could make new rice fields. Roy and Gillian decided to move with them. By this time, Gillian was eight months’ pregnant and she went to the OMF hospital at Manorom to await their baby’s birth. Roy stayed on to build a house and move their belongings.
Tragedy struck when Roy was robbed and shot by three men on 16 May 1962 as he was walking through the bush on his way home. A young boy found a badly injured Roy and he was taken to hospital. News reached Gillian and she made her way to the hospital and saw Roy shortly before he died on 19 May. Gillian gave birth to their son, Murray Roy Orpin, 18 days later.
Gillian returned to England with her new baby to spend time grieving with her family. However, she still felt called to serve God among the Hmong and so returned when Murray was six months old to join two women missionaries in Palm Leaf Hmong village. Later, after Murray started school in Malaysia, Gillian joined another missionary to work in Laos on Hmong translation and teaching young students in Vientiane to read their own language. Following some years in Bangkok looking after new missionaries, Gillian returned to England where Murray was now at boarding school. She had been in Asia for 15 years.
Gillian got a job as house matron in a boarding school, Stowe Public School, with Murray joining her during his holidays. She was in that role for four years. While there, she attended a local Church of England parish. Aware of her skills and experience, the Rector and Provincial Church Council offered Gillian employment as a parish worker and rented a house for Gillian and Murray. When church rules changed to allow women to be ordained as deacons, the Rector encouraged Gillian to undertake training with Oakhill Theological College. She was ordained deacon in Peterborough Cathedral in 1987.
Murray was baptised on his 14th birthday and after school studied at Manchester Institute of Science and Technology where he gained a PhD in Chemistry. He was married in 1988.
An unexpected move came when Gillian’s father died. Her mother, living near Oban, needed care, so Gillian moved to Scotland. Women were not able to be ordained in Scotland at that time, but Gillian was invited by the Provost of Oban Cathedral to serve as honorary chaplain. When church legislation permitting women to be ordained priests passed in 1994, Gillian was ordained as a priest, opening up opportunities for her to minister in churches in Scotland.
After her mother died, Gillan moved to St Alban’s diocese in England where she served as a chaplain at Moggerhanger Park, a restored 18th century house used as a base for Christian outreach ministry. As a retired priest, she often took services in local villages. Throughout her years in England she also continued to be supportive of the work of OMF.
Gillian died in hospice care at age 90 on 30 December 2022 after journeying with terminal cancer.