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Rev. John Henry Deane

1946-1959 / Principal, NZ Bible Training Institute (Queen Street Campus)

The squeak of a caliper signalled the approach of Principal John Deane to students and staff alike. He had lived with pain since his fall from a horse at the age of 8. Developing osteomyelitis, young John spent a year in hospital, with a series of misdiagnoses and unsuccessful operations leaving his leg and hip permanently damaged. However, his indomitable spirit saw him overcome physical limitations and disrupted schooling. He took up rowing and debating at the University of Sydney, where he also helped found the Evangelical Union. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts, he taught in high schools for seven years before studying for a Bachelor of Divinity at Baptist Theological College in Sydney. He pastored several Baptist churches and lectured at the New South Wales Baptist College for 18 years - 15 of those years as Vice-Principal and Secretary.

The resignation of Superintendent J. Oswald Sanders to take up a leadership role with the China Inland Mission saw an invitation extended to Rev. John Deane to become Principal of the NZ Bible Training Institute. John, his wife Constance (Connie), and their five children arrived in Auckland in January 1946 aboard a flying boat – in those days a seven-and-a-half-hour flight.

While the Institute had been under the leadership of outstanding Christian teachers, they were laymen without theological standing, and Rev. John Deane brought NZBTI to a new level of denominational acceptance with churches in New Zealand. In speaking engagements and meetings with church leaders he stressed that the Institute was the servant of all the churches. He made himself known to the Christian public as a frequent speaker at conventions, and through his “Editor’s Bible Class Notes” in The Reaper. He also wrote a “Bedside Series” of devotional booklets.

John Deane spoke constantly to his students of hard work, discipline, and prayer. He modelled that in his own life – on his knees at his desk as soon as he arrived each morning and gathering his staff to pray before lectures. Sometimes he seemed austere and aloof – a shy man – but with a kind and discerning heart, and a wonderful sense of humour.

Under his leadership the flow of students increased until a crisis of accommodation developed. Two new dormitory wings were added in 1953 and 1956. Writing in The Reaper in February 1957 he noted that enrolments had been so large that many students were boarding out - “We are faced, I think, with expansion or stagnation: God forbid the latter. But the former involves many very great difficulties.” [1] His plea that a larger property be secured without delay was met with a sympathetic response from the Directors. In April 1957 an advertisement was put in The Reaper inviting readers to suggest a suitable property. Within two months 19-acres of land in Lincoln Road, Henderson had been purchased. It was an ambitious project, and John Deane was the driving force behind it. He possessed the gift of imparting to others his own vision and enthusiasm – prayerfully confident that God would provide.

He was not to see the full realisation of his dream. On 21 December 1959 he was tragically killed, along with his daughter Grace and her 6-year-old son David, when the car he was driving hit a parked coal truck at Huntly. The three generations – the eldest of each – were farewelled together at a funeral at the Baptist Tabernacle.

The Reaper magazine paid tribute to him in its February 1960 edition. NZBTI Secretary Les Rushbrook shared the grief of many: “We shall never see him limp towards us again with hand outstretched, never again in this world see his thin face break into that sunny smile.” [2] His influence and teaching had spread far beyond NZBTI. President Robert Laidlaw noted, “It is given to some men to sway vast audiences, and become famous as great preachers, but it is given to others to reproduce themselves, their enthusiasm, vision and knowledge a thousandfold. Such was John Deane.” Mr Laidlaw imagined the redeemed from many tribes and tongues coming to John Deane in glory and expressing their indebtedness “for training the missionary who led me to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ”. [3] A 1959 student repeated the words of the Principal in a class that year, “When you read my death notice in the papers, don’t believe it – I’ll be more alive than ever”. [4]

The new Henderson campus opened in 1961, with the library paid for from gifts from John Deane’s many friends and dedicated to his memory.

[1] “Principal’s Personal Page”, The Reaper, Vol 34/12 (1 Feb 1957), 444

[2] “John Deane”, The Reaper, Vol 38/12 (1 February 1960), 443

[3] “Tributes”, The Reaper, Vol 38/12 (1 February 1960), 452

[4] “Tributes”, The Reaper, Vol 38/12 (1 February 1960), 453

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