Derek Copley, former president and long-time highly engaged and much esteemed volunteer worker of the EEA passed away on Christmas day. I have asked my predecessor Gordon Showell-Rogers to write a tribute to Derek as they had a working and friendship relationship for many years – from which I profited in my role as well. Further below two short statements from within the EEA and a very moving letter which Derek wrote to one of his Central Asian friends towards the end of 2019.
Thomas Bucher, General Secretary EEA
Dr Derek Copley
Derek became my close friend as we worked together: a friendship forged through a shared vision and through various trials faced together over the years. But, despite my lack of objectivity, I’m delighted to have been asked to write something about Derek and his influence in the European Evangelical Alliance.
Although he earned his PhD in natural sciences, most of us knew Derek as an eminently practical missionary theologian deeply committed to evangelical unity and to mission. His commitment to Evangelical Alliances reflected that: from his chairmanship of the EAUK during years of amazing growth in the 1980’s, through his time on the WEA International Council, to his Presidency (chairmanship) of the European EA in the 1990’s and his steady and deep involvement in Central Asia in the last 20 years of his life.
His time with the EEA illustrates the servant-hearted and visionary nature of Derek the man:
In 1998, Stuart McAllister (EEA General Secretary) felt it was time to move on. Derek, as the chair (President) of the EEA Board found himself with the responsibility of driving a process to find a new General Secretary. Typically for Derek, he agreed to serve as acting General Secretary while that search was conducted – reflecting his willingness to serve the cause of the gospel of Christ in whatever way seemed most appropriate.
He performed both tasks (the search and acting as General Secretary) in his usual good-natured, servant-hearted and visionary ways.
The initial search didn’t produce a candidate, but in early 1999 the General Secretary of the UK’s EMA (Stanley Davies) asked Derek if the EEA had thought of asking me if I might be interested in the role. Derek (who had known me since my student days 20 years earlier) jumped at the idea, made contact and then met with me and Jane (my spouse) at a café in a railway station in the south of England. The rest is history’ as they say.
Derek and I shared a vision for what the EEA might achieve together. But we both knew that, if I were elected General Secretary, he would need to resign as President – it would have been inappropriate for the President and the General Secretary to be from the same nation. So, Derek (again, typically) happily gave up his Presidency and the acting General Secretary’s role, for the glory of Christ – just as he had sought to perform both roles for the glory of Christ.
Derek then graciously agreed to carry on serving the EEA as a volunteer staff member, in any way that would be helpful. Among other things, he helped church leaders in nations without established national EAs to consider whether establishing a national EA could help serve the cause of the gospel.
He soon found himself focusing on doing that in Central Asia. He often reminded me that his first visit was in response to an invitation extended to me as General Secretary, but which clashed with something else in my diary. But Central Asia soon became Derek’s glorious passion.
Early on in those years serving Central Asia, Derek asked if Central Asian leaders might have a temporary home in the European EA, while they found their feet. He knew that they would benefit hugely from exposure to the vision and ideas of the annual EEA General Assembly and the opportunity to interact with the leaders of national EA’s and others from all over Europe. After initial hesitation, the EEA (and the Asian EA) were persuaded that this would be an excellent idea: Derek’s advocacy for this small and often neglected region paid off.
But he had an ulterior motive. In Central Asia Derek had met visionary young believers from a different faith background, who were on fire for Christ and had suffered for their faith and he wanted Europe to benefit from that passion. Those in the EEA who were willing to listen benefitted greatly from the exposure!
Derek was a sensitive soul, who often underestimated the influence that he had. In the year before he died, I asked various groups of people to pray for him, and was amazed at how many had read his books, or been shaped by even brief conversations with him, sometimes decades ago. Derek shaped lives for good. Many of us will miss him – and his wonderful (and sometimes refreshingly naughty) sense of humour.
Gordon Showell-Rogers, EEA General Secretary 1999-2010 and friend of Derek Copley
I remember Derek as a rock solid support to me when he was President. He was always there to listen, encourage, empower and guide.
Julia Doxat Purser, EEA Socio-Political Representative
I remember meeting Derek for the first time at a general assembly of the EEA when he was elected as its president in the mid 1990ies. In difference to many other delegates, he took time to sit down and fellowship with some of us younger EA representatives, sharing stories from his time as a chemist as well as from his time as principle of Moorlands Bible College. His very approachable attitude has been a role model for me.
Dr. Frank Hinkelmann, President of EEA
An Email written by Derek towards the end of 2019. It incapsulates well Derek’s important role.
My dear Ahaman,
Your letter has warmed my heart. I have continued to pray for a way for us to be together once more. It is nearly 20 years since we met. My visit to Kazakhstan so long ago was the beginning of my love for Central Asia. That has never left me. Your love, warmth and godly humility is remembered so much by me. I speak of you often with my friends as the first friend I had in the region. Yes, you are a little older now, and I am 80 next year. Our dear brother Gordon travelled a long distance to see me 3 days ago, when he heard how serious my illness is. It was he who introduced me to Kazakhstan. That was the beginning of my love for your region, and you were my first friend. You are still a special friend. I have been to CAC year after year, except the year my wife died. I am now married to Chris whose Ministry is in Uganda and Sierra Leone, a long way from Central Asia.
When I first thought about coming to Almaty, my wider thought was for a regional EA, the Central Asia EA. It for this that I have been working for 20 years. Now it is a reality. As I look wider, one of my other desires was that all former Soviet European countries should have an EA, and I travelled across Post-Communist Europe for many years, helping countries one by one. Now they have EAs.
Here in the UK. I run two one day conferences called Central Asia Forum. They are for those whose agencies work in the region and for church leaders whose churches have an interest in Central Asia. My wife and I lead the Mission Team at our church and I have made sure CA is high on the agenda.
I pray you will be able to find someone to take on your work with EAK, after all the years you have served the churches in Kazakhstan.
Love from your brother in Christ. I am so thankful we met so long ago