Remembering in writing

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One of my greatest joys in writing Anzac history is reading the letters, diaries and memoirs of the soldiers. Their first-hand accounts offer a freshness and an inspiration. Whether they speak of an encounter with God at the front under shellfire, or convey personal messages to their family, or make a telling statement about a meal that they had, there is something invigorating about hearing their voice. My family and friends have heard me excitedly read out hundreds of these striking statements. Through their words, we get to remember and participate in their experiences more than a century later.

The idea of remembering is deeply embedded in the Bible.  My colleague Dr Wendy Jackson (head of the Avondale University Seminary) has written that biblical remembering “is almost always associated with action or conduct“. She notes how “Israel was called to repeat the stories of the mighty acts of God to their children“ (Deuteronomy 6:20-25), which “not only built up and reinforced a picture of a faithful and trustworthy God, [but] also developed an understanding of their identity as God’s beloved people. This provided them with a context to both understand and interpret their present circumstances.“ Remembering was not just concerned with action “but also with relationship and identity“.1

In a much-quoted statement, Ellen White triumphantly declared, “We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.“2

I am making an appeal for each of us, especially those of us who are older, to remember, especially through the action of writing down our life experiences to preserve them for the generations to come. If you are younger, encourage the older ones in your family to pass on their heritage. So many in the Church have decades of amazing life experiences which, if unrecorded, will be forever lost. Some have done pioneering work for the Church at home and overseas, or experienced life under governments hostile to faith, undergoing hardships difficult to imagine in this pampered age. Other have felt the impact of modern Western ways on traditional lifestyles in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. Many others have had more modest lives, feeling perhaps that their ordinary experiences aren’t worthy of being recorded.

I disagree. God worked through the spectacular miracles of the prophet Elijah, but anchored that ministry in the humble faithfulness of the seven thousand in Israel who had not bowed to Baal (1 Kings 19:18). Imagine if some of those faithful witnesses had recorded their life experiences. What an inspiration they would be to us today! Writing down your life experiences will help future generations build their identity as the people of God.

Let me offer some tips to recording your life. Probably the hardest part is starting. The key is simply to start—anywhere. You don’t have to create an orderly chronological account from the get-go. Instead, write down memories as they come to you. They can always be organised into a more coherent narrative later.

If that is tricky, try teaming up with family members. Children and grandchildren are often natural allies. Tell them stories from your life and let them write them down. Then work with them to edit the stories together.

Don’t try to do it all in one go. Devote a few hours a week to it over months or even several years. Share the stories with family as you go. They will probably have questions which will prompt further memories. Include photos.

Try to avoid writing “hagiography“—that is narratives of faultless saints. I call this “lying for God“, a tendency to whitewash our bad behaviour and exaggerate the good in the hope of making God look better. Sadly, when the truth comes along, it destroys trust, not just in us but also in God. Imitate the honesty of the Bible regarding its flawed heroes—Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Peter. Tell the truth, not harshly, not destructively—phrase things in an anonymous way if it would hurt people—but don’t play down human weakness. Remember, that God’s strength is more evident through our weaknesses, as Paul readily acknowledged (1 Corinthians 12:9).

Include the ordinary as well as the extraordinary. Make it a full story and not just one of religious experiences. It will make the faith sections more relatable. Briefly tell what you remember of your parents and grandparents. What was life like for you before the mobile phone, computers, the microwave, the refrigerator, in an age when bicycles were more common than cars? What was entertainment like without computer games, television and widespread access to recorded music? How about family holidays? What about your childhood, education, marriage and family, work? And don’t forget church life. What were the religious practices in your family and your church? Describe your own journey of faith, with its ups and downs. If you have been a church employee, tell of your accomplishments and frustrations.

Finally, consider how to share your stories. You can publish your memoirs cheaply through self-publishing platforms, getting a professional-looking book at a modest cost. Give them to your children and grandchildren as a Christmas present. And please consider lodging a copy with your church library, and with the South Pacific Heritage Centre at Avondale University.

Future generations will thank you for building their faith in a trustworthy God.

  1. Wendy Jackson, “What in the Word: Remember”, Adventist Record, April 15, 2021,
  2. Ellen G White, Selected Messages Vol 3, p162.

Daniel Reynaud is the emeritus professor at Avondale University. He has published extensively on Anzac history, and has guided the publication of his parents’ memoirs for the benefit of the wider family and church. 

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