Remembering Cyrille Regis

Cyrille Regis, who has died at the age of 59, was a great footballer. Those who knew him have spoken warmly of Cyrille and their sense of loss at his passing. One of his former managers said, “Cyrille was not only the best centre-forward I ever worked with, he was an even better bloke.” Cyrille’s pace, strength and power thrilled the crowds. He scored some spectacular goals that are still remembered today. He was also an inspiration to subsequent generations of black British footballers as he, and other black players, faced blatant and shameful racism from opposing fans with great dignity.

Cyrille was born in French Guiana, but moved to Britain when he was 5 and grew up in West London. When he was 19 he was spotted playing non-league football and signed up by First Division Club West Bromwich Albion. There he played with other talented black players, Laurie Cunningham and Brendon Batson. Cyrille won the PFA Young Player of the Year award in 1978 and played for England at both Under-21 and Senior levels. In 1987, he won an FA Cup winners’ medal with Coventry and was awarded an MBE by the Queen in 2008.

In 1989 Cyrille’s best friend and former team-mate, Laurie Cunningham, died in a car crash. This tragedy had a devastating impact on Cyrille as, just two years earlier, he and Laurie had been in a car accident which they had survived. As he was growing up, Cyrille had been taught Christian values, but as an adult he had turned away from them. Laurie’s death left him asking questions such as: Is there really life after death? Where is God in all of this? Why did this happen? Cyrille’s search for answers ultimately lead him to what he described as “a real encounter with Jesus”. This encounter changed his life forever when he received Jesus as his Saviour.

As a born-again Christian Cyrille was passionate about sharing his story with others who were also searching for answers. He said, “I meet people all the time, some famous, some not, who are all looking for hope and peace. I have learned that money cannot buy peace of mind so I simply tell people how I found hope and peace in God. The great thing about it is that anyone can have the peace that I have, you just need to know God.” Now Cyrille is with his Saviour in heaven, and will be with him forever, because Jesus loved him and gave himself for him.

Remembering Jane Stuart Smith

I recently read the obituary of Jane Stuart Smith, who died on 14 January at the age of 90. She was an American opera singer who made a career on the Italian stage, including appearing with Maria Callas. Her last official performance was in 1959, as Brünnhilde in Wagner’s Die Walküre. In 1960, when she was at the height of her powers, she became a Christian and left the world of opera. When, later, Jane was asked why she gave up her operatic career she replied, “I gave it up for the Lord. The world of opera is a wicked place. You have no idea about the temptations I faced. My problem was that I loved those temptations.”

Jane knew privilege and success. She was born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1925. Her father, Robert, was president of the Norfolk and Western Railway. As a teenager she served as a page at the White House when Franklin D Roosevelt’s was President. Her father hired the Carnegie Hall for her New York debut. After singing the title role of Puccini’s Turandot at the Detroit Grand Opera Festival in 1951 she was described as “a woman of commanding beauty, both of person and voice”. In Italy she appeared in Milan, Palermo and Cesena, where the stage was carpeted in flowers after her performance; in Venice she arrived for a performance of Tosca on a gondola.

In 1956, while visiting Switzerland, Jane met Francis and Edith Schaeffer, who founded the L’Abri Fellowship in their alpine home near Geneva. Francis and Edith’s home was a place where people could find honest answers to their honest questions and experience practical Christian love. They called it L’Abri, the French word for “shelter,” because they wanted to provide a shelter from the pressures of a relentlessly secular world. Through meeting the Schaeffers, Jane came to know Jesus Christ as her personal Saviour and she joined the L’Abri Fellowship.

Jane’s life was distinctive because she made a definite decision to avoid temptations to sin and so turned her back on fame and fortune. She had found something much more precious; a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and a life that was real. Jesus told a parable about a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, when he found one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. Sixty years ago, Jane made a similar, decisive choice, and now she is in heaven with Jesus, her beloved Lord and Saviour.

“God’s Tenor”

Jon Vickers has died at the age of 88. He was a world famous tenor singer whose rich and powerful voice was once described as “holding a hundred colours and inflections.” He was given the nickname “God’s tenor” because of the outstanding quality of his voice and his Christian faith. He was the finest Heldentenor of his day and sang the great heroic tenor roles in German opera. He was a perfectionist and was not always easy to work with. At times he made controversial decisions because of his Christian convictions.

Jon was born in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, the sixth of eight children. His family was musical but very poor. His parents were so poor that the future Canadian Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker, who was a long-standing friend of the family, offered to care for young Jon. As a child Jon and his brothers and sisters sang with his lay-preacher father at churches near their home. In the summer Jon worked on neighbouring farms where he developed his barrel chest. His success as a world famous tenor, and the honours and wealth that came with it, were in marked contrast with his humble beginnings. When he retired in 1988 he was very content on his farm, surrounded by nature and his family.

Jon’s Christian faith was the guiding principle for the whole of his life. He knew that the gifts he possessed had been given to him by God, so he wanted to use them in a way that pleased God. He knew that the most important thing was not his international success and acclaim but what he was as a man before God. After retiring he had time to return to his roots and to reflect on the things that matter most in life. He also had time to prepare for eternity. He proved with Paul that “godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”

Jon is now in heaven with his Saviour, and with all those from every nation who have experienced God’s love in Jesus. He has joined the heavenly choirs who joyfully worship God as they remember God’s amazing love and grace to them. To the most beautiful heavenly music they sing, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb. Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!”