The passing of Jennifer Rees Larcombe on the 24th October 2022 will have come as a sad loss to the many thousands of people who were challenged and helped by her unique speaking and writing ministry. I share that sorrow, deepened by the fact that I had the privilege of being linked by marriage: Jen was my wife’s godmother, and her father, Tom Rees, my wife’s great-uncle.
Tom Rees was not just a formidable evangelist – his rallies filled the Albert Hall some fifty times – but, along with his wife, was also responsible for turning Hildenborough Hall into Britain’s first Christian residential centre. Jen was born into this powerful Christian family in 1942 and it gave her a deep biblical knowledge and helped her become a Christian at an early age. Yet if she was blessed in her family, it was not so elsewhere. Having what we would now call dyslexia, she suffered bullying and shame at school. In her life Jen travelled through many valleys and this was the first.
In 1966 Jen married Tom, a schoolteacher, and together they had six children. Despite Jen’s dyslexia, she began a successful career as a writer, authoring books for children and increasingly writing on practical spiritual issues with a remarkable clarity and honesty. Somewhat to her surprise, she found herself an increasingly popular Christian speaker.
In 1982 Jen suffered a serious attack of the viral brain disease encephalitis. After a dramatic near-death experience, she recovered sufficiently to find herself confined to a wheelchair and granted disabled status. As the years passed and she found no healing, she developed a valuable ministry to the many who had sought, but not received, healing from God. Then, after eight difficult years, astonishingly Jen found herself suddenly and completely healed through the prayer of a new Christian. It was a miracle but one that brought problems: some questioned either the nature of her ailment or her restoration, while others, anxious for their own healing, sought to find out ‘her secret’.
Another deep valley opened up when, after thirty years of seemingly happy marriage, Tom suddenly walked out on her. With her characteristic honesty, Jen has recounted her struggles as she battled grief, loneliness, depression and anger. She triumphed over them and continued speaking and writing into her 70s before being struck with lung cancer: a cruel affliction for a non-smoker.
There is still a fashion to overlook the unordained ‘amateur’ in Christian ministry and, sad to say, particularly when that amateur is female. Yet Jennifer Rees Larcombe was a figure of remarkable importance in Britain and beyond. While her message was mainly heard and read by women, her influence was far wider. I think that influence came from four things.
First, Jen was a woman with whom people could identify. Whether in person or in print she was a remarkable communicator; never talking down to you ‘in general’ but always, it seemed, to you personally. If you want a reminder of her ability, then please watch the interview I did with her just over 6 months ago on Facing the Canon https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGdmC62-Z3g where she was a compelling presence.
Second, Jen was a woman of utter integrity. One reason why she was so convincing a speaker and writer was her utter honesty about who she was, how she felt and how she believed God was dealing with her. With utter honesty she laid bare her struggles with depression, spiritual darkness, chronic illness and the collapse of her marriage.
Third, Jen was a woman of insight. For all her curtailed education she was the wisest of women. There was no sense of superficiality or ‘fluffiness’ with her; she thought deeply about every aspect of the Christian life and applied a profound biblical knowledge to it.
Finally, Jen was a woman of spiritual intimacy. She didn’t just know about God; she knew God. There was a warmth, a reality and a vigour in her Christian walk that is sadly rare. In that remarkable interview on Facing the Canon perhaps the most telling point is where, around 21 minutes in, she talks about how she is facing death. I don’t think I’ve heard anybody express such a quiet and compelling hope in Christ.
Jennifer Rees Larcombe journeyed through many valleys in her life but she let Christ lead her out of them all. She created an organisation called Beauty from Ashes and that’s a good summary of what she did in so many people’s lives: transform dry ashes into living beauty. Thanks, Jen!
Written by: J.John