From the Reformed Quarterly Winter 1987 Bulletin.

Ten years ago Ian Fletcher was on the top of the heap in England.  As founder and head of a national charity organization in that country, he supervised the expenditure of millions of dollars, sat on a committee chaired by Prince Charles, and was even being encouraged to run for Parliament.  But by 1979, in the space of eighteen months, his organization was in ruins, Ian was broke, and, with his business reputation in shreds, he could not buy a job in the English charitable world.  Today, through a miraculous set of circumstances, the 41-year-old likable and energetic Britisher is a middler in the M.Div. program at RTS and ready to serve the Lord in any way He sees fit.  But, as you’ll soon see, doing things the Lord’s way has been a long time coming for Ian.

The son of a British medical doctor, Ian enjoyed a secure and privileged childhood.  His parents were able to send him to Solihull — one of the best English private schools — and it was here that he became a Christian at the age of sixteen.  Lacking the teaching and guidance of an evangelical, Bible-based church, Ian felt his faith could best be lived out by helping his fellow man.  It would be years before he realized the limitations of this view.  Aggressive, creative, and now fueled by an intense desire to serve others, Ian single-handedly persuaded other students to help.  The end result was the first organization of its kind in England — Young People’s Community Service — which became a national movement involving thousands of young people.

Sadly, however, Ian looks back and sees that his motivation, which he thought was Christian, was all wrong.  “It was a compassion bred of elitism.  We had been taught to feel that we were privileged, somehow better than these people, and our duty was to help them.  My motivation had nothing to do with humility or true Christianity; I was sincere but woefully ignorant.”

The love for community service work stayed with Ian after high school, so much so that he did not want to go to college.  But in 1967, he bowed to tremendous pressure by his parents and enrolled in the University of London, only to drop out after a year to return to service work.

For the next thirteen years, Ian threw his entire life into putting together a dynamic organization called “Make Children Happy.”  Under this umbrella organization, several very successful charities functioned–one which helped handicapped children, one which encouraged the construction of “Adventure Playgrounds” in inner city areas, and one which set up a national information service for people involved in children’s recreation.

Unlike the United States, there is no tax incentive in England to contribute to charities.  So, getting the money to fund his organization was no mean task.  However, through hard work and resourcefulness, Ian borrowed an idea from a friend and set up four different businesses, including a highly profitable marketing and real estate company, to fund the charity.  By 1978, the organization that had begun from nothing in 1969, now gave away about 1.5 million dollars a year, employed sixty people, and spent some three-quarters of a million dollars on its own projects.

And other people — important people — were noticing Ian’s success.  In 1974 and 1975 the Secretary of State for the Environment asked Ian to be a member of a study committee on various issues relating to youth, and subsequently adopted some of his proposals.  In 1977, Ian was asked to be a member of a national study committee chaired by Prince Charles to raise money for youth work.  The committee at times met at Buckingham Palace, with Prince Charles attending some of the meetings.  Friends were even encouraging Ian to run for Parliament.  All pretty heady stuff.

And that is exactly where it was going–to Ian’s head.  He turns a handsome profile to one side, looks out the window, and reminisces in a clipped, soft-spoken British accent.  “I thought I was being so selfless, but I was actually being so selfish.  The organization and its work became a real ego trip for me.  Although I called myself a Christian, the more successful I became, the less I practiced any real Christianity at all.  I was on my way to spiritual destruction.”

But in 1978 things began to turn sour.  Because he wanted to expand rapidly, Ian ignored the warnings of Christian friends and signed a contract with a large national company which organized lotteries for charities.  They promised Ian’s group five to six million dollars a year.

Ian smiles wryly as he recalls his bad judgment.  “It had become almost impossible for anyone to tell me that we could not do something if I thought it was possible.  When I wanted to do something, I prayed that the Lord would support it, assuming that He would because I was doing it in His service.  I never stopped to say, `If this is not your will, then I don’t want to do it.’ I was not really under the Lordship of Christ at all.  It was Ian Fletcher doing his own thing, sincerely believing that he was doing it as a Christian.”

At first, things went well.  The lottery was launched nationally, and “Make Children Happy” began receiving large amounts of money.  They expanded their work aggressively on all fronts, and then in the beginning of 1979, with very little warning, the lottery company’s entire promotion collapsed, and along with it the profit-earning end of Ian’s organization.  Although Ian and his colleagues sued, the litigation took three and a half long years.  Long before that, both Ian’s and his organization’s credibility had hit rock bottom.

Ian smoothes his prematurely gray hair and gives a characteristic chuckle at himself.  “I see now that the Lord was hitting me in the head with a two-by-four, showing me I was not impregnable.”

But, amazingly, Ian diod not get the Lord’s message.  Moving to the United States, he then became involved in a multi-million-dollar scheme to build a small theme park in Washington, D.C.  Before he knew it he had invested some $350,000-400,000 of his, his family’s, and several friends’ money in the venture.  The foreign backers of the project, however, ignored the terms of the contract.  Financially unable to sue them, Ian managed to retrieve only a third of the money invested.

Broke again and now really discouraged, Ian wondered where his life was going.  He and one of his business partners, Marjorie Sandow (the woman who would later become his wife), had been attending Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church in Key Biscayne, Florida.  For the first time Ian came under the impact of God’s Word preached by gifted men.

“In response to that Word, I began to search for the Lord’s will in my life. One of the things that became clear was that I should get married.  As a thirty-eight-year-old bachelor, I had been petrified of marriage, afraid I could not keep the commitment.  This was a turning point because I knew I had to trust the Lord.”

After his marriage to Marjorie in 1984, Ian began to feel the call to the pastorate.  But he was broke, had family responsibilities, and felt a deep obligation to make restitution to his friends and family for the money he had borrowed.

Frustrated but undaunted, Ian and Marjorie visited RTS anyway.  Hoping to draw on his experience as an entrepreneur, Ian looked for a small business to buy to finance seminary.  Stewart Oxygen Company–his first contact–proved perfect.  The small, stable firm supplied and serviced emergency medical equipment, an area in which Marjorie could use her skills as a nurse.

But how do you buy a business without any money?  That didn’t stop Ian, who immediately contacted a friend who owned a large leasing company in Florida.  The man had some stock which he was willing to put up as security if Ian could find a bank to loan against it.  Happily, one of the first two bankers Ian talked to said, “Sure!”  Ian hopes to keep the business in the Christian community so that seminary students can operate it.  Already Mark Snow, a second-year student, services the oxygen equipment, and Ian plans to hire more students as their study schedules permit.

God has humbled this talented man greatly, and Ian’s tremendous capabilities are now under the Lord’s leadership.  Understandably, Ian’s goals for success, where once worldly, are now much different.  “Ephesians 2:10 has helped me redefine success.  It says, ‘For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.’  You see, I had always thought of it as my work; the Lord would surely bless it since I was a Christian.  The Bible has taught me to say, ‘Lord, you have prepared a service for me to perform.  What is it?  I’ll try to do it.'”

“I don’t really care about doing anything great by human standards any longer,” he comments with tranquil eyes.  “I think that just leading someone to Christ is the greatest thing I could do, something which did not happen in all the thirteen years of `Make Children Happy.'”

With Ian’s vigor and drive, his ingenuity and intelligence, and his hard-won maturity in the Christian faith, it will be both interesting and exciting to see what the Lord has in store for him.