Fredrick James McClymont was born in Auckland on November 17, 1926. His father, Thomas, was a well-known sportsman who played rugby league for New Zealand (1919-24) and was coach of the New Zealand team (1928, 1936-52). The family attended Valley Road Baptist Church and Fred studied biology at Auckland University.
Jessie Aird Fleming was born in Lithgow, New South Wales on July 11, 1928. Soon after, the family moved to Melbourne. When she was very young, Jessie had kidney problems and was sent to be looked after by a nurse, Sister Caboules (Sissy). In the 1930s the rest of the family moved to Sydney so that Jessie’s father could receive treatment for injuries sustained fighting in World War I. He never fully recovered and died when she was about seven. At the beginning of the war, Jessie and Sissy moved out of the city to St. Arnaud and then later moved to Sydney. It was during this time that Jessie began attending Sans Souci Baptist Church. After finishing school, her first job was working for the post office.
In the early 1950s Fred studied for two years at the New Zealand Bible Training Institute (NZBTI) in Auckland and Jessie did the same at Sydney Missionary Bible College (SMBC). They both applied and were accepted by the Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF). They met during orientation in Australia in 1953 and were engaged in 1954. Both had made “open offers” to OMF which meant that they were willing to be sent to wherever the Mission recommended.
By the time they started language studies in Singapore in 1954, both had agreed to go to Malaya, and they began studying Hokkien. In accordance with OMF policy, they were sent to different New Villages, so both were able to further their language studies. Fred was sent to Triang in Pahang and Jessie to Buloh Kasap in Johor. They were finally married by OMF director general John Oswald Sanders in Singapore in April 1956. After the wedding, they moved and began New Village work in Gemas Bahru in Johor.
However, after only a few weeks, they were asked by the Mission to move to Hong Kong where they worked for the next three years at Christian Witness Press (CWP), the publishing arm of the OMF. Fred became the local secretary, responsible for the practical arrangements of OMF members traveling through Hong Kong, and Jessie worked in the CWP office. CWP produced a large volume of literature for all the countries that the OMF worked in. This included posters, tracts, and an evangelistic magazine (Dengta). Literature was produced in a wide range of languages including Chinese, Tamil, English and Malay. While in Hong Kong, Jessie gave birth to their first son, Ian, in January 1958.
In 1959, they travelled by air for the first time. Their flight took them via the Philippines, Townsville and Sydney, where Jessie was able to briefly meet friends and family at the airport, before finally arriving in Auckland. After a year of furlough reconnecting with Fred’s church and their supporters, they returned this time to Malaya and took up residence in OMF’s South Malayan Field’s headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.
They arrived in 1960 at a time of profound change in the country and within the OMF. The South Malayan Field was struggling to respond to the fact that the country was now independent and the Emergency, which had brought the OMF to Malaya, was over. Progress in establishing churches in the New Villages was slow and newer members wanted to take advantage of the interest in the Gospel they found among English-speaking young people in urban areas. The McClymonts probably did not realise at the time the significance of the South Malayan 9th and 10th Annual Field Conferences that they attended after arriving back in Malaya. It was at these two conferences that the process of broadening the focus of the OMF’s activities in Malaya began. During the 1960s, the OMF began ministry in English and in urban centres and supported specialised ministries that focused on discipleship as well as proclamation of the Gospel.
For the next four years, Fred was the local secretary for the South Malayan Field, responsible for arranging transport for OMF members returning to their sending countries, managing the KL Mission Home, and taking care of the “gospel van” used for evangelistic meetings in the New Villages and smaller towns. Jessie was the Mission Home hostess between 1960 and 1964, when the number of OMF members in the country peaked and averaged over 120. She was also involved in teaching Sunday school at their local English-speaking church, and it was during this time in August 1962 that their second son, Allen, was born.
An important element of OMF’s strategy in the New Villages was the use of outdoor evangelistic meetings. In 1954, the first “gospel van” was purchased and this enabled religious films to be shown as part of these outdoor meetings. The van was equipped with a public address system, a tape recorder for recording testimonies, a film projector and screen, and a generator to run the equipment and provide lighting for night meetings. The van was used to transport the equipment between the New Villages where meetings were held.
In 1964, the family again returned to Australia and New Zealand for furlough and while in Cambridge, New Zealand, their third child, Margaret, was born on August 1. They returned for their third term in what was now Malaysia in 1965, living in Petaling Jaya, one of the new suburbs in Kuala Lumpur. Their activities reflected the change of focus of the OMF in Malaysia. Jessie was involved in marking lessons from OMF’s correspondence course, the “Upward Path” which, over the years, had grown in popularity and was offered in Chinese, English and Tamil. By 1971, it had nearly 4,000 active students and in 1972, Jessie was marking and responding to 300 of its English-speaking students. She also continued to teach Sunday school.
In many ways, Fred was ahead of his time in seeing the potential of communication technology to communicate the Gospel more effectively. He set up his own recording studio in their house and was again responsible for the Mission’s gospel van.
The recording studio was used to produce audio-visual resources for the gospel van and for churches. Fred used the studio to dub religious films into a range of languages and Chinese dialects such as Hokkien, Hakka and Cantonese. Films could then be shown using the most common language found in a particular village or town. He also joined the evangelism committee that planned evangelistic meetings using the gospel van throughout the country. In 1967 they reported that 140 nights of open-air evangelism in at least 20 towns and villages had been arranged. Fred was also involved in the running of mass evangelistic events in Kuala Lumpur. In January 1969 he was part of the planning committee for the Grady Wilson Malaysia Campaign at Stadium Negara in Kuala Lumpur. On the last night, more than 10,000 people attended what was described at the time as “the largest Protestant gathering in the history of the church in Malaysia”.
In 1969 the family returned to New Zealand. They extended their furlough so that Fred could attend a summer course on audio-visual communication in the United States at Indiana University in Bloomington. They were concerned that there would be problems with getting a visa for Malaysia as the Malaysian government had introduced new visa restrictions in 1967 limiting the length of missionary visas to 10 years. In the end their visa application was approved but they knew that this would be their last term in Malaysia. When they returned to Malaysia, they continued the work of the previous term. In addition, Fred ran a range of communication courses on the use of visual aids when teaching and applying communication principles to church life.
The McClymonts left Malaysia for the last time in October 1972 and after a final furlough, resigned from the Mission in 1973. After 20 years in OMF, they settled in Cambridge, New Zealand and Fred started a printing business in nearby Hamilton. He passed away at the age of 92 on April 15, 2018 in Whangarei, New Zealand. He is survived by Jessie, their three children and two of their children’s spouses as well as four grandchildren. Jessie continues to live in Whangarei with their daughter Margaret.
- ^ New Villages were set up by the British government to relocate rural Chinese and prevent them from becoming a base for recruitment and support for communist insurgents during a period of intense conflict between the British administration and communists following World War II. The conflict led to the declaration of a state of emergency in Malaya from 1948-1960. Over 400 such villages were created. According to John A. Roxborogh in “A Short History of Christianity in Malaysia”, “To help win the ‘hearts and minds' of those resettled into barbed wire villages the British went to considerable lengths to encourage churches and missionary societies to send missionaries and welfare workers to help humanize what were little more than concentration camps.” http://roxborogh.com/sea/country/shmalaysia.htm.
- ^ According to Roxborogh, although some felt that missionaries might have been more effective in urban situations, a good number of churches trace their origins to this period. http://roxborogh.com/sea/country/shmalaysia.htm. McClymont also challenges this view held by some in his 2021 doctoral thesis by highlighting the work of missionaries outside the New Villages and after the end of the Emergency to show how Protestant missionaries supported the growth of Chinese-speaking and English-speaking congregations in both rural and urban areas of Peninsular Malaysia. https://eprints.kingston.ac.uk/id/eprint/49622/
- ^ Cecil Gracey, “A Gospel Van in the New Villages”, Millions UK 1954-10, 84. The gospel van was also equipped with gramophone records in various dialects, drawing easel and board, gospel poster and chorus-scroll stand and could carry four people. When the missionaries arrived at a village, they would look for a shady spot by the roadside and set up the preaching equipment. Records would be played and the meeting would commence with some singing from a large song scroll. After the preaching, booklets would be offered to those willing to receive them.
McClymont, Allen, “Collaboration, Christian Mission and Contextualisation: The Overseas Missionary Fellowship in West Malaysia from 1952 to 1977” (unpublished doctoral thesis, Kingston University, 2021).
McClymont, Fred & Jessie, Papers, Personal Prayer Letters from 1953-1972.
McClymont, Jessie, phone Interviews, October 2021, Whangarei, New Zealand.
Millions, March 1954, “Departures”, 14-15.