Harold St.John, the notable Bible scholar, teacher and missionary was born in 1876. His father was the treasurer of Sarawak in Malaysia, and his work for the diplomatic service meant that Harold’s childhood was spent travelling around the Far East, as well as spending periods in Germany and Belgium. His mother was deeply religious having been converted to evangelical Christianity in the Brethren tradition, and she brought Harold and his siblings up as Christians. At the age of 18 he underwent a profound conversion experience, after which he devoted himself to a life of preaching the Gospel.
As a young man Harold aspired to an education at Oxford University, but was unable to live up to his aspirations when his father died in Mexico leaving the family in straightened circumstances. Harold obtained work in a bank in London, where he was to remain for the next twenty or so years. Despite long working hours, he devoted his spare time to preaching the Gospel. He preached in the east End of London and in Hyde Park, but was particularly attracted to work among the slums. At first unsuccessful, he found that he improved his chances of a hearing if he abandoned his smart clothing, dressed down and spent time living among the poor in common lodging houses. He also conducted an evangelical campaign in St. Ives, Cornwall.
In 1913, at the age of 36 he resigned his position at the bank to devote himself to full time missionary activity. He married Ella Swain in 1914, and together they moved to Brazil. After six months in Brazil he engaged on a preaching tour of Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina. In 1917, with the help of Stuart McNair, St.John set up a Bible School in Carangola in Brazil. He left here for British Guyana in 1921, and spent the next forty years as an itinerant missionary. In the course of his travels he visited North and South America, the West Indies, Europe, North and South Africa, Palestine, Australia and New Zealand.
In his final years he settled in North Wales. Here he undertook Bible teaching at a girls’ school in Abegele, where his wife’s sister was headmistress.
Harold St.John was highly regarded in Brethren circles for his missionary activity, but he was also revered for his detailed knowledge of the Bible. The Biblical scholar F.F. Bruce said, ‘we younger men referred to him as “The Maestro”’ and that ‘for detailed acquaintance with the text of the Scripture he had few equals’.
He and his wife Ella had five children. He died in 1957.