The youngest of four children born to Frank and Olga Robinson, Gray entered the world on 12th April 1957. He was born just south of the port city of Durban, South Africa, and was immediately loved by his parents, his older siblings, Leigh, Susan, and Jayne, and by the family’s young Indian maid, Sarie, who became his second mother. Soon sporting a mop of golden, curly locks, Gray, with his gentle, compliant nature was loved and enjoyed by all who knew him. He was Sarie’s “dear little boy.”
As a lad of eight, Gray attended a children’s Bible camp where Leigh was one of the counsellors. One evening after dorm devotions several boys indicated their desire to receive Christ as their Saviour, so Leigh took them aside to another room to explain the way of salvation to them. As he was doing so, Gray’s tear-stained face appeared at the door. He too wanted to invite Jesus into his life. He did so that night, and faithfully followed him for the rest of his life.
In his early high school years Gray’s good looks and pleasant nature caused him to be noticed by the girls. Had it not been for some not-so-subtle intervention by his mother he might well have been engaged by age thirteen! His later high school years were marked by success as a sportsman as he broke a school athletic record and played first team rugby. It was also then that his love for woodwork and his natural talent for fixing things began to emerge.
Immediately following high school Gray was conscripted into the South African Defence Force for a two-year tour of duty. He was assigned to the engineers corps, trained, and sent to South West Africa where South Africa was fighting a war with SWAPO. His was the difficult and dangerous task of locating and disarming land mines. As he jokingly put it, “One wrong move and I’ll come home in the Sunday Times!”
Just weeks after his discharge from the army in 1976, tragedy struck the Robinson family when Gray’s sister, Jayne, and Leigh’s wife, Esther, were instantly killed in a motor accident. Alone at home with his parents and Sarie in the two years following their deaths, Gray was a wonderful support to his grieving mother as his dad descended deeper and deeper into alcoholism and despair. During this time Gray began working at Standard Bank. Also at this time, his sense of the call of God to full-time Christian ministry grew stronger and stronger.
Following his dad’s miraculous conversion to Christ in 1978, Gray felt free to leave home and he enrolled as a student at the Baptist Theological College in Johannesburg in January 1979. No sooner had Gray left home than his dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He died two months later at the age of fifty-seven.
Not long before going to study in Johannesburg Gray met Janet—the woman who was to become the love of his life. Gray and Janet were married on 13th June 1981 and in time God blessed them with three children—Andrew, Stephen, and Vicky.
Gray and Janet began their ministry as missionaries amongst the South African Muslim community, first in Johannesburg and then in Durban. But their heart was for the nearly sixty million Muslims in Turkey, so they applied to a mission organization, raised their support, and headed in the direction of Turkey via Portugal. Problems with the mission led to them resigning from the mission and coming to Britain. Their intention was to join another mission organization and continue on to Turkey, but God had other ideas. After operating his own carpentry business and English language school for a time, Gray was called to become Pastor of Binscombe Church in September 1993.
In 1996 he was diagnosed with lymphoma and his long and courageous battle with cancer began. In the early days he came close to death on several occasions, but through God’s grace, the prayers of many people all over the world, the help of the medical profession, and the relentless care and discipline of his devoted wife in helping him follow the Gerson Therapy, he came through those early crisis years and enjoyed several years of good health. But again early this year the lymphoma flared up again and a fierce battle raged until August 5th 2003 when God called him home to heaven. Throughout his battle with cancer Gray displayed grace, faith, courage, realism, and a gloriously uncomplaining spirit. Through the fire of suffering his walk with God grew closer and his ministry deepened, even though he went through periods of deep darkness—“the dark night of the soul.” In ten years at Binscombe he taught his people how to live and how to die.
As a husband Gray was God’s special gift to Janet. What Gray meant to her is best expressed in her own words—
“You were my husband, my best friend ever, my Pal. You were kind, gentle and patient, always putting me first, considerate and longsuffering, never provoked to self-vindication, generous and content with little. You knew me better than I knew myself and helped me recognise the potential and limitations of my own personality and gifting. You waited for me to respond to God’s voice and showed me a better way instead of trying to change me. You set me free to be just your wife and a mother, or whatever the Lord opened up for me. It was easy to love, respect, and follow you. You were quiet and strong, not a pushover. Your peacemaking diplomacy built and restored a multitude of relationships as you determined to make memories and not collect things. You loved nothing better than sitting around the table talking, or the visit of friends from near and far. Your fine mind and gifted hands crafted many things with characteristic precision – sermons, wood, and omelettes. Thank you for choosing me and believing in me, for enfolding me in your wider family and helping me focus on the line which goes on forever, not the dot that passes away.”
Gray was an outstanding father. Committed, involved, consistent, unselfish and wise, he shaped the characters of his children (Andrew, Stephen, and Vicky) with the same care and precision he employed in every pursuit that really mattered to him. He understood their different personalities, their strengths and weaknesses, and he treated them accordingly, but with equal love and devotion. Drawing on his deep knowledge of the Scriptures, his wide general knowledge, his many practical skills, and his keen observations about the culture in which they lived, he consistently and deliberately set about preparing them to know God and to live well. His fingerprints are all over their lives.
His children have loads of wonderful memories of their dad. They remember . . .
His ability to fix anything, to solve any problem, to make a plan
His continually repeated little stories and jokes
His playing with his spoon at the table, and picking up crumbs with his finger
His love of strong black coffee and dark chocolate
His often-repeated question: “What’s happening in your life?”
His enjoyment of “The Goon show” and “Have I got news for you”
His famous sayings, like, “I brought you into this world, and I’ll take you out!”
His precision in everything he did, especially in packing the car in preparation for a trip
His always buying good quality things
His skill as a driver
His ability to draw accurate maps
His always having piles of books and papers around him
His listening to his little radio in the mornings
His enjoyment of chatting to the people he met—neighbours, the photo copier repair man, the mechanic
His pleasure in hanging out with the men of the church
His love of playing and watching sport, especially when South Africa was winning!
Because of the nature of his work as a carpenter and as a pastor, Gray was around his children a lot. He often included them in his work, especially in his carpenter’s shop, and took time to do fun things with them, like play in the park.
He taught his children by example how to know God, how to live, how to love, how to have fun, how to serve, how to suffer, and how to die. What a legacy they have!
To his mother Gray was a devoted son. Always respectful, sensitive, caring, and helpful. He loved her and cherished her for the precious person she is.
His brother and sister, Leigh and Sue, always felt totally comfortable and at home with Gray. Even without him saying words, they knew he loved, accepted, and admired them. The deep bond between them grew stronger and stronger over the years, even though they lived apart for most of their adult lives. Gray had the ability to phone at just the right time and, even when he was very ill, always showed interest in their lives.
In the words of Job, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. May the name of the Lord be praised.”
Click here to see the sermon preached at Gray’s funeral by his brother Leigh Robinson