John Stott's Right Hand, The Untold Story of Frances Whitehead

Julia Cameron (2014), John Stott's Right Hand, The Untold Story of Frances Whitehead, Piquant, 224pp

This book is the story of a remarkable woman who helped a very remarkable man accomplish a most remarkable ministry for over five decades. Brought up in well-to-do circumstances and soon revealing exceptionally competent abilities, Frances Whitehead searched for meaning in life in different ways and countries and discovered it through hearing John Stott explain the gospel.

Shortly afterwards, Stott asked her to become his secretary, a request that she initially did not take seriously, but accepted when it was made clear that it was a genuine offer. She was working for the BBC at the time and her many skills indicate that she could have gone far in the business world, yet she instead submitted to what she sensed was God’s calling.

Initially, much of her work was connected to Stott’s ministry in All Souls and occasionally elsewhere. As the years passed, his ministry went global in several ways and his writing of Christian books and commentaries increased. Those who have read one of Stott’s biographies are astounded at all that he was able to accomplish, and one reason for his achievements was the contribution of Frances in arranging his schedules, protecting his time, typing his books, and overseeing who could visit him and when.

This she was to do for over five decades and when he passed away in 2011 it was Frances who took over arranging where his literary material should be kept, so preserving most of his work for subsequent generations. It is obvious from the account that Stott could rely on her completely, and his trust was not disappointed. Indeed he called her ‘Frances the Omnicompetent’.

This account of her life describes her family background in which she had a warm relationship with her father. Sadly she lost a sister when she was very young, and this tragedy seemed to have brought about a collapse in her parents’ marriage, with her mother leaving home some time later to live with a close friend. Her father died in his fifties from heart trouble, but her mother, who travelled the world with her friend, lived to be over a hundred and was eventually living with Frances in the closing years of her long life.

Although having a strong religious background as an Anglican, Frances was not aware of evangelicalism as she was growing up. Her religious background did provide her with outlooks and habits that were strengthened after she was converted. She took a great interest in new believers and helped in several activities in All Souls throughout her decades of membership. Moreover many Christians from other countries, brought to Britain to study theology through Stott’s help, learned to call her ‘Auntie Frances’ because of her loving commitment to their welfare. Correspondence was maintained with many of them after they returned to their countries or went elsewhere.

This book is an inspiring account of what someone can do when he or she is dedicated to serving Christ. All that is required is for us to walk through the doors that he opens for us in providence. She walked through hers and many throughout the world give thanks to God that she did. And one can imagine that Stott himself would be glad that this tribute to his long-time helper, colleague and friend has been published.

This review appeared in the February 2015 issue of the Record of the Free Church of Scotland.

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