Folks at First – Annabel Robinson

An Interview with Annabel Robinson

You can read the interview included in our October 2018 newsletter.

Annabel, could you tell us something about your childhood, your family, and your growing up?

I was born in Kew, just outside of London, right next to the famous Kew Gardens. We were the third house from the gardens and I spent a lot of time there. So I grew up with a great love of plants and flowers. My parents weren’t Christians and my dad was very hostile to Christianity. But this was England so the schools I attended were Anglican, and it was written into legislation that every child had to learn Scripture, but it was all formality. It didn’t mean anything all.

How did you become a Christian?

When I was in my teens, I started to ask questions. I started to turn over in my own mind: if Jesus died for the whole world, then why was the whole world such a mess? And how could the death of someone 2000 years ago have any meaning for me today?

Did anything in particular cause you to start thinking about these things?

Jesus dying for the whole world was just something I’d been taught at school. But the crux came when I was 16, and my parents let me go to camp with some friends from school. It was jointly run by Scripture Union and InterVarsity. There I heard the gospel and everything clicked. I surrendered to Christ. He was right there. Everything changed overnight. I was a different person.

What changed for you?

One thing was that immediately, Scripture came alive and made sense. Until that point, it had been a big, boring book. Now it spoke to me. The second thing was that I discovered had the power to deal with temptation. I think that part of my general misery as a teenager was that I knew there were all sorts of things wrong with me. I was stuck in a morass that made me unhappy. When I surrendered to Christ I discovered that I could do something about it.

How did your parents respond?

Badly. They thought I’d joined a cult. They were worried about me. I lived at home for two more years, and they wouldn’t allow me to go to church or do anything Christian. But I had Scripture Union notes, which I received through the mail. I read the Bible, and it all just came alive.

What did you do after you left home?

I got a scholarship to Oxford. I loved it there!

I understand your academic background is in Classics. What led you to that field?

My parents were both teachers and really encouraged me to read. They put me in touch with all sorts of good influences, so I did well at school. Everybody did Latin at that time. When we misbehaved in school, we were kept behind for detention for an hour, where we were made to learn Latin irregular verbs. I often misbehaved, so I got very good at Latin irregular verbs. But I loved it! At the age of 14, you had to choose from one of four subjects: Greek, physics and chemistry, biology, or German. The school encouraged the best students to do Greek, so I did five years of Greek at high school.

My parents also sent me to a tutor in London. At school, we were reading one book of Homer (in Greek) a semester. My tutor made us read one book a week. Mind-boggling stuff. She said “Do it,” and you tried, and found out that you could. It was a lot of pressure, but it was pressure that I loved.

How did you go from studying at Oxford to teaching in Regina?

I met Reid through InterVarsity when we were both students at Oxford. He left two years before I did and came to North America for a job at Cornell. After I finished my degree, we were married, and he did one more year at Cornell. Then we faced the question of where to go from there. This was the 1960s, when universities were being built all across Western Canada, and looking for faculty. Reid applied to the U of R and was accepted in 1965. We weren’t going to stay, but found that we really liked it here. Then someone urged me to apply for a job at the U of R. I wasn’t sure I wanted to, but I applied, and I got it, and I taught there for 41 years.

It must have been quite a difference to go from Oxford and Cornell to Regina!

You know, I had opportunities here that I wouldn’t have had anywhere else. For example, I’d played the violin when I was young. But when I came to Regina, Howard Leyton-Brown, who’d been the concert master of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, was teaching here and I had the chance to study with him. I would never have gotten near him in London! I joined the symphony and loved it, but had to give it up for a while when I had small children and as I became more involved with the church and life got busier.

What, if any, challenges did you encounter as a Christian in secular academia?

I didn’t find it difficult. You’re in a secular setting, you want to give it your best and show integrity. You want to respect people. Sometimes that was difficult! But on the whole the university was a good place. When I was in England at university, Christians were despised as being unthinking people. I didn’t find that here. There were very good Christians in leadership at the university. For some years David Barnard was the president, an outspoken Christian. I can’t think of a single instance where I was put down for being Christian.

Could you tell us something about your personal history with First Baptist Church? How have you been involved over the years?

When we first came here, we went to Hillsdale Baptist. Then Reid went to an evening service at First Baptist and liked it, so we started attending. We were asked if we could give leadership to the youth group and then I started teaching adult Sunday school and Reid sang in the choir. We made such fantastic, good friends here! Later I was asked to serve on the board of Carey, which I did for quite a while.

You’ve mentioned the role Scripture Union played in your life as a young Christian. Are you still involved with them?

I’m on staff, editing for them now. It’s a volunteer position, but they’ve given me the title “Publications Editor.” We do a daily online devotional, “theStory,” which I edit, and I’ve done quite a lot of writing for them as well, particularly for “theStory.” You can find it at Scriptureunion.ca.

What’s one thing people might not know about you?

I wrote a book called The Life and Work of Jane Ellen Harrison. I read an article which suggested a number of projects which needed to be undertaken by people with a background in Classics. One of them was to write the life of the first woman Classicist at Cambridge. Writing a biography was something I’d always wanted to do. I wanted to understand a different person as much as one possibly could, and I’ve always loved reading biographies. Jane Harrison was one of the first women students at Cambridge and did pioneer work in the area of ancient Greek religion.

What things bring you life? Where do you find joy and delight?

In music, especially classical music. More than that, friendship. I’ve also enjoyed travel, and in fact I’m writing this from Norway, where my daughter, Heather, now lives. The open air. The natural world. Birds and flowers. I’ve always enjoyed cooking, reading cookbooks, anything to do with cooking! The Bible. And I love writing, so I love everything I do with Scripture Union.

Thank you, Annabel, for offering your experience and knowledge through your sermons and Learning for Life classes. And I look forward to reading more of your work with Scripture Union!

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Interviewer: Tiffany Lai