A Glimpse into the Life and Times of Gary Masterton

When we shifted out into the countryside of New Zealand in 2004, one of the tasks we had was to find a new church. We settled on Malvern Baptist Church down the road in Darfield. One of the men in the congregation was a particular encouragement to me as we weekly trekked in with a large number of little children, and especially as I struggled to get one of the little ones to sit quietly and even to stay in the building! He always had a word of encouragement to share, a “stick with it Michael” affirmation. That meant a lot to me, and helped me keep going.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to sit down and interview that man about his life and history. This is his story.

Lorraine and Gary at home in September 2006

As the nurse rushed out of the room, the reality of life and death struck Gary. His bride of three years lay motionless on the table.

Gary was 33 when he married Lorraine, four years his senior. They had hoped and prayed for a baby and now that long hoped- for little life was almost full-term. But the nurse had not been able to detect a heartbeat. After what seemed an age she rushed back in with a colleague who was able to find the heartbeat. Hope was once again re-kindled.

(it’s a long post, hence the split)

That baby, Sarah, is now 17 years old and in her final year of High School. She plans to begin medical studies at Otago University next year. Rebekah, Sarah’s 15-year-old sister, is an active girl who loves sport, music and helping around the farm.

Lorraine has delighted in being an at-home mother for the past 17 years and is reaping the rewards of investing in her girls and in making her home a warm and hospitable place. Gary is debt-free, busy with multiple small holdings, starting up his valuation business again and generally enjoying a slower pace of life than the busy earlier years on the farm. This is his story.

Gary was the second child born to Lex and June Masterton, a farming family settled in the heart of the Canterbury plains. Gary has an older sister and a younger one who died 10 days after being born. He attended Courtenay Primary School, a five-minute drive from the family farm. Lex and June wanted a good education for Gary so he was sent to St Andrews College as a boarding pupil, staying there through to the end of Form 7.

He then went on to Lincoln University where he studied for a Bachelor of Commerce in Agriculture, majoring in property valuation. Gary was keen to return to the family farm to work in partnership with his father but Lex thought that Gary should have a second string to his bow in case farming did not work out for him. But something even more important than gaining that second string took place for Gary at University – he became a Christian.

Lex and June were involved in the Presbyterian Church and Gary attended with them during his growing years. However, as he says now, ‘No one ever asked me about having a personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.’ But two friends had an impact on his life. During his first year at Lincoln University, Gary met Paul Reynolds who started to talk with him about Christianity. As a result Gary saw his need of salvation and became a Christian. He joined the Navigators in order to be discipled and to learn how to disciple others.

Although neither knew it at the time, Paul happened to be Gary’s cousin. After Paul sowed and reaped, another friend, Peter, met regularly with Gary for Bible study, scripture memorisation, accountability, and good old-fashioned friendship.

At the conclusion of Gary’s university training he received two job offers in the property valuation field – one in Dunedin and the other in Hamilton. After some consideration he accepted the Hamilton job, living there for three years while he turned the theory of valuation in a broad body of experience. Hamilton South Baptist Church became his spiritual home during this time and it was here that he was baptised.

With a University degree and three years of professional experience, it was time for some serious planning. Was it right to stay in Hamilton and continue on with valuation work or was a change needed? Gary wrote down his goals, the main one being to be in partnership on the farm with his parents.

In 1980, after assuring Lex that ‘this is really what I want to do’, he moved back to the Canterbury homestead. With Lex as senior partner the two men worked the farm for the next five years until, in 1984, Gary took over. He was 30, and while his main goal had been achieved, there was now another one to be considered.

Gary was praying for a Christian wife with whom he could raise a family to honour God, extend hospitality to those in need, and share love, companionship and friendship. At a Christian conference in Oamaru in 1985 he met Lorraine Johnston. From their first meeting, Gary saw something special in Lorraine. On their first date at Christchurch’s Shang Ri La restaurant he told her that he was praying for a Christian wife.

Such strength of purpose expressed so early in their courtship obviously did not turn Lorraine away. On 22 August 1986 Gary and Lorraine were married. Gary’s trust in Lorraine and in their future prospects were reinforced immediately when, even against the advice of his lawyer, he made Lorraine a fifty-per-cent shareholder in the farm and trading partnership.

Lorraine had worked for twenty years for the Canterbury Education Board and the New Zealand Post Office. She says with a faint smile, ‘I was a saver, and actually I gave Gary half my money in return for half his mortgage.’

Two joint decisions set a pattern for their marriage. First, they wanted to open their home for people to visit and stay, to make it a place of hospitality, caring and Christian outreach. Second, they wanted to accept as many children as God would bless them with. But 18 months later, when there was still no sign of a baby, Lorraine underwent a minor operation. Three months later Sarah was on the way.

Sarah’s birth was not easy and when Lorraine arrived back at the farm with a newborn baby she looked at Gary and said, ‘What do I do now?’ then burst into tears. As it is for any new first-time parent, those early days were full of exploration and learning.

Two years later a second daughter joined the family. Getting into stride with a second baby proved much easier for Lorraine.

From the beginning of their parenting adventure, Gary strongly encouraged Lorraine to be a full-time at-home mother. ‘Even though the extra income would have been helpful,’ says Gary, ‘it was more important long-term for Lorraine to invest her time and energy into raising the girls.’

During this time Gary’s days were filled with tractor work, cultivation, drilling, shifting irrigators, spraying, harvesting, stock work, and general maintenance. ‘One of the benefits of farming for us with young children,’ Gary says, ‘was that I was never far away during the day. I got to come home to eat lunch with my family and offer a helping hand to Lorraine.’

Other benefits emerged as the girls grew. They had 300 acres of space to run around on, they were able to keep pet lambs at home and enjoyed being involved with pet parades at local shows.

Raising Sarah and Rebekah was seen as a shared responsibility. Gary did not shy away from changing nappies or giving the girls a bath and reading story books to them. As a full-time Mum, Lorraine was free to get the girls involved in music groups, playcentre, ballet, swimming and gymnastics. Their early exposure to music was of benefit to both girls. Sarah now plays the viola and piano, and Rebekah plays flute and guitar. The grandparents were also involved. Lex and June helped and encouraged, and Lorraine’s mum Esme delighted in Sarah but died just before Rebekah was born.

Gary and Lorraine also shared the goal of raising their girls to follow Christ. As a newly-wed Lorraine had transferred her church membership from Opawa Baptist to the Malvern Baptist. This Church naturally became a spiritual home for the girls as well.

Gary recalls trying to teach Sarah and Rebekah to sit still in church. ‘Sarah started to climb over the seat in front of us but I caught her, placed her back on the seat and told her I wanted her to sit still. That was all that was needed.’

Gary and Lorraine did not leave the responsibility for spiritual training up to the church, however, and sought to teach a Christian foundation and understanding at home. One way they did this was to read The Children’s Bible with the girls.

During the girls’ school years, Gary always tried to be involved in school activities – pet days, sports days, cross country races, prize giving, the Board of Trustees, and Bible in Schools. ‘We made it a principle to be involved with the school,’ he says, getting to know the teachers and taking the girls to their sporting activities.’

One day Sarah brought home a reading book about witches but said that she did not want to read it. ‘We just asked the teacher for another one,’ says Gary. For their part, the girls accepted Dad’s invitation to be involved in the life of the farm, helping out in the sheep yards, being in the shearing shed and zooming around on the farm motorbikes. It was also during this time that tennis became an enjoyable shared activity.

In recent years a focal point of family discussion has been world events that point to the coming of end times. Gary has tried to be straight with the girls about the reality of death. ‘The end times will see many hardships for Christians,’ Gary notes, ‘and we all – the girls included – need to be ready to stand firm in our faith in the face of opposition.’ The Columbine High School tragedy and the stories about Christian young people accepting death rather than renouncing their faith, has reinforced this need.

Gary and Lorraine have delighted in watching Sarah and Rebekah grow in faith. Their water baptism at Malvern Baptist at the end of 2004 was particularly special. ‘Having explained many times that they personally had to accept Jesus as Saviour and then seeing them make a public declaration of their faith, was very rewarding. God is gracious!’

For all his investment of time and energy into the lives of his daughters, Gary freely admits that he could have done more. ‘All our holidays were short due to having the farm,’ he says. ‘While we always took the girls with us we should have gone off more often and done more fun activities.’ Gary admits that the tent they bought for family camping holidays has been used only twice.

Rebekah, Lorraine, Gary and Sarah in September 2006

The choice of High School was a matter of some discussion. Gary himself had been to a private school and both he and Lorraine wanted a similar experience for the girls. They decided to send the girls to St Margarets College, a private school in Christchurch, which involved considerable cost both financially and in daily travel time. ‘But God provided the money from day one,’ Gary exclaims. ‘In the first year some of our AMP shares became available for use and every year since then God has provided the finances we’ve needed. For example, both girls have won scholarships for the secondary school years.’ Both girls have worked hard at St Margarets and done well.

Goals have always played a big part in Gary’s life. As he turned 50 a new set of goals came into focus. ‘I wanted a change from farming, to clear the debt and to spend more time with my family.’ During a period of unwellness and enforced rest, Gary had some time to think. ‘Those new goals, plus the fact that it was getting more and more difficult to make a living off the farm led me to embrace my own “Year of Jubilee”.’

This is a reference to the Old Testament idea of debt being cancelled and land reverting to its original owners every 50 years. So the farm was sold, a new family home purchased, a group of smaller sections acquired and Gary restarted his property valuation business. ‘I may have made a different decision if I’d had two sons,’ he reflects. ‘But ongoing viability was a real issue.’ Since the change Gary has enjoyed the freedom to choose his own timetable rather than being tied to the timetable of the farm.

Looking forward, Gary has some thoughts about the challenges and issues of the next 10 years. ‘I need to listen more to Lorraine,’ Gary confesses, ‘to be more patient, more gentle. And I’ve only dabbled in daily family devotions. I haven’t been as consistent as I wanted to be.’

Such goals may seem daunting but Gary has a good history of setting and reaching goals. To help him, he has already engaged a spiritual mentor. ‘I’m not perfect,’ he admits. ‘I’m still learning.’

Many thanks for Gary for sharing his story, Lorraine, Rebekah and Sarah for ensuring I heard it right, and my author-mother for doing an top-quality copy-editing job on the original manuscript.

Categories: Miscellaneous