Articles From the November 1994 Unification News
Out of Africa: A Missionary Returns
This interview by Ron McLachlan with Robert Williamson, Edinburgh, was first published in Village: The Hometown Newsletter.
Robert Williamson-a Scot born in Africa-returned to Edinburgh, his Hometown, after spending almost seventeen years in Zambia (formerly Rhodesia). Robert joined the church in Edinburgh in 1973. After approximately three years working in various missions in Britain and America, he was asked to go to Africa as a missionary. He was joined in his mission by a German and a Japanese brother and, under the direction of Rev. Kwak, began the historical restoration of Zambia. His work there almost immediately grabbed UC media headlines when he started a sausage factory and retail businesses as outreach projects. This approach proved to be very successful. After many years Robert became an Africa Regional Leader.
What does a missionary do when, retiring from the foreign field, he returns from Africa to his Hometown? Simple ... he starts a bakery of course!
Ron McLachlan. Before you returned to your Hometown, had you been thinking and planning it for some time?
Robert Williamson. Well ... when Father talked about it a few years ago it was in my mind as it probably was for everyone ... but I didn't have a structured plan. A series of circumstances led to my coming.
RM. What were your feelings when the day arrived for you to come home and can you remember your first impressions when you saw Edinburgh and Scotland after your many years in Africa?
RW. My first impression was that it was exactly as I had left it twenty years earlier! When I left in '73 to go to America we were about five members in Edinburgh and when I came back in '93 there were still five members. The only difference was that these members were now Blessed. There hadn't been a huge external development but there had of course been a maturing; instead of single members there were now families trying to organize the next level of their lives.
Being a missionary in Africa, I was quite used to fairly large Sunday services and, in my last posting in Russia, we also had extensive activities going on. That was in Rostov-on-Don in South West Russia where, in our activities, we could usually generate an audience of several hundred people.
RM. You seem to have been able to set up your business here quite quickly-more or less within a year-do you have a background or experience in this field?
RW. Well, yes...before I joined the Church I was studying hotel management at Napier Technical College (as it was then). I had finished my first year when I dropped out and became a missionary.
In Africa, we had a sausage factory and several retail outlets so, over the years, we learned how to run this type of business, i.e., food and take-away. Basically I just know about food and food-related business. When I came back from Russia last September, my wife and I then thought about what to do. The first thing of course is capital-we are in a capitalist country-so we approached our English and German relatives and got loans from both sides of the family and so we could start this little business here. RM. Many members who have not yet started their Hometown work are really concerned about economic matters and when they see other families in their hometowns and suffering in this way, they feel discouraged and uninspired about going to their hometowns. Before you returned to Edinburgh, were you worried or anxious about how you might survive and even prosper financially?
RW. Yes, of course we were concerned, but I remember years ago that Father said we must get the cooperation of our relatives. Our mission internally is to save our families, but also they have to give us the birthright-whatever is due to us in terms of inheritance, or anything else, must come to our side. So, with this in mind, we have always tried to keep a good relationship with our relatives. We have visited as much as possible and written letters and we looked to the day when we would need their assistance.
RM. Did you actually think that out?
RW. Oh yes, quite a few years ago...because we are a transitional generation, unless we get the financial support, external support, material support of our relatives, we will find it difficult to make a go of it in hometown. Many parents may have resentments against the Church, perhaps because we dropped out of college or left a good job, but when they see their grandchildren, that becomes the heartistic point of unity enabling them to connect to us.
RM. That seems to be a very clear understanding of the Third Blessing.
RW. Yes, perhaps that's true.
RM. Is there any advice you feel would be valuable to give to members who are thinking about starting a business or returning to their hometown?
RW. Well, this is my first experience of running a business in a developed country and it is, in some ways, more difficult to do this here. In Africa, there is more freedom and fewer regulations. The rules and laws in Britain are quite explicit and have to be followed. I think the first thing you have to do is work out your costing; you need to get a very good solicitor. This is very expensive but well worth it in the long run. For example, the solicitor can find out for you why the business you are thinking of buying is getting sold. Is there a genuine reason or circumstance for selling that business? The most important thing you have to look at is the location. Is the seller trying to get rid of the business for reasons of low turnover and lack of customers? Or are the walls about to collapse in two or three months' time? This is why you need to invest in a very good solicitor. One can usually find a good solicitor by referral. In my case, my stepfather had some good connections and he referred them to me. The main thing is-as I said, because this is a capitalist country- you need to have enough capital in your hands. The only way I can see that this can be achieved is if the relatives come together and offer financial help in the shape of interest-free loans. Without this, it is very difficult because we would have had to go to banks and other commercial institutions.
RM. What is your vision for Hometown?
RW. Well, I joined the Church when I was nineteen years old and I am now forty-two. I think that after forty, one is beginning a new life- starting something completely new, from the very bottom again, and working one's way up. I am quite interested to work in the political field and of course one can't just become an MP overnight; you have to start again from zero. I will also be studying with the Open University and will read Society and Social Studies. To move things in this country, you need to have a foundation which society can respect and understand; we should work in the community.
RM. What other advice would you give to members?
RW. I think that it is vital to live a public life. We have to be seen in society-doing things in society. If one becomes just centered on oneself, it is then very difficult for God to work through us in the community; we need to have public positions and live publicly. Then God can work.
Reprinted from Village: The Hometown Newsletter.
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