Obituary: Mr John Thornhill (SCEA Teacher 1991-2003)

A thanksgiving service was held earlier this month at Woodvale Baptist Church for the life of Mr John Alfred Thornhill (1941 – 2022).

John taught at Midland Christian School for 12 years, and many who came across him in those earlier days of SCEA would have been struck by his dedication to Christian education and his unswerving devotion to each student he encountered.

He also had a giant sense of humour that endeared him to everyone around him. He is survived by his loving wife Kae, and their four sons: Chris, Murray, Andrew, and Jeff, who all shared wonderful memories of their father at the service.

It would be unusual in today’s age for anyone to become a school teacher without completing a secondary education of their own – but that is precisely what John did. Raised in the suburbs of Perth and then in regional Mukinbudin, John left high school early to work in the family’s corner store. He became a Christian at the age of 17, and this led to a calling into Christian ministry.

He moved to Victoria to study at the Melbourne Bible Institute, where he met his wife Kae, and discovered a shared calling to serve in cross-cultural missionary service. They married and served with Sudan Interior Mission (SIM) in Somalia and Ethiopia for four adventurous years as a bible teacher and midwife. Mission work in African countries in the 1960s was not for the faint-hearted, but John and Kae made significant contributions to their communities and sons Christopher and Murray were also born during this time.

Returning to Perth, John put himself through Teacher’s College in Mount Lawley while serving in pastoral ministry and added two more boys to their growing family: Andrew and Jeffrey. John now had both pastoral and teaching qualifications, and he served at North Beach Baptist, Scarborough Baptist, and Como Baptist on their ministry teams.

A three-year stint in Victoria at a ‘church plant’ in Endeavour Hills allowed for more teaching to take place, and the burgeoning Thornhill crew enjoyed many adventurous family trips in the car, marvelling at God’s amazing creation while very often listening to gospel music sung by George Beverly Shea!

Another pastoral posting at Kalamunda Church of Christ then gave way to John’s ‘SCEA days’, where he worked as a teacher at Midland Christian School (now Swan Christian College: Junior School) with SCEA pioneers Val Campbell, Jean Thomas and Mike Pitman, to name just a few.

Mr Mike Pitman (now the Principal at Ellenbrook Christian College) remembers John Thornhill well. “He was the great encourager”, says Mike, “he always had a kind word for every person. Staff member or student – there was a sense of ‘You can do it! Keep going!’ in every situation.”

Teaching at Midland Christian School was a vocation that John very much enjoyed and one that satisfied his life-long desire to teach. He was passionate about Christian education, shaping young lives and inspiring them towards life-long learning.

After major heart surgery at 52, John’s health declined over the years. Yet, John and Kae continued to serve faithfully in supporting the ministry and mission of their local church, Woodvale Baptist.

They were blessed with ten grandchildren, who John loved and prayed for faithfully. Even in poor health, John continued to teach the Bible, run Marriage and Parenting courses and mentor where he was able. He was known for his smile and optimism in every situation.

For those attending the thanksgiving service, it was very evident that the theme of John’s life was about following God’s calling and being obedient to Him. Nothing was more important or as significant.

It almost seemed as though John lived his life everyday with the words of Matthew 6:33 ringing in his ears “…seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you”.

After ongoing challenges with a number of complex health issues, including recent surgery, John passed away peacefully in his sleep at David Buttfield Residential Care Centre on the 25th April 2022.

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