Father John, the Norwich vicar whose inspiring work is still changing the world
PUBLISHED: 14:55 29 November 2019 | UPDATED: 14:55 29 November 2019
He shouldn’t have been a man of the cloth...probably a farmer, perhaps a builder. He was an Aves and that’s what they did. Farm and build across Suffolk.
But the boy from Hinderclay had a calling. He became one of the most popular clergymen in the neighbouring county of Norfolk where he made his home and how the people loved him.
He was the Reverend Canon Dr John Aves, and during his career with the church he served at St Peter Mancroft, Norwich, Brixton Prison, Attleborough and finally as priest in charge of St Giles in the city.
A man of faith who was filled with hope for mankind. Now much good work is being carried out in his name.
At the time of his death, he was working in the Dheisheh Palestinian Refugee Camp, as part of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel.
He lived in a community centre in the camp, teaching young people, and became a local hero. Known and loved as Father John.
John died just before he was due to return home. He was 52 and he left a heartbroken wife Anne. They met while at school in Bury St Edmunds, and two sons Ben and Edmund.
When they visited the camp following his death they were met by the late and legendary Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat who had heard all about the good work of Father John.
He wanted to award John a posthumous medal for his services to peace.
Determined to follow in the footsteps of John, his wife and his sons stepped forward...changed the course of their lives and many others.
Three years after his death, the John Aves Education Project (JAEP) was established. The whole idea being to give young people living in the refugee camp an education...and a future.
Since then more than £320,000 had been raised, thanks to some generous donations, and more than 40 young people have, and are, receiving a university education in Bethlehem.
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The aim of the JAEP continues to do what John wanted and wrote in his last report home - they must ensure the young people in the camp were given the chance of an education.
John and other leaders would sit down and talk to the boys and girls explaining the positive power, not of violence, but of learning.
Today, when Anne makes one of her regular visits to Dheisheh, she is welcomed by people who have such fond memories of Father John and the ground-breaking work he did in their community.
"We have funded 32 girls and seven boys for undergraduate study. There are more girls because many of the young men have to be wage earners, as their fathers have either died, are political prisoners or unable to work because of mental or physical problems," said Anne.
They pay for mainly vocational science, medicine. dentistry, midwifery, nursing, bio chemistry, electrical, architectural and computer engineering courses which offer more prospects for employment.
Anne will be making her 9th visit to the camp in February accompanied by the project secretary Liz Magem, when they will meet the students and their families making sure the project is working well.
"We spend half the time at Al Quds university to join the students in their classes and talk to their tutors.
"This enables us to verify our selection process. All tutors speak highly of our students who are hard working. Young people from camps are some of the high achievers at universities," she explained.
One way of raising money to make sure the work carries on is by selling Christmas cards. They are in the Norwich charity Christmas Card Shop at 17 St Stephen's, Norwich, near Sainsbury's.
They are also on sale at both cathedrals in Norwich and in the Revelation bookshop at St Michael at Plea Church in Redwell Street, Norwich. The cards are unique works of art. They highlight Christmas decorations made by a women's co-operative in Bethlehem..from broken glass picked up from the streets.
John Aves was the son of Micky and Margaret, part of the large Aves family who were farmers and builders in the Hinderclay and Redgrave area. He had a sister Susan and brothers Andrew and William.
He went to secondary school at Ickworth and then the King Edward Sixth Grammar School at Bury St Edmunds known as KEGS.
John was encouraged to set up a Christian Aid awareness and fund-raising group and met the head girl at the County Grammar School for Girls. Her name was Anne. They fell in love and spent the rest of their lives together.