New chapter in Norwich couple's story of love
When Jane Colman “found the strength” to relaunch a popular Christian puppet ministry that had been originally created and directed in Norwich by her late husband, David, it marked a new chapter in an unfolding love story. Mike Wiltshire reports.
David, who died four years ago, was my hero,” says Jane. “The thing that most people remembered about him was his smile, despite a life-long crippling illness.”
David Colman was a gifted artist, designer and engineering draughtsman, mathematician and chess player.
He had experienced “a sudden and amazing conversion to Christ” while researching his former beliefs as an agnostic, after a life-long battle with progressive muscular dystrophy that confined him to a wheelchair.
As a young father, David had reluctantly agreed for his baby daughter, Beth, to be Christened, but he nevertheless wanted to vigorously question the faith of the Rev Ray Simpson, former minister of Bowthorpe Church, Norwich.
As David sat in his back garden, rocking the baby’s pram while reading John’s Gospel to find arguments to back-up his agnostic views, he was “suddenly aware of the presence of Jesus.” He had “a dramatic, amazing conversion with an on-fire conviction that the Gospel message was true after all.”
David spent the rest of his life, sharing the message of God’s love. To help do this, he visualised and directed a team ministry with puppets – hand-made by Jane - that performed in many churches, schools, holiday clubs and events at the Norwich Showground and Forum.
He and Jane – a former staff nurse in the baby unit at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital – had first met at an art class. Despite David’s crippling illness, he had worked as a draughtsman for Laurence Scott, the famous Norwich engineering company which designed the engines for the Cunard liner, Queen Mary.
“David’s faith helped him persevere through enormous health challenges,” recalls Jane. “He was such a gifted person, although ‘imprisoned’ in a body that wouldn’t let him do all that he longed to do. From the age of 12, when he fell off his bicycle, it was evident that something was terribly wrong with his health.”
Even so, David’s creative gifts enabled him to design book covers, draw cartoons for the Daily Mirror and produce landscape paintings,” says Jane.
It took four friends to help lower him and his wheelchair into a pool for his unforgettable baptismal service at Bowthorpe in 1987.
As the illness drained David’s strength, he also knew there were many questions about his faith that he could not answer, “but he knew his questions would be answered in heaven”.
Towards the end of his life, David drew comfort from the 30 verses in the Bible that promise, ultimately, a new, resurrection body for all believers in Jesus. Jane, a lifelong Christian, recalls that as David’s heart and lungs weakened further, “he was ready to go...”
He died at 67, four years ago. He hadn’t been expected to live beyond his 40s.
David’s favourite inspirational song had been ‘You Raise Me Up’ by Irish songwriter, Brendan Graham. In a light-hearted moment, David had once dared Jane to sing it with a puppet at his funeral. Jane promised she would do it.
“I did it for him – and the Lord,” recalls Jane, who is now training up a new team of puppeteers to carry on the outreach ministry.
Most eyes were filled with tears as Jane carried out David’s final wish at his packed funeral in 2014. One family friend, Dr Louise Tailford, “just sobbed and sobbed” as Jane – with her puppet, Mack – ‘sang’ the chorus:
“You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains. You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas. I am strong, when I am on your shoulders. You raise me up . . . to more than I can be.”
Pictured top is Jane Colman with Mack the puppet and, above, her husband David.
This is Mike Wiltshire's final article for the website, as he sadly died on November 9. Click here to read a tribute to our very special colleague.