Volume 17 Number2
Beyond Hunting, Shooting and Fishing
01 April 2004
The once dilettante scion of a Scottish business family tells Paul Williams of the revolution that God brought to his life.
DAVID HOWDEN HUME, who was born into a well-to-do business family in Scotland, pinpoints the major turning point in his life to an evening out at university.
In the early 1950s, Hume spent his period of national service as a junior officer in a cavalry regiment. This was followed, as he puts it, by ‘hanging around’ at Edinburgh University. He explains that he had lazily opted for a non-graduating two-year economics course, because he lacked the French that a graduate course then required. Some years later, he was to earn degrees from the Open University and the University of Ulster.
‘One day in my last term at Edinburgh,’ Hume says, ‘I bumped into the Secretary of the Student Representative Council, who invited me to join a party going to the opening night of a musical at the King’s Theatre. On enquiring who else was going, he told me that all the office bearers of the SRC would attend. Flattered to be in such illustrious company, I accepted!’
It turned out that the musical was The Vanishing Island, produced by Moral Re- Armament (MRA). ‘It was colourful, tuneful, entertaining and above all challenging,’ he recalls. ‘In a nutshell, its message was that God has a plan for your life and for the whole of humanity—and if you want to see the world different, the best place to start is with yourself.’ That seemed eminently sensible to him, but there was a catch. ‘To make this a reality,’ he says, ‘I would have to accept to live by Christ’s standards set out in the Sermon on the Mount and encapsulated by absolute honesty, purity, unselfish-ness and love. I instinctively knew that this would create a revolution in my life, as my goals up to that point had been hunting, shooting, fishing and yachting, pursued with passion and supported by an ever-increasing bank overdraft!’
So he took a deep breath and decided to accept the challenge to give his life unconditionally to God, ‘in whom I did have a belief but who I had never taken seriously up to that point’. This decision led swiftly to a totally unexpected experience on another continent—Africa. ‘My generous father was not entirely enamoured of his younger son’s newly found purpose in life,’ he explains. ‘Perhaps hoping to get me away from it all he invited me to accompany him to South Africa where he had business interests.’ It was a time of great turmoil. The 1950s Treason Trials were in full swing and the apartheid government had imprisoned many leaders of the African National Congress on Robben Island.
Against this background, Hume’s new MRA friends had decided to take a stage play round the main university towns. They aimed to win the hearts and minds of the younger generation to God and to a vision of a fairer society. ‘Appropriately the play was called We are Tomorrow and was set in a university,’ he recalls. ‘It had a cast of students and a professor: I was invited to play the part of one of the students, a poet.’
The tour took in both English- and Afrikaansspeaking universities all over the country. It also included a memorable visit to Fort Hare— then the only university for black Africans, where many of the ANC leadership were educated—and ended in what was then Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia.
Hume comments, ‘Not unnaturally, this experience was a never-to-be-forgotten seminal period in my life. Here was a drifting dilettante from a privileged background, suddenly pitched headfirst into a revolutionary situation. Through the play and the reality of our conviction and commitment, we were battling for the soul of a nation: only the living God could have been responsible for that.’
Other experiences in different countries followed and after ten years of travelling, he settled for some years in his native Glasgow. There he was part of a group that met with Clydeside shipyard workers from different yards, who were trying to create a new spirit on the shop floor. Divisions and demarcation disputes, which often contributed to yards being uncompetitive, were among the issues tackled. But in the end the yards closed.
Hume now lives in Northern Ireland with his Irish wife Ruth, ‘visiting his native heath’ from time to time. Looking back to his involvement with the now silent shipyards, he reflects, ‘Our efforts, though worthy in themselves, had barely scratched the surface of the problem, as there were economic and political factors, which were totally beyond our control.’ He considers the possibility that if major decisions had been made closer to home things might have turned out differently. ‘Since then a new devolved Parliament has been created in Edinburgh and Scots are now responsible for their own mistakes as well as their own government.’
Hume believes that too many in the business and professional class (with which he identifies) appear to have opted out of devolution, probably ‘because they prefer the old status quo, in which they have always been well established’. He is convinced, however, that ‘their wholehearted energy, imagination and loyalty are needed in the new Scotland, so that everyone plays their full part in creating a fair society. Otherwise, out-of-date class attitudes will be perpetuated, which would be sad and a great opportunity missed.’