For some years now I have had the pleasure of corresponding with a friend from out of the past. But recently my e-mails to Ross Coggins were not acknowledged.
Today word came from friends in Singapore of his passing. I knew his health was failing, but his notes and phone conversations were never about his condition. His insight into our devolving government changes and to the plight of the Christian community were great food for thought. He shared a poem he had written for a loved one in his family of friends that I was able to share when my dear friend Joe Swan died in 2008. Now the poet is gone.
I first met Ross and his lovely wife, Annette, in Hong Kong. They were appointed Southern Baptist missionaries to Indonesia in 1955. At state affairs, mostly social affairs, he met Sukarno, the first Indonesian president. His stories of the old dictator were interesting, but this is not the place for such sidelights.
Ross was looking to buy a camera in our favorite camera-hole-of-a-shop just across from the Grand Hotel in Tsimshatsui district of Kowloon.
A native of Wichita Falls, Texas, Ross attended the University of Texas and received his B.A. at Baylor University, Waco, Texas and a B.D. degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas. He was the Associate Director of Student Work for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, before going to Indonesia.
After language study the Coggins worked in Surabaya and Bandung, before taking a new challenge with the United States Federal Government Aid Agencies. He was stationed in Rome and the islands of the Caribbean, among other places.
He should be well-know to Southern Baptists for his hymn “Send me, O Lord, send me.” In 1976 his poem “The Development Set” was published and can be found on several web sights even now. It speaks of his burden to help sick and dying peoples through their governments all over the globe.
He did not travel around the world telling poor countries what they should do and how they should change. He tried to persuade rich countries to change the policies and behaviors that hinder the poorest of nations to prosper.
Here are excerpts from “The Development Set”
by Ross Coggins showing through satire how little we really care:
Our thoughts are deep and our vision global;
Although we move with the better classes
Our thoughts are always with the masses.
We discuss malnutrition over steaks
And plan hunger talks during coffee breaks.
Whether Asian floods or African drought,
We face each issue with open mouth.
We bring in consultants whose circumlocution
Raises difficulties for every solution --
Thus guaranteeing continued good eating
By showing the need for another meeting.
Or say, "That's fine in practice, but don't you see:
It doesn't work out in theory!"
A few may find this incomprehensible,
But most will admire you as deep and sensible.
Development set homes are extremely chic,
Full of carvings, curios, and draped with batik.
Eye-level photographs subtly assure
That your host is at home with the great and the poor.
Enough of these verses - on with the mission!
Our task is as broad as the human condition!
Just pray god the biblical promise is true:
The poor ye shall always have with you.
Ross, may your spirit continue to help those of us still here to make a difference rather than just take up space.