There are some remarkable stories over the years of how God uses the unique gifts and skills of women and men to bring His message of hope and transformation to those most in need. The lives of Bruce and Deb French are just one of those fascinating stories.
Deb French was originally a teacher living in Launceston, Tasmania. While there, she became a Christian, and felt a deep call to cross-cultural ministry. “I thought that people in other ethnic groups should have a chance to discover this good news,” she says. “So, I resigned from teaching and went to BCV with a view to becoming a Bible translator.”
“Suddenly I was sitting at a desk and taking it in. It was a relief to be doing that. It was a relief to be with a group of adults who were on the same page.” “Hearing each other’s stories and dreams – it’s what Bible college is all about.”
“I did an Associate Diploma in Theology in 1994-95,”
she says. “I particularly remember doing missiology with Harold Taylor and how he expanded my worldview.” At the end of her studies, Deb travelled to Papua New Guinea. “I felt called to the disaster zone where the (1998) Tsunami had killed many people along the north coast. I became involved in a multi-language translation project.”
Before Deb left Tasmania in 1998, she had met Bruce French and his wife Helen. Bruce is a Tasmanian agriculture scientist who, after thirty years of research into nutritional plants, founded Food Plants International (FPI) in 1999. FPI’s purpose is to explore for innovative ways to inform people about what Bruce calls the ‘bountiful food market that is God’s earth.’ Their motto is “Helping the hungry feed themselves.”
After the death of Bruce’s first wife, and upon his return to Tasmania, Deb and Bruce became reacquainted, discovering that they both shared a deep love of Christ, a heart for mission, and desire to serve people through transformational service. Bruce and Deb became friends, and eventually married in 2003.
Since then, Bruce and Deb have become the backbone of FPI, which has now collated one of the most unique global databases of consumable plants of the earth, numbering over 32,000 entries.
“I grew up on a farm where there was a mission focus,” Bruce says. “As a young man I decided to go to Papua New Guinea to stimulate my Christian involvement. Later I was told directly that the locals didn’t want our agriculture. They wanted to know about their own crops, and how to grow them.”
That was the catalyst for Bruce to research, record and eventually publish, his findings for the PNG community.
“After the first book I thought about neighbouring lands like the Solomon Islands and Timor,” he says. “It wasn’t long before people were raising questions about other countries.”
The staff at FPI are volunteers. Their passion is to make a difference to the world’s three billion people whose most important daily concern is having enough food to eat. Deb says it is reassuring to know that God already has the concerns of the world in His heart and has provided all the food plant resources for everybody, in every location.
“In the last 12 months, under-nutrition killed more children than Coronavirus – but you don’t hear about it,” Bruce says. “Commercial science is only interested in making money. But I believe elements of the scientific community are against this, saying ‘we have gone the wrong way’.”
In 2016, Bruce was made an Officer in the Order of Australia for his work in setting up the Food Plants International website. Yet fame and fortune are not the driving forces behind Deb and Bruce’s lifework. Bruce says it’s pleasing enough to receive feedback from various communities they’ve helped and to see how the Lord’s work has been fruitful across the nations.
Deb and Bruce have worked side by side in this act of service, aimed at ultimately seeing the world’s hungry fed. Their commitment to the Gospel and message of Christ has been unwavering. “Early in our marriage we discussed what our understanding of the Christian faith meant for our lives,” Deb says. “With God at the centre, we drew a diagram that embraced God’s word as the foundation for our life’s values and concerns.” “It also includes an increasing commitment to all ethnic groups in the world, and a genuine willingness to put our faith into practice – helping the hungry and malnourished.”
Deb now helps illustrate Bruce’s books and monthly newsletters, as well as assisting with numerous practical and administrative tasks.
Bruce has lectured at the Baptist College in Queensland and has, among other things, worked in schools, universities, at the CSIRO and in churches. But his passion is in making the world aware of the amazing resources God has provided.
“I make God’s resources known on every page,” he says. “Just in case anyone missed it!”