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Lance Russell Gersbach, c. 1962.

Photo courtesy of Jean Gersbach.

Gersbach, Lance Russell (1942–2003)

By Milton Hook

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Milton Hook, Ed.D. (Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, the United States). Hook retired in 1997 as a minister in the Greater Sydney Conference, Australia. An Australian by birth Hook has served the Church as a teacher at the elementary, academy and college levels, a missionary in Papua New Guinea, and as a local church pastor. In retirement he is a conjoint senior lecturer at Avondale College of Higher Education. He has authored Flames Over Battle Creek, Avondale: Experiment on the Dora, Desmond Ford: Reformist Theologian, Gospel Revivalist, the Seventh-day Adventist Heritage Series, and many magazine articles. He is married to Noeleen and has two sons and three grandchildren.

First Published: January 29, 2020

Lance Gersbach worked in Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands. He was brutally killed while working as business manager at Atoifi Adventist Hospital, Malaita, Solomon Islands.

Family Background

Lance Gersbach’s grandfather, Albert, was converted from Roman Catholicism to the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) Church in Eugowra, New South Wales (NSW), Australia, after reading Great Controversy, sold to him by colporteur Fred Reekie. The Kent family in Eugowra made the same response at that time. Albert Gersbach eventually took his family to Warburton where he worked as gardener at the Sanitarium.1 He had ten children, one named Albert [Jr.], who worked at the Signs Publishing Company and the Sanitarium Health Food Company (SHF).2 Albert, Jr. managed the Carmel SHF factory near Perth, WA, and then took up farming in the southwest of the state.3

Early Years

Lance was born into the family of Albert Gersbach Jr., in Perth on November 19, 1942.4 Another son, Alwyn, later became a pastor and gave a life of service to the Church. Lance was raised on a farm near Busselton and attended the Margaret River SDA Church. Most of his early education took place locally, his final secondary years (1958-1959) spent as a boarder at West Australian Missionary College.5

Career Path

Leaving Western Australia, Lance worked as an office clerk at the Sanitarium Health Food Factory in Adelaide, beginning in November 1959.6 After four years he attended Avondale College, NSW, graduating with the Accountancy Certificate in 1964. He remained with the SHF until May 1970, serving as senior clerk at both the Cooranbong and Warburton factories.7

With a sense of adventure and a desire to travel he joined the firm of Ernst and Young in 1970 as a senior audit accountant, working in their London, Calgary, and Sydney offices until 1977. During this period he improved his qualifications, becoming a certified practicing accountant in 1971 and a chartered accountant in 1975. In 1978 he gravitated back to Western Australia, taking some temporary accountancy assignments before accepting the position as office manager at SS Engineering and Foundry in Perth. He continued his studies, earning a diploma in business administration from Curtin University, Perth, in 1984. The following year he transferred east to work as accountant and auditor for Walker and Company, Belmont, New South Wales. He held this position until 1990, during which time he also studied at Newcastle University. He was awarded a master’s in business administration (1989) and was subsequently accepted as a Fellow of Certified Practicing Accountants.8

Marriage and Mission Field Experience

Lance married Jean Tilley in the Galston SDA Church on September 3, 1989.9 Jean had graduated from the Sydney Adventist Hospital (1974) and completed a post-graduate Midwifery Certificate (1975).10 Late in 1990 they accepted an appointment to Sopas Adventist Hospital in the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Lance was second in charge of the 100-bed training institution and Jean was Director of Nursing.11

In April 1993 Lance accepted a transfer to Auckland Adventist Hospital, New Zealand, assuming the role of director of finances. Eighteen months later Jean’s mother had become so ill it became advisable for the Gersbach family to return to Australia. Lance resumed his association with Walker and Company in Newcastle, NSW.12

A second request from the mission field came in late 2002. Lance was asked to fill an urgent need as business manager at Atoifi Adventist Hospital, Malaita, Solomon Islands. He agreed to take his family for a twelve-month emergency stay, arriving at the hospital in February 2003.13

Horrific Tragedy

An incident allegedly arose between a local Kwaio man and the hospital’s maintenance supervisor. A Kwaio young man was refused free passage on a boat chartered by the mission. The man felt aggrieved because, according to his culture, he had lost his honor over the refusal. He was reported to have threatened the supervisor’s life. A senior hospital staff member paid the angry man compensation, but it apparently did not satisfy him. Instead, it is alleged that the aggrieved man engaged a devil priest to obtain permission for an honor killing according to Kwaio protocols. Lance was not told of the developments and was therefore unaware of danger to the hospital staff. On May 18, four months after Lance arrived at Atoifi, he was ambushed and brutally beheaded at a building site on campus. His body was brought back to Australia for burial near his home.14

Retrospect

Suspects were brought to trial but not convicted, chiefly because the devil priest refused to attend court and other key witnesses garbled their answers. Did the aggrieved young man regain his honor? No. Instead, a local member of parliament called it “an evil killing, an attack on the very heart of the people of East Kwaio.”15

Jean and her two daughters, Louise and Anita, returned home crushed with grief. Church officials and friends brought them some solace, but the crime seemed so senseless, indeed, satanic. Forgiveness for the criminal was unresolved in Jean’s soul. She wrestled for a long time, seeking closure, until a visiting Kwaio chief, a Christian, awakened within her a deep desire to offer unqualified forgiveness. She finally wrote a letter of forgiveness to the accused man and found peace of mind. Her initiative was a most moving Christian testimony. She has since continued her own career as a nurse educator at Newcastle University, NSW.16

In 2013, on the anniversary of his death, a scholarship fund was set up by the South Pacific Division in the name of Lance Gersbach. The fund is administered by the Trans Pacific Union Mission and provides an annual scholarship or award for selected nursing students at Atoifi Adventist Hospital.17

Sources

Ford, Desmond, Alwyn Gersbach and Graeme Loftus, "Lance Russell Gersbach obituary," Record, June 28, 2003.

Gersbach, Jean. “Ten Years On ….” Record, June 15, 2013.

Gersbach, Lance. [Curriculum Vitae] Resume. 2000. Unpublished manuscript. Personal collection of Jean (Tilley) Gersbach.

Jean Lynette (Tilley) Gersbach Work Service Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, Wahroonga, NSW. Work Service Records. Folder: Jean Lynette (Tilley) Gersbach. Document: "Jean Lynette (Tilley) Gersbach Work Service Records."

Judd, T[homas] F. “Albert Gersbach obituary.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, May 23, 1960.

Lance Gersbach Work Service Records. Sanitarium Health Food Company Archives, Berkeley Vale, NSW. Work Service Records. Folder: Lance Gersbach. Document: "Lance Gersbach Work Service Records."

Ludowici, Thomas H. “Gersbach - Tilley.” Record, September 30, 1989.

McClure, Don. “Marie Adeline Gersbach obituary.” Record, April 13, 1991.

Snow, C[harles] M. “Gersbach - Ellis.” Australasian Record, April 2, 1928.

Stacey, Brenton. “Missionary Murdered in the Solomons.” Record, June 7, 2003.

Notes

  1. T[homas] F Judd, "Albert Gersbach obituary," Australasian Record and Advent World Survey," May 23, 1960, 15.

  2. C[harles] M Snow, "Gersbach-Ellis," Australasian Record, April 2, 1928, 5.

  3. Milton Hook, personal knowledge as result of father working with Albert Gersbach in SHF factory, Carmel, Western Australia.

  4. Desmond Ford, Alwyn Gersbach and Graeme Loftus, "Lance Russell Gersbach obituary," Record, June 28, 2003, 13.

  5. Jean (Tilley) Gersbach, interview by author, Hornsby, New South Wales, August 28, 2016.

  6. Lance Gersbach Work Service Records, Sanitarium Health Food Company Archives Berkeley Vale NSW, Work Service Records, Folder: Lance Gersbach. Document: "Lance Gersbach Work Service Records."

  7. Lance Gersbach, [Curriculum Vitae] Resume, 2000, unpublished manuscript, personal collection of Jean (Tilley) Gersbach.

  8. Ibid.

  9. Thomas H Ludowici, "Gersbach-Tilley," Record, September 30, 1989, 14.

  10. Jean Lynette (Tilley) Gersbach Work Service Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, Wahroonga, NSW. Work Service Records. Folder: Jean Lynette (Tilley) Gersbach. Document: "Jean Lynette (Tilley) Gersbach Work Service Records."

  11. Lance Gersbach, [Curriculum Vitae] Resume, 2000, unpublished manuscript, personal collection of Jean (Tilley) Gersbach.

  12. Ibid.

  13. Jean Tilley Gersbach, interview by author, Hornsby, New South Wales, August 28, 2016.

  14. Ibid.

  15. Brenton Stacey, "Missionary Murdered in the Solomons," Record, June 7, 2003, 5.

  16. Jean Gersbach, "Ten Years on …." Record, June 15, 2013, 14-15.

  17. Barry Oliver, president of the South Pacific Division in 2013, interview by the author, Cooranbong, NSW, May 3, 2020.

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Hook, Milton. "Gersbach, Lance Russell (1942–2003)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 29, 2020. Accessed December 02, 2022. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=77WF.

Hook, Milton. "Gersbach, Lance Russell (1942–2003)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 29, 2020. Date of access December 02, 2022, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=77WF.

Hook, Milton (2020, January 29). Gersbach, Lance Russell (1942–2003). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved December 02, 2022, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=77WF.