John Stafford, a composer, singer, and trombonist, has served as a minister and missionary in the Seventh-day Adventist church for forty years. He recently served as a teacher and campus pastor at the Adventist college in Sri Lanka.
John was born in Seattle, Washington, and raised in that area. The son of Richard and Helen McCracken Stafford, he was surrounded by music from his earliest years. His mother played the piano and his brother the violin. He attended Auburn Academy from 1960 to 1964, where he sang in the choir under James Hanson and played trombone in the band under Leland Quinn.
By the time he entered Walla Walla College, now University, John had enjoyed his studies in French and music at AA so much that he decided to major in French and minor in music, with voice as his performance area. He entered college thinking he was a bass, but learned during his study with Harold Lickey that he was really a first tenor.
Although John was planning on doing graduate study in French, his brother Charles, a missionary in Africa, had heard there was an opening for a French teacher at one of the colleges there. He alerted the General Conference about his brother, and during his junior year in college, John was interviewed and then invited to teach at Kivoga College, near Bujumbura, capital city of Burundi, a small country in central Africa near the north end of Lake Tanganyika. Following his graduation from WWC in 1968, he and his wife, Ruby, started their work at KC, staying there until 1977.
While there, among fourteen other subjects, Stafford began to teach Bible and then started preaching. He also directed a choir and took them out to various areas in Burundi. When he heard there was a need for someone to do pastoral training for the Rwandian Union Mission, which included Rwanda and Burundi, he responded. He then spent three years at Andrews University, where he completed an M.Div. degree in 1981 and then served as a pastor in the Idaho Conference for three years.
The Staffords returned to Rwanda, where he taught applied theology, pastored and did evangelism for three years at the French speaking Adventist University of Central Africa located at Mudende. He was then invited to be the ministerial secretary for the Rwanda Union Mission located in Kigali, where he stayed until 1990. He later noted,
We were planning to stay longer, but war had broken out in Rwanda. We were hiding a Tutsi family in our house and when the Hutu government learned about this, they expelled us from the country. It was early enough in the conflict that that family was able to safely leave the country and eventually settle in Canada.
We were on our way home, we thought, passing through the division headquarters in the Ivory Coast. They were holding year-end meetings at the time. While we were there, the division president asked me to be president of the Seychelles Islands Mission. So, instead of going home, we went to the Seychelles to serve the Lord. In 1992, a year and a half later, we went home because we felt the need to be with our children and our aging parents.
That summer, the Staffords settled in College Place, Washington, where he served as an associate pastor at the Village SDA Church until 2008.
Ever since he had graduated from WWC, Stafford had dabbled with music writing and while at Kivoga College had prepared arrangements for the choir and played a lively postlude he had composed on a portable organ at the end of Sabbath services. It became a regular feature to which students spontaneously hummed the tune as they left the sanctuary.
It was during his time in College Place that he learned about the Finale music writing software program and began seriously to compose music. He found that working with this program released a flood of creativity that led to the penning and preserving of several songs.
The result was a collection titled Psalm 91 and Other Songs, Composed and Illustrated by John Stafford, released in 2008. In this collection's 25 songs, Stafford utilizes a variety of musical styles, including traditional homophonic textures, antiphonal activity between melodic and bass parts, and modal melodies and rhythms reflecting the influences of the cultures in which he has worked.
Eight of the songs in the collection are settings for passages from Psalm 91, and two of them are versions of the postlude he played years earlier at Kioga College, now titled "Christ is Victorious." In his farewell sermon at the Village Church in the spring of 2008, Stafford introduced a new song, "Take My Eyes." He took it with him to the World Mission at Andrews University, where it was adopted as the institute's theme song for that summer's session.
In August 2008, the Staffords traveled to Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) where hewas pastoral teacher in the seminary and campus pastor at Lakpahana College and Seminary, near the town of Kandy. He took several instruments with him, hoping to use his musical skills in his work in that country.
The Staffords retired in College Place in 2012.
Interview with John Stafford, August 2008 and subsequent contacts.