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The History of Capernwray

Background to Capernwray/Torchbearers

Capernwray New Zealand has it's roots in the UK. It was formed immediately after the Second World War as part of the broader movement for reconciliation between nations that had been at war.

Although clearly a Christian organization, the British government sponsored hundreds of German young people through the Summer camp programme which had just begun at Capernwray Hall a large property near the Lake District National Park.

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One requirement of the sponsorship programme was that the German young people be given one hour's lecture per day on the values and benefits of a democratic society. In addition to this, the staff at Capernwray gave Christian instruction and a whole range of sporting and social activities.

Many of these young people adopted the Christian message and returned to Germany with the desire to reproduce the same values and convictions among their friends and school-mates. They asked for training towards this and hence a short-term Bible school training programme began alongside the camps and conferences.

They formed a loose association and called themselves Fackeltrager (Torchbearers) hence our generic name which is now Torchbearers International. The ministry quickly spread in the 50's and 60's around Europe, North America, and the Asia-Pacific.

In New Zealand, a work began in the late 60's in Howick, Auckland with a mixture of holiday weeks and Bible training schools. This later moved to Henderson in 1981 and in 1995 to the current base at Monavale Homestead in Cambridge. The Bible training school aspect has been registered as a Private Training Establishment with NZQA since 1990 with the course 'Bible Training and Preparation for Christian Service' being approved and Capernwray Bible School being accredited to offer it.

With it's international reputation and the attractiveness of New Zealand, the Gap year Discipleship Course offered along with community based living facilities is a great way to understand the richness of living the Christian life in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.

There are now over 25 different Torchbearers (Capernwray) centres around the world and at any one time there are approximately a thousand students going through the courses. We are excited to be a part of this growing and vibrant ministry that God has chosen to establish.

We trust He may direct you to experience it first-hand too.

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Major W. Ian Thomas - Founder of Capernwray

Some Christians learn that the Lord can make life an adventure. Major W. Ian Thomas of England is one of them.

Major Ian ThomasThe Major is every inch a soldier. With his infantry battalion he served in the British Expeditionary Forces in Belgium at the outset of World War II and took part in the evacuation at Dunkirk.

Often in combat, in France, Italy, Greece, and elsewhere during the long war, he found the Lord Jesus to be his complete sufficiency. The Major is likewise a soldier of Christ, faithful to the Captain of our salvation. He has found life an adventure with God.


Reared in a "respectable" middle-class English home, he was taken to church and taught its precepts. He learned little or nothing of the Bible, however, either at home or in the church attended by the family. At the age of twelve he was invited to a Bible study group of the Crusaders' Union by a lad of thirteen who, during that year, received Christ as his Savior. The Bible began to be meaningful to young Ian, and the following summer, still twelve years old, he was converted to Christ at a Crusaders' Union camp.

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That decision was made when he was alone simply by praying earnestly, "Lord Jesus, please be my "Saviour!" At the age of fifteen, he felt convinced that he should devote all of his life to the service of the Lord Jesus. He told God that he would become a missionary. He began to preach out in the open air at Hampstead Heath at that early age. He was also actively engaged in Sunday School work as well as in the Crusaders' Bible class. Life became a round of ceaseless activity.

Speaking of his youthful decision to become a missionary, he said: "I began to consider the best area in which I could become a missionary and the best means I could employ to be most effective--perfectly sincere and genuine questions." The first missionary influence upon young Ian's life came through a doctor serving in Nigeria in the Housa Band. "First impressions are often the strongest," related Major Thomas, and so it became his ambition to one day go and join the Housa Band in Nigeria, West Africa. He thought the best thing for him to do was to become a doctor.

At the university Ian became a leader in the Inter-Varsity Fellowship group. If ever there was any evangelistic activity going on, this youthful zealot was "buzzing around the place, every holiday, every spare moment!" He started a slum club down in the East End of London "out of a sheer desire to win souls, to go out and get them. I was a windmill of activity until, at the age of nineteen, every moment of my day was packed tight with doing things. Thus by the age of nineteen, I had been reduced to a state of complete exhaustion spiritually, until I felt that there was no point going on."

"Then, one night in November, that year, just at midnight, I got down on my knees before God, and I just wept in sheer despair. I said, 'Oh, God, I know that I am saved. I love Jesus Christ. I am perfectly convinced that I am converted. With all my heart I have wanted to serve Thee. I have tried to my uttermost and I am a hopeless failure.' That night things happened.

'I can honestly say that I had never once heard from the lips of men the message that came to me then, but God, that night, simply focused upon me the Bible message of Christ Who Is Our Life. The Lord seemed to make plain to me that night, through my tears of bitterness: 'You see, for seven years, with utmost sincerity, you have been trying to live for Me, on My behalf, the life that I have been waiting for seven years to live through you.'" That night, all in the space of an hour, Ian Thomas discovered the secret of the adventurous life. He said: "I got up the next morning to an entirely different Christian life, but I want to emphasize this: I had not received one iota more than I had already had for seven years!"

All Major Thomas' sons are spread throughout the world and are active in the Torchbearer Ministry.

Chris is the Director of Torchbearers International. Mark, is the Regional Director of all the Torchbearer operations in Europe, based at Capernwray Hall, the Torchbearer Bible School near the town of Carnforth, England. Peter is based at Monavale Homestead, the Torchbearer Bible School and Conference Center near Cambridge, New Zealand, in addition to being the Regional Director of all Torchbearer operations in the Asia-Pacific region. Major Thomas' youngest son, Andy, is actively involved in the ministry of Torchbearers but in a different way; he is a craftsman. He has been known to say, "My brothers preach, I work"! His participation in the ministry has been of great value as he leads in the construction of nearly all the new building projects.

Major Thomas served the living Lord Jesus with all his life. Even in his 90’s he was teaching, preaching and spoke personally to his many visitors over a cup of tea. He completed his latest book  ‘The Indwelling Life of Christ’ at 92 and went to be with His Lord on Wednesday 1st August 2007 and is still enjoying the adventure of sharing Christ’s life, not with the earthly place that he dwelt but now "living with the Saviour all the day long" for eternity. 


Major Ian Thomas
Major W Ian Thomas
1914-2007 

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