The Life & Story of Ken Small
Helmeted and suited in his skydiving gear, he clambered to the doorway of the light plane and peered down through bleary eyes. In a moment he would make the final of his three jumps, though he was still recovering from a hangover!
Ken had been out until the early hours of Sunday morning at a drinking party. It had begun Saturday evening following the first day of the two day meet; he was in no condition to engage in any sport – much less one as dangerous as skydiving!
The plane climbed to 3,200 feet and began to circle the target—a canvas “X” staked out on a field far below. In his “aftereffects” state, Ken felt no concern for safety and at the proper moment he jumped from the plane, free fell 1,000 feet, pulled the rip cord of his parachute and drifted the final 2,200 feet to a landing right on target!
Coupled with two fine jumps on the previous day, Ken’s “hangover” dive was good enough to win him the 1961 Pacific Northwest Skydivers’ Spot Competition Trophy at Sunnyside, Washington. The trophy Ken took home to Vancouver, British Columbia, was one of two awarded annually to two skydivers (junior and senior). Ken had made the lowest total distance from landings to target after three jumps in the junior division. To win such an event, especially while recovering from a drinking party, was no small feat.
Drinking and skydiving are an unusual and dangerous combination (and one seriously frowned upon by authorities). But in Ken’s case, they were activities in which he became involved for the same reason.
Ken Small was born and grew up in Dundee, Scotland. Though his parents were very moral and frequently attended church, Ken and his older sister, Margaret, were not so regular. Religion was only a weekend affair in his home. The family Bible was left each week in the rented family pew, so it would be available the following Sunday.
The year Ken turned 15 was an eventful one for him as he began to serve his apprenticeship as an electrical engineer. At this time his mother urged him to join the church. Ken was willing to consider her request, for in the back of his mind he had a real desire to know God and know the truth to life. He often felt sorry that there seemed to be little “life” in the church. So, at his mother’s suggestion, Ken began to attend membership classes. Searching, as he was, for purpose, joy, and meaning in life, Ken asked his minister many deep questions. When the pastor was unable to help him know God, Ken decided church had nothing to offer.
Soon after, still seeking, Ken began drinking. Occasionally, he asked to be helped to a friend’s home in the early morning hours, unable to face his parents in his drunken state. He began partly as a reaction to his disappointment with the church and partly in order to gather enough courage to enjoy dancing.
In his searching, he also tried several sports like soccer, judo and boxing. Dating girls, party-going, dancing, and drinking were his continual diversions. At age 18, Ken began a two-year stint in the Scottish Parachute Regiment of the Reserve Army, which he chose because he felt its thrills and dangers might provide that which was missing in life. For the same reason, he later joined the Scottish Parachute Club and began skydiving, an emerging sport at the time—and very exciting. The participant takes a plane as high as 15,000 feet, jumps, and free-falls to 2,000 feet – at which height the parachute must be opened. At this point the rate of decent is about 120 mph – 5000 ft in 30 seconds. Experienced skydivers can execute several maneuvers during their freefalls. The sport’s thrills and danger appealed to Ken in his continual search.
In 1961, Ken moved to Vancouver B.C., Canada, to join his sister, Margaret, who had married a Canadian athlete. At Margaret’s suggestion, Ken followed her and her husband to Canada’s West Coast, where he obtained a job as a sales representative with Henry Electric, a large electrical distributor.
Still searching for “something” Ken joined the Vancouver Skydiving Club. That year he won his club’s Spot Diving Trophy (a feat he duplicated three more times) and the Pacific Northwest Trophy described earlier. He did well as a skydiver, becoming the eighth person in Canada to earn a “D” License, issued to those who have made over 200 free falls. He also became the British Columbia Area Safety Officer of the Canadian Parachute Club, and as such he had the right to suspend any skydivers who violated safety rules.
By 1962, Ken had made enough jumps to move into the senior division in competitions. That year he took second place as a senior in the Pacific Northwest spot competition, finishing third overall, and began seriously training for the biannual World Championships in an effort to make the Canadian team. In spite of its thrills, however, Ken found that skydiving was not providing the deep inner joy he sought and realized that the sport was beginning to lose its appeal.
One day, he confided these thoughts to Jack Jordan, a fellow employee who happened to be a Christian. Ken had observed that Jack, and Henry McLaren, his employer, were…different. He had noticed that McLaren kept a Bible on his desk and in his car and that he wouldn’t listen to smutty stories or use profanity. More than this, Ken saw that both he and Jack seemed to have the joy and peace he lacked. Jack talked to Ken about the Lord Jesus Christ, and invited him to church. He promised to go, but didn’t because he was always skydiving on Sundays. Finally in March 1963, Ken attended a church service. He had an exam scheduled that evening and had left home to attend it, but suddenly felt that he must go to church instead. As the Bible study progressed, Ken felt that God was speaking to him. At the church he prayed at the altar, but not until a further talk at the McLaren home was he aware of his sinfulness and need for a Savior.
The Bible showed that because of God’s great mercy and love, God provided His Son as a Savior for mankind. The Lord Jesus Christ died for our sins, and Ken realized that this meant Jesus Christ died for him. Ken then trusted Christ for salvation from his sinful condition.
In Christ, Ken found the peace, purpose and truth he had vainly sought in drinking, skydiving, parties, and excitement. Only in Christ did he find satisfaction. Over the remainder of his life, Ken experienced the complete joy of walking daily with Christ.
Ken passed away on May 1, 2015, at the age of 77, after directing Real Life Ministries for over 40 years. We miss him dearly, even as we rejoice that he is in the arms of his beloved Savior.