Introduction: A Legacy Unfolds

The Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission (GSAM), nestled in the scenic Himalayan foothills, embodies a remarkable tale of resilience, dedication, and transformative impact. It was founded in 1948 by Maxton Davis Strong, an American professor of agricultural engineering, and his wife, Shirley, whose vision was deeply rooted in community upliftment and sustainable development. Their commitment to India was further cemented in 1983 when they both became Indian citizens through naturalization, demonstrating their profound connection to the country and its people.

Upon their arrival in Banbasa, the Strong family was met with a daunting expanse of wild jungle and swampland, which posed significant challenges for setting up a sustainable mission. Maxton Strong, applying his expertise in agricultural engineering (which he had honed working as a Professor at Allahabad Agricultural Institute from 1942-1948), undertook the monumental task of draining the swamps to make the land arable. His efforts not only transformed the landscape but also served as a practical teaching moment for the local population. By demonstrating effective land management techniques, Maxton not only cultivated the land but also empowered the local community with knowledge and skills to enhance their agricultural practices and improve their livelihoods.

The journey of GSAM was fraught with formidable challenges that tested the resilience and commitment of the Strong family and the mission’s supporters. The early years were marked by tragedy with the loss of Maxton and Shirley’s two sons—Jack, who succumbed to malaria at a young age, and Jay, who later died in a tragic tractor accident. These personal losses were compounded by external threats from the natural world, including attacks from man-eating tigers and leopards, raids by elephants on their crops, and the ever-present threat of malaria and other tropical diseases. These hardships underscored the harsh realities of life in this remote setting but also galvanized the mission’s resolve to create a safe haven for the community and the many children it would come to shelter.

Maxine, the daughter of Maxton and Shirley, was born in the idyllic hill station of Mussoorie and grew up imbued with the ethos of GSAM. Her life, like her parents’, was intertwined with the mission’s development and its expanding focus from agriculture to providing a sanctuary for children in need. This expansion was significantly accelerated by Warwick “Rick” Shipway, who arrived in 1976 with 196 cows to initiate a crossbreeding program that aimed at improving local dairy production, blending agricultural development with community welfare.

Rick’s partnership with Maxine evolved into a personal and professional bond as they married and later, in 1986, moved to Australia. Their departure marked a new chapter of supporting GSAM from abroad while continuing their involvement in its operations and growth. Their son, Clifton, inherited this legacy and furthered it by marrying Priscilla Singh, who grew up as a farm girl at GSAM. This union not only strengthened familial ties to the mission but also brought a new generation into its fold, with Clifton and Priscilla raising three sons, all of whom are Indian citizens, thus continuing the family’s deep ties to the mission and the country.

Under Clifton’s stewardship, GSAM has placed a significant emphasis on educational initiatives, particularly through the Maxton Strong School. This institution serves as a beacon of learning for both mission children and those from the surrounding areas, ensuring that the educational legacy of the founders continues to thrive. In 2024, the school celebrated the opening of its third major building—a state-of-the-art kindergarten facility—which marked a significant milestone in GSAM’s commitment to comprehensive education, from early childhood onwards.

The mission’s journey has also been marked by moments of profound sadness and loss, most notably the death of Maxton Strong in April 2003. His passing was a significant moment for GSAM, signaling the end of an era. However, the foundations he laid have ensured that his vision has endured. This period also saw challenges, including a decline due to internal mismanagement. Yet, the return of Warwick, Maxine, and Clifton in 2004 rejuvenated the mission, redirecting it back to its core values of love, safety, and community service.

Today, the GSAM stands as a testament to the unwavering spirit of its founders and successive generations. It remains a pivotal part of the community, dedicated to nurturing, educating, and empowering. As it moves forward, the mission continues to adapt and expand, ensuring that its impact on the local community and beyond remains profound and enduring. Through continuous development and a focus on sustainable practices, GSAM not only honors its past but also paves the way for a future filled with hope and new possibilities.

The Genesis: Dreams Planted in Fertile Soil

Embarking on the Mission

The journey began when Maxton, an agricultural engineer with a vision, observed the pressing need for hands-on agricultural training in India. With a dream of uplifting aspiring young farmers and transforming rural communities, he and Shirley embarked on a remarkable journey. They secured 160 acres of fertile land from the Indian government and laid the foundation of what would become a haven of learning and growth.

The Strong Family

The Genesis: Dreams Planted in Fertile Soil

Embarking on the Mission

The journey began when Maxton, an agricultural engineer with a vision, observed the pressing need for hands-on agricultural training in India. With a dream of uplifting aspiring young farmers and transforming rural communities, he and Shirley embarked on a remarkable journey. They secured 160 acres of fertile land from the Indian government and laid the foundation of what would become a haven of learning and growth.

The Strong Family

The Strong Family

A Family’s Odyssey

Their odyssey to Banbasa was nothing short of epic. Transporting over five tonnes of equipment, including a disassembled John Deere tractor, they traversed over 3000 kilometers of the Indian landscape. While Maxton and a small team navigated this challenging journey by tractor, Shirley and the children took the train, each party braving their own set of trials to reach their new home.

The Wilderness Years

The early days at the mission were marked by raw survival against the backdrop of a wild, malaria-infested wilderness. The Strong family’s home was a simple US army surplus tent, their only respite from the scorching heat being the shade of a large mango tree. This untamed land was teeming with wildlife; tigers, leopards, snakes, and elephants were but a few of the inhabitants with which the family shared their domain. It was here that the Strong children learned the value of coexistence and respect for nature’s marvels.

This leopard was killed after terrorising the family.

Community and Compassion

Despite the challenges, the Strong family’s resolve only strengthened. They forged a bond with the local Tharu tribe, exchanging knowledge and assistance, which laid the groundwork for the mission’s community-centric approach. Tragically, the family also faced profound loss with the deaths of two of Maxton and Shirley’s sons, underscoring the harsh realities of their chosen path. Yet, these adversities only deepened their commitment to their mission.

The Evolution: Nurturing Hope

A Haven for the Forsaken

As years passed, the GSAM evolved from its agricultural roots to become a sanctuary for destitute children. The addition of Maxine Strong’s foster children marked the beginning of a new era for the mission, expanding its embrace to include the most vulnerable. The construction of a nursery in 1973, initially planned for six babies but quickly overwhelmed by demand, symbolized the growing need for the mission’s compassionate care.

The Shipway Influence

The arrival of Warwick “Rick” Shipway, an agricultural volunteer, in 1976 brought new expertise and energy to the GSAM. His eventual marriage to Maxine and their shared dedication led to the expansion and modernization of the mission, including the establishment of a high-yielding dairy farm. Yet, the Shipways faced their trials, from visa issues forcing them to leave their foster children behind, to returning years later to address the mission’s deteriorating condition.

Cementing the Legacy

The establishment of the Maxton Strong School in 2013 was a milestone, expanding the mission’s educational reach to the wider community. This venture not only honored the legacy of its founders but also ensured the sustainability of their vision, providing quality education to both mission children and those from surrounding areas.

The Future: A Vision Sustained

With Rick’s retirement and the appointment of Clifton Shipway as the new director, the GSAM’s legacy is in capable hands. Clifton’s leadership, rooted in the deep history and values of the mission, promises a future where the GSAM continues to be a beacon of hope and change.

The story of the Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission is more than a history; it’s a living narrative of resilience, love, and unwavering commitment to making a difference. As we continue to write new chapters, we honor the past and look forward to a future filled with hope and endless possibilities.

The Next Chapter

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