Remembering the work of Father John

The memory of the Rev John Aves lives on.

The memory of the Rev John Aves lives on. - Credit: JAEP

What has happened since this son of a Suffolk farmer who became a popular Norfolk clergyman collapsed and died in Star Street, Bethlehem in 2004, is remarkable.

Thanks to generous donations and great support more than £435,000 has been raised by the John Aves Education Project and at the last count more than 70 young people have gone to university.

As a former President of the United States, James A Garfield, said: “Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained.”

For all the good work that has gone on since John’s tragic death at the age of 52 we must thank his wife Anne, sons Ben and Edmund, Liz and Philip Magem, and many other members of the JAEP.

Some of the JAEP students receiving an education thanks to Father John.

Some of the JAEP students receiving an education thanks to Father John. - Credit: JAEP

Together they have, and are continuing, to work together to improve the life of young people at the Dheisheh Palestinian Refugee Camp in Bethlehem where they stay when visiting.

Only by living in the camp do they discover what life is really like for the people and how the JAEP really is changing young lives in the best possible way.

John, a member of the Aves family of Suffolk farmers and builders,  grew up in Hinderclay and went to the King Edward Sixth Grammar School at Bury St Edmunds.

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He met Anne, head girl at the County Grammar School for Girls in Bury while setting up a Christian Aid awareness group and they were married.

Three students from Al Quds University celebrating their degrees on graduation day.

Three students from Al Quds University celebrating their degrees on graduation day. Picture shows Hadell, bio chemistry, JAEP has supported her for 4 years. Applying for jobs as a bio chemist in labs in hospital or medical centres in Behtlehem. - Credit: JAEP

John served at St Peter Mancroft, Norwich, Brixton Prison, Attleborough and finally as Priest in charge at St Giles in the city.

Former Bishop of Norwich Graham James wrote of John: “He was one of those priests whom bishops treasure.

“He wanted to know how other people lived. That’s what led him to spend the last three months of his life in the Holy Land. Not that anyone knew it would be the last three months.”

The Rev Canon Dr Aves died while living and working in the Dheisheh Camp where he was loved and known as Father John.

When John was teaching English to teenage boys but when they kept asking questions about our football clubs he had to turn to his son Ben, a lifelong supporter of Norwich City, for the latest news.

Three students from Al Quds University celebrating their degrees on graduation day.

Three students from Al Quds University celebrating their degrees on graduation day. Nasser, medicine, JAEP has supported him for 4 years. Has recently finished his internship year and started this week as a general physician in a hospital near Bethlehem. - Credit: JAEP

“Many of these, now young men in their 30s, seek us out to tell us stories of John when we are in the camp,” said Anne.

In the last report,  just a day before his death, he wrote about returning home with hope because of the determination of the people in the camp to ensure the education of their sons and daughters.

When Anne and her sons visited the camp following his death they were awarded a posthumous medal for his services to peace by the late Asser Arafat.

John would speak to the young people of the three ways to deal with the occupation: violence, mental health struggles or to embrace education. That is the way forward – education.

JAEP has now funded 71 young people, 53 girls and 18 boys for undergraduate study at the big Al Quds and  Bethlehem universities.

“The reason it’s more girls is that many of the young men have had to become wage earners as the fathers either died, are political prisoners or unable to work because of mental or physical problems,” explained Anne.

“We fund mainly vocational science, medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, midwifery, nursing, bio chemistry and engineering. There are more employment prospects in these areas,” she added.

And JAEP has just heard it has been awarded £4,000 by the Quaker Peace and Social Witness group to buy laptops for the students at Al Quds.

Thankfully social media has meant they can keep in touch with both staff and students and, following the Covid lockdown, they have returned to university.

Covid has meant no pilgrims and tourists visiting the area, resulting in a loss of income for families. For others working, often illegally, in Israel life has become even tougher and the levels of vaccination in Israel are much higher than in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

As a result of all the recent difficulties JAEP, thanks to the incredible support they receive, has decided to  increase the level of funding and help repay some of the students’ debts.

“The  dignity and determination of the universities staff, students and their families, to place their hopes for a future in educating their young people continues to inspire us.

“We would like to thank our many local supporters very much for their part in enabling JAEP to support young people from Dheisheh,” said Anne.

 One way to support the project is to buy  their Christmas cards which include some made a women’s co-operative in Bethlehem – from broken glass picked up in the streets.

The cards are for sale at the Original Norwich Charity Christmas Card Shop at St Peter Mancroft Church, both cathedrals and at the Revelation bookshop and café on Redwell Street in Norwich.

If you can’t get into the city and would like to buy some online go to

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