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Relocating the Keston Archive

Keston5Oftentimes God prepares us for a task in a way that makes little sense at the time, or that even seems a waste of time. Such was the case with a job I took during the summer between my master's and doctoral studies. Only days before I was to be married, I was hired to work as an "international operations specialist" for a logistics company working out of the Bradley International Airport in Connecticut. While I was happy to have a job to return to after my honeymoon, I never imagined that the experience I gained shipping aircraft engines and textiles across the world would ever be of use to my academic career. But during the months in which the Keston Institute and Baylor University worked out the details of transferring the Keston archive and library from Oxford to Baylor, my knowledge of international shipping and land, air, and sea freight certainly came in handy.

Once the ink was dry on the legal agreement between Keston and Baylor, the issue of shipping the collection from Oxford to Waco, Texas, became a reality. While we had initially planned to hire a British shipping company to handle the operation, plans changed quickly when we received the shipping contract for nearly 50,000, greatly exceeding all of our estimates and resources. My fate became clear; I was to use my experience from that summer long ago to get this collection moved somehow in a way that would be within our budgeted resources and still not put anything in the precious Keston collection at risk. So, in early August, a group of five of us headed off to Oxford with the goal of getting the entire collection packed up and shipped out in four days. Joining me were Suzanne Sellers, the office manager of the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies, Bill Hair, the associate dean of Baylor University Libraries, graduate student Jon Mizuta, and independent contractor Tim Platt. Certainly, it would take divine intervention to achieve this ambitious goal!

Things got off to a great start. Right off the plane at Gatwick we were able to hire two vehicles one a cargo van and the other a Jeep equipped with GPS (which greatly facilitated our travel around London and Oxford). The next stop was near Heathrow at the warehouse of Connoisseur International, a company with which we had made prior arrangements. Using a tractor trailer, we were to transfer the boxed Keston collection from a car park in Oxford to this London warehouse, where Connoisseur International would then move it to Portsmouth for its sea journey to Galveston, Texas. Having arranged similar shipments that summer years ago, I felt confident in my abilities to plan the logistics of this stage. But the looming question was: how were we actually going to pack up this collection and get it to the Oxford car park?

It was at this point, we felt, that Our Lord directly intervened. The shipper had told us initially that they would be unable to provide us with packing help, which is why I had brought my "team" with me. Then at one point, while I was standing alone in the warehouse, one of the young guys from the warehouse came over to me an mentioned that he and a few of his pals might be able to help us out. After a few minutes of negotiating, we added four more to our team! As we headed off toward Oxford, I was feeling a lot more confident in our mission. Of course, this feeling almost immediately left as we got lost trying to leave the area around Heathrow Airport to head out towards Oxford!

Once in Oxford we visited Keston to try and figure out a game plan for packing the collection in two days. It was already late Friday afternoon, we had only slept a few hours on the flight over, and we had just spent the whole day getting the shipping arrangements in order. Whatever confidence we were feeling at this point quickly vanished as we looked around the Keston Institute, which was wall-to-wall boxes. This is not how I had remembered it all, and for the others this was the first time they had seen the collection. But Malcolm Walker, in preparation for shipping everything, had wisely brought boxes that had been in other locations down to the first floor and into the hallway. While this would prove very useful the next day as we packed everything, it was certainly intimidating to see upon our arrival. So, with all of us feeling a bit nervous and quite a bit jet-lagged, we headed out for the Black Horse Inn to check in and get some rest.

The next morning the sun was shining, the weather was cool, and our friends from Heathrow showed up right on time. A tractor trailer was dropped off in the car park, and we had our cargo van to make runs back and forth between the Keston Institute on St. Aldate's and the car park down near the train station. We broke ourselves down into separate crews one to box things in the Institute, another to load the cargo van and make the runs to the car park and back, and another to load the tractor trailer. We worked all day, only stopping for lunch at the "Head of the River," where we were able to recuperate and replenish ourselves for a bit. By evening Saturday, we had about half of the collection packed up, and were pretty sure we had overcome the majority of unexpected obstacles that had popped up that morning, such as locating pallets, getting access to our tractor trailer (which was blocked in the car park by the many buses dropping off tourists), and being kicked out of the car park itself (which the lot attendant had attempted to do early that morning!).

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Sunday morning we got off to an early start again, this time with more confidence in how things would work, but with some trepidation over the fact that we needed to have everything packed up and out of the Keston Institute that evening if we were going to stay on track. And indeed, the second day certainly proved a bit easier, as the whole team had developed a rhythm and was working like a well-oiled machine. The only obstacle we faced that day was the fact that shoppers were illegally parking in the parking lot on St. Aldate's, actually blocking our access. So, we quickly started stacking boxes in our spaces and then would only move them when one of our trucks came back to park. If they wanted these spots, they were going to have to work for them! We finished up in plenty of time that afternoon, and ended our stay in Oxford with a wonderful dinner with Michael and Lorna Bourdeaux and Malcolm Walker in Iffley. It was a very relaxing end to a very stressful operation.

But our work wasn't done yet, as we still needed to get the shipment from Oxford to Baylor University. The first step was to have the second tractor trailer delivered from the car park in Oxford to the warehouse at Heathrow. While ordinarily this would have been an easy operation, the highway was actually blocked due to a group of protestors who were demonstrating over the expansion of Heathrow Airport. Although several hours late, the trailer did arrive and work was begun to switch the contents from the tractor trailers to a sea container. Meanwhile, our team headed off for a London hotel and a three-hour tour of London a much needed break!

We all arrived safely back in the States the next day, but the Keston collection sat in a warehouse for a week before beginning its 3-week journey across the pond. It did arrive in Galveston without incident in early September, and from there it cleared customs and was delivered to a warehouse in Waco. From there the collection went in 5 separate deliveries to a Baylor warehouse, were several graduate students but primarily Jon Mizuta organized the boxes and began to deliver them to its new home at the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies. By late November, during the 50th anniversary of the Dawson Institute, we had unloaded most of the books, the entire photo archive and artwork collection, and a small number of the research files.

Now, under the guidance of Larisa Seago, a native of Samara and the new Keston Center archivist, work is being conducted daily to process the materials and begin the long process of cataloging and preserving. The Lord has blessed us in this regard as well, as it is truly the hand of God that delivered us a native Russian speaker with work experience at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary right here to Central Texas!