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Former missionary Charles Bryan, known as ‘visionary,’ dies

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Charles Willis Bryan, a former Southern Baptist missionary to Costa Rica, Peru and Colombia and retired senior administrator for the International Mission Board, died Oct. 11, 2003. He was 80.

Missionary colleagues praised Bryan as a visionary leader who had a gift for involving others in creative strategies to take the Gospel to the whole world.

IMB President Jerry Rankin knew Bryan as a friend and mentor even before Rankin went to the mission field in 1970. Both he and Bryan served as pastor of the same church in Texas when God called them to missionary service.


“Charles was an encouragement in our call and then throughout our service in Asia,” Rankin said. “His outstanding leadership as the IMB’s overseas vice president established a new dimension of research-based strategic planning that moved the board into innovative strategies of global outreach.

“He was a visionary who brought a unique mix of relationship skills and administrative ability in leading our overseas efforts for almost eight years.”

A native of Whitesboro, Texas, Bryan and his wife, the former Martha Christian of East Point, Ga., were appointed by the International Mission Board in 1950.

He served as field evangelist in San Jose, where he also taught in a Baptist theological institute and counseled language school students. In l957, they transferred to Peru, where he was pastor of First Baptist Church in Lima and taught in a theological institute. In 1961, Bryan moved to Cali, Colombia, and assumed administrative responsibilities for the work of Southern Baptist missionaries in the Caribbean. In l968, he was elected area director for Southern Baptist work in the 25 countries of Middle America and the Caribbean. In that capacity, he helped begin mission work in 19 countries.

In l980, he was elected senior vice president for overseas operations and joined the staff at the IMB home office in Richmond, Va. In that capacity, he led in formulating plans for world evangelization, monitored trends and developments in missions and implemented new approaches to world evangelization by placing greater emphasis on volunteerism and partnership missions.


Bryan’s emphasis on research-based strategic planning ushered the board into an era of creative mission strategies, but his vision was complemented by a minister’s heart, said Avery Willis, Bryan’s successor as overseas vice president.

“Charles Bryan was a great leader who led our overseas work to new heights in a time of flux,” Willis said. “He was visionary but caring as an administrator and missionary. He left a deep imprint on all of us he touched.”

One of those Bryan touched was Don Kammerdiener, a longtime colleague and friend both on the mission field in Latin America and in Richmond.

“One of the words that comes to my mind when I think of Charles Bryan is ‘mentor,'” Kammerdiener said. “I first met Charles when he came to Costa Rica to visit us while we were in language school.

“From that very first meeting he befriended me and went out of his way to expose me to leadership opportunities. All the while he made it seem that I was doing him a favor in being his friend. Across the years as various opportunities for ministry within the mission family came my way, I was frequently able to see Charles’ hand and influence hovering in the background.

“I look on Charles Bryan as a model of Christian character, evangelistic passion, administrative skill and theological conviction,” Kammerdiener added. “Those are traits that are not always easy to balance, but he was a role model for many of us in carrying it out.”


While Bryan’s role early in his career as a counselor, guide and trainer for fellow missionaries was an ideal match to his gifts, he also helped initiate a major series of church-growth studies that evaluated all aspects of how churches on mission fields grow — and don’t grow, said another longtime colleague, A. Clark Scanlon,

“We really didn’t know that much about methodology,” he said. “Charles was the first one, in 1968, to get a fellow area director to work with him in studying church growth in a whole region. It went beyond just saying we’ve got to increase another 10 percent or something. It said there are factors that hamper church growth and factors that seem to contribute.”

As overseas vice president, Bryan was able to transfer the creative strategies he used in Middle America and the Caribbean to the global challenge of taking the Gospel to the whole world.

“Charles had the ability to envision a whole world and try and bring together some strategies that would embrace the whole world,” Scanlon said. “He saw a way of meshing and utilizing resources to complete the task.”


Regardless of his high-level roles in later years, Bryan remained “always a preacher, always a missionary, always a personal witness,” Scanlon said. He also was tenacious in standing by his convictions.

During his service as pastor of First Baptist Church in Lima, another pastor in the city filed a claim to take possession of the church property.

“It’s an immense, lovely building. Dr. Bryan locked himself in so they couldn’t do that until they got help and were able to straighten it out legally,” Scanlon laughed. To save the church building, “he held himself hostage!”

“He demanded a lot, but always in a collegial atmosphere. He expected you to use initiative and to come up with ideas and plans that would better your work and that you would grow with. He encouraged creativity, and those who worked with him felt intense loyalty.”


Following his l988 retirement after 37 years of service, Bryan helped Virginia Baptists establish missions partnerships with seven countries as director of the Virginia Baptist Mission Board’s newly formed department of mission partnerships. Most recently, he has served as a volunteer in the partnership missions department of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Bryan was a graduate of Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. Prior to missionary appointment, he served in the U.S. Navy and was pastor of Sadler (Texas) Baptist Church.

He is survived by his wife, the former Patricia Morgan Deaton of Wilmington, N.C.; two daughters, Carol Ann Griggs of Fort Worth, and Elizabeth Ann Bryant of Fort Worth; two stepdaughters, Joanna Deaton Bradley of Greenville, N.C., and Andrea Deaton of Philadelphia, Penn.; and four granddaughters. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Martha, and his second wife, the former Lois Blackburn of Waynesboro, Va.

Memorials may be sent to the Charles and Martha Bryan Mission Fund, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, P.O. Box 22500, Fort Worth, TX 76122; to Logsdon Seminary, P.O. Box 16235, Abilene, TX 79698; to Truett Seminary, P.O. Box 97126, Waco, TX 76798; or to Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, 3400 Brook Road, Richmond, VA 23227.
With reporting by Erich Bridges. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: CHARLES BRYAN.

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