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Thurmon Bryant, beloved Brazil missionary, visionary missions leader, dies at 74


FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Thurmon E. Bryant, a longtime missionary to Brazil and a former senior administrator of the International Mission Board, died July 27 in Fort Worth, Texas. He was 74.

A native of Claud, Okla., Bryant and his wife, the former Doris Morris of Sudan, Texas, were appointed by the International Mission Board in 1958. During 17 years as a field missionary in Brazil and almost 20 years on the mission board’s staff, Bryant made a remarkable contribution.

“Thurmon Bryant was a unique and effective mission administrator who bridged the legacy of post-World War II traditional missions and innovative contemporary strategies,” said IMB President Jerry Rankin. “Not only did he nurture and guide the efforts of Southern Baptist missionaries in South America for many years, but he also trained and influenced hundreds of Brazilian pastors and leaders.”

As an evangelist, pastor and founding president of a seminary in Sao Paulo, Bryant’s influence continues to ripple through Brazilian lives, said Jerry DeOliveira, a longtime colleague.

“Thurmon Bryant was one of the greatest missionaries who ever served in Brazil,” DeOliveira said. “He made an impact in Brazil like no other I know.

“I was talking just this past week to Oliveira Araujo, who was executive secretary of the Brazilian Baptist home mission board when Thurmon was in Brazil,” DeOliveira said. “He said Thurmon was one of the greatest men he had ever met, a man with Brazil in his heart, a love for the lost and a passion to bring people to Christ.

“Brazil has lost one of its greatest friends.”

COMPASSIONATE HEART

The death of a 13-year-old son in a drowning accident jolted Bryant into realizing that life is precious and short. His own heartbreak enabled him to minister to others with unusual empathy.

“Thurmon was a wonderful model of a Christian gentleman,” said Wendy Norvelle, another of Bryant’s longtime co-workers. “He loved and cared for people and always took time to inquire about family and circumstances.

“He was gentle, kind and patient. He knew the value of building relationships and valued people above tasks and demanding schedules.”

DeOliveira recalled how Bryant’s heart for hurting people touched the life of a Brazilian church leader.

“One pastor, Gerson Furtado, had the sadness of losing a child in a car accident,” DeOliveira said. “As soon as Thurmon heard, he sent him a letter about how he himself had lost a child. The pastor said that note comforted his heart the most, and he keeps it to this day.”

Bryant’s caring spirit will continue to touch lives long beyond his passing, Rankin said.

“Beyond Thurmon’s exemplary leadership, his primary legacy is a pastoral heart that endeared him to many,” Rankin said. “His graciousness and love was felt by fellow missionaries, associates and national leaders. His Christlike character will live on and will continue to be multiplied through the lives of all who knew him.”

A VISION OF GOD AT WORK

Lloyd Atkinson, Bryant’s successor as IMB vice president for mission personnel, praised Bryant as a visionary who helped lead Southern Baptists toward the appointment of record numbers of new missionaries.

“Thurmon Bryant was a missionary, scholar, teacher, statesman, mentor and friend,” Atkinson said. “Over the years, he touched the lives of thousands of nationals and missionaries.

“He also was a man of great vision whose ministry had eternal and global significance. During his 10 years of service in the office of mission personnel, he led in the appointment of record numbers of new missionaries.”

Bryant saw God at work in Southern Baptist hearts and knew an amazing increase in missions mobilization was just around the corner. When he retired in 1997, the number of Southern Baptist missionaries serving overseas had just passed a record 4,167. Two years later, that number spiked past 4,500 and then surpassed 5,000 another three years later.

“I believe the Lord has brought Southern Baptists through difficult times to bring us to a point where we’d all be working together for a common cause and purpose,” Bryant said at the time. “I just hope the Lord lets me see some of the exciting things that are about to take place.”

CHANGE OF SCENERY

For Bryant, as with most missionaries, retiring to Texas was little more than a change of scenery, said Larry Cox, the board’s vice president for mobilization.

“Thurmon’s heart reflected the faces of the world’s peoples,” Cox said. “Retirement to him meant finding new ways to touch the lives of the lost of the world, and he did it until his race was over.

“Many souls in heaven are rejoicing to greet this man who walked with the Lord and shared Jesus with all those around him.”

Bryant was a graduate of Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. Prior to missionary appointment, he served as pastor of three congregations in Texas: Prairie Point Baptist Church in Groesbeck, Friendship Baptist Church in Cleburne and First Baptist Church in Grandview.

During a two-year break in missionary service, he served as professor of religion and director of in-service training at William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo.

Bryant was preceded in death by a son, Danny Earl Bryant. He is survived by his wife and three sons, J. Randall Bryant of Fort Worth, David W. Bryant of Waco, and Larry J. Bryant of Johnstown, Penn.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, July 31, at Travis Avenue Baptist Church, 3041 Travis Ave., Fort Worth. Memorial gifts may be made to the Bryant/Morris Memorial Bible Fund at the International Mission Board, Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230-0767.
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