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A discovery on reading a college magazine

The incredible true story of Aussies bringing the Bible to East Africa

Sydney Missionary and Bible College’s Winter 2019 SMBC News features a pic of the hirsute (beards and moustachioed) class of 1919. But it’s the story behind that pic that Eternity found interesting. If we’ve read their story right SMBC’s editor received a welcome nudge from African Inland Mission about one of their earliest grads.

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Just like them, Eternity takes it as a reminder that ahead of Bible college students of today lie some careers that will extend the kingdom in wonderful ways.

100 years ago, SMBC grads Stuart and Elise Bryson set out for Kenya, SMBC News recalled. “Through Africa Inland Mission we have become aware that … the Nandi people of Kenya are holding special celebrations to celebrate:

• 100 years since Stuart and Elise Bryson arrived in Kenya to commence their missionary work.

• 80 years since the first Nandi Bible was published and arrived in Kapsabet, Kenya.

• The dedication of a 4000-seat church building on the site where the Brysons established their mission station.”

The Nandi Bible was the first Bible in a local East African language. As Liz Moore of AIM puts it: “God wonderfully anointed Stuart Bryson and his Nandi brother, Samuel Grimnyige, to be set apart to complete both the New Testament and Old Testament translations of the Bible into Nandi (without any translation training).”

“This can perhaps overshadow the regular aspects of the Bryson’s faith and service. The translation project, as a type of ‘cherry on the top,’ could not have been contemplated if the Brysons hadn’t already led many to faith, and were also dedicated to discipling the new Nandi believers.”

In 1915, a wandering evangelist visited the New South Wales farm where the young Stuart and Elise lived. The couple had met in London, tried Canada and settled in Australia.

AIM’s Alan Checkley (himself a former Kenya missionary) tells the story this way: “Stuart was the rector’s warden in the local Anglican church and next in line for the grand master of the local masonic lodge … But Elise felt restless and unsettled … As promised, the evangelist sent Elise from Sydney a New Testament and other books she eagerly devoured until one morning she announced to Stuart ‘I am born again!’

“Stuart’s reaction was a blind resentment. He considered themselves to be good-living, God-fearing people. In anger he left the house only to find over the ensuing days an increasing conviction that all was not well with his soul. Over a period of six weeks as he worked around the farm he pretended to kneel to repair a piece of equipment. In reality he was praying!

“One afternoon he suddenly realised that salvation is the gift of God by grace through Christ’s death.”

Bryson had a long-standing desire to translate the Scriptures into the language of an unreached people group.

Having become a regular distributor of Bible tracts, Stuart was on the Manly Ferry and handed a tract to a man wearing a clerical collar.

“Do I need one of these?”

“That sir is your decision,” is how the conversation was remembered.

The man in the clerical collar turned out to be Benson Barnett, who had returned from China with the conviction that he should start a missionary training college. He did, and SMBC began in 1916 with Elise and Stuart Bryson among the earlier classes studying in 1918. In 1919, as newly minted graduates of the college, they set off for East Africa.

In Out of Darkness, the SMBC centenary history published in 2016, Anthony Brammall recounts a story the Brysons likely told the college. “Bryson had a long-standing desire to translate the Scriptures into the language of an unreached people group. He first taught at, and supervised the building of, the Moffat Bible School at Kijabe, among the Kikuyu people of Kenya. While he was there, one day a very tall, unknown African man arrived and simply announced to him, ‘I am from Nandi country, Bwana. I have been sent here by God to teach you our language and prepare you for coming to our country.’”

When the Brysons came back to Australia on what missionaries used to call “furlough,” the text of the Nandi New Testament came with them – and it was printed at Century Press in Sydney (a major book printery, at that tie).

Returning to their mission station at Kapsabet, Stuart Bryson – working with Samuel Grimnyige – produced the Nandi Old Testament. The full Bible was printed by the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1939. As Checkley notes in a series of articles for AIM: “Many reprints were to follow over the years.”

After Africa, the Brysons returned to Australia. And once again SMBC and the AIM were intertwined. After a period working for the Bible Society as a “deputationist”, Stuart Bryson became the secretary of the national committee of the African Inland Mission and Vice Chairman of the Board of SMBC.

Elise and Stuart both died in 1975 – the circle had already been joined.

The AIM’s Liz Moore is not slow to point out that AIM continues to send the “Brysons of this age.”

SMBC clearly would love to inspire new students with the Bryson story. And why not? Which of this year’s grads will be written about 100 years from now?

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