Mary Gardner 1955 – 2011

March 28th, 2011 by Ruth

Born in Nairobi, Mary was the eldest of 5 children.  She started her education at the Kenya High School in 1967.  The family moved to Scotland when she was 15, where she continued her studies in Aberdeen and then at St Andrews University, graduating in 1977 with an MA hons in English/French.

Mary Gardner on her way back from JerichoShe then worked for 2 years with CMS teaching in Kenya, returning to spend a season at Lee Abbey Community in 1980.  From 1981, she continued teaching in Orkney as an itinerant French teacher, travelling between schools by plane and boat.  In 1986 she commenced further training at the Bible Training Institute in Glasgow, joining Wycliffe Bible Translators in August 1988 stating at the time, ‘The Bible has always been important to me and played a large part in my own conversion.  I am convinced of the value of the work of Wycliffe Bible Translators and that other aspects of mission such as evangelism and church planting are greatly strengthened by having the Scriptures in the language people know best.’

Embarking upon specialised linguistics training with Wycliffe’s British training programme, her preparations for life overseas accelerated.  After a valedictory service at St Mary’s Episcopal Church, Stromness in January 1990, she headed off to Cameroon for her orientation course, and then arrived in Togo in April 1990, the country that was to become her home for the next 20 years.

She was involved in a language called Ifè, developing the orthography (writing systems), working on a dictionary, holding literacy classes, and preparing materials including graded reading primers and maths books.  Bible translation began in 1994 leading to the Scriptures in print and on cassette, and the production of the Jesus film.  She became the leader of translation team, and trained national translators, working in a mixed team of expatriates and nationals.

At one point, whilst checking part of the translation of Romans, the group she was working with came upon ‘Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another…’ (Romans 13:8).  She relates, ‘The small Bible study group was struck forcibly by this verse.  Debt is a way of life in Africa.  Almost everybody owes money to someone, whether for goods bought on credit.  The Christian teaching that debts should be repaid as soon as possible was what challenged this little group as they read God’s word in their own language.  It was so applicable to their own experience, and reading it in Ifè gave it a new impact and a new determination to put it into practice.’

By 2000 the Ifè/French dictionary had been published; Mary was one of the two editors, and 17 October 2009 was the cause of great celebration as the Ifè New Testament was dedicated, nearly 30 years after the project first began.

She was training as a translation consultant, which requires a good grasp of Biblical studies, in order to help with Old Testament translation.  Thus she travelled to The Home For Bible Translators in Jerusalem in early 2011.  Those who studied with her can testify to her keen interest in hillwalking, and her appreciation of wild flowers. Halvor Ronning, (Director) says, “Mary was really enjoying the camaraderie and fellowship she had found in Jerusalem. She told us that until she got here she did not realise how alone and isolated she had been living for years in a remote village in Togo, the only European for miles around.”

Eddie Arthur, Executive Director of Wycliffe Bible Translators, said: “I cannot tell you how highly regarded she was. She was an extremely gutsy person, highly intelligent, with huge drive and the ability to stick with the project for 20 years in far from comfortable conditions. It must have been incredibly isolating at times. But she was completely dedicated to her work, and to the Ifè people.”

Mary had shared in one of her newletters, ‘When a person hears clearly what God is saying, it changes lives.  And so we persevere in translating the Bible into Ifè, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book.  We continue to teach people to read in their own language.  We hold courses for church leaders to help them use the Ifè Scriptures in the life of the church.  Why?  Because we long to see changed lives that glorify God.’

Mary’s own life was one that was changed by the Scriptures and which glorified God.  Tragically killed in a terrorist explosion in Jerusalem on 23 March 2011 aged 55, she is survived by her parents and siblings.

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10 Responses to “Mary Gardner 1955 – 2011”

  1. Michael Fox says:

    I was deeply humbled to read your account of Mary Gardner’s life and death. Although I never knew her, nor even knew of her, I have found the story of her dedication to Christ’s service inspiring and moving. As a frequent visior to Israel and a lover of the Land (though not always of the nation’s policies), I pray her death may be a witness and a challenge to many in and beyond Jerusalem.

  2. [...] on Mary’s life and work in this later blog post. Back to blog homepage.Go to main Wycliffe UK [...]

  3. Jane Clay says:

    How moving that Mary left this world from the “city of the great king”, having served Him so faithfully. I am so glad that she enjoyed love and fellowship during those last days of her life here. We pray that her sorrowing family will know the love and comfort of the Lord and know that Mary’s life was an example to so many and a blessing too.

  4. Fiona Sorbala says:

    Mary was my flatmate while at BTI – The Bible training Institute in Glasgow and I have fond memories of her and her dry sense of humour. SA faithful servant of God she accomplished what the Lord laid in her heart and has clearly left her mark on both the county and people of Togo to the praise of the King of Kings. As a Messianic Jew it grieves me that her life was taken while in Israel. And I that her death will not be in vain but bear witness to God and I pray that Lord will pour out His mercy on her family.

  5. Denise Halcrow says:

    I pray that somehow God will bring good out of this tragedy.

  6. Chris Cobbold says:

    It was a privilege to have met Mary, and to have been, in a small way, part of her work for God. As I reflected on her life, I thought ‘what a legacy she leaves!’ A whole people group who now have their own language in a written form, and the most precious gift of all, the New Testament in their own language.

    I give thanks to the Lord who called her to this work, for her faithful service to Him, and the people she loved. Through ber work, and the others in the translation team, there will be a great harvest. Countless Ife speakers have, without doubt, come to know the Lord through the Scriptures, and many more will do so in years to come. Many have been built up in their faith in the Lord Jesus, and have been encouraged to witness to Him. Mary’s work will endure.

    I praise the Lord that she was able to complete the New Testament before He called her home. How gracious He is. Truly she stored up treasures in heaven. Her life has caused me to reflect and ask ‘what will my life have counted for, when all is said done. What sort of spiritual legacy will I leave’. Mary’s life spurs me on in the service that the Lord has called me to. Truly she has heard her Lord say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’.

    I found this reflection at http://www.biblecentre.org/topics/jtm_the_dead_that_die_in_the_lord.htm helpful as I refected on Mary’s call to glory

    Here is a brief extract
    In another Scripture, such as she was are spoken of as His jewels. “They are Mine,” He says. You are glad that she was His, are you not? How bitter her death would have been for you if you had not known this; but now for her and for you—

    “Death has no sting since Jesus died.”

    He rejoices over her now. She has come safely through all the vicissitudes of life, through all its trials and temptations! What a triumph this is for Him! How many times the devil has tried to snatch her from His hand we do not know, but this we know, that his every effort failed, as they must all fail in regard to all who belong to Christ. The devil is baffled and beaten and the Lord is triumphant and glad. If you look at things from this standpoint you will see how precious to the Lord was the hour of her death. He has her safely home with Himself in heavenly glory, herself His prize and the fruit of His soul’s deep travail, when He suffered for her upon the cross.

    Thank you Lord for Mary. Rejoice in Glory!

  7. D. Snyder says:

    As Jesus told Peter of how he was to Glorify God in his death in the Gospel of John, we can know how God views Mary’s death. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints”, only God knew how Mary would Glory HIM in her death and her life. Now she knows what ultimate beautiful “change” her God gives, not only to her but also to all who follow Him because of her love for Him. Glory to God!!

  8. [...] Officials with Wycliffe Bible Translators in a United Kingdom pronounced Mary Jane Gardner had arrived in Jerusalem progressing this year and was study Hebrew so she could rise an Ife-French Old Testament for a Togoese people. [...]

  9. [...] can find out more about Mary from our biography of last year, and more about ACATBLI on their website [...]

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