Bible translator Mary Jane Gardner lived among the Ife people for 20 years in the Togolese Republic, but when asked to describe herself, she said that she was just an ordinary Christian.
Gardner, 55, who was killed in last week’s bomb attack near the Jerusalem Central Bus Station, had spoken publicly of her work before arriving in Israel in January to spend half a year studying biblical Hebrew and geography.
“I still do not think of myself as a missionary.
I feel just an ordinary Christian with the same sort of struggles that anyone else has,” she said, in a recording of one her public speeches about her life in Africa as a Bible translator.
“God has given me the privilege of being someone he has used to give 200,000 people a translation of the New Testament, though not by myself, of course,” said Gardner.
“God can use anyone. There are so many different ways of serving Him,” said the soft-spoken, sandy haired woman.
“He took my interest in Africa and my interest in languages and my desire to serve Him and He put into my heart a longing that other people should have the same access to the scriptures and to the Bible that I enjoyed,” she said.
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In the week since her death, her friends in Jerusalem and England have grappled to understand the random death of someone who had devoted her life to God’s work.
This Sunday in Glasgow, Scotland, Rev.
David McCarthy hopes to inspire young adults to serve God by speaking to them of Gardner’s life and work.
He had known Gardner for 16 years because St. Silas Episcopal Church, where he works, had sponsored Gardner’s work with the Ife, which included work with literacy and translation of the New Testament into the Ife language.
Gardner had left Africa for Israel to study in the Home Bible Translators program, which is part of the Hebrew University.
Its dorm is located in Mevasseret Zion but classes take place at the Mount Scopus campus.
Mary had come to the program to improve her knowledge of the Bible so she could return to Togo this summer to help the Ife people translate the Old Testament.
While in Israel she had been in contact with the St. Silas congregation by e-mail and had told them that she had enjoyed her time in Jerusalem.
The day of the bombing, McCarthy said, he had received an e-mail from another friend, who had a friend who had narrowly missed being at the scene of the attack. McCarthy had been thinking of this close call on Thursday the he received a call from the Wycliffe Bible Translators informing him of Gardner’s death.
Her death, he said, “was quite a blow.
She was very well known and loved here,” he told The Jerusalem Post by phone on Wednesday.
“She was last here in 2009 when she was home on furlough and spent a wonderful week with us,” McCarthy said.
According to the Wycliffe Bible Translators in the United Kingdom, with whom she had worked since 1986 and until her death, Gardner was born in Nairobi to British missionary parents.
The family came to Aberdeen, Scotland when she was 15. Gardner earned a master’s degree in English and French from St. Andrews University in 1977 and then returned to Africa, teaching for two years in Kenya before returning to Scotland, where she taught French in Orkney until joining Wycliffe.
In 1990 she left for Scotland for the Togolese Republic.
She once told an audience that she had left teaching for translation after God had put into her heart “a longing that other people should have the same access to the scriptures and to the Bible that I enjoyed.
“It was His word that had led me to Him and it was through His word that so often He had continued to speak to me,” she said.
McCarthy said that he now wants to use her life to inspire others to serve God as she did.
Members of the church have already spoken of how to continue to support her work, he added.
Eddie Arthur, the director of Wycliffe Bible Translators said of Gardner, said that he, too, found her devotion inspirational.
“She is the sort of person who gave 20 years of her life to serve a group of people who most people had never heard of and did so with great joy,” Arthur said.
“Living in an isolated setting in Togo is not easy, but she did it with a quiet determination,” he added.
In Mevasseret Zion, other participants in the small (eight-student) program has also grappled with her death.
On Wednesday, a week after the blast, they went to the spot where Gardner died to lay a wreath in her memory.
Halvor Ronning, who runs the school with his wife, Miriam, said that
students have spent the last week speaking of her life and work. The
program is also looking to start a scholarship fund in her memory.
Miriam said that the program, which has been in running since 1995 is
like a family because they have come to Israel for the same purpose.
Each semester there are only 6 to 12 students, Halvor said.
Typically, the program provides transportation to the Hebrew University campus, where students have classes.
But last Wednesday there were no classes scheduled, so Gardner had left
Mevasseret and headed to Jerusalem on her own to meet a friend who was
visiting from Ireland, according to Miriam.
At 10:30 p.m. students called Halvor and Miriam to say that she had not
returned. They added that they had checked with the hotel where her
friend was staying and had learned that she had never arrived there.
The couple then began calling the hospitals to check among the wounded.
When her name did not appear they feared the worst and then called the police.
By 2 a.m. they had put the pieces of the puzzle together and understood that Gardner was the woman who had been killed.
Her friend from Ireland was heartbroken when she heard the news and came
to the program to talk with its participants about Mary, said Miriam.
Mary loved nature and had just gone with the program on a three-day trip
to the Galilee, said Miriam, who added that she was a good photographer
and had taken many photographs of flowers.
“Our feeling is that she protected others because she was the closet [to the bomb],” said Miriam.
Mary, 55, was the oldest of five children.
She is survived by her parents, Jean and Tony, her sister Alison, 51, and brothers Andrew, 54, David, 49, and Tom, 43.
Her parents released a statement to the media upon her death which said,
“We are all devastated by the sudden loss of our daughter in this
tragic and unexpected way.
“Mary was a very special person and we thought the world of her. She was
devoted to her work and was well liked wherever she went. Her loss in
this way has been deeply upsetting for us all.”
Her body is still in Israel, but is to be flown out of the country in the next few days.
Out of the 50 people wounded in the attack, six are still hospitalized.
In Shaare Zedek Hospital there is one person in intensive care and two
recovering in the surgical unit. In Hadassah University Hospital, Ein
Kerem there is one patient in intensive care, one in moderate condition
and one who is due to be released on Thursday.
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