During a revival, God told Mary that he would send her out as a seed of his glory to the nations. She believed she had received a call to missionary work, so she sought counsel from church leaders. They told her to attend Bible College and serve in a local ministry.
Mary enrolled in Bible College and volunteered her services to an inner-city children’s ministry. She needed a new car, so she took the matter to God, but prayed for more than a car. She asked for a bus, so she could bring people to church. Mary was at a revival meeting chatting with a group of friends when she mentioned that she had been asking God for a bus. The person standing next to her exclaimed, “You are kidding! I am looking for somebody I can give a school bus to. All you have to do is pick it up.”
Every Saturday Mary drove her bus to the inner city to pick up 50 to 60 children and brought them to Kids Church. Two years later, she had fallen in love with the children, and did not want to leave. Convinced she had found her place in ministry, she abandoned thoughts of mission work in a foreign country.
Life appeared set. She loved her missions work in the inner city, made a decent living, and was happy living single. Then she received a phone call that changed everything. Her pastor wanted her to talk to a Danish evangelist who worked in Africa. The evangelist needed someone with management experience to handle their accounts.
Mary was familiar with the evangelist. Her friend, Don, worked for his ministry. The thought of making such a major transition drove Mary to her knees for three days of fasting and prayer. She found peace when God revealed he had always kept her on a need to know basis. Showing her the dramatic scope of his plan for her life would have overwhelmed her.
Mary arrived in Africa with five suitcases packed with everything she anticipated needing: ramen noodles, canned tuna, pans, her guitar, etc. Before she exited the plane, Mary sensed God had ordained her to marry Don Bryant. She supported Don’s missionary work, and prayed for him, but had never been attracted to him. Don was convinced he would remain single to serve God as the Apostle Paul did without the distraction of wife and family, which made marriage to Don unlikely.
Four months later, on Christmas Day, Don asked Mary if God had been talking to her about their relationship.
“Yes, Mary replied, “but I don’t think you really want to know what God said to me.”
“Yes, I do.”
“No, you really don’t.” Mary wanted Don to say marriage first.
But Don wanted Mary to say it first. “Please, release me from this painful situation I am in. Tell me what God is telling you.”
Reluctantly, Mary told him the truth. “I feel like God told me that we are going to get married.”
“That is what God told me from the time you got off the plane,” Don exclaimed. I had been praying for a wife. When you stepped off the plane God said, “I brought a wife to you.” Mary and Don had a civil marriage in Arusha, Tanzania followed by a church marriage the next day.
Mary and Don had been happily serving God for fifteen years in Africa when Mary sensed a course change was coming. Then Mary received word her mother needed urgent care. She returned to America. Shortly afterward Don received word his mother was ill. He traveled to Arkansas to tend to his mother. The prospects of returning to Africa any time soon were distant, and the Bryant’s knew they could not survive on missionary donations in America.
They were pursuing employment when their cell phones rang simultaneously. Mary’s pastor wanted to know if they would be interested in directing a men’s restoration center. Don received a job offer with one of the biggest trucking agencies in the country. Thinking Mary was on the phone with her mother, Don entered the room doing a happy dance. Mary put her conversation on speaker phone. Don sat on the couch next to his wife to listen. They asked for time to pray about the offer and hung up.
The trucking company wanted to send Don to Memphis in two days to start orientation, where he would be paid $500 a week and double that amount when he completed orientation. The alternative offered little privacy and small salaries as directors of a men’s restoration center.
Don and Mary stared at each other in silence. Mary spoke first. “You know Don, I have never had our pastors ask us to do something that wasn’t God. During our final years in Africa, God gave both of us words that we would have the father’s heart to reach out to the fatherless and bring the spirit of adoption back into people’s lives. That is basically what happens when people get enslaved. They have taken on the spirit of slavery, which is the opposite of the spirit of adoption.” Don acknowledged they had spent the last five years in Africa reaching out to orphans and helping people nobody else wanted to help.
The Bryant’s accepted the ministry position. “There was a familiarity to the work at the ministry,” said Mary. “We were doing the same things we did in Africa but dealing with a different culture. The culture of hopelessness in Africa taste different, feels the same, but taste different. God made us shepherds of people who are the outcast, the lame, the refuse of the world. There were stressful times I wanted to leave. During those times I sought God’s presence, and he renewed my vision of what the men could become. It’s been an awesome journey. We have no regrets.”