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 Jericho
She 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 European 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.
Editor’s Note: Reprinted from the Wycliffe UK Blog
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