Brasington, missions leader, dies at 85
Those words were the life motto of retired Southern Baptist missionary J. Bryan "Breezy" Brasington, according to family, friends and former colleagues who participated in a memorial service in his honor March 19 at Gateway Baptist Church in Fort Myers, Fla.
Brasington accepted Christ as his Savior at age 8 and spent the rest of his life allowing Christ to transform him, his son Kim Brasington said during the service. "Did you love his kindness? His gentleness? His ready smile? His optimism?" Kim said of his father. "I can guarantee you that none of that was of the making of James Bryan Brasington. It was of the making of his King."
Brasington, 85, served 36 years in global missions, first as a missionary to Peru and later as a leader of missionaries in South America. He died of cardiac disease March 13 in Lehigh Acres, Fla., with his daughter Lindy Gonzales by his side.
"He remained a missionary to the very end, no longer able to travel overseas or speak eloquently because of his health but still a pure-hearted servant, sharing the love of Christ with everyone he met," Gateway senior pastor Mark Gonzales said during the service, reading from a tribute Lindy wrote for her father. "He leaves behind a legacy of laughter and joy, compassion and kindness. In yielding himself completely to the Lord, he was able to live a life devoted to loving God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength, and his neighbor as himself."
Brasington's life also will be celebrated during an April 29 memorial service at the International Mission Board in Richmond, Va.
Born Sept. 2, 1925, in Heath Springs, S.C., Brasington was the fourth of seven children. He interrupted his education at Clemson (S.C.) University where he was on a football scholarship to serve in the Merchant Marine during World War II. After the war, he studied at Stetson University in DeLand, Fla., where he met his future wife, the former Victoria (Vickey) Young of Gainesville, Fla. They were married May 30, 1948.
Nicknamed "Breezy" for his speed as an athlete, Brasington played professional baseball for the DeLand Red Hats in the Florida State League and later was recruited to play for the Boston Red Sox. He declined that offer to follow God's call into full-time ministry.
"After a tremendous battle between baseball and God, I'm glad I chose God.... I've been on the right team," Brasington said in an interview shortly before his December 1991 retirement as the International Mission Board's area director for Spanish South America.
But Brasington admitted he still had "a bit of baseball in my blood."
That was a blessing to Bill Cashion, former IMB missionary to Venezuela, now senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Clarkesville, Ga. Before Cashion and his wife Kathy became missionaries, Cashion had volunteered with the Atlanta Braves organization as a chaplain through Baseball Chapel, a ministry to professional baseball players.
"The fact that we felt called to Venezuela, where the national sport is baseball, filled [Brasington] with joy," Cashion said. "Breezy saw baseball as a vehicle to share the Gospel with thousands of people."
Through Brasington's encouragement, Cashion started an outreach to professional baseball players in Venezuela and planted churches through evangelistic baseball clinics for Venezuelan young people. "Breezy was my Barnabas in baseball ministry" in Venezuela, Cashion said. "I will always be thankful for his cheerful encouragement and sincere support for our ministry. I know that thousands who came to Christ through the baseball clinics, while not knowing him, are grateful also."
In fact, one of Brasington's greatest contributions to International Mission Board work in South America was encouraging missionaries to begin innovative ministries, said Betty Law, retired IMB vice president for the Americas who worked with Brasingon for more than a decade. "If a missionary got to talking to Breezy about a dream he or she had of doing something in ministry, he had a knack for helping them see how they could make that dream a reality," said Law, of Fort Worth, Texas.
Brasington not only was an encourager of missionaries; he also encouraged IMB administrators who worked alongside him. One was Joe Bruce, who served as area director for Middle America when Brasington was area director for Spanish South America.
"He was a little older than I ... and since he already knew the ropes, he kind of took me under his wing along with some of the rest of the younger guys [IMB area directors]," Bruce said. "He became a mentor and a good friend. Breezy was one of those guys who not only loved the Lord, he loved people. And he looked for ways to serve people in just ordinary activities."
Bruce recalled that when his oldest daughter gave birth prematurely to a son, the baby struggled to survive. Bruce's wife traveled to Texas to be with the family, but Bruce stayed behind in Richmond for required meetings with IMB leaders.
As the weekend approached, "Breezy came in and said, 'Joe, I've got this coupon for an airline ticket. I want you to use it. There are always going to be meetings and things to do, but you need to be with your family right now. Take this ticket and make the arrangements.'
"Breezy was one of those guys who knew how to be a servant leader," Bruce added.
Before becoming a missionary, Brasington served as pastor of First Baptist Church in Umatilla, Fla., following his graduation from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. While a pastor in Florida in 1955, Brasington and his wife were appointed IMB missionaries to Peru, where they worked in student ministry, theological education and evangelism, living in Lima, Trujillo and Arequipa.
After Brasington moved into administration, the couple lived two years in Cali, Colombia, then served at the IMB's home office in Richmond, where Brasington was area director of Western South America. In 1987, an IMB reorganization took them to Ecuador, where he served as area director for Spanish South America. The couple retired to Richmond in 1992 when Brasington began working part-time in the board's development office. The Brasingtons also served in volunteer missions until Vickey was diagnosed with cancer in 1997. Brasington spent the next four years caring for her until her death in 2001.
Six months after his wife's death, Brasington suffered a stroke that affected his speech. From then on, he lived in Fort Myers with his daughter Lindy and her family.
"For a master storyteller with hundreds and hundreds of incredible stories to tell, for Breezy to have that particular condition after a stroke ... I'll just be honest with you, I said, 'Lord, I don't get that,'" said Brasington's son-in-law, pastor Mark Gonzales. "So we prayed that the [speech aphasia] might be lifted. And, of course, it never really was. But for 10 years we saw a man live a life and preach the Gospel through his spirit, apart from words, through his love and grace and humility. It was phenomenal."
Brasington is survived by his son, Kim Brasington of Rock Springs, Wyo.; his daughter, Lindy Gonzales of Fort Myers, Fla.; nine grandchildren; and one great-grandson.
The family suggests memorial donations to his church's mission fund: Gateway Baptist Church, 13241 Griffin Drive, Fort Myers, FL 33913. The church's website is www.gbcfm.com.