Bruce Reid Henry
Posted by bms_editor at 15:50 on 20th April 2012
Bruce Charles Reid Henry
22 July 1918 – 31 October 2011
Bruce Henry was born on 22 July 1918 near Kandy, Sri Lanka, the eldest son of George Reid Henry, also born in Sri Lanka, and Olive who originally came to Sri Lanka as a BMS missionary. The family settled in Colombo where his father was an entomologist for the Colombo Museum. Bruce and his younger brother David’s love of the natural world was imbibed from their father who, in addition to numerous trips into the surrounding jungles to observe and collect insects and wildlife of all kinds, built an aviary in the garden of their Colombo home, stocking it with birds of several species. Bruce grew up not with nursery rhymes but with tales from the jungle, told with relish by his father on his return from such trips – a pattern that was incidentally repeated to the next generation when Bruce was a father to his own children! As neither Bruce nor David possessed binoculars in those days, they learnt to draw and sketch from memory and direct observation, developing as a consequence a keen eye for detail in all things great and small. This was to serve him well in the future careers as a missionary, educationalist and wildlife artist.
At ten years old Bruce commenced secondary education in the UK, attending Colchester Royal Grammar school as a boarder until his mid-teens, followed by a further two years at Tettenhall College, Staffordshire. Here he augmented his meagre pocket money by some of his artwork! So began a resourceful entrepreneurial spirit that was also going to serve him well in future careers at home and abroad. It was during his school days that Bruce felt called to Christian ministry but was advised to gain some experience in business before entering training college. So at the age of 19 he got a job in a London firm of accountants as an auditor, gaining valuable experience in account-keeping which also proved useful in later years. It was also during this time that he attended the Woodford Green Crusader Class. After a short period of military service with the Royal Artillery he trained for Christian ministry at Spurgeon’s College.
At this point he met Joyce, then a student nurse at what was then the Hammersmith Hospital, and they married in 1943. They were accepted for service with BMS in India but owing to the war, sea passages to the East were out of the question and so he and Joyce accepted a temporary appointment as minister of Harlesden Baptist Church, combined with work as a chaplain to the Central Middlesex Hospital. With the end of the war, he was able to leave for India in 1945, Joyce followed six months later.
They had been located among the Kui speaking tribes in the Kond Hills of Orissa where there was a growing Christian community. For 13 years he and Joyce were based at Udayagiri, a centre where there were colleagues engaged in medical, educational and church work. However, a new area of work was opening up 40 miles away in the Balliguda area. A plot of land was bought, a house built to live in, and he and Joyce moved to this new setting which they both loved. The house was called Sunapanga, meaning ‘place of Gold’. It was certainly at the centre of a goldmine of new opportunities for service, in which they were both involved, that required a lot of travelling by foot, jeep, and bike in order to reach isolated village communities. They both thrived on the challenges that their new location provided, with Joyce focussing on public health and work with women, alongside the distribution of Christian literature, usually from makeshift bookstalls on the bonnet of the jeep or on a cloth by the side of the road. She discovered that writing simple songs in Kui, which the women could learn and sing, proved an effective method of public health education, particularly for women who were not always literate. She began to teach them to read and so opened up whole new vistas of opportunity for them.
Bruce began a major work with a team of Indian colleagues to translate the New Testament into the Kui dialect, published in due course by the Bible Society. The Pastor’s Service Book and the Kui Hymn book followed, leaving as one of the recent tributes from a colleague noted ‘valuable assets in the hands of the Christian people’. Another spoke of the ‘clear vision and direction he gave to the church’, and of course the tributes from Indian colleagues have been fulsome and generous of a man and ministry that even now some 40 years later is still recalled with deep gratitude and affection, referring to Bruce and Joyce as ‘their spiritual parents’. Several looked upon Bruce as their father. They returned to the UK in 1968, where their two children, Michael and Carol were waiting for them, having been at boarding schools. A new chapter in their lives was presenting itself as they settled in Worthing, West Sussex. Bruce took up an educational role at Steyning Grammar School, and Joyce took up nursing once again. This was followed by a teaching appointment at the sixth form college in Worthing before Bruce took early retirement to pursue a third career in art!
The quality of his painting was such that he was elected as a member to the prestigious Society of the Wild Life Artists, exhibiting at their annual exhibition in the Mall Galleries each year. He entered a new fraternity of naturalists and artists, getting involved in the Hawk Conservancy in Andover, and Nature in Art in Gloucester. His retirement from state education also freed him up to explore other avenues of Christian service in keeping with his primary vocation as a minister of the Church. Bruce and Joyce were active members of West Worthing Baptist Church where they gave themselves generously and with enjoyment. He was also able to serve churches of other denominations, as well as work for short periods back in the Kond Hills where he knew the people and their language. Joyce took on the care of one of the BMS furlough houses, which the church in West Worthing were responsible for, and also became elected as a member of the BMS General Committee.
Bruce has always had a love of music and had learned to play both the violin and the organ. He also loved sport, especially hockey, rugby, cricket and more latterly watching the Grand Prix! In addition to all his other achievements, Bruce authored two books: Highlight the Wild: The Art of the Reid Henrys, which he dedicated to his son Michael who was tragically killed in a cycling accident while the book was in process of publication, and Pearls to Painting: The Memoirs of George Morrison Reid Henry (his father).
Bruce was a gifted man of many talents who gave himself in the service of others, sometimes at the cost of himself and his family. The tributes that have flowed in from around the world have highlighted how much encouragement he gave to so many. The shocking and sudden death of his son Michael affected him profoundly even though he found it difficult to articulate his own private pain. He was a sensitive and contemplative person who processed his grief in his own way. Joyce’s need to be cared for at the end of her life in residential care in 2010 was also a source of much sorrow and loss for them both. That separation, along with his own increasing frailty as old age encroached, proved testing and challenging experiences for him.
He died in hospital having fallen at home and fractured his hip. Although he survived surgery, the strain took its toll, and he died peacefully some days later. We give thanks for a life fully lived, whose influence continues to live on in the hearts of those who knew him.
Taken from the Baptist Union of Great Britain 2012 directory