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Reverend John Lee Bruce

By E. H. Rawlinson

Quietly in his sleep, during the early hours of Sunday, July 1st, the spirit of John Lee Bruce slipped away from his frail body. His going with not unexpected, as for several months he had been confined in his bed, and he had longed for the end.  His last days were spent in White Plains, New York, surrounded by his devoted wife and four children to care for him.


Brother Bruce was born at South Boston, July 11, 1864. His parents were Thomas and Harriet Bruce. And in young manhood he was converted and soon there-after entered Randolph-Macon College, graduating in 1887.  From there he went to Vanderbilt University, where he completed the course in theology, and while at Vanderbilt he dedicated his life to foreign work.


It was my privilege to know brother Bruce intermittently, but rather intimately, over a largeperiod of his useful life, beginning when we were together as students in Randolph-Macon College. One thought, instantly, the sincerity of his spirit as a freshman college lad, the earnestness of his student purpose and the rugged integrity of his character in classroom and in all the highways and byways of college life, and at the end of the four years, rejoice in the good testimony he left behind among students and teachers. From Randolph Macon he went, great obstacles confronting him, to Vanderbilt University. Here we were thrown again intimately together, for one year rooming together in the latter institution. In Vanderbilt he left the impression of courage, studiousness to the point of scholarly learnedness, and an unflinching loyalty to duty.


At the close of his training in the seminary, the call came from Bishop Wilson for a man to go to Brazil. Nobody had thought of Bruce as a volunteer or candidate for Foreign Service. He had not been to a great volunteer conventions, sign any card, as was the custom in those days, and had made, certainly, no parade of his interest in foreign service. And yet, we were not greatly surprised at his offer to go.  We felt it was just like him quietly, without much conferring with the flesh and blood, but properly and resolutely to write to Bishop Wilson and answer the call of his church, which was to him as the call of his Lord.


Today, it is not for a wonderful, or a very unusual thing, when a student- preacher offers and sailfor foreign Mission service. Times have changed, the ends of the earth or not so far away, and conditions abroad are nothing like so strange and hard. But then, it was thought of as the supreme test of discipleship, the very climax of devotion and sacrificial adventure, for a young man to take his life in his hand, and turning his back upon home and friends and tongue and native land, to sail away as a missionary to every land. Other men who had seemed more interesting, and who had said much more about it, might falter and finally fail the church.  But for John Bruce it was of the very essence of loyalty, out of a profound conviction of urgency, and of the solid strength of his personal character, not to count the cost, but to answer and go at his Master's call.


Brother Bruce went to the foreign field, when, if my memory serves me right, we had not another missionary from this conference in any land, and when we had had only two or three in the entire history of our missionary service abroad. In 1890 he was appointed to the Brazil mission. He went first to Piracicaba, where Bishop Granberry had hoped he might found a school for boys. No funds were fourth coming for this work, so he joined Rev J. L. Kennedy and taught in a school which Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy directed in Taubate. From there, he went to Granberry College, and Juiz de Fora, where his best work in Brazil was done.


In December, 1891, brother Bruce married Miss Donnie Moore. She and her mother had been pioneers in our work in Brazil, showing great kindness and hospitality to our first missionaries. Miss Moore had taught successfully in several of our schools, and was a member of the Granbury faculty at the time of her marriage.


Brother Bruce was in untiring student and became proficient in the Portuguese language. Being of a strict, upright, unflinching temperament, he did much to instill high ideals in his students. His influence in raising the standard of scholarship and in establishing the honor system at Granbury College cannot be overestimated.  For a year and a half he was president of this institution and did much toward strengthening and extending the curriculum.


During his twenty-five years in Brazil, brother Bruce did valiant service in various capacities as pastor, Presiding Elder, teacher, treasurer, and in other positions filled by him. At one annual conference when there was no Bishop on the field, his brothers voted and elected him president.


In 1915, on account of declining health, brother Bruce left Brazil. To better fit for himself for work in the homeland, he entered Columbia University, where he took the degree of M. A. At the same time he taught Portuguese at Columbia. Several years were spent in the west in search of health. But for the last few years his home had been near New York, where his four children reside.


Brother Bruce's interest in Brazil never diminished. During his last illness he was often talking about and praying for the evangelization of Brazil. When a friend mentioned that he should feel satisfied at having founded the seed of the gospel, he replied: “yes, but strong men are needed to cultivate the soil.”


The funeral services were conducted by Rev. E. B. Crook, a former missionary to Brazil.  Other friends and co-laborers in joining the family in laying the remains to rest in a beautiful cemetery near White Plains, New York.


John Bruce was a quiet man, almost solitary sometimes in the deeper depth of his personal diligence and devotion. But he was true all the way to the bottom, and faithful. He belonged for many years to the Brazil Conference. But when, on account of illness, he must retire from active missionary service, he transferred back, and it was a real satisfaction to him to be ally again with the brethren of his home conference. In the Providence of God, he lived in his last year's outside the boundaries of the conference, and it was not his privilege to see much of his brethren. No representative at the conference was near when the final summons came, and few of our number, perhaps personally knew him. But today we pause sincerely and gratefully, to do him honor. Truly he is worthy. We cannot forget that John L. Bruce moved at the very head of the noble line of boys and girls who from Randolph- Macon and from this conference who have gone for us to other lands.


Peace to his brave and precious dust. Our affectionate sympathy goes out to his loved ones today, and we pray that in such a time as this a double portion of his spirit, the spirit of his great Master, may fall upon us all.



“Virginia Conference Annual”,  Pages  19, 90 - 91

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