Bruce Oliphant Stewart
February 29, 1928 – February 17, 2010
Bruce was born in Shackleton Road, Auckland, the eldest of three children. Parents Herbert and Dorothea (Elsie) also had a younger son Brian and then little sister Anne nearly 15 years later.
Corporal Herbert Stewart became ill during the Second World War and died in 1943, leaving Elsie to raise the three children on her own in a small fibro state house overlooking Okahu Bay in Orakei.
Bruce attended primary school locally and then Mount Albert Grammar, where he excelled in sports. As a young boy, he once said, he was shy and self-conscious, a dreamer who was “lost in space with Buck Rogers”! It was to him an incredible surprise when they made him head boy at MAGS.
After passing school certificate in seven subjects, he attended university and teachers college. He taught for a couple of years before responding to a call into ministry.
The call was shared by his young fiancée, Margaret Williams. They applied for missionary service, only to be knocked back because of Margaret’s health. The call to serve persisted and Bruce entered Baptist College in 1949 to train for pastoral ministry, completing his training in 1953 alongside good friends Gordon Coombs and Charlie Craig, among others.
He spent a short time at Nelson Baptist Church that year with Rev Fred Carter. Bruce continued his university studies and graduated with his BA in 1961, 15 years after he began.
In 1953 he and Margaret were married after an engagement of nearly seven years. A keen furniture maker and handyman, he made their first bed and bedroom furniture as well as cabinets galore during their life together.
Bruce described going to his first placement at Owairaka Baptist as a real confidence booster. He heard about the concept of all-age Sunday school and they became the first church in NZ to adopt it. Some USA experts heard about this and offered him a scholarship for a D.Ed. They were booked to go until the seminary heard that there was also a wife and two kids – the scholarship was not for a “large family!” Years later Bruce would complete a DMin through Luther Rice Seminary, largely by correspondence.
At Owairaka their four children were born: Janet, Grant, Roger and Graeme. No sooner had Graeme arrived than the family was off to Rotorua.
The years at Rotorua were fruitful and challenging – being part of a town celebrating the milestone of reaching a population of 20,000 in 1962, and starting to really take off in terms of tourism. There were many visitors and opportunities for new ventures, including the establishment of a Marriage Guidance Centre in conjunction with the chief probationary officer. They recruited doctors, lawyers, social workers and even the local Catholic priest to help out.
One of the highlights was the arrival of 100 American pastors in 1965 for a Trans-Pacific Crusade. The Stewart family hosted Charles Killough, a loud man, for the week and his brash, confident manner opened Bruce’s eyes to the possibilities of personal evangelism – even to more introverted Kiwis. There followed a growing stream of conversions and an invitation to visit Charles’ church for two weeks in 1969. The trip was extended to include other churches and expanded Bruce’s mind and horizon. He returned with fresh dreams of what God could do.
Others back in NZ recognized the strategic nature of the time and invited Bruce to take up a new role as the national Director of Evangelism.
The family was on the move again, this time back to Auckland. Bruce would travel for nearly half of the year imparting vision to others while Margaret was back home at Northcote, holding the fort with four feisty teenagers.
Five years proved enough of the itinerate life and Bruce gladly accepted a call to Howick in 1973, taking his evangelistic dreams and plans into the local church directly. Within a year attendance nearly doubled, two services were needed and three buses fed a Sunday school of more than 700.
Bruce remembered the 10 years at Howick as great years for all the family. They were marked by significant friendships, fascinating people and more travel tours to the USA. He led study tours for many pastors and their spouses, travelling, preaching and visiting churches from California to Florida with sightseeing stops along the way.
Meanwhile the family was scattering, with Janet and Graeme heading overseas for work and adventure, then Grant along with Cathy to Texas for three years study at Southwestern Seminary.
Bruce and Margaret finished at Howick in 1982 and spent a few months in Texas with Grant and Cathy before accepting a call to Fairfield Baptist in Hamilton upon their return in May 1983. The next five years were another fruitful time of ministry, but open-heart surgery for Bruce confirmed for him that it was the right time to step down from full-time pastoral ministry.
Over the 40 years he had served four churches, he kept meticulous records of the sermons he preached.
Bruce and Margaret retired to their unit in Half-Moon Bay. They spent the next 10 years or more alternating between sailing expeditions in their retirement-funded 25’ Noelex trailer-sailor Roaring Mac and providing interim ministry around the country and in Australia and the UK.
Their passion for mission never abated and their home became a haven for many missionaries home on furlough.
Bruce and Margaret continued their travels and often would visit tranzend workers to encourage them. Bruce, ever the avid photographer, would film interviews that he would then edit and put on DVD for use around the churches.
Margaret became ill and passed away early in 2002, leaving Bruce to manage on his own for the next seven years. Life lost some of its spark for Bruce when Margaret died. He kept good health until just fairly recently, taking great delight in continuing his peripatetic passion for visiting his scattered family (four children and seven grandchildren) around the world on a regular basis. He spent Christmas 2009 in Melbourne with Grant and Cathy’s family.
The last twelve months he spent in an apartment at the new Howick Baptist Home and really enjoyed the company and environment.
Bruce was self-deprecating, introverted and enigmatic. Yet by God’s grace he possessed a confidence that enabled him to lead well and with a generous spirit of encouragement.
His described himself as a dreamer and wrote: “I still have to pinch myself to believe it all happened. I am still shy and self-conscious – my wife was the extrovert. My life’s story is of a very limited person, a dreamer who had the courage to let God give substance to my dreams. I’ve watched God grow those dreams for others. And my own kids achieve their dreams.”
– Grant Stewart