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Bryan ’19 Is Inspired by Parents’ Missionary Zeal

by catherine elvy, staff writer

While watching his parents serve as missionaries in Ethiopia, a Harvard College student enjoyed a front-row view of the powerful roles of Christian purpose and dedication.

“This idea of serving and sacrificing was always shown in a clear and humble way,” said Cooper Bryan.

Bryan ’19 highlighted the significance of spiritual fervor when he shared his testimony with students involved in Christian Union’s ministry at Harvard.

In Bryan’s case, a lifetime of exposure to vibrant Christians serving amid challenging conditions in the rugged, but breathtaking Ethiopian countryside provided the foundation for a tangibly dynamic faith. Likewise, Bryan also spotlighted the contagious cheerfulness that readily characterizes his adventurous life and the remarkable ways his spirituality has flourished since arriving at Harvard.

“I try to live a life that is characterized by joy—joy in creation, joy in God’s grace, and joy in God’s transforming power over my life,” said Bryan. “That is really only found in who I am in Christ.”

Cooper Bryan '19, pictured here with his brothers Cy (left) and Jack (right), grew up in a missionary community in Ethiopia.

At Harvard, Bryan strives to avoid the natural collegiate tendencies to seek identity in grades, sports, career, or earnings potential. “We are defined by who we are in Christ,” said Bryan. “All that matters is serving Him.”
The economics major has “grown immensely in faith, and this is evident in his consistent availability toward anyone who may need him,” said Jon Yeager, a Christian Union ministry fellow. “He is one of the few students to protect his schedule from being overly consumed, purposely, in order to be ready and available for peer ministry.”

Indeed, much of Bryan’s zeal for Christ was shaped in the Horn of Africa.

During his formative years, Bryan lived with his parents and two brothers in a missionary community near Ethiopia’s capital of Addis Ababa. “People loved God so much, they were willing to change their lives for Him, give up a lot to serve, and move to another country,” Bryan said. “Mission was central.”

Likewise, within his family, Christ was the focus of virtually every activity, even sibling basketball games. Bryan’s father, Steve Bryan, who now serves as a professor of New Testament theology, provided his sons with a deep biblical framework.

Today, Cambridge-educated Steve Bryan is a faculty member at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. In 2016, the Bryans returned to the United States after spending 23 years in Africa, where Steve Bryan’s duties included directing SIM Ethiopia.

Originally known as the Sudan Interior Mission, SIM dates back to 1893 and currently oversees 4,000-plus ministers and staff who labor in 70-plus countries.

Throughout his childhood, Bryan closely watched as missionaries sacrificed radically to serve God. “That is what God has called us to do: engage His mission and His kingdom’s mission,” Bryan said.

Such experiences left indelible imprints upon Bryan and ignited a passion eventually to return to his beloved Ethiopia in a professional capacity. However, he is unsure of the specific career path that will call him back to the African continent.

One thing is certain, namely Bryan’s deep attachment to the people of Eastern Africa. He has sorely missed the relational nature of the region’s diverse communities, especially how Africans cherish social commitments and hospitality. As a bonus, Ethiopia is touted for its wondrous landscape and wildlife.

More importantly, Bryan has made it a point of owning his faith since arriving at Harvard. Likewise, he credits mentoring from Christian Union’s ministry at Harvard for expanding his relationship with his Savior and providing a vibrant Christian community.

Bryan serves as a leader for Harvard College Faith and Action’s Seeking God Team and as an assistant Bible course leader. Notably, Cooper’s older brother, Jack Bryan ’18, served as a team leader for Christian Union’s ministry at Princeton University. The brothers attended Bingham Academy, an international Christian school in Ethiopia, while youngest brother, Cy Bryan, is enrolled in an Illinois high school.

All three brothers have performed stints as counselors with Camp Langano during breaks. The SIM-affiliated sports camp is located next to Lake Langano, about 100 miles south of Addis Ababa.

In addition, the Bryan brothers are quite athletic. Cooper Bryan is a member of the Harvard College Running Club and serves as an intramural referee for Harvard’s Winthrop House, while Jack Bryan is a member of Princeton’s Rugby Football Club. Cy Bryan plays varsity basketball.

Still, Cooper Bryan points to the Savior he embraced as a child as his core driving force.  “It’s been a daily decision to walk with God since I was old enough to be cognizant,” he said. “I love Jesus a lot.” Ultimately, Christ calls believers to carry out the Great Commission, whether in their homelands or remote corners of the globe.

“I’m excited beyond words to see where God takes me,” Bryan said.