Gary Alan Burrell was born on January 21, 1941 in Johnson City, TN to Roy and Virginia Burrell. He grew up in Erwin, TN on a farm that borders the Nolichuckey River along with his younger siblings, Dawn and Ivan. He passed away on November 1, 2018 in Goiania, Goias, Brazil after a brief, but serious illness.
He graduated, valedictorian, from Erwin High School in 1957 and worked on the family farm until he was of age to move to Washington, D.C. to work for the FBI and attend George Washington University at night. A few years later he felt led to rethink his career choice and returned to East Tennessee To study at Millgan College. While pursuing a B.A. in Religious Studies, Gary served as youth minister at the Erwin Christian Church. He was ordained to the ministry and set his sights on a life as a cross-cultural minister. During his time at Milligan, Gary fell in love with Pamela Hampton (Schiappacasse), who would later become his wife.
Gary graduated from Milligan College summa cum laude in May of 1963 and moved to Louisville, KY to begin a Master of Divinity (MDiv) program at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and his ministry at the Radcliff Christian Church at Fort Knox, KY.
On May 29, 1965, Gary married Pam and they moved to Salem, IN where he had recently become the minister of Mount Tabor Christian Church. During the next four years, Gary finished his MDiv and also a Masters in Latin American Studies at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN.
He then formed a mission organization, Brazil Christian Evangelism, and in May 1970 moved to Sao Paulo, Brazil. While there, he studied Portuguese and worked with evangelistic teams. In May 1972 he moved his family to Goiania, the capital of the state of Goias in Central Brazil. Over the next decades, Gary promoted many activities such as evangelism, church planting, leadership training, and outreach projects. Possibly his greatest contribution to the growth of the kingdom was encouraging and inspiring others to start new congregations in the region and preparing local ministers. He strongly believed that the future of the Church in Brazil lay in the hands of the Brazilians themselves.
Gary was gifted with a pioneer spirit. In one of his most rewarding projects, he reached out and worked with an overlooked community of settlers in a remote area in the frontier state of Tocantins and started a church and school alongside the settlers. He was also instrumental in helping Habitat for Humanity International kick off work in Brazil and in Portugal. He dedicated a good portion of his time overseeing many low income housing projects in several states. Gary’s love for the people he worked with was probably his greatest strength in that he lived out what is written in Matthew 25:40: “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’.
During the years in Central Brazil, he transferred his affinity for the Nolichuckey River to a love for the Araguaia River. Gary and his family spent many vacations camping, fishing, and enjoying nature and friendships formed while on the river. Gary loved fishing and the many, many dogs he had over the years. He disliked small ice cream portions and cars that didn’t have a carburetor.
Gary suffered a serious stroke in early 2005 and that was the last year he was able to return to the United States. After that, he struggled with significant physical limitations and periodic hospitalizations, however he always took his health problems head-on with courage and a very positive attitude. He would not have been able to manage as long he did without the faithful companionship and help of Tereza.
Gary was preceded in death by his parents; his daughter, Jennifer; and his brother, Ivan. Surviving are his sister, Dawn of Johnson City, TN; four children, Timothy, Amy and Juliana Burrell of Bloomington, IN, Jonathan Burrell of Orlando, FL; and 10 grandchildren.
If Gary were to write his own epitaph it would be, “When I die, I wish my tombstone to simply state: “Gary Alan Burrell – Field Missionary”. Those wishing to honor Gary may make memorial donations to Milligan College, P.O. Box 750, Milligan College, TN 37682. A Celebration of Life will be held for Gary, as well as his deceased brother Ivan Burrell, on Thursday, November 29, 2018 from 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. at the Holiday Inn in Johnson City, 101 W. Springbrook Dr. Family and friends are invited to attend.