Parenting and Poverty: Highs and lows with Jim Bryson

by Olivia Bragg | December 6, 2019

When Jim Bryson got fired from his marketing research job two years after he graduated Baylor (’83), he didn’t know what he’d do.

But he couldn’t have guessed that 33 years later, he would be married with four kids – three adopted from Russia and one that doctors told him would be impossible.

Or that he’d run a Christian school in Haiti with over 150 kids.

Or own a successful marketing research firm for over three decades.

Or spend four years as one of 33 Tennessee senators.

Or be the deputy commissioner for parks and conservation – including 370 cabins, 85 natural areas, 56 parks, nine golf courses, eight restaurants and six hotels.

“As you get older, you have the benefit of looking back,” Bryson said. “And you can see God at work a whole lot easier looking backwards than you can looking forwards. When you have that perspective, you say, ‘Huh. Well I may not be able to see forward, but I can trust Him going forward.’ And that becomes transformative when you can do that.”

Bryson’s story also spans several states. With a hometown in Arkansas, a BBA from Baylor and an MBA from Vanderbilt, his roots are now in West Nashville, Tennessee with his family.

“Baylor is an amazing University,” Bryson said. “Some of my best friends today – best lifelong friends – I’ve met at Baylor. They were my roommates and I still consider them some of my best friends.”

But Bryson didn’t experience the stereotypical “ring by spring” at Baylor. He met his wife Carol at a Nashville church party watching the movie, “A Fish Called Wanda.” Two years later, they went on a date in July, got engaged in November and were married in May.

“It took us a while to get started but once we got started, it didn’t take us very long,” Bryson said. “I’m from Arkansas and she’s from East Tennessee, so we kind of met in the middle.”

Around the age when all their friends were having kids, they decided to go the adoption route after doctors told them they couldn’t have any of their own.

“[Carol] had always dreamed of being a mom,” Bryson said. “It’s what she wanted and every time we would go hang out with friends or go to anything at church or any other event, all of our friends were bringing their babies or announcing that they were pregnant. It almost got to the point where she didn’t want to go anywhere because it was just so emotionally draining for her.”

In August 1994, an adoption agency brought them a picture of three Russian siblings. They fell in love immediately. Almost exactly 25 years ago, they returned with their little family the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Two years later, they got pregnant.

“We were blessed, doubly blessed, because we had adopted children but we also the biological baby we originally wanted to have,” Bryson said. “It was an amazing blessing that’s really indescribable, frankly, how God works through difficulties to bring you more blessing than you ever could have imagined.”

But Bryson’s heart for children and the nations doesn’t stop when he leaves Nashville. It doesn’t even stop when he leaves the country.After the major earthquake in 2010, his pastor at Nashville First Baptist Church asked Bryson to visit Haiti and explore how they could help with the orphan crisis.

“I was really touched by what I saw there,” Bryson said. “I had never been to a country where the average person makes less than $2 a day. There’s very little middle class. Most everybody is poor. I just tried to understand how you make a difference in a country like that.”

Soon he realized education was the key to helping. He chartered The Joseph School – a school committed to educating and raising up Haitian leaders – in 2015.

They now have five grades and 150 children. One of the first students being Charlie.

“His house consisted of a tin sheeting over some sticks and thatch on the sides and a door,” Bryson said. “They cooked over an open fire. One time, I saw Charlie’s mom cooking five fish the size of goldfish. That was dinner.”

Charlie’s mom volunteered every time the school needed help. And when she realized she couldn’t help Charlie with his homework, she went back to school. In the meantime, Bryson found out Charlie was spending every night teaching his little brother.

Out of 150 kids who apply, The Joseph School can only take the top 30. And three years after Bryson met Charlie, his little brother was old enough to apply.

“Their family couldn’t afford tutoring,” Bryson said. “His brother scored in the top 30 because the school inspired Charlie to teach his brother, and inspired Charlie’s mom to go back to school.That family’s life is changed forever. There are stories like that everywhere.”

With every piece of his story – from adopted parenting to third-world poverty – Bryson would like to say faith has been his guiding light. Admittedly, though, he says it’s been more ups and downs than that.

“It fluctuates and as I’ve gotten older, it has grown because I’ve seen God work in my life in some amazing ways,” Bryson said. “The older I get, the more perspective I have on what God has done in my life, the stronger my faith is because I know that if He’s been that faithful to me when I haven’t necessarily been, then I can trust Him going forward. And that’s just been a real journey for me.”

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