Brinneman, Richard Neal

Richard Neal Brinneman, 83, of Waxhaw, N.C., died May 26, 2018.

Neal was born Nov. 24, 1934, in Mt. Zion, Ind., at home—the same home in which his father had been born. Neal grew up the first of seven children in the nearby village of Poneto, attending school there and in Liberty Center. His father, Carl, was a farmer and handyman from whom Neal learned much that would serve him later in life.

In 1957 Neal earned a bachelor’s degree from Huntington (Ind.) College with a triple major: math, chemistry and French. In 1965 he obtained his master’s in math at Central Michigan University. He served his country from 1957-59 as a mathematician at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., and then taught math in high schools in Indiana and Michigan, including Morenci, from 1959-1965 and at Huntington College in 1965-1966 and 1969-1970.

Neal felt called to serve God as a missionary and became the principal of a mission high school and farm school in Bumpe, Sierra Leone, under the United Brethren in Christ from 1966 to 1969. While there he mastered the Mende language. Because of that and knowing his Bible well, he decided to apply to Wycliffe Bible Translators. He was accepted in August 1970 even though they thought he was too old to begin a translation project at age 35. He served as a Bible translator with the Lama team of northern Togo from 1972–1993. The Lama New Testament was published in May 1994. The Old Testament is expected to be completed by 2020.

In June 1979 he married Carol Gratrix, a fellow Bible translator working in Côte d’Ivoire, whom he had met in Paris in 1971. They married in Abidjan in a Catholic seminary chapel and spent their honeymoon at a Catholic retreat center, eating meals with three nuns—the only private, beautiful and affordable venues available then. Their first child, a girl, was stillborn and buried in Togo in October 1980. They have two sons, Daniel, born in Bluffton, Ind., in December 1981, and Benjamin, born in Kara, Togo, in 1983.

Neal was an enthusiastic amateur pilot and earned his multi-engine, commercial and instrument ratings. He loved reading Christian novels and enjoyed bowling, jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles and Sudoku. He never watched television. Carol says that in their almost 39 years of marriage she never ever heard him once criticize anyone. He had a beautiful bass voice and in his early years sang with his family quartet.

Up until his old age, he was very strong physically and was involved in construction during the summers in college. He engineered raising the beams of a twelve-sided, round church in Kande, Togo, whose photo was later published on a postage stamp. He built a home for Carol in Kande, which featured swamp-cooler air conditioning, running hot water (from an abandoned truck pressure tank placed over the heat coming up from the kerosene refrigerator), and a ceiling insulated with kapok/cotton-silk tree fibers.

In early 1993, the Brinnemans moved to North Carolina to work at the JAARS Center. Neal became an IT specialist, helping others complete their translations, especially through Paratext software assistance. He also served on the TOTAL-It-Up! recruitment course staff, as a Wycliffe recruitment speaker in colleges, and a vespers service host. Neal also served many years as a Sunday school class teacher. 

In 1994 he received the Alumnus of Year award from Huntington College.

He is survived by his wife, Carol; sons Daniel and Benjamin; daughter-in-law Patty; two grandchildren, Pierce and Maggie Rose; his sister, Doris Chartier; and brother, Rex, and their spouses.