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Winter 2003 | Volume 26, Number 1
Team Spirit

Alumni of the Year Steve and Myrna Anderson Teach Bible Studies From Shanghai to London

AS AN INCOMING FRESHMAN at Seattle Pacific College in 1960, Steve Anderson frequently sang on campus, impressing audiences with his baritone voice and all-American good looks. Senior Myrna Axelson eventually found a way to replace Steve’s accompanist — who happened to be her roommate — and play for him herself. Though Steve now teases that Myrna’s ploy to get closer to him was “a bit devious,” it became the prelude to a long and fruitful team effort.

Alumni of the Year Steve and Myrna Anderson visited Tiananmen Square during a three-year stay in China. In Shanghai, while Myrna taught Bible studies, Steve counseled Chinese executives on leadership. The Andersons will be honored during SPU’s Homecoming, January 30–February 1.  

Married for almost 40 years, Steve and Myrna Anderson supported each other’s careers and raised a family. Now “retired,” the 2003 Seattle Pacific University Alumni of the Year work together, teaching Bible studies from Shanghai to London.

Myrna Axelson Anderson ’61 comes from a long line of Seattle Pacific alumni. In the 1920s, Myrna’s grandfather, a Methodist pioneer from Eastern Washington, moved his family west and built a home on Queen Anne Hill so that the children could attend the College. Myrna’s parents met on campus and eventually married.

It was only fitting, then, that Myrna would begin dating her future husband on an SPC choir tour during her senior year. “At the time, it was scandalous for me to be so much older,” Myrna says dryly. She and Steve Anderson ’64 were married three years later, the month he graduated. Their first years of married life were normal enough. Steve earned an M.B.A. at Stanford University, worked briefly at Boeing, and took a job at what would later become KPMG Peat Marwick, one of the world’s largest accounting and consulting firms. Myrna taught music in grade schools, then stayed home to raise their two children, Mark and Kristin. As Steve was transferred to higher positions at KPMG, the family moved, crisscrossing the country every few years.

Kristin Anderson, now grown and working as a human resources professional at Microsoft, remembers: “The biggest thing we did as a family was to go to a two-week family camp in upstate New York. We did that every summer for eight or 10 years. No matter where we were living, we’d pile in the car and drive there. On the way, Dad was always saying something like, ‘C’mon, we’re going to make family memories. We’re going to visit the world’s biggest ball of twine.’”

Things took a turn for Myrna in the early 1970s, when she first attended Bible Study Fellowship in Los Angeles. A British seminary professor ousted from China, A. Wetherall Johnson, had landed in Southern California and started teaching the Bible to a group of women. The fast-growing group became known as BSF.

Says Myrna, “From the time I walked into the first class, I was arrested by the women’s in-depth, intensive study of the Bible.” When Steve was transferred to St. Louis, Myrna joined other women in starting a pilot BSF group there. When the Andersons moved to Boston and back to Seattle, Myrna served as a BSF catalyst again, and a new chapter of the group grew up in each place.

Finally it dawned on the Andersons why they were often transferred. It was not so much that Steve needed a job with more responsibility, but that God was using Myrna to help start Bible studies around the country. Steve says now, “To me that’s the genius of God at work, that he can multitask with the best of them. I can picture God saying, ‘We gotta get Steve a job, because we need Myrna here, here and over there.’”

God’s use of Myrna was made clear to Steve while they were living in Seattle in 1990. Myrna had been expressing a desire to return to New York City and help start a BS F group for working women. According to her friend Sally Canfield, “Years before, when Steve and Myrna lived in Manhattan, she used to walk the streets, praying for the people there.”

Steve regretfully told Myrna they could never move back to New York, given his job constraints. But one day, completely out of the blue, the CEO of KPMG called Steve with an amazing request: “I want you to come back to New York.” Two weeks later, as they looked for a home in Manhattan, the Andersons learned that friends had been praying for a new BSF effort and Myrna’s return. Recalls Canfield, “Myrna hit the ground running. She completely rebuilt a condo at the same time she was making contacts in churches and sending out invitations. Within a few months, there were 100 women signed up for a class. I call her a bulldog for God.”

Steve rose to partner in 1977 at KPMG and honed executive management skills that would later be used in surprising ways. In his last few years before retirement, as vice chairman–industries, he was instrumental in a major organizational re-engineering of the firm, which among other things included managing an intense leadership development program designed to cultivate the next generation of senior leaders for the firm.

Ren Jurgensen, retired partner at KPMG, says, “I ’ve known Steve for more than 30 years, and he’s got all kinds of leadership qualities. I wish I could bottle them. There are two things he does best. First, he’s a very people-oriented person, and second, he’s visionary. He thinks strategically.”

Steve’s sister Karen Anderson Solem ’69 remembers when Steve showed early initiative and vision as a 10-year-old. “We lived on 25 acres in Naselle, Washington, and one day Steve decided we needed a swimming pool,” says Karen. “He got into a tractor with a scoop on it and started digging this hole.”

SPU President Philip Eaton laughs when he hears the tractor story and agrees that the word to describe Steve Anderson is visionary. Serving on the SPU Board of Trustees for 18 years, six of those years as chair, Steve worked closely with Eaton as the then-new president crafted a vision for the University.

“When Steve was chair of the Board,” Eaton says, “his gifts were the perfect ones for the time he was here. As I was shaping the vision for Seattle Pacific, he’d ask me questions that sharpened my thinking. ‘Give me the short version,’ he kept saying to me. ‘And think big,’ he would say. ‘What’s the big idea?’

“Finally, I told him, ‘Engaging the culture, changing the world.’ Steve said, ‘You got it right.’ Steve was immensely important to me in those early years of my work here at SPU.”

Following retirement from KPMG in 1994, Steve joined Myrna on the BSF bandwagon. As Myrna puts it, “Life changed dramatically. At age 51, he wanted to retire and make himself available for something different, maybe ministry. He’d always been restless. Now he began to roam worldwide, and his wings were flapping at a higher speed.”

They decided to move to northern China and teach English and business at a university. For a year they stayed in the rural north, but soon they moved again. Explains Steve, “Myrna had always had a passion to help launch a BSF group in one of the big cities in China.”

But to live in Beijing or Shanghai, the two needed a Chinese government-approved reason, such as a job. Steve’s executive leadership skills paid off. As a board member of American Standard Companies Inc., he was asked to create a leadership development process, training Chinese employees at the American Standard office in Shanghai. Once again, Myrna was able to join a “wonderful team” and teach a pilot and first-year BSF class, this time to an assortment of expatriate women from all over the world, within a Communist country.

After three years, the Andersons came home to what had once been Myrna’s parents’ house in Bremerton, Washington. They stayed for only a little while before their next big move.

Jean Nystrand, executive director of BSF, called at the perfect time: Could they continue a fledgling BSF program Nystrand and her husband had started in England? The Andersons took off again, this time to teach a men’s fellowship and a women’s Bible class. Now, after teaching the women’s day class for two years, Myrna hopes to help start an evening BSF program for working women in London.

As Nystrand tells it, “It’s a great fit, and the Andersons are a wonderful team. Steve is a great mentor for men. The situation in London is right up his alley, working with men in business. And Myrna loves teaching the Bible to businesswomen — it’s that entrepreneurial bent of hers. England is pretty cold spiritually, so we’re grateful they’re there.”

Reflecting on the turns their lives have taken, Myrna says, “The British woman who founded BSF in California, where I first took a class, was imprisoned in Shanghai in World War II. We’ve been able to go back to China for her, in a sense, and then back to her homeland of England.

“It’s amazing how God opened the door to China and now to London,” she continues. “It’s something only God could do. I never wanted to be a ‘missionary’ or a pastor’s wife; we were both career-track people. Now we find ourselves teaching the Bible full-time. How does that happen? I didn’t think it would be like this. But it’s been a joyful adventure.”

Steve agrees. “We can’t look back on our lives and take the credit for this,” he says. “We couldn’t have done it on our own power. Whatever has been accomplished has been God’s doing.”


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