Lessons from legacies

Those who died in past year taught us how to live

Dec 19, 2016 by

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Remembering famous people who have died marks a rite of passage from one year to the next. At MWR we follow this tradition too, believing obituaries are among the most important news.

This year’s list of those who have finished the course and kept the faith feels especially significant. We offer here an additional tribute to certain ones, several of whom were especially important to us at MWR. This is how we will remember them:

D. Ray Hostetter dreamed big. One of his first accomplishments as president of Messiah College was convincing former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose grandfather was a Breth­ren in Christ minister, to give the commencement speech in 1965. Eisenhower’s visit started a relationship that helped the college gain resources and national attention. By the end of Hostetter’s 30-year presidency, Messiah had grown from about 300 students to 3,000.

C. Nelson Hostetter, who died three months after his brother D. Ray, modeled servant leadership. As the first executive coordinator of Mennonite Disaster Service from 1971 to 1986, he carved out a niche for MDS among other disaster-response agencies. With a passion for Anabaptism in its many forms, he compiled statistics on U.S. groups that provided data for special features in MWR and for a 2001 book, Anabaptist World USA. He dreamed of “a growing spirit of respect and understanding that will lead to more and better cooperation within the Anabaptist family of faith.”

Katie Funk Wiebe boldly wrote the truth as she saw it. Believing women were gifted to serve beyond the limits imposed on them — in her own Mennonite Brethren church and elsewhere — she became a leading voice, even a prophet, for gender equality. The Word Guild of Canada described her as “a life force that has pushed its way through the firmly packed soil of tradition.” Book reviews for MWR augmented her prolific body of work. When a review copy of a challenging or potentially controversial book landed on our desk, we often thought, “Katie will do it,” and we were usually right.

Robert S. Kreider embraced diversity, uniting Mennonites and others around purposes greater than their differences. He devoted his energies to causes that made Anabaptists better together: Civilian Public Service, Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite World Conference, Bluffton and Bethel colleges — even the acquisition of 300-year-old copper plates etched by Dutch artist Jan Luyken for printing the Martyrs Mirror. How the past informs the present fascinated him. He wrote for MWR in 1983 that “our history, if we have the eyes to see, is parable for us — to teach, to nurture, to inspire.”

Robert M. Schrag, a former editor of MWR, saw God’s providence. “Providential” was his word for the times when things turned out right. He meant that God had a hand in them. God’s providence isn’t obvious to everyone. You have to look for it. Then you will find God is present and active in your life.

This is wisdom now entrusted to us: Dream big. Serve others. Speak the truth without fear. Embrace diversity for the greater good. Observe how God provides.

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