«Great Preachers of the Missionary Church Dr. Paul Erdel Over the last century the Missionary Church has produced preachers in numbers and quality ...»
Safara A. Witmer was the man who saved the Bible institute movement after World War II. FIe was an intellectual preacher with an encyclopedic mind and an iron will. By 1948 he had spent more than 20 years at Fort Wayne Bible Institute, the last three as its president. He saw that his kind of school would soon be squeezed out in the higher-education rat race if it could not secure accreditation, which the regional accreditation agencies were denying. His first step over the next two years was to secure a Ph.D. from the prestigious University of Chicago, while continuing at the 10 Erdel: Great Preachers same time to keep his firm grip on the administration of his own school.
Then, armed with his new credentials and his formidable mind, he almost single-handedly created an accrediting association for Bible institutes and Bible colleges that would insure their future to this day.
Timothy Warner, a missionary to Sierra Leone, became a popular missions teacl1er and respected administrator, first at the Fort Wayne Bible College and then with Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. His keen sense of New Testament balance in both missiology and theology has served evangelicals well. In time, together with his wife Eleanor, he became an authority on the occult. Their messages have helped many to spiritual health, especially in areas of the world where satanic influence is more overt.
An airman who survived a near-fatal parachute jump in World War II, AII' Rees became a missionary to India in 1954. There he founded the Calcutta Bible Institute, a correspondence school that evangelized many thousands of Indians. Returning to Toronto in 1967, for the next quarter century he was the pastor of the historic Banfield Missionary Church. It became a large multicultural congregation of Canadians and of immigrants from Asia, Atl'ica, and the Americas, who worshipped together in warm fellowship.
Beginning in 1972, he also became affiliated with Crusade Evangelism International, holding more than 150 evangel istic campaigns for them, Along the way Alfbecame a passionate spokesman for the Missionary Church of Canada, which separated Il'om the U,S, church. In 1983 he was elected its president, and a few years later AII' led his recently- independent denomination into a successful merger with the Canadian All Rees Evangelical Church. It was pure Rees charisma that swept away the logjam of "marriage" negotiations between the two groups by his abrupt proposal "Let's just elope!" So they did (Shirton 1997, 183). In April, 2000 AII' Rees was declared Emmanuel Bible College's "Alumnus of the Century," a fitting honor for the father of what is now the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada.
In 1947 Bill Pannell, of Native American, AtI-ican, and Spanish heritage, was a keen high school graduate in Sturgis, Michigan. He turned 11 Prcachcrs and Pr",whi"" down a scholarship to play basketball at Michigan State in order to attend the Fort Wayne Bible Institute. Upon graduation he became a popular evangelist in the Missionary Church Association. A modern Moses during the civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s, Pannell wrote My Friend, the Ene/ny, an indictment of white evangelicalism's poor history ofrace relations. His book helped propel him to a post at Fuller Theological Seminary, where he became a respected professor and dean of the chapel.
Jay Kessler grew up in Auten Chapel (now Hillside Missionary Church) in South Bend, Indiana, and still holds membership there today. A graduate of Taylor University, he rose through the ranks in Youth for Christ to become its president. Family Forum, his daily radio program heard across America for many years, gave down-to-earth counsel on the gritty issues facing modern youth. President of Taylor University from 1985 to 2000, he helped keep the college on course for Christ. Under his sympathetic leadership, the financially-troubled Fort Wayne Bible College (by then Summit Christian College) found a safe haven by becoming Taylor University, Fort Wayne.
With roots in several evangelical traditions and experience as a pastor and district superintendent in the Missionary Church, Gordon Bacon found that he could share a vision with deep conviction. For 20 years he traveled across America representing the National Association of Evangelicals as its field director. Since 1989 he has served as vice-president for church relations with Bethel College, a compelling spokesman for the school's remarkable renaissance.
At Campus Crusade's Explo 72 young Bob Laurent captured wide attention as a dynamic youth evangelist. Since then his striking sermons have stirred people at more than 1,000 conferences. He has been a chaplain for several major league teams, including the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Cubs. A college professor since 1986, first at Judson College and now at Bethel College, he teaches with the same intense, passionate enthusiasm as he preaches. Said Jay Kessler of Laurent: "He is poised and experienced for the task of communicator, and his message is clear."
William Lane Craig attended the Mt. Olive Missionary Church in Peoria as a boy, "reading books in the balcony while I preached," said his pastor. Converted at age 16, he went on to earn degrees at Wheaton College, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, the University of Birmingham in England, and University of Munchen in Germany. Armed with European doctorates in philosophy and theology, Craig has concentrated on scholarly defenses of the Christian faith, debating courteously with any atheist or agnostic who is willing to do so. He maintains ministerial credentials and friendship with the Missionary Church, but in truth he is Christ's champion for the holy catholic church of the ancient creeds. From 12 EnIeI: Great Preachers farmer preachers to world-class apologists is a long pilgrimage, but each share a common faith in God and the Bible.
Ministering Sisters With a condescending chuckle a merger committee dropped the "ministering sisters" category from the newly-formed Missionary Church.
Rev. Mae Shupe would have scolded them. Shupe was a feisty preacher in the Michigan District, a woman who seemed to "run rather than walle" In 1933 she wrote a fiery paper on "The Need of Progressive Women Ministers in our Church."
In it she declared, "The church needs women's ministry. It needs real women, strong intelligent women, consecrated women, who are willing to use their every talent and attainment to the glory of God."
Shupe was one of the last ofa fifty-year-old corps ofwomen across the Mennonite Brethren in Christ who operated city missions, pioneered new churches, and held evangelistic campaigns. They included young evangelist Janet Douglas, whose preaching in Ohio Rev. Mae Shl/pe and Michigan won many converts, as well as Mary Finlay and Miss Chapman, heroines of Canada West. The ministering sisters dressed in black hats and uniforms, whose style the district conferences dictated to the last detail. They lived on a pittance and were more often than not replaced by male pastors as soon as their f1edgling chapels could pay a living wage. The early decades would count over 500 women with credentials for ministry, an astounding number gi ven the size of either the Mennonite Brethren in Christ or the Missionary Church Association at that time.
For those brief decades the "ministering sisters," as they were frequently called, functioned as the denomination's spiritual shock troops.
But in time the corps of ministering sisters withered away. Now that the Missionary Church has launched its greatest church-planting campaign ever, Mae Shupe would tell its leaders, "Put the ladies back to worle!"
I3 Pn~achin'" · Preachers alld
Witnesses Around the There have also been great preachers to and from the many autonomous Missionary Church congregations around the world. They
Seymour Hanson, the new pastor of Hopewell Missionary Church in Jamaica. Hanson preached repentance until his people protested. He persisted, and revival came. Eighty-four converts were baptized in three months, and local tavern owners complained. Even Billy Graham, vacationing at a nearby resort, came to hear a sermon by the famous Seymour Hanson, who had merely wanted people to repent and receive Christ as their Savior.
Hector Canola, an arresting orator whom local communists wanted to send to Cuba to prepare for revolution in Ecuador. Never! Canola's great voice belonged to Christ, and he lifted it only to call his countrymen to the Lord. The Missionary Church may have never had a more powerful open-air preacher.
Pronoy Sarkar, the congenial spokesman of/ndia's Missionary church for over 40 years. His testimony of how his mother was found as an abandoned waif in an Indian railroad station by early United Missionary Society missionaries, and later reared by them, particularly inspires American audiences.
Willis Hunking, a Canadian missionary to Nigeria who proclaimed, "This year we're going for a million souls through New Life for All."
Saturation evangelism was born in Latin America, but it reached its potential under Hunking and his companions in Nigeria.
Jacob Bawa, a scholar, teacher, preacher, diplomat, and administrator.
Born motherless and nearly buried alive by an evil witch doctor, he went on to serve his native Nigeria as ambassador to Spain, the Vatican, and Chad, serving his Lord as a respected leader and gifted speaker.
John Bontrager, a missionary to Nigeria. Every Sunday John preached to the largest Missionary Church congregation in the world, which met in the Ilorin Theological College's chapel in Nigeria.
Henry Zehr, the first Missionary Church Association volunteer to be sent overseas. His stirring sermon, "The Christian Soldier," preached to missionary colleagues from many backgrounds in China, was circulated widely as a tract for several years. Its impact deepened when Zehr died from smallpox after two years in China.
Hannah Bracy, a spiritual mother to many pastors in Angola. Bracy trained scores of young men for the ministry. Her true stories of lions
church sponsors programs over a number of radio stations. David has surrounded himself with talented but it is his powerful preaching which pulls the church forward.
What makes David Engbrecht such a good preacher? He is a great communicator. Mike Peters of the North Central District office, who attends the Nappanee church, explains, "He connects with the congregation personally, so people feel he really knows them. Every message is tied closely to Scripture. He preaches on topics that touch people where they are. He uses humor well. He sometimes acts out sermons, such as a face-toface demonstration of sharing his faith with another person. He reads widely and uses a variety of illustrations. Overall, he is committed to excellence."
Engbrecht's preaching has turned his people from preoccupation with themselves to interest in others. Nappanee is an arsenal church which pours its resources and people into great missionary and humanitarian ministries around the world. Engbrecht and his church are setting an example for the entire Missionary Church.
From farmer preachers to radio personalities to outstanding pastors, the Missionary Church has enjoyed a rich tradition of great preaching. May it always be so!
A retired World Partners missionm}1 to EcuadO!; DI:Paul Erdel is eurrently Dean oj" the Bible institute Escuela de Ministerios "EI Camino" and eluster leader/ilr Hispanic ministers in the North Central District oj"the lvlissionary Church.
Reference List Hartzler, Jonas Smucker, and Daniel KaufTman. 1905. ivfennonite Church HistOly. Scottdale, Pa.: Mennonite Book and Track Society.
Lugibihl, Walter H., and Jared F. Gerig. 1950. The Missionary Church Association: Historical Account olfts Origin and Development.
Berne, Ind.: Economy Printing Concern.
Ramseyer, Joseph E. 1948. Dwell Deep: A Series ofDevotional Messages on the Deeper Christian L!fe. Compo and ed. by S. A. Witmer. Fort Wayne, Ind.: Bible Truth Publishers.
Shirton, Wayne F. 1997. Tried, Tested, 7humphant: The Eventfit! Life ofAll Rees. Markham,Ont.: Steward Pub.
From Michigan District 'f1l1f;"'Pl1f,p}ournal, 1926: p. 21