Carlos Alberto Actis Caporale and Delbert Erb check eggs at the hatchery project near Bragado, Argentina, where Caporale was one of the partners. Photo provided.

By Lynda Hollinger-Janzen
Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Delbert Erb dedicated his many gifts — in administration, biblical leadership, cross-cultural relationships, economics and music, to name a few — to serving God and God's people.

Delbert Erb, who served God in Argentina for more than seven decades, died June 14, in Buenos Aires.

"He decided that his heart and ashes would remain in Choele Choel, [Argentina]," said Rafael Stábile, pastor of the Choele Choel Mennonite Church, where Delbert and his wife, Frieda Schellenberg Erb, were members. During his long ministry in Argentina, Delbert lived in five communities — Bragado, Choele Choel, Floresta, Mechita and Santa Rosa.

Stábile paid tribute to Delbert's orderly and efficient administrative skills, as well as his deep commitment to God's work.

"Delbert was a much-loved man, whose whole heart was for the Lord," Stábile said. "He had an unshakeable faith and put his heart into everything he did. He always had the desire to bless everyone."

Beginning his ministry in 1951, when foreign missionaries oversaw the church, Delbert worked toward the transition to Argentine leadership and celebrated the changes as the Iglesia Evangélica Menonita Argentina (IEMA, Argentina Mennonite Church shifted from being a subject of mission to developing their own mission vision, said Linda Shelly, Mennonite Mission Network's regional administrator for Latin America.

"Delbert encouraged cross-cultural relationships that inspired missional thinking," Shelly said.

Elvio Cayul, one of the pastors of Neuquén Mennonite Church and the IEMA treasurer, remembers Delbert as a teacher and an advisor who expected excellence.

"In our 'How to Preach' course, Delbert made me redo my sermon!" Cayul said. "Words that define Delbert are integrity, transparency and dedication. [When we worked together on church accounts], one of the things that blessed me the most was his orderly work, his documentation files and his great desire to learn everything about Excel. He had a faster learning capacity than many of today's youth!"

Rafael Comas, pastor of the Bragado Mennonite Church, described the imprint Delbert left during his ministry in this community. In addition to pastoring at the Mechita Mennonite Church, he organized municipal choirs — one for adults and one for children — "making an important contribution to the culture of the city." Delbert also was innovative in poultry production from the local to the national level. Despite Delbert's extensive accomplishments, the character trait that Comas found most remarkable was his humility.

"He left us a great example," Comas said.

Alfonsina Finger and José Oyanguren, who have been sent by the Bragado Mennonite Church and are serving with Mission Network in Argentina's Chaco region, remembered how the Erbs served through camps at Quinta La Esperanza (Hope Retreat Center).

"[Delbert and Frieda] were people who consistently worked behind the scenes, setting an example of humility," Finger said. "They did many invisible, but necessary, tasks. Surely, much of the good that we received in our spiritual lives came, directly or indirectly, from valuable people like Delbert and Frieda."

Delbert's mission assignment with Mennonite Board of Missions (MBM), a predecessor agency of Mission Network, dated from 1951-1996. However, his mission vocation extended until the end of his life, as he and Frieda retired in Choele Choel and walked alongside the Patagonia Mission Project (PMP), from 1998-2016.

Delbert served as the facilitator of PMP — a partnership that included the Arm-in-Arm ministry, which was made up of a cluster of people from Illinois congregations, IEMA, and Mission Network. Delbert and Shelly co-authored The Patagonia Story: Congregations in Argentina and Illinois Link "Arm-in-Arm" for Mission, which documents PMP's first 10 years.

The Seminario Intensivo Misionero (Intensive Seminary for Missionaries) grew out of the need to provide training for church-planting missionaries, who were going to parts of the Patagonia where there were few opportunities to deepen biblical knowledge. Delbert was one of the primary teachers. He also wrote some of the materials. Five of the books and booklets he authored or co-authored are included in the Biblioteca Digital Anabautista (Anabaptist Digital Library).

Born to Alta Mae (Eby) and Paul Erb on February 6, 1930, Delbert spent many of his early years in Hesston, Kansas, where his parents both taught at Hesston College. However, his parents' careers also required the family to move to Calgary and Tofield, Alberta; Guernsey, Saskatchewan; and Goshen, Indiana.

When he was 15 years old, Delbert returned to Hesston Junior College (a high school), where he recommitted his life to the Lord after participating in Christian renewal meetings with Nelson Litwiller, an MBM missionary who was serving in Argentina. Delbert graduated with an economics degree from Goshen College in 1951. Delbert and Ruth Landis, also a student at Goshen College, were married and left to begin ministry in Argentina the same year.

After 30 years of life and ministry together, Ruth died of cancer. In 1982, Delbert married Frieda Schellenberg, who had worked as a nurse in Bolivia for more than 20 years with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). Delbert served in Bolivia for a year before returning to Argentina with Frieda. They lived the remainder of their lives in Argentina, except for a two-year assignment (1999-2001) with MCC in Bolivia, where their responsibilities included hosting at guest house in Santa Cruz and teaching in Mennonite churches.   

Most of the many tributes to Delbert and Frieda included appreciation for their generous Christian hospitality.

Delbert was preceded in death by his first wife, Ruth, and his second wife, Frieda. He is survived by his children and their families: sons David and Miguel Erb, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and daughter, Patricia Erb, in Ontario, Canada; four grandchildren — Marco Erb Mueller, Suray and Wanelén Erb Centurión and Luana Delfín Erband; two great-grandsons —Sebastian Mueller and Gael Medina; and many friends from his church families in Argentina, Bolivia, Canada and the United States. 

A memorial service was held at Quinta La Esperanza in Bragado on June 25 and the funeral took place at Choele Choel on July 2. 

 

 

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​Lynda Hollinger-Janzen is a writer for Mennonite Mission Network.

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