In honor of Women's History Month, this is the third story in a series of women's contributions to making earth more like heaven. Bonita Driver practiced God's welcoming love in Argentina, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay and the United States. Read the first in the series about Prathia Hall Wynn and the second about Irene Lehman Weaver.
Bonita (Bonny) Landis Driver put hands and feet to God's welcoming love on three continents. She and her husband, John, served through Mennonite Board of Missions (MBM), a predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network, from 1951-94.
María Martinez Garcia saw Jesus reflected in Bonny and John Driver, as they walked alongside Anabaptist communities in Spain. Martinez Garcia worked as a nurse with Landis Driver at Hogar de Paz (House of Peace), a Mennonite hospice facility in Barcelona for people living with HIV/AIDS. Upon hearing of Landis Driver's death in 2020, Martinez Garcia imagined her cradled in the arms of God — surrounded with the same warmth that everyone felt when they entered the Drivers' home.
"When you leave the university [with your nursing degree], you only have theory. I learned to practice [my faith] from you, dear Bonny. I've always believed that you are the pure reflection of the Lord here on earth," Martinez Garcia wrote to Landis Driver. "God blessed us by sending us flesh-and-blood angels."
Landis Driver grew up in Minnesota and attended Hesston (Kansas) Academy (now Hesston College), where she met John Driver. They married in 1946 and went to Puerto Rico with Mennonite Central Committee for a three-year community-development assignment. There, Landis Driver worked as a registered nurse at the Mennonite Hospital in La Plata. She assisted with surgeries and carried a wide range of clinical responsibilities.
In 1951, shortly after their first child was born, the Drivers returned to Puerto Rico, this time with MBM. In addition to serving in other ministries, the Drivers pastored congregations in five locations in Puerto Rico: La Plata, La Cuchilla, Palo Hincado, San Juan and Aibonito. Their other two children were born in Puerto Rico.
In 1967, the Driver family moved to Montevideo, Uruguay, to work at the Mennonite seminary, Seminario Evangélico Menonita de Teología (Mennonite Evangelical Theological Seminary).
Eight years later, the Drivers were called to Spain, where they walked alongside congregations in
Madrid, Burgos and Barcelona, and helped build a residence for elderly people in Barcelona. In Spain, the Drivers discovered the importance of living in community and doing mission within — and outside of — the church.
From 1980-1994, the Drivers served in Argentina, Uruguay and Spain. After their official "retirement" in 1989, the Drivers' work with MBM consisted of short-term assignments for several months, from their home-base in Goshen, Indiana. Landis Driver was also active at East Goshen Mennonite Church and in her community. She volunteered at Mennonite Central Committee's local thrift shop, Maple City Health Care Clinic, Center for Healing and Hope and Greencroft Communities.
Tom Rutschman, the son of another missionary couple, first met the Driver family in Uruguay.
"We would often find our way to the Drivers' [home], where Bonny would give us refreshments," Rutschman remembered. "We were jealous of Cindy, Fred and Jonny [the Drivers' children] who had such a cool mother."
Rutschman and his wife, Disa, later became MBM colleagues with the Drivers and lived with them for a year in Barcelona, where a Mennonite community was forming around the Drivers' ministry. As part of the community's outreach, Landis Driver worked at the evangelical hospital. Her presence was appreciated when the first Rutschman child was born.
"Bonny broke the rules and smuggled new-born Joel out of the nursery, so Disa could begin breast feeding, which wasn't promoted at that time," Tom Rutschman recalled. "I was in the delivery room, as well, and [was informed] that it was the first time a husband wanted to be in on the birthing process at that hospital!"
Linda Shelly, Mission Network's director for Latin America, said that, though the Drivers' official ministry closed three decades ago, partners continue to express appreciation for how they lived the gospel and welcomed people into their home. Landis Driver played a key role in practicing the theology that John Driver taught and wrote about so prolifically, she said.