Lois Buckwalter with Mocoví believers in 1989. Photographer: Albert Buckwalter.

By Lynda Hollinger-Janzen
Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Lois Buckwalter, one of the first Mennonites to engage in mission that accompanied existing Indigenous evangelical churches in preserving their language and cultural manner of worship, died March 8.  

Lois Miriam Buckwalter, 102, was among the first Mennonites to live into a new way of doing mission and continued to build relational bridges between cultures, until she died, on March 8, at Greencroft Healthcare in Goshen, Indiana.

From 1950-1993, Lois and her husband, Albert, served among the Toba-Qom people in Argentina's Chaco region, through Mennonite Board of Missions (MBM), a predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network. Within a few years of beginning their ministry, the Buckwalters shifted away from living and working on a traditional mission compound. They also moved away from the goal of planting a Mennonite church in the Argentine Chaco to embrace a more culturally appropriate ministry of encouraging the Iglesia Evangélica Unida (IEU, United Evangelical Church), which was founded and led by Toba-Qom leaders. They made learning the Qom language a top priority, welcomed Toba-Qom visitors into their home, and each weekend, they traveled to one of the 51 IEU congregations located in Chaco and Formosa provinces.

During their more than four decades of service with MBM, and another decade of working in "retirement," the Buckwalters facilitated the translation of the New Testament and portions of the Old Testament into Qom and the related Pilagá and Mocoví languages. They also helped compile dictionaries in the three languages, in addition to the Guaycurú-Spanish quadrilingual dictionary. Lois also edited Qara'aqtaxanaxanec (Our Messenger), a quarterly IEU Qom-Spanish newsletter.

"The Buckwalters gave leadership to a vision for ministry with a strong theological base and deep respect for Indigenous peoples and their spiritual lives," said Linda Shelly, Mission Network's regional director for Latin America. "Lois and Albert shared with the broader church their deep belief that we as Mennonites, and Christians as a whole, will understand God's message more clearly and deeply when we seek to understand the insights of Indigenous peoples, as well as people of all cultures."

Alfonsina and José Oyanguren, who have served with Mission Network since 2004, carry on the work begun by the Buckwalters and their colleagues in the Argentine Chaco. When learning of Lois' death, people in the Toba-Qom community remembered her as a dedicated and self-sacrificing woman, the Oyangurens wrote in an email.

"[Her Toba-Qom friends said that] she knew many hidden corners of the rural areas of the Chaco. People remember her as Chidaqnaʹ, an Indigenous name given to her by Augusto Doʹoxooi Soria, the cacique (traditional chief) of Miraflores." [Chidaqnaʹ was a Qom woman renowned for being fearless in battle.]

Born Oct. 2, 1921, to Ada (Ramseyer) and Nelson Litwiller, in Chicago, Illinois, Lois grew up in Argentina, where her parents began serving in 1925 with MBM. Lois attended Goshen (Indiana) College and graduated in 1944, with majors in education, English and Spanish. She met Albert at Goshen College, and they were married in 1947. Three years later, they began their ministry in Argentina.

Steve, one of the Buckwalters' four children wrote, "[Our mother] was a curious and sensitive observer of the world around her — always eager to meet new people and gifted at finding common points of conversation. She took on the tasks at hand with enthusiasm, impatience and determination. In addition to bringing up four children in the Chaco and collaborating unstintingly with [our dad] in their missionary work, Lois was an avid correspondent."

She wrote letters from Argentina to family, friends and mission supporters in the United States. When the Buckwalters returned to the United States, she kept in touch with friends and colleagues in Argentina, first, by hand-written letters and, then, by email.

After Albert's death in 2004, Lois' focus shifted from Argentina to her neighbors in the United States. She and her sister, Beulah González, invested themselves in welcoming Spanish-speaking newcomers to the Goshen community.

Lois stayed physically active by swimming and walking, and she exercised her mind through Bible study, reading theological periodicals and engaging with world events.

Lois was preceded in death by her husband; her parents; her sisters, Esther Schertz and Eunice Miller; and her brother, John T. N. Litwiller. She is survived by a sister, Beulah González of Goshen; two daughters, Rachel Lois (John) Miller, of Lawrence, Kansas, and Naomi (Mimi) Rose Buckwalter, of El Cajón, California; two sons, Timothy A. (Crissie Shank) Buckwalter, of Goshen, and Stephen E. (Ulrike von Fritschen) Buckwalter, of Neustadt an der Weinstrasse, Germany; five grandchildren; cousins; nieces; and nephews.

Lois was a member of College Mennonite Church in Goshen, where a visitation will be held May 21, beginning at 1 p.m. A service of thanksgiving will follow, at 2:30 p.m. Memorial gifts may be made to Mennonite Mission Network for work among the Indigenous peoples of northern Argentina — designation box at the bottom of the donation form.

 

 

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https://www.mennonitemission.net/news/5059/Lois-Buckwalter-discerned-a-new-way-of-doing-mission-among-the-Toba-Qom-people

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

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