Paul M. Gingrich worked at God's mission in Ethiopia and the United States in many capacities — teacher, preacher, pastor, administrator — but whatever the ministry, he valued God's people over tasks.
GOSHEN, Indiana (Mennonite Mission Network) — Once people met Paul Gingrich, they never forgot him. This is the recurring refrain of those who celebrate his life and grieve the loss they feel at his death. Paul Musser Gingrich, 90, died of natural causes Apr. 30 in Goshen, Indiana.
Gingrich served as president of Mennonite Board of Missions (MBM), a predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network, from 1980-1994. Stanley W. Green, who followed Gingrich in this capacity, said, "Succeeding him, I had big shoes to fill. Everywhere I went, across North America and around the world, I heard of the love and esteem [people] had for Paul. They paid tribute to his legacy of service and hailed the investment he made in God's mission and in their lives."
Green said it was a privilege to stand on Gingrich's strong shoulders and that his generous spirit and sunny disposition made him a coveted colleague.
Wilbert Shenk said, "Paul was a warm and welcoming person. He was passionate about God's mission and wanted to ignite commitment to that mission across the Mennonite Church. As my administrative supervisor, I always found Paul to be supportive and constructive."
Shenk served in various roles with MBM and became a global leader in mission thought and a professor of mission studies at many institutions. Those included what is now Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana, and Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.
Alice Roth, MBM's vice president for global ministries, remembers Gingrich as an enthusiastic mentor, encourager and visionary.
Gingrich's experience in Ethiopia and his enduring love for his friends there fanned his burning passion for mission. Ann and Paul Gingrich served with Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) in Nazareth (now Adama) and Addis Ababa from 1954-1969.
Million Belete first met Paul Gingrich at a church conference and then became his student. He described Gingrich as "very dynamic, very social, very likeable." Belete later became Gingrich's peer on the national executive council of the Mennonite Church in Ethiopia. He credits Gingrich with helping make the mission agency's handing over of administrative functions to Ethiopian leadership "smooth and cordial." In mission history, such transitions often created conflict between expatriate missionaries and national church leaders. But Gingrich's diplomacy was key in the birth of the Meserete Kristos Church (Christ Foundation), Belete said. Belete, a leader in the Meserete Kristos Church, became the first president of Mennonite World Conference from the majority world in 1973.
Like Belete, Zenebe Abebe first encountered Gingrich as a student. Abebe remembers Gingrich as a preacher, who spoke with energy, caring, and funny stories so no one forgot his message. Later, when Gingrich worked at Goshen (Indiana) College, he helped Abebe to enroll as a student there.
"Mr. Gingrich always greeted me in Amharic," Abebe said. "The Gingrich family was Ethiopian in how they cared for us as Ethiopian students. They invited us to their home for Ethiopian holidays. They served us Ethiopian coffee and Ethiopian food. You name it, they had it for us."
When Abebe joined the staff at Goshen College, Gingrich served as his mentor. Abebe now works as an educational and fundraising consultant in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Another one of Gingrich's students, Mamo Dula, is especially grateful to Ann and Paul Gingrich's mentorship and encouragement. In the early 1960s, when he and a North American missionary nurse, Mary Ellen Groff, were considering marriage, the missionary community expressed opposition. However, the Gingrich couple's support and counsel laid the foundation for a successful marriage, and the two families became life-long friends.
"Paul was special, and he made everyone around him feel special, too," Mamo Dula said. The Dulas lived in Goshen while Mamo studied at Goshen College, before moving to Pennsylvania where Mamo worked as the director of a pharmacy and Mary Ellen as a nurse and chaplain.
In 1929, Gingrich was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to Mary (Musser) and Thomas Gingrich. He married Ann Gish Keener in 1951. The following year, he graduated from what is now Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia with degrees in Bible and biology.
From 1954-1969, Ann and Paul Gingrich served in Ethiopia with EMM. During this time, Paul completed resident work for a Master's in anthropology at Hartford (Connecticut) Seminary Foundation. The Gingrich family went to Kenya for a year, 1964-1965, to open and operate the Mennonite Centre Guesthouse in Nairobi.
In 1970, Paul Gingrich received his MDiv from Goshen College Biblical Seminary. He also studied at Selly Oak College in Birmingham, United Kingdom, in 1991.
From 1970-1980, Gingrich worked at Goshen College, first as director of church relations. Then in 1975, he codirected the Study Service Trimester program in Belize, Central America. Beginning in 1977, he served as campus pastor.
After Gingrich completed his leadership at MBM (1980-1994), Ann and Paul served as Peace Evangelists for the Mennonite Church and as congregational overseers in Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference. From 1974-1991, Gingrich was active in the Assembly Mennonite Church in Goshen as a pastor, group leader, elder and preacher. He served in similar roles at Belmont Mennonite Church in Elkhart, Indiana, from 1991-2017. At the time of his death, Gingrich was a member at College Mennonite Church in Goshen.
In 1993, Ann and Paul Gingrich received Eastern Mennonite University and Seminary's Distinguished Service Award in recognition for their lifetime of service.
In addition to Gingrich's charismatic and visionary church leadership in Ethiopia and the United States, Gingrich loved photography. His Rolex camera was a constant companion.
"Daddy always had a tripod with him to put his camera on and then he would set the timer so he could get into place," oldest son, Larry Gingrich, said. "We as a family came to dislike this process so much, but he always insisted on doing it in spite of our groaning and moaning. As a result, we have a family picture for almost every occasion."
Gingrich was proud of his six children and his grandchildren. He was especially passionate about their participation in sports.
He instilled in his children a love of education and the importance of serving others. As Abebe said, "Mr. Gingrich's legacy won't die because his children continue in his footsteps."
Paul Gingrich was preceded in death by his wife, Ann; his daughter, Bonnie Gingrich Cleary; and a brother, John. He is survived by five children and spouses: Larry (Sheila Kline) of Birdsboro, Pennsylvania; J. Robert (Joyce) Hooley-Gingrich of Waynesville, North Carolina; Jon "Jud" (Rita) Gingrich of Goshen, Indiana; Michael L. (Bonnie) Gingrich of Elkhart, Indiana; and Lynda (Brent) Troyer of South Bend, Indiana; a son-in-law, Tim (Candy) Cleary of Williamsburg, Virginia; a daughter-in-law, Pam Dintaman of Arizona; two sisters, Mary E. Gingrich of Lititz, Pennsylvania; Martha (Paul) Sangree of Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and one brother, James (Joan) Gingrich of Lititz; 10 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.
A memorial service for Paul Gingrich will be announced at a later date. Yoder-Culp Funeral Home in Goshen will have details. Memorial contributions may be given to Mennonite Mission Network, PO Box 370, Elkhart, IN 46515.