ELKHART, Indiana (Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission/Mennonite Mission Network) – Gladys E. Klassen Buller, 91, an educator who continues to inspire faithfulness in today's church leaders, died Tuesday, May 24, at Courtyard Healthcare in Goshen, Indiana.
In 1953, Gladys Buller and her husband, Peter, arrived in the country that became Democratic Republic of Congo with a commitment to church growth through education. Their son, Charles, who continues his parents' legacy in his work with Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission, said that his mother "carried a passion to see Congolese families established in a manner where Christ was experienced by and accessible to every age level."
In her first decade in Congo, Gladys Buller taught in the Mennonite Church's girls' secondary schools. Beginning in the mid-1960s and until her retirement in 1987, she dedicated herself to making education available to pastors' wives through Bible study, and helping them participate in the church. According to her son, Charles, that's where she found the greatest fulfillment. Along with biblical courses, Gladys Buller taught sewing, baking, and the management of cottage industries using these skills. She also organized vacation Bible schools for children.
Gladys Buller and her students at Université Chrétienne de Kinshasa (Christian University of Kinshasa) in Zaïre (now Democratic Republic of Congo).
Gladys and Peter Buller's dedication to their Congolese brothers and sisters was proven during the chaotic period surrounding the fight for independence from Belgian colonizers. Despite an official agreement to transfer power to Congolese leadership on June, 30, 1960, the Belgians refused to relinquish control of the armed police forces. Violence erupted against Belgian expatriates, in particular, but extended to all white foreigners.
The Buller family was among the last of the 126 Mennonite mission workers in Congo to vacate their place of ministry, not wanting to abandon their neighbors in difficult circumstances. The vehicle in which the Bullers and another mission family was traveling broke down as they began their 400-mile journey south to Angola. So a day later, there was much rejoicing when they finally joined their North American colleagues camped by the banks of a stream flowing three miles south of the border. In this pre-mobile-phone era when long-distance communication needed cumbersome equipment and antennae, there was no way to know whether those in the Bullers' vehicle survived all the checkpoints manned by armed soldiers until they drove into sight.
In the fall of 1961, slightly more than a year after they had fled, Gladys and Peter Buller's family were the first mission workers with children to return to a rural ministry location in Congo. They accepted an assignment to open a new secondary school in Mukedi.
Joly Birakara, vice president of the largest Mennonite denomination in Congo, Communauté Mennonite au Congo, wrote: "It is with sadness that we have received the message of the death of our beloved mother, Gladys Buller. We remember the service she rendered for many years here in [Congo] with her husband, Peter Buller. The Bible says in the book of Revelation, 'Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord ... for their deeds follow with them.' We know that if we also do good works, we will be with our mother, Gladys, on the last day. It is God who gave her to us and it is God who has gathered her to himself. His name be praised!"
Born Sept. 27, 1924, in Saskatchewan, Canada, to Jacob P. and Elizabeth (Fast) Klassen, Gladys attended Grace Bible Institute in Omaha, Nebraska, (now Grace University). In 1949, she married Peter Buller in Minnesota.
Gladys Buller was a member of Silverwood Mennonite Church, where she served as minister of education for several years. She used her artistic abilities to create a cottage-industry project to help Congolese women increase their income through art projects. She also volunteered at Goshen General Hospital. In their retirement years, Gladys and Peter Buller accepted several short-term mission assignments in Congo, Haiti, and the United States.
Gladys Buller is survived by a daughter, Jeanette (Nathan) Slater, Phoenix, Arizona; two sons, James P. (Patti) Buller and Charles P. (Tracy) Buller, both of Goshen; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her husband (2009), her parents, and two siblings, Alvera Rempel and Orlando Klassen.
Memorial contributions may be given to Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission for pastoral training in Congo.