NEWTON, Kan. (Mennonite Mission Network) — Samuel Stephen, 88, worked his entire life teaching young people, usually leading or working alongside of mission workers. The trusted church leader and educator of the Bharatiya General Conference Mennonite Church in India died April 30.
Stephen was born to Balamdas and Ruth Stephen at Birra, south of Champa, on Mar. 28, 1918. His parents were Christians and both served in evangelistic work. At his birth his mother declared: "You shall be called Samuel. We shall dedicate you to the Lord."
He married Helen Pannalal from Bilaspur in 1944. She had been teaching in the Funk Memorial Girls School in Janjgir, also operated by the Mennonite Mission. She survives with daughter Shireen, of Aurora, Ill., and her husband, Jai Prakash Masih; son Anand of Calgary, Alberta, and his wife, Warsha Gottlieb; and five grandchildren.
Stephen attended the Mennonite mission school at Mauhadih and St. Paul's High School in Raipur through ninth grade. The Mennonite high school in Dhamtari helped him in his final years of high school, where he worked part-time to help pay his tuition and board.
He began his career in education at Mauhadih, teaching in the mission middle school. The facilities were flooded in 1937, so the school was moved 30 miles to Jagdeeshpur where it became the Jansen Memorial School, with mission worker John Thiessen as principal.
After earning a teaching degree, Stephen began teaching at JMS in 1944 and became headmaster in May 1945. He later earned a master’s degree in education at Wichita (Kan.) State University, returning to India to become principal of the school, renamed Jansen Memorial Higher Secondary School.
Stephen and the school’s manager, mission worker Lubin Jantzen, actively pursued academic excellence while emphasizing evangelism. According to former student George Milton Jacob, Stephen took a team of young students by bicycle to villages to hold Sunday afternoon worship services for small Christian groups who could not always be reached by their pastor. At one time, JMHSS reported 250 students, including 64 girls. The school at that time supplied about 50 primary school teachers, social workers, nurses, evangelists and pastors.
In the church, Stephen enjoyed teaching Sunday school and catechism to young people. In 1966 the church conference ordained him as an evangelist. He enjoyed singing and directed the choir at Bethel Mennonite Church, Jagdeeshpur. During his lifetime he was elected to various positions in the BGCMC – chair, secretary or treasurer – and to conference committees.
After retiring as principal from JMHSS in 1979, he managed the mission schools in Champa, Janjgir and Korba for three years. In 1982, the Stephens built a house on a six-acre plot where they hosted village boys who came to study at JMHSS.
He underwent surgery on April 28, and died peacefully two days later. In his last few hours, Stephen continued to be a testament of faith, singing of a land called heaven. His funeral and burial was on May 2 in Jagdeeshpur.