Second generation mission worker dies at 93
ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Mission Network) — Even as a mission administrator in charge of a leprosy hospital in the Madhya Pradesh region of India, John A. Friesen was a pastor at heart, remembered for his love and passion for the beggars and lepers of his village and for the growth of the church.
Amy Jiwanlal of Mennonite Church in India said, “We remember him with affection and honor. He became a part of the sick, poor, weak, old people around him and talked, ate and sat with them to fulfill the Lord’s command, and this is how he told them that Jesus loved them.”
Friesen’s son Stan wrote, “He saw his primary calling to be with and walk beside his Indian colleagues.” Stan Friesen recalled his father spending nearly every evening and Sunday praying with and blessing the sickest of the leprosy patients, many of whom were in pain from reactions to the medicine given for their leprosy.
The Rev. P.K. Singh, secretary of Mennonite Church of India said Indian Mennonites mourn the elder Friesen’s passing and remember his artistic and musical talent and his faith. “He was keen in evangelism, preaching to patients as well as to others,” Singh said.
John A. Friesen, in the center of a three-generation family legacy of service in India, died Friday morning, March 20, 2009, at Courtyard Healthcare in Goshen.
He was born November 30, 1915 in Jamgaon, Madhya Pradesh, India, to Peter Abram and Helena (Hiebert) Friesen. His mother died in India when he was very young; two of his sisters also died in childhood in India. Friesen was raised by his step-mother, Florence (Cooprider) Friesen. He married Genevieve Yoder on June 13, 1939, in Topeka, Ind., and they sailed for missionary service in India in October of that year. She died June 12, 2002.
The Friesens served in India with Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities—a predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network—from 1939 until 1981, with short periods of deputation, family medical care, and refreshment in the United States. As an India-born worker whose native language was Hindi, his primary concern was Mennonite church planting in India.
Gifted in artistic ability, Friesen edited the church paper and worked on literature and audiovisuals. He loved music and singing bass and encouraged indigenous music in the churches he attended. Over the years he was also charged with leprosy control and care. When the Indian church reorganized in 1971, he continued to work for Leprosy Mission of India, in a pastoral role.
Jiwanlal called him a “strong missionary,” serving not only in the cities of Dhamtari and Shantipur, but in remote areas as well. Friesen worked for 41 years to strengthen and enlarge the witness of the Mennonite Church in India. He talked of answers to prayer for his wife and sons from the earliest days of his marriage. He lived through changes in the India political system as it gained independence from England.
The Friesen family’s connection to India and to mission continued. All five of the Friesens’ adult sons have served overseas with a variety of Mennonite-related organizations, including Mennonite Mission Network and its predecessor agencies. Two of them, Stan and Weldon, returned to India on various assignments.
After the death of Friesen’s wife, Genevieve, Paul Gingrich, president of Mennonite Board of Missions from 1980 to 1994, said the Friesen family was more Indian than North American. "Both Genevieve and John loved the people with whom they worked and showed an amazing ability to minister cross-culturally," Gingrich said.
Jiwanlal said during Friesen’s last visit to India, she was amazed to hear him recall so many names of Indian counterparts and ask about their families. It showed, she said, his fondness for India and its people.
Friesen was a member of College Mennonite Church, Goshen, and a graduate of Hesston (Kan.) College and Goshen (Ind.) College. He received the Culture for Service Award from Goshen College in 1996.
After his retirement, he and Genevieve were involved in jail ministry to teens in Goshen and the Mennonite Board of Missions Auxiliary, an organization that aided the predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network. They also created art and banners for various church programs.
He served four churches as interim pastor.
He is survived by five sons, J. Stanley (Delores) Friesen of Fresno, California, Dr. G. Weldon (LuEtta) Friesen of Middlebury, C. Richard (Ruth Ann) Friesen of Formosa, Argentina, G. Delbert (Anna Kay) Friesen of Huntington Beach, California, and D. William (Kate) Friesen, Olympia, Washington; eight grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; a half brother, Paul A. Friesen of Hesston, Kansas; and a half sister, Grace Slatter of Filer Idaho.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Genevieve; an infant son, Carl Theodore (“Teddy”); three sisters, Ida Schmidt, Rose and Mary (Rose and Mary died in childhood); and three brothers, Peter H., William C. and Edward Friesen.
Friends may call 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m., Friday, March 27, at Yoder-Culp Funeral Home. A memorial service will be conducted at 4 p.m., Saturday, March 28, 2009, at College Mennonite Church. The Rev. Gary Martin will officiate. Burial will take place before the service in Maple Grove Cemetery, Topeka.
Memorial contributions may be given to Mennonite Mission Network for Dhamtari Christian Hospital School of Nursing Scholarship Fund.