HESSTON, Kan. (Mennonite Mission Network) – Irene Weaver asked for the impossible. She didn’t want “a lot of hoopla” for the celebration of her 100th birthday. But Weaver, who has served God on four continents, makes events memorable by her mere presence.
An overflow crowd filled Whitestone Mennonite Church, Hesston, Kan., on Jan. 23, to mark a century of faithful living by an extraordinary woman who was guided by singleness of purpose – drawing others toward God through love.
“The older I get, the more I realize that the whole purpose of life is to love people into God’s kingdom,” Weaver said. “That is my strategy of mission. People say to me, ‘Irene, that’s too simple.’ But, I just tell them, ‘That is the finale of my experience in mission.’”
In keeping with Weaver’s deep commitment to Christ, her birthday celebration included communion. While Weaver held a container of bread pieces in her lap, people filed past, touching her shoulder as a sign of blessing or speaking a few words with a hug before moving on to dip the bread into chalices held by family members.
“I feel so blessed,” Weaver said at the end of the service. “I have come through many things, not all of my choosing, but God has been with me. I thank him.”
Weaver has lived all phases of Mennonite mission. Born in India, just 11 years after the first Mennonite missionaries arrived, she grew up on the Dhamtari mission station, immersed in the ethos of those who described their work as that of being “light-bearers to a dark and famine-stricken land.”
Weaver and her husband, Ed, began their mission careers in India. Although they spoke out against administration exclusively by expatriates, they always tempered their remarks.
“I can’t criticize the way [the previous generation] worked because if I had been there in that time, I would have done the same thing,” Weaver sad. “But, this is a new day in mission.”
An opportunity to breathe life into a different way of being sent in Jesus’ name came in 1959 when Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities, a predecessor agency to Mennonite Mission Network, invited Ed and Irene Weaver to respond to a request from churches in Nigeria. Over the next decades, the Weavers articulated mission strategies that are still foundational to Mennonite Mission Network’s partnering with indigenous churches.
An important aspect of the Weavers’ approach is a learning, collaborative posture.
“We do well to forget who we think we are and recognize our need to learn before trying to teach others,” Irene Weaver said.
One of the beautiful lessons African Christians taught Weaver was to abandon her pride and move in worship. She shared this lesson with North American churches. Joe Miller, a former member at Whitestone who wrote the history of the congregation, remembered Weaver dancing down the aisle during a service that she and her husband, Ed, were leading. Weaver stopped by the pew of Howard Hershberger – CEO of what was then Hesston Corporation. Grabbing Hershberger’s hand, Weaver danced him to the front of the congregation. As this story was being recounted at the centennial celebration, Hershberger approached the executive-style chair on wheels in which Weaver sat and asked her to dance.
Weaver is a resident at Schowalter Villa in Hesston. For more information on Weaver’s life and influence on mission, see the list of resources in the accompanying sidebar.