ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Mission Network) — Robert Wisseman Otto, 78, is remembered for his empathy, his active listening, his love of music, and his modeling of servant leadership. He passed away Dec. 31, 2013, at the St. Elisabeth Hospital in Uccle, Brussels, Belgium. For 40 years, Otto served as pastor at the congregation of East Brussels Mennonite Church in Belgium.
“Robert’s life was a constant sermon,” said Jonas Bena Makamina, a church leader at East Brussels Mennonite Church. Makamina met Otto when he came to Brussels to pursue a PhD. “Robert quickly won my trust with his kindness, openness, humility, and his ability to listen. He preached through how he accepted himself, others and God.”
Otto and his wife, Wilda, answered God’s call to go into mission and moved to Brussels in 1965 to serve with Mennonite Board of Missions, a predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network. He became lead pastor at the East Brussels Mennonite Church in 1967.
Pascal Keller, a co-pastor at the East Brussels church and colleague at the Brussels Mennonite Center, remembers how Otto encouraged everyone to use their gifts to get involved in worship and church life. Keller said that Otto was a watchful and kind church shepherd.
“He led in a warm and collaborative way,” said Keller. “He rejoiced in the gifts of others and was never offended or threatened by the gifts of others.”
Several people who knew Otto as a pastor mentioned that he was a good listener and made everyone feel welcome. His attitude convinced Makamina to come to Otto’s church, and it also persuaded Robert Ham to return to the church he left as a young adult. Ham was disillusioned with a former pastor and left the church to play guitar in a rock-and-roll band.
“Mr. Otto spoke to me with sincerity and love, and my resistance to the church melted away,” said Ham.
In addition to Otto’s pastoral work, he taught Protestant religion classes at high schools in Brussels. He served as the director of Foyer Livingstone, the Protestant international hostel for university students. The couple also helped mission workers learn French before going to their placements in French-speaking countries.
In 2000, the Ottos ended their term with Mennonite Mission Network, but Robert continued to pastor at the church until 2007. He was also involved in many church-related or nonprofit social service organizations and boards. He sang with the Royal Protestant Chorale of Brussels for 40 years.
Born July 19, 1935, in Grantsville, Md., to Walter and Barbra (Wisseman) Otto, he graduated from Goshen (Ind.) College in 1957 with a degree in music. In the same year, he was married to Wilda Cender.
In 1960, Robert graduated from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind., with a Bachelor of Divinity degree. For five years, he pastored at Oak Grove Mennonite Church in Smithville, Ohio.
He is survived by Wilda and their three children, Michael Otto of Odense, Denmark; Peter Otto of Gland, Switzerland; and Laurie Otto of Hostebro, Denmark; and 12 grandchildren.
The funeral service was held in Brussels, Belgium, Jan. 7. A memorial service will be held at Springs (Pa.) Mennonite Church on April 16, followed by a burial of the ashes at Springs’ cemetery.
For immediate release
Mennonite Mission Network, the mission agency of Mennonite Church USA, leads, mobilizes and equips the church to participate in holistic witness to Jesus Christ in a broken world. Media may contact firstname.lastname@example.org.