On Apr. 9, 2019, four days before her 87th birthday, Bertha Carolyn Wenger Swarr "graduated," as she liked to refer to her passing on to eternal life. She had been living in the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
Bertha was born Apr. 13, 1932, in Versailles, Missouri, to Jesse Walter and Ella Lehman Wenger. She completed an education degree in 1953 at Goshen (Indiana) College. She met Paul Swarr at Goshen and they were married May 8, 1955.
In 1957, Bertha and Paul accepted an invitation from Mennonite Board of Missions, a predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network, to serve God and the church in Israel. The Tel Aviv area by the Mediterranean shore became home and the setting for the rearing of their three children: David, Evelyn and Carolyn.
"Mom was a pioneer in many ways," daughter, Evie Hostetter, said. "Going to a foreign land with her husband, a 1-year-old child, and pregnant; learning Hebrew; living for seven years without a phone or car; raising her children in a different culture. Spiritually, she was a pioneer, open to growing in things of the Spirit and hungry for truth."
During those years in Israel, Bertha taught, wrote, edited, nurtured her family, assisted Paul in his managerial role in Sharon Tours (leading biblical journeys through the Holy Land) and did secretarial work in the United Christian Council in Israel. She knew Hebrew so well that she could share her faith in Yeshua (Jesus) clearly. In Hebrew, she fluently led Bible studies, prayed, and counseled. She also edited a bimonthly newsletter with Paul.
Bertha's dedicated care for the larger family of God is illustrated in a story told by her daughter, Carolyn Swarr Stauffer.
"I always knew that my parents had many 'children' that they prayed for and sacrificially served all around the globe, Carolyn said. "This came directly home to me when a Holocaust survivor named Edith attempted to overdose on painkillers. During her post-attempt hospitalization, Edith's daughter, Raya, who had special needs, came to live with us indefinitely.
"As a middle-schooler, I distinctly remember waking up each day to the reality that now I had a new 'sister,' one whose skills perhaps diverged from mine, but a sister nonetheless who was now a member of our family. Edith came to know Christ, and this was just one example of how Mom followed Christ's example of risking to live, loving fiercely, and seeing what 'can be' in so many of us."
Upon their return to the United States in 1987, Bertha and Paul lived in Virginia. Bertha had various opportunities to speak at ladies' church gatherings to report on Messianic ministry privileges in Israel. Together with Paul, she was very active in the work of Youth With a Mission (YWAM) in the Richmond area, discipling and training international youth to be active in church and mission activities. This work also took them to such places as Brazil, Ghana, and South Africa.
Bertha was always very supportive of Paul's pastoral calls at Powhatan Mennonite Church, and at Hope Christian Fellowship in Richmond. She graciously worked behind the scenes—teaching, typing, hostessing, discipling, praying, and walking alongside their three young-adult children.
"Mom lived, breathed and preached hope," son, David Swarr, said. "She inspired hope in others. Simon was an atheist, a brilliant thinker and philosopher, and a gardener by trade. He would stop by our house (in Israel) once every day, usually at the most inconvenient times, and Mom would serve him a cup of tea while he expounded all his objections to faith in God. This continued for 25 years, but today, Simon is worshiping with her before the throne. Mom's life demonstrated that hope is the fuel that powers the machinery of faith to produce the gifts of love."
Swarr is survived by her husband, Paul; son, David (Sharon) Swarr, of Richmond, and Galilee, Israel; daughter, Evelyn (Jay) Hostetter, of Powhatan; daughter, Carolyn Stauffer (Carl), of Harrisonburg; and grandchildren: Psalm (Daniel) Swarr Araujo of Richmond; Arielle Swarr of Boston; Timothy (Ella) Hostetter and three children of Ruthers Glen, Virginia; Rose (Nick) Hostetter Rector of Spotsylvania, Virginia; Cindy Hostetter of Powhatan; Christopher (Elana )Stauffer of Harrisonburg; and Grace Stauffer of London, England.