NEWTON, Kansas (Mennonite Mission Network) — After 103 years and 44 days of life, Mary Hope Wood Stucky died Feb. 8 in Bogotá, Colombia, leaving a legacy of mission work spanning three-quarters of a century.
That legacy began in the fall of 1945, when the General Conference Mennonite Church sent Mary Hope (Wood) and her husband, Gerald Stucky, together with Janet Soldner and Mary Becker, to begin mission work in Colombia. After intensive language study, on Feb. 1, 1946, they settled on a small farm near Cachipay, about 50 miles southwest of Bogotá, to start a boarding school for children whose parents were isolated due to leprosy.
Colombian peacemaker Ricardo Esquivia, who met Mary Hope in 1956 when he was 10 years old, wrote: "I entered the Mennonite school they opened and directed for healthy children of parents with leprosy. It was a difficult time for children like me who were affected by social injustice and the stigma of a disease that at that time had no cure. In that storm of my life, and for more than 60 years, she was a light, a beacon."
The school expanded to about 100 students and was a hub for evangelistic activities. Guillermo Vargas Rincón wrote: "My family and I arrived in Cachipay in 1956, displaced by the violence that already existed in Colombia in those years. Señora María, with a smile and a lot of patience … gave us food, told us stories of Jesus, and told us beautiful words that made us feel very proud and very important."
Today's Iglesia Cristiana Menonita de Colombia (IMCOL) has its roots in that first children's ministry, said Linda Shelly, Mennonite Mission Network's director for Latin America.
"Mary Hope not only focused her own family toward active church leadership, but also had a critical role in the lives of the children at the Cachipay home and school," Shelly said. "A remarkable number of the children, like Esquivia and Vargas, grew up to be leaders in IMCOL."
Vargas later served as a teacher and then director of Colegio Americano Menno in nearby La Mesa. He said, "As a teacher, I shared with my students for 40 years many of the Christian teachings, principles, values and modeling that Señora María and her husband, Señor Gerardo Stucky, gave us."
Seeds of mission call sown in her formative years
Mary Hope was born in Lansing, Michigan, on Dec. 26, 1916, the second of four children, to Frank E. Wood and Helen Esselstyn Wood, who was born in Persia of Presbyterian missionary parents.
After finishing college in 1938, she went to Biblical Seminary of New York, where she earned a master's degree in Christian education and met Gerald, whom she married in 1943. Their first child, Judith, was born before they left for Colombia. Peter, Paul and Timothy were born in Colombia.
Mary Hope and Gerald Stucky with their children (left to right), Timothy, Judith, Paul and Peter, shared their lives with hundreds of children at the home and school in Cachipay, Colombia. Photo provided.
Next leg of the journey
In 1965, the couple returned to the United States. They served in the pastorate of First Mennonite Church, Berne, Indiana, and Mary Hope also studied chaplaincy. In May 1973, they returned to Colombia and began a Bible study in their apartment in Chapinero. The group grew and organized as a church, Mennonite Church of Teusaquillo.
In the 1970s, together with Oliva de Bastidas, Mary Hope founded the Hogar Cristiano La Paz, a Mennonite home for the elderly. Former director María Helena López said, "The home had its origin with a senior [citizen] who was victimized by her family and left begging in the streets. … Seeing this situation, they took her to a safe place, and bathed and fed her, and healed her wounds. ... Soon, there were many more. Señora María was always very committed to the elderly, and was an example of service, simplicity and love without asking anything in return."
After Gerald's death from cancer in 1988, Mary Hope chose to stay in Bogotá, remaining active in the Mennonite Church of Teusaquillo. Oscar Herrera wrote: "It was a privilege for my wife, Sonia, and me to be able to share with Señora María when we arrived at the Teusaquillo church in 1997. We wanted to support youth ministry, and she was very attentive, encouraging us."
Irene and Jack Suderman, who served in Colombia during Mary Hope's "retirement years," wrote: "She had strong opinions and was not averse to reprimanding folks — young and old — whom she thought needed a word of caution. Yet, it was her commitment, love, and persistent encouragement for the people she met that stand out as her lasting legacy."
Alix Lozano, retired director of Seminario Bíblico Menonita de Colombia, in a tribute to Mary Hope, said, "… you are a woman whose presence reminds us … that we are a church with a past and a present that we hold on to for the future. A church that must bequeath future generations with challenges and commitments."
In a condolence letter to the family, Stanley W. Green, executive director of Mennonite Mission Network, and Shelly wrote, "We know that Mary Hope has left a strong legacy in the Iglesia Cristiana Menonita de Colombia and will continue to live in the lives and ministries of the people with whom she lived and worked."
Mary Hope was preceded in death by her husband, Gerald, and her daughter, Judith. Survivors include son-in-law, Lewis Sprunger; sons, Peter (Leticia), Paul (Carol), and Timothy (Luzdy); grandchildren, David (Wakana), Michael (Robyn-Lynn), Andres, Jonathan (Yina), Santiago (Ana), Elias, Lucas, Leah, and Micah (Janny), and greatgrandchildren, Sunny, Bronwyn, James, Jacobo, Nicolas, Lorenzo, and Gabriela.
Children at the Colegio Americano Menno in La Mesa, Colombia, prepared a bulletin board collage in recognition of Mary Hope Stucky's life and ministry in their country. Photo by Mark Landes.