NEWTON, Kansas (Mennonite Mission Network) – Paul George Kniss, who served as a long-term mission worker in India, died on July 8. He was 94.
Kniss was born in Peoria, Illinois, on May 23, 1925, to Elizabeth (Luther) and Lloy Anson Kniss. Kniss was a year old when his parents moved to India to serve as missionaries with Mennonite Board of Missions, a predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network. It was there that Kniss’s siblings, Esther, Mark and David, were born, and where they spent their formative years surrounded by their parents’ ministry. The family moved back to the United States in 1942, and Kniss attended Eastern Mennonite College in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where he earned both college and seminary degrees.
In 1947, Kniss married Esther Mast, who also attended Eastern Mennonite College. The couple moved to Bihar, a state in northeast India, in 1950, where they served as missionaries for more than 43 years with Mennonite Board of Missions. Together, they helped support the fledgling churches of Bihar Mennonite Mandli, one of the now nine Mennonite denominations in India. They also worked to establish Good Books, a bookstore and media ministry based in the city of Ranchi. The ministry included mobile libraries that supported the smaller towns and villages in the region. Good Books continues today as an independent ministry with the Bihar Mennonite Church.
“I thought [the bookstore] was an innovative way to let people have access to religious books,” said Dave Kniss, Paul’s brother. While many people in India did not want to be seen openly purchasing Christian texts at that time, Dave recalled Paul admitting to helping conceal customers’ books before they left the store.
“He sold one secretly to a person in the community, and later he sold one secretly to the same person’s wife,” Dave said. “He’d have them wrapped in such a way that [other people] would not be able to see.”
During his time in India, Kniss served as regional superintendent of Emmanuel Hospital Association, and was a representative through United Mission to Nepal.
“Paul Kniss related extremely well with nationals in Bihar and was greatly respected by them,” said Laura Schumm, who, along with her husband, Dale, served as mission workers for six years alongside Esther and Paul in India. “Paul was innovative and related well with people using his excellent command of the Hindi language.”
After returning to the United States in 1993, Esther and Paul served with shorter term missions in India through the Missionary Church, and in Trinidad with Virginia Mennonite Missions. Esther died in 2007.
In 2009, Kniss married Naomi Hostetler. She became involved in his continued ministry with churches in India, Nepal and Trinidad.
“In our devotions each day, I would pray for each of my daughters and 16 grandchildren,” recalled Naomi. “In turn, Paul prayed for each church in the BMM [Bihar Mennonite Mandli], naming each pastor. He was on Skype or telephone frequently talking with the pastors or with Stephan Paul from Good Books. When I finally got to meet them personally, I felt a connection."
“Paul not only loved India, but also felt a call, as his parents, Lloy and Elizabeth, did, to share God’s healing and hope with its people whom he loved,” said Stanley W. Green, executive director for Mennonite Mission Network. “As a mentor, teacher and friend, Paul became an inspiring example who will be long remembered for years to come.”
Kniss is survived by his wife, Naomi; his sister, Esther (Myron) Augsburger; his brother, David (Esther) Kniss; his five stepchildren, Rhonda (Dallas) Steiner, Cheri (Joel) Garber, Christina Brenneman, Lorisa Willis, and Lisa (Larry) Friedenberg; as well as 16 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his former wife, Esther (Mast), and his brother, Dr. Mark Kniss.