NEWTON, Kansas (Mennonite Mission Network) – Belva Unruh, who served as a long-term mission worker in both Japan and Taiwan, died Nov. 20, 2018. She was 94.
Unruh was born Sept. 1, 1924, in Freeman, South Dakota, to Anna (Tschetter) and Edward Waltner. After graduating from Freeman Academy, she attended Bethel College in Newton, Kansas, where she met her husband, Verney Unruh. They were married in 1946.
During college, both felt led to serve in missions. After a time of seminary study in New York and pastoring in Pulaski, Iowa, the couple was among the first workers sent to Japan by the General Conference Mennonite Church's Commission on Overseas Mission (COM), a predecessor agency to Mennonite Mission Network. Upon sailing to Japan in 1951 with their 2-year-old daughter, Judi, they studied Japanese in Kobe before moving to the city of Miyakonojo on the island of Kyushu, where they worked with church planting and evangelistic ministry.
During part of their term in Japan, Belva and Verney served as houseparents to children of COM missionaries. Their home was expanded into a two-story dormitory to accommodate the children who attended the one-room, mission-sponsored school next door. Belva managed caring and cooking for the children, as well as playing piano during daily worship.
"When we were in the dorm, we would have devotions every night," said Judi Mollenkof, Belva and Verney's oldest daughter. She recalled sitting in her parents' living room with the other children, singing from the Mennonite Hymnal while her mother accompanied every tune on the piano. "Experiences like that stay with you a lifetime," she said.
Pat and Paul, Belva and Verney's second and third children, were both born in Japan, while Barb, their fourth, was born in South Dakota while the family was on furlough.
When the Unruhs returned to the United States in 1966, Belva worked as a nurse aide at Friendly Acres in Newton, while Verney served as the staff secretary of Asia ministries for COM. Belva graduated from Hesston College with a degree in nursing in 1978.
In 1979, the couple accepted a second mission assignment in the city of Hualien, on the east coast of Taiwan. There they worked with church planting, as well as with the Mennonite Christian Hospital. Belva served with mobile clinics that were dispatched from the hospital to rural villages in the surrounding area, and provided medical care and health education. She continued to play piano for church services and events, as well as leading cooking classes, Bible studies, and women's church groups.
The couple retired from overseas mission work in 1989, and returned to Newton, where Verney served in various pastoral roles at First Mennonite Church, while Belva helped with church activities including prison ministries, Sunday school, and piano accompaniment for services, musical groups, and events.
Unruh was preceded in death by a daughter, Patricia Tilton; her husband, Verney Unruh; brothers, Homer, LaVerne and Don Waltner; and by her parents, Anna and Edward Waltner. She is survived by three children, Judi (Peter) Mollenkof of Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Paul (Chris) Unruh of Hesston, Kansas; and Barb (Ernie) Beachy of Hudson, Wisconsin; son-in-law Bruce (Mim) Tilton of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; as well as 10 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.