Rhoda Ressler (right) witnesses at a train station
Ryan Miller
Wednesday, August 20, 2008

MEDINA, Ohio (Mennonite Mission Network) — The younger of two sisters who helped pioneer the Mennonite church in northern Japan was noted for her wisdom and kindness.

Rhoda Magdalena Ressler, 98, of Medina, Ohio, died on Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2008, at The Inn at Medina.

With her sister, Ruth, Ressler spent 25 years in Japan – 21 of those years with Mennonite Board of Missions, a predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network. The Resslers were instrumental in establishing a Mennonite church in the town of Kamishihoro in the country's northernmost region of Hokkaido, where they taught the Bible, made friends and offered themselves as a Christian presence.

Yukari Kaga and Mary Beyler, current full-time workers in the Tokachi region of Hokkaido that includes Kamishihoro, remember previous generations of Japanese Mennonites speaking fondly of the Resslers. Former Kamishihoro leader Keisuke Matsumoto, who died in 2005, repeatedly told Beyler and Kaga that the dedicated ministry of the Resslers is the only reason a Christian church exists in the village.

In a 1999 gathering at the Kitami Mennonite Church, Matsumoto said the Resslers were his first contact with Christianity. He was skeptical of the good news preached by representatives of the country that had bombed his country, killing his two aunts. He went to their church to prove that Christian faith was not truth.

“If those missionaries hadn’t been Mennonite, I wouldn’t have become a Christian. The call to peace called me,” he said. “These American Christians were so kind, I gradually gave up the desire for revenge.”

The Ressler sisters had intended to serve at an orphanage in China through Mennonite Central Committee, but during their 1949 sea voyage, Mao Tse-Tong established the People’s Republic of China.

“And so we found that our town was gone,” Ressler said, recounting the story of the journey. “We talked to the governor of Guam, and he said this: ‘You’re going to occupied Japan. McArthur has the mosquitoes counted in Japan, and he’ll know of any kind of religious work that is going on.’”

MCC sent them to teach English in Kobe, Japan, for three years. They also did relief and rehabilitation work in Osaka.

After starting with the former MBM in 1953, the Resslers studied language in Kobe before moving to Kamishihoro in 1955. A church building there was dedicated less than two years later. Kaga and Beyler have heard from church members that the Resslers paid for and worked off the building costs. They also started a kindergarten class at the Mennonite mission, working in rural evangelism for a decade.

Charles Shenk arrived with his family in Japan in 1957. He said he, as a young mission worker, sat at the feet of the Resslers and his other senior colleagues on the Japan Mennonite mission team. Shenk was impressed by Ressler’s wit, wisdom and merry mischief, plus the way of loving, self-giving service that she showed in rural Hokkaido.

“She was capable of making a feminist statement in the midst of what felt to her to be a male-oriented, or -dominated, mission structure there in the 1950s and 1960s,” Shenk said. “Very early on, she had gotten the message from someone that preaching and baptizing were not part of her job description, presumably because she was not ordained, but also, clearly, because she was not a man. And she would not let us forget that.”

Shenk said the Ressler sisters “blended into the community around them and shared of themselves and their resources with unflagging generosity and friendliness.” After the Resslers returned to Ohio in the 1970s, Shenk said many members of the Kamishihoro Mennonite church worried about the sisters and urged them to return to Japan so their friends could take care of them.

Today, the Kamishihoro congregation remains small, but active, said Beyler, who serves in Japan through Mennonite Mission Network. Currently, two new believers are studying in preparation for baptism.

In 1966 the two returned to Osaka. They worked on English instruction in the Japanese university and schools and taught Bible classes to interested students through 1973, when they returned to Ohio.

In Ohio, Ressler lived on her mother’s farm near Sterling, Ohio, before moving to Waverly, Ohio. She moved to OrrVilla Retirement Community in Orrville, Ohio, in 1988, living there until earlier in 2008.

Ressler was born June 7, 1910, near Smithville, Ohio, the daughter of missionary parents Jacob A. and Lina (Zook) Ressler. Her father, J.A. Ressler, was in the first overseas mission group appointed by the Mennonite Church and spent nine years in Dhamtari, India. She graduated from Goshen (Ind.) College and earned a master’s degree in deaf education from the University of Pittsburgh. She taught in Pittsburgh and the Scottdale, Pa., community for a number of years. Active in her church and the Mennonite Publishing House community (now Mennonite Publishing Network), she directed a women’s choir, taught Sunday school and Bible school and cared for her aging parents until their deaths.

Ressler was skilled in knitting and crocheting. She and Ruth made hundreds of dolls for benefit auctions throughout Ohio. She loved gardening, flowers, music, reading, sewing, flower arranging, piecing and binding comforters and was a creative and resourceful cook. She was faithful in her contacts with Japanese friends, serving as a gracious hostess and tour guide when they visited her in America. Ressler was a member of Oak Grove Mennonite Church in Smithville, Ohio, where she remained active in Oak Grove’s Mennonite Women organization late into her life.

She was preceded in death by an infant brother, Luke; a sister, Ruth; a half-sister Emma (George) Townsend; and nephews Norman and Paul Townsend. Surviving are several cousins; nephews J. W. Townsend and George Townsend; niece Rebecca Tice; and countless friends.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions will be received by Oak Grove Mennonite Church, 7843 Smucker Rd., Smithville, Ohio 44677 and will be directed to Oak Grove Mennonite Women and Hospice of Wayne and Medina Counties. Gift designations will be honored.

 

 

 Related

 

 

Mission Network family to join ministry of hospitality for refugees in FranceRefugee ministryhttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4707/Mission-Network-family-to-join-ministry-of-hospitality-for-refugees-in-FranceMission Network family to join ministry of hospitality for refugees in FranceGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Calais
Russian and Ukrainian students in Lithuania support refugeesUkrainehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4708/Russian-and-Ukrainian-students-in-Lithuania-support-refugeesRussian and Ukrainian students in Lithuania support refugeesGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Klaipėda
Youth Venture trip provides mentorship, plants seeds for future serviceYouth Venture/SOOP hybridhttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4706/Youth-Venture-trip-provides-mentorship-plants-seeds-for-future-serviceYouth Venture trip provides mentorship, plants seeds for future serviceGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Kykotsmovi, Arizona
Bokgoni Sporting Club offers a better future through recreational sportsBokgoni Sporting Clubhttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4705/Bokgoni-Sporting-Club-offers-a-better-future-through-recreational-sportsBokgoni Sporting Club offers a better future through recreational sportsGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Francistown
New legal office to offer immigration justiceLa Posadahttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4702/New-legal-office-to-offer-immigration-justiceNew legal office to offer immigration justiceGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Elkhart, Indiana
Mission Network welcomes new directorsNews Releasehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4703/Mission-Network-welcomes-new-directorsMission Network welcomes new directorsGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
MVS gathering in San Francisco is a time of connection, comradery and cable carsMVShttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4697/MVS-gathering-in-San-Francisco-is-a-time-of-connection-comradery-and-cable-carsMVS gathering in San Francisco is a time of connection, comradery and cable carsGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476San Francisco, California
Mission worker practiced hospitality on three continentsRemembering Wilma Shankhttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4694/Mission-worker-practiced-hospitality-on-three-continentsMission worker practiced hospitality on three continentsGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
EMS students participate in Youth Venture Civil Rights Learning TourEMS and Youth Venturehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4692/EMS-students-participate-in-Youth-Venture-Civil-Rights-Learning-TourEMS students participate in Youth Venture Civil Rights Learning TourGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
Climate change concerns should not keep Anabaptists from experiencing PentecostClimate change and MWChttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4689/Climate-change-concerns-should-not-keep-Anabaptists-from-experiencing-PentecostClimate change concerns should not keep Anabaptists from experiencing PentecostGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
French-language Anabaptist justice and peace curriculum takes shapeFrench-language curriculumhttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4687/French-language-Anabaptist-justice-and-peace-curriculum-takes-shapeFrench-language Anabaptist justice and peace curriculum takes shapeGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
Mission worker embodied gospel of peaceRemembering John Driverhttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4686/Mission-worker-embodied-gospel-of-peace-Mission worker embodied gospel of peaceGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
Ukrainian students in Lithuania join relief effortsLithuaniahttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4684/Ukrainian-students-in-Lithuania-join-relief-effortsUkrainian students in Lithuania join relief effortsGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Klaipéda
Mission Network sends aid for Ukrainian studentsNews Releasehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4682/Mission-Network-sends-aid-for-Ukrainian-studentsMission Network sends aid for Ukrainian studentsGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
How can I be a peace witness in time of war?Ukrainehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4681/How-can-I-be-a-peace-witness-in-time-of-warHow can I be a peace witness in time of war?GP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476

 

 



 

 

Mission Network family to join ministry of hospitality for refugees in Francehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4707/Mission-Network-family-to-join-ministry-of-hospitality-for-refugees-in-FranceMission Network family to join ministry of hospitality for refugees in FranceRefugee ministry
Russian and Ukrainian students in Lithuania support refugeeshttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4708/Russian-and-Ukrainian-students-in-Lithuania-support-refugeesRussian and Ukrainian students in Lithuania support refugeesUkraine
Reflections on the Sent Conferencehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/blog/4709/Reflections-on-the-Sent-ConferenceReflections on the Sent ConferenceSent Conference
A joining of Pentecost and creation carehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/extending-beyond/4710/A-joining-of-Pentecost-and-creation-careA joining of Pentecost and creation careExtending Beyond
MissionWary live podcasthttps://www.mennonitemission.net/podcasts/missionwary/4698/MissionWary-live-podcastMissionWary live podcastLive webinar
Youth Venture trip provides mentorship, plants seeds for future servicehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4706/Youth-Venture-trip-provides-mentorship-plants-seeds-for-future-serviceYouth Venture trip provides mentorship, plants seeds for future serviceYouth Venture/SOOP hybrid