NEWTON, Kan. (Mennonite Mission Network) - When Betty Schmidt Epp and her husband, Aaron, went to Mexico in 1975, she was able to build upon her experiences serving alongside her husband in four pastorates. They served in Cuauhtemoc, Mexico with Commission on Overseas Mission, a predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network, until retiring in 1983.
In Mexico they served one of several congregations affiliated with the former General Conference Mennonite Church. Betty used her musical talents directing choirs and giving piano lessons. She also was instrumental in designing a new structure for the Bluemenau Mennonite Church in Cuauhtemoc and a three-story missionary residence called Casa Menno.
Epp died on Jan. 18, 2008, in Newton at the age of 87. Her husband preceded her in 1992.
She was born June 1, 1920, in Dubois, Idaho. That same year the family moved to Buhler, Kan., to live on a farm. She was baptized and joined the Buhler Mennonite Church
in 1935, and graduated from Buhler High School in 1938. Because her father was a deacon, their family hosted many visiting missionaries and ministers. This proved to be good training for her future ministries as a mission worker and the wife of a pastor.
She met Aaron J. Epp during the three years she studied at Bethel College
in North Newton, Kan. They were married June 1, 1944. They began their first pastorate at Inman (Kan.) Mennonite Church while Aaron continued his education at Bethel College.
After completing studies at Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Chicago, the Epp family, which included two daughters, moved to Reedley, Calif. in 1952 to serve First Mennonite Church
for nine years. Betty enjoyed the variety of fruit grown by local farmers and continued her involvement with church music.
In 1965 Epp was elected president of the Women’s Missionary Association of the General Conference Mennonite Church, serving for seven years. In 1970 she was the first woman elected to serve on the board of Mennonite Central Committee. She felt this was an opportunity to open the way for other women to serve in the future.
The Epps returned Kansas to serve Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church
of Goessel for nine years. She attended sewing circle meetings, directed the children’s choir, and began teaching adults.
The next pastorate took the family to Idaho in 1970, serving the First Mennonite Church in Aberdeen, close to relatives in her mother’s family.
In 1975 Betty and Aaron began serving in Mexico among the conservative German-speaking Mennonites who had immigrated there from Canada and Russia. Their vision was to see spiritual renewal among the Old Colony Mennonites, which according to historian James Juhnke, writing in “A People of Mission,” was strongly resisted by the leaders of the Old Colony Mennonites. However, Epps and other mission workers, especially Canadians, established several congregations and schools.
Epp had known High German previously, but needed to also learn Low German in Mexico.
The Epps retired in Goessel in 1983, near their two daughters, and participated again in Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church. Her funeral was held there on Jan. 22. She is survived by daughters, Patricia (Myron) Schmidt and Mary (Jim) Schmidt; brother Alfred Schmidt and sister Rosa Mae Haugsness, both of Buhler; four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.