Buckwalter did mission in a new way

Lois Buckwalter Lois Buckwalter

Lois Buckwalter, 102, one of the first Mennonites to engage in mission that accompanied existing Indigenous evangelical churches in preserving their language and cultural manner of worship, died March 8 in Goshen, Ind.

From 1950 to 1993, Buckwalter and her husband, Albert, served among the Toba-Qom people in Argentina’s Chaco region, through Mennonite Board of Missions, a predecessor of Mennonite Mission Network.

Within a few years of beginning their ministry, the Buckwalters shifted from living and working on a traditional mission compound. They also moved away from the goal of planting a Mennonite church in the Argentine Chaco to embrace a more culturally appropriate ministry of encouraging the Iglesia Evangélica Unida (IEU, United Evangelical Church), founded and led by Toba-Qom leaders.

They made learning the Qom language a priority, welcomed Toba-Qom visitors into their home and, each weekend, traveled to one of the 51 IEU congregations.

The Buckwalters facilitated translation of the Bible into Qom and the related Pilagá and Mocoví languages.

“The Buckwalters gave leadership to a vision for ministry with a strong theological base and deep respect for Indigenous peoples and their spiritual lives,” said Linda Shelly, Mission Network’s regional director for Latin America. “Lois and Albert shared with the broader church their deep belief that we as Mennonites, and Christians as a whole, will understand God’s message more clearly and deeply when we seek to understand the insights of Indigenous peoples.”

Alfonsina and José Oyanguren, who have served with MMN since 2004, carry on the work begun by the Buckwalters. They said people remember her as Chidaqna’, an Indigenous name given to her. Chidaqna’ was a Qom woman renowned for being fearless.

Born Oct. 2, 1921, in Chicago to Ada (Ramseyer) and Nelson Litwiller, Buckwalter grew up in Argentina, where her parents served with MBM. She graduated from Goshen College in 1944 and married Albert Buckwalter in 1947.

After Albert’s death in 2004, she and her sister, Beulah González, invested themselves in welcoming Spanish-speaking newcomers to the Goshen community.

She was a member of College Mennonite Church in Goshen, where a service of thanksgiving will be held at 2:30 p.m. May 21.

Sign up to our newsletter for important updates and news!