Beryl Forrester, an Oregon fruit farmer who became an apostolic father figure to Mennonite churches in West Africa, died March 2 in Nzérékoré, Guinea, at the age of 80.
Forrester had lived in West Africa since 2000, planting congregations in The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau.
He died while on a mission of teaching and resourcing a church plant in Guinea, which borders Guinea-Bissau on the West African coast.
The cause of death was not confirmed. He was being treated for suspected malaria and a possible blood infection.
He served with Eastern Mennonite Missions.
“EMM mourns the passing of a beloved brother and missionary but celebrates the remarkable legacy of his years of service in West Africa and his example of sacrificial obedience for the sake of the gospel,” said EMM mission team director Lorri Bentch.
Forrester worked to empower African leaders to take charge of the growing Mennonite Church West Africa, or MCWA. He taught a course for pastors on “Biblical Studies in Anabaptist Perspectives.”
“Saturday was the last day I heard his voice, and he said to me, ‘Please, continue to disciple people to be followers of Jesus Christ,’ ” said Adriano MBackeh, an MCWA pastor ministering in The Gambia.
MCWA has been part of the Mennonite mission presence in West Africa since Forrester moved there. It began in The Gambia and reached Guinea-Bissau in 2005. By 2020, MCWA had begun mission work in Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Forrester’s call to Africa began in 1959 when he did alternative service with Mennonite Central Committee in Morocco. In 1961, near the end of his two-year term, God made clear to him that one day he would return to Africa as a missionary.
Four decades later, at the age of 60, he decided to follow this calling. While living in Oregon as a fruit farmer, he received an offer to sell his farm. He believed this meant it was time to return to Africa.
Expecting that agricultural development would be part of his work, Forrester also recognized he had a role in sharing Jesus. Yet, he had little idea how far-reaching his work would become.
“Beryl was a true pioneer,” said Michael Baker, former EMM regional representative for West Africa. “No was not an option when it came to the work of the gospel. He had a passion for the African people and saw Jesus as the freedom from their bondage.”
In his 2015 book, Animists to Anabaptists, Forrester wrote: “I have offered my life . . . to Jesus for the sake of God’s kingdom. That is the model I desire to see replicated in the lives of those our mission reaches with the gospel.”
He is survived by two daughters, Lois Gearhart and Sarah Forrester; and two grandsons. A memorial service will be held March 28 at Groffdale Mennonite Church, Leola, Pa.
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