In one of Jesus’ parables in the Gospel of Matthew, a master praises his good and faithful servant for having proven himself trustworthy in a few things. Throughout his long life and his extensive and multifaceted service to the church, Robert Kreider proved faithful in many things. We at Mennonite Central Committee give particular thanks for Robert’s enduring example of decades-long commitment to service in the name of Christ and for his leadership within MCC.
Robert once observed that he was practically the same age as MCC, born only one year before MCC’s founding in 1920. Yet Robert and MCC were connected in ways beyond simple chronological convergence. In his early 20s, Robert responded to the church’s call during the Second World War to provide leadership in the Civilian Public Service camps for conscientious objectors. Starting off in 1941 as assistant director of the CPS camp in Colorado Springs, Colo., Robert went on to serve as secretary of education for the MCC CPS camps and finally as Director of MCC’s 26 CPS mental hospital units. After the war, Robert and his new bride Lois (Sommer) responded again to the church’s call, serving with MCC in Germany and Switzerland from 1946 to 1949, with Robert directing MCC’s postwar relief efforts and negotiating with military authorities on behalf of Mennonite refugees.
While Robert devoted the bulk of his career to the church’s educational mission, he remained actively involved with MCC’s relief, development, and peacebuilding ministries: serving on MCC’s Executive Committee; taking a sabbatical in 1961-1962 to help start MCC’s Teachers Abroad Program in Africa and Latin America; offering consulting services and leading an MCC self-study in the early 1970s; and, with Rachel Waltner Goossen, authoring Hungry, Thirsty, a Stranger: The MCC Experience (Herald Press, 1988), a collection of representative stories from MCC’s history. Lois’ contribution to MCC’s mission has also been great, in particular her work with colleagues in Bluffton, Ohio, to establish MCC’s first thrift shop in the U.S. and her subsequent travel across the U.S. and Canada to help set up many more such thrift shops.
A simple recitation of the dates of Robert’s service and of the institutional positions he held do not adequately capture the depth of his impact on MCC. His ecumenical passion and vision helped to shape MCC as an inter-Anabaptist initiative through which Mennonites, Amish and Brethren in Christ of differing theological and social outlooks come together in common purpose to respond to Christ’s call to feed the hungry and welcome the stranger. Not only did Robert devote his considerable intellectual gifts and administrative skills to the work of MCC, but he combined those with a warm, gregarious and inquisitive spirit, a spirit that reflected Robert’s understanding of Christian service as an opportunity to encounter the ever-surprising ways that God is at work in the world and to then join in that reconciling mission.
MCC’s nearly century-long history of disaster relief, community development and peacebuilding ministry in the name of Christ owes much to the dedication and witness of Robert Kreider. As we remember and mourn Robert, we give thanks to God for his lifetime of faithful witness. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints (Ps. 116:15).
J Ron Byler is executive director of Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Don Peters is executive director of Mennonite Central Committee Canada.