Richard A. Showalter lived to see his dreams for the global Anabaptist church come true.
“It seemed that all I had ever dreamed, and more, began to appear before my eyes,” he wrote in his final Missionary Messenger column for Eastern Mennonite Missions in 2011.
Referencing visits to the leaders of the young churches in what is sometimes known as the Majority World, he described what he had seen:
“Rapid growth despite persecution and all kinds of other difficulties. A deep sense of comradery in Christ. Potential for partnership in mission that I had never imagined. Honduras, Guatemala, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Indonesia, the Philippines — here I met more stalwarts in the faith. The legacy of a church. Your legacy.”
Showalter, 74, whose leadership as president of EMM from 1994 to 2011 played a significant role in shaping that legacy, died Dec. 14 in Irwin, Ohio.
He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in June.
Among Showalter’s greatest contributions to the global Anabaptist church was the creation of the International Missions Association, or IMA, with four founding organizations: the mission arm of the Meserete Kristos Church in Ethiopia; PIPKA, the mission board of Gereja Kristen Muria Indonesia; the mission leaders of Amor Viviente in Honduras; and EMM in the U.S.
The IMA was not a North American mission board relating to the overseas churches it had planted. Rather, it was a peer group of Anabaptist mission leaders from around the world. Twenty-five organizations and networks around the world are members of the IMA.
In 1997, Showalter, the IMA’s first president, described IMA’s core convictions as “prayer, dependence on the Spirit, the centrality of the Great Commission in our missions, and taking the good news to those who have not yet heard.”
“Richard would listen to anybody and everybody,” said Tilahun Beyene Kidane, IMA executive secretary. He said Showalter tried humbly to learn from people in every part of the world.
In 2008, Showalter and EMM leadership took the unprecedented step of inviting five leaders from churches in the Majority World to advise the work of EMM.
In response to this peer review, Showalter asked Missionary Messenger readers, “Is it too much to hope that Eastern Mennonite Missions might be shaped as much by our partners from the Global South as by our own cultural preferences?”
Current EMM president Gerry Keener described Showalter as “a man of humility and godly spontaneity.” Highlighting both of these values, Keener recalled the time that Showalter and he were visiting leaders from the Vietnam Mennonite Church. While talking with Showalter, one pastor said he had never experienced footwashing.
Showalter responded, “Let’s do it right now!” Participants from five continents engaged in a moving and spontaneous time of footwashing.
“This footwashing moment has become a signature memory of mine of Richard’s sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading in a particular context and to make a practical application of a Christian value,” Keener said.
College president, pastor
Prior to serving as EMM’s president, Showalter was president of Rosedale Bible College in Ohio from 1989 to 1994. He served for many years as a pastor, church planter and professor. He served with Rosedale International in the Middle East in the 1980s.
He held a doctor of ministry degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a master of divinity degree from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, a master of theology degree from the University of Chicago and a bachelor’s degree from Eastern Mennonite University.
Following Showalter’s retirement from EMM, he and his wife, Jewel, continued to serve with EMM as long-term missionaries in East Asia and Kenya and as nonresident volunteers resourcing the global church through both Rosedale International and EMM.
“I want to share my deep gratitude for Richard’s life and ministry in our global church,” said Mennonite World Conference general secretary César García. “Richard’s leadership, attitude, and commitment to Christ and to our global church is a source of inspiration for many leaders across the world.”