Chester Lehman Wenger, 102, of Lititz, Pa., died Oct. 1, 2020, at Landis Homes.
He was born April 10, 1918, in Fentress, Va., to Amos Daniel and Anna May (Lehman) Wenger. He graduated from Eastern Mennonite School in 1936 and completed a bachelor’s degree in biology at Bridgewater College.
Drafted in 1941, he served in Civilian Public Service for more than four years as a conscientious objector during World War II. He and Sara Jane Weaver were married July 2, 1944.
Called to Ethiopia in 1949 by Eastern Mennonite Missions, he served as a pioneer missionary educator. He provided leadership alongside Ethiopians during the birth of the Meserete Kristos Church, today the largest Mennonite-related church in the world. Returning to the U.S. in 1967, he directed the home ministries and evangelism program at EMM. In 1981 he became pastor of North End Mennonite Church outside the city of Lancaster. He and Sara Jane were instrumental in renaming the congregation as Blossom Hill Mennonite Church and revitalizing congregational life. He completed a Master of Divinity degree and pursued doctoral work in religious education. He retired in 1991 and stayed energetically engaged in church, education, business, gardening and vineyard and family activities. He and Sara Jane became advocates for inclusion of people with same-sex orientation in the church.
His gift and passion was starting schools. In Ethiopia these included the Dresser Bible School for nurse aides, the Good Shepherd School for missionary children and Nazareth Bible Academy. In the U.S., he initiated the Paul-Timothy mentoring program, founded the Keystone Bible Institute and directed Student and Young Adult Services for Mennonite students in eastern urban settings. He served on the board of Eastern Mennonite University, which honored him and Sara Jane with EMU’s Centennial Award in 2017. He invested himself in numerous businesses, including a small family farm and vineyard.
He loved his eight children (Betty Wenger Good-White, Margaret Wenger Johnson, Jewel Showalter, Chester, Sara Wenger Shenk, Mark, Philip and Thomas), 16 grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren. With his family he enjoyed games of competition, from croquet to Bible quizzes to volleyball. Nothing filled him with as much joy as a cappella family four-part singing.
His wife, Sara Jane, preceded him in death on March 23, 2018, as did his eldest son, Chester Lloyd Wenger, on Nov. 16, 2001.