Pioneer Ethiopia missionary made impacts in U.S. as well

Chester L. Wenger, his wife, Sara Jane, and three preschool daughters went to Ethiopia in 1949 with Eastern Mennonite Missions to begin mission efforts. Their efforts contributed to the founding and growth of the Meserete Kristos Church, which has become the world’s largest Anabaptist church.


Wenger, who died Oct. 1 in Lititz, Pa., at the age of 102, would go on to serve in Ethiopia with his growing family until 1967 as an educator and church leader, followed by serving as EMM’s first full-time home ministries director until 1980. (An obituary was published on page 47 of the Oct. 16 Anabaptist World.)

Daughter Jewel Showalter recalls a story about his time in Ethiopia in the late 1950s. Wenger had already purchased building supplies and hired employees for a project when he received an urgent letter from the mission board.

“Don’t spend any more money,” the letter said, because program funds were low. Without being able to consult further with the board, he decided to move ahead with the building project and pay for it from his own pocket. The mission board later apologized and offered to reimburse him. The birth of Meserete Kristos Church occurred during this period.

The couple received the Rhonda E. Wenger Life Service Award from EMM in 2005.

As home ministries director, Wenger was noted for promoting evangelism as outreach from every congregation and establishing leadership training events for pastors, evangelism conferences and the Keystone Bible Institute. EMM home ministries also planted many churches in ethnic communities with ethnic church planters.

When asked in 1980 what gave him the greatest joy in his home ministries role, he answered, “That’s an easy one. My fellowship with Christians of various backgrounds is the greatest joy that I have. Praying with them, counseling with them, planning with them — be they from Alabama, New York City, or locally, fellowship is the joy.”

Sara Jane Wenger preceded him in death in 2018, as well as a son in 2001. They are survived by seven children and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Sign up to our newsletter for important updates and news!