Alfred Neufeld of Paraguay, a prolific author, theologian, historian and teacher who shaped Anabaptist theology globally, died June 24 in Münster, Germany, after treatment for liver cancer and kidney problems. He was 64.
Neufeld served on the General Council of Mennonite World Conference and then chaired its Faith and Life Commission from 2008 to 2018.
He represented MWC in several ecumenical dialogues and played a major role in bringing together Mennonite churches in Paraguay to plan the MWC assembly in 2009.
He served as co-chair of the Trilateral Dialogue commission on baptism with representatives from MWC, the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
He chaired the committee for Renewal 2027, MWC’s 10-year series of celebrative gatherings commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Anabaptist movement.
He also served the Mennonite Brethren in Paraguay on national and international boards and was a member of the International Council of the World Evangelical Alliance.
Neufeld recently wrote Becoming a Global Communion, a history of MWC. He was also the author of What We Believe Together, a 2007 book explaining MWC’s Shared Convictions, which has been translated into more than half a dozen languages.
He has scores of published articles and has been a sought-after public speaker in English, Spanish and German.
“Alfred Neufeld had a zest for life, friendship and our global church,” said MWC general secretary César García. “Theologian, pastor, historian, teacher, photographer, music lover, polyglot, father, grandfather, husband — these are only a few of the words that describe him.”
John D. Roth, secretary of MWC’s Faith and Life Commission, called Neufeld an extraordinary leader.
“With boundless energy, he joined his deep love of Scripture, hymns, theology and church history with an equally deep love for the church and the world,” Roth said. “The global Anabaptist-Mennonite church has lost a great statesman.”
He was born July 23, 1955, in Fernheim, Paraguay, to Peter K. Neufeld and Margarete Friesen. He taught primary education in Filadelfia, Paraguay, and at the school for indigenous students at Yalve Sanga, Chaco, after graduating high school and then began his higher education in Fresno, Calif., and Basel, Switzerland, earning a Ph.D. in theology of missions.
A pastor at heart, he served as youth pastor during his first sojourn in Switzerland, as an adjunct pastor while in California and as associate pastor of Iglesia HM del Barrio Clínicas in Asunción. From 1985 to 2009, he was a member of the pastoral team at Iglesia HM Concordia in Asunción.
He served as rector of the Universidad Evangélica del Paraguay since 2005, where he began as professor in 1995, first at its related college CEMTA, then as lecturer from 1998 to 2009. Additionally, he served as director of Instituto Bíblico Asunción from 1995 to 2003 and board chair of the radio station OBEDIRA since 1998.
“Alfred’s boundless love for family, friendship, faith and life itself reached across the Anabaptist world and far beyond,” said Nelson Kraybill, MWC president. “With humility and keen wit, he had far-seeing vision for the church, communication ability, and theological understanding.”
Larry Miller, member of the MWC Trilateral Dialogue delegation, said, “Alfred’s commitment to truth, to Mennonite identity — especially Mennonite Brethren identity — and to receiving the gifts of all other churches made it possible for him to contribute to and shape the historic trilateral dialogue in ways that will prove beneficial to the three communions as well as to the wider global church.”
A whirlwind force of academic prowess, Neufeld also exuded personal warmth. He could often be found holding someone’s baby, and he could comfortably speak with anyone no matter one’s education or background.
He is survived by his wife, Wilma Elfriede Kaethler, and four children. Despite hospital precautions and flight restrictions, Wilma and two of their children were able to be by his side in his last days.