Scholar shaped vision for mission

Wilbert R. Shenk Wilbert R. Shenk

Until the last several months of his life, missiologist and professor Wilbert R. Shenk, 86, who died July 13, continued to teach.

This fall, a group of Korean students in the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., will receive a translation of his final set of class notes.

Juanita G. Shenk, Wilbert’s wife of 63 years, shared this story during a telephone interview from her home at Greencroft Communities in Goshen, Ind., where her husband received hospice care the final two weeks of his life.

“Wilbert had been traveling, periodically, back to Fuller, where he served as senior professor and taught short courses,” said Juanita, who married Wilbert after they met at Hesston College in the early 1950s. “One of the last work things he did was to send off his final lecture to the translator.”

For decades, Shenk served in missiological vision-casting, seminary teaching and executive leadership, moving beyond Mennonite institutions to impact global missiology.

Born Jan. 16, 1935, near Sheridan, Ore., Shenk graduated from Goshen College in 1955. He was a Mennonite Central Committee worker in Indonesia from 1955 to 1959 and an administrator for MCC from 1963 to 1965. From 1965 to 1990 he was an administrator for Mennonite Board of Missions.

John A. Lapp, former executive director of MCC, said Shenk was a leader in building cooperation between MCC and MBM.

“He emphasized the theological grounding of mission activity,” Lapp said. “He was ecumenical in the finest sense.”

He was instrumental in launching the Council for International Anabaptist Ministries and birthing Mission Focus, a mission journal, now called Anabaptist Witness.

With a doctoral degree from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, Shenk taught at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary from 1990 to 1995. From 1995 to 2005 he was senior professor of mission history and contemporary culture at Fuller.

The Koreans at Fuller are some of the many students Shenk mentored and befriended. Others included staff at Mennonite Mission Network, who said his missiological vision — partnering with global communities in which God is already at work — shapes how MMN carries out its call today.

James Krabill said Shenk was his first boss at MBM when Krabill served in West Africa.

“The work where he was most insightful involved Indigenous movements, including those with African Initiated Churches and in Argentina, as well as guiding those who would establish urban, Anabaptist centers in Europe,” Krabill said.

Mike Sherrill, MMN executive director, said Shenk was his favorite missiologist.

“His academics were always balanced with grace, humility and love for humanity,” Sherrill said.

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