Author: Espenshade, Linda
Date published: January 25, 2010
DEC. 4, 1914 - JAN. 4, 2010
Peter J. Dyck- storyteller, Mennonite pastor, author and lifelong servant to people in need around the world- died of cancer on Jan. 4. He was 95 years old.
Dyck, who lived in Scottdale, Pa., is well known in Mennonite, Brethren in Christ and Amish communities throughout Canada, Europe, Paraguay and the United States, especially for his work with Mennonite Russian refugees and with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).
ArIi Klassen, executive director of MCC, says Dyck was very effective, not only in his ability to bring hope to many affected by World War II, but in influencing hundreds of MCC volunteers to learn new languages, skills and worldviews. "Peter's capacity as a storyteller, as a leader and as a grandfather has always impressed me," she says. "I pray that MCC will continue to be blessed with leaders who have the ingenuity, initiative and inspiration that Peter has modelled for us all."
Born in Lysanderhöh, Am Trakt, Russia, on Dec. 4, 1914, Dyck was a child when the Russian Revolution ushered in the start of the Soviet Union. At the age of six, he almost died of typhoid and hunger that accompanied the Russian famine of 1921.
Dyck and his family were rescued by food shipments sent from Mennonites in Canada and the United States, a kindness he would not forget. Six years later, his family, including eight siblings, fled Russia and settled in Saskatchewan.
Dyck attended the University of Saskatchewan and Bethel College, North Newton, Kan., and graduated from Goshen College, Ind., with a bachelor's degree in English in 1952, among other institutions.
During World War II, he served with MCC in England. Motivating his decision to work with MCC was his memory of the food aid he had received as a child. The food had come through a newly formed MCC.
"I knew these were people that do good," Dyck told author Robert Kreider, editor of Interviews with Peter J. Dyck and Elfrieda Dyck. "They fed our family. They fed our community. Now they are asking me to go and do something like that for others? To me, it would almost have seemed immoral not to say yes."
His decision to go was fortuitous not only for MCC but also for Dyck. In 1944, he married Elfrieda Klassen, a nurse who also was serving with MCC in England. She, too, was a Russian refugee who had moved to Canada.
In 1946, the Dycks set up refugee camps in Germany for thousands of Mennonites who had fled the Soviet Union. Over time, they led 5,500 Mennonites by boat to South America, mostly Paraguay. This experience provided content for Dyck's stories and was the basis of the book, Up From the Rubble, that he co-authored with his wife.
Dyck also recorded MCCs work in Europe and Paraguay with 8mm and 16mm movie cameras. He used the movie as he travelled around Canada and the United States in the late 1940s, educating people about the plight of the European refugees.
"Peter was a key voice in helping MCC supporters in Canada and the United States be aware of need in the world," says Herman Bontrager, chair of the MCC board of directors.
From 1950-57, Dyck served as pastor of the Eden Mennonite Church in Moundridge, Kan. The Dycks returned to Germany with their two daughters, Ruth and Rebecca, to direct the MCC program there and in North Africa for the next 10 years.
He then moved into an administrative position with MCC in Akron, Pa., where he was responsible for East- West relations in the midst of the Cold War.
For two decades after his "retirement" from MCC in 1981, Dyck travelled to speak at churches, schools and retreats.
He authored five more books, including three for children: The Great Shalom, Shalom at Last and Story time Jamboree; a collection of his stories, Leap of Faith; and a meditation on growing old gracefully, Getting Home Before Dark. His spellbinding storytelling was captured on three videos produced by Menno-Hof in Shipshewana, Ind.
Dyck believed that credit for his efforts should be directed toward God, not him, though. "It is gratifying and also humbling to think that (God's) purposes are accomplished through ordinary people," he told Kreider.
BY LINDA ESPENSHADE AND ED NYCE
MENNONITE CENTRAL COMMITTEE RELEASE AND PHOTO