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Joyful servant dies at 80


Johan Nicolaas van den Berg (Han)

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Feb 28, 2005
-summarized from a eulogy written by Tobia Veith

Winnipeg, Man.— Johan Nicolaas van den Berg (Han), long time worker for Commission on Overseas Mission (COM) and Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) worker, died at the age of 80 on February 21, 2005 in Olds, Alberta.

Born in the Netherlands in 1924, van den Berg escaped a Nazi concentration camp and hid in a false attic. During World War II his convictions as a conscientious objector and pacifist strengthened.

After briefly working in the financial profession, van den Berg put his beliefs into action and joined the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Amsterdam, helping to resettle refugees and distributing food and material aid. At one point, he creatively smuggled refugees from the Russian section of Austria to the American section, where they went on to settle in other countries. Other MCC assignments included Indonesia, India, Vietnam and Taiwan – where he met his wife Martha Boschman for the first time.

While still valuing the spirit of service embodied in MCC, he also came to the conviction that “you can help a person from the cradle to the grave, but unless there is a spiritual dimension, a person’s needs are not truly and fully met.”

This led him to join COM (a predecessor of Mennonite Church Canada Witness) and return to Taiwan to serve in evangelism and church planting. In preparation, van den Berg – already an alumnus of Goshen College, studied at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries in Elkhart, Indiana. Here he again met Martha Boschman. Courtship began and they were married in 1961 at Carrot River, Saskatchewan, Martha’s hometown.

Han and Martha returned to Taipei, Taiwan in 1962 to start a life-long mutual partnership in the ministry of parenting and church planting. Here Han and Martha engaged in sharing Christ’s love with the Taiwanese people, forging lasting friendships, nurturing emerging congregations, encouraging Chinese pastoral leadership and mentoring new mission workers. Han and Martha had a unique way of balancing family and work, resulting in a home marked by hospitality, joy and laughter.

Over the ensuing years, Han and Martha served numerous four-year terms in Taiwan. Han was known by his coworkers for his resolute faith in Christ, unswerving hope, but mostly for a love of people which always believed in the best in others.

In 1993, Han and Martha retired from 38 years of service in Taiwan and relocated to their home, in Saskatoon. In 1995, their home church, Cornerstone Church - Mennonite, invited them to serve as Ministers of Visitation, which they did with the same love that characterized their ministry in Taiwan, until Han’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease in early 1997. In November 1999, Han and Martha relocated from Saskatoon to Olds, Alberta to be near family.

Han is survived by his wife Martha, children Tobia Vieth (George), Susan Reynar (Rod), daughter-in-law Monica, and grandchildren Matthew, Michael and Marika Veith, and Anika and Joya Reynar. Han was predeceased by his son John (Monica) in 1998.

Funeral services were held on Feb. 24 at Bergthal Mennonite Church (Didsbury, Alta.), with Rev Elwin Garland officiating. In memoriam donations were directed to Mennonite Church Canada Witness.