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Grace Schwartzentruber: A life


Grace Schwartzentruber


March 22, 2005

Winnipeg, Man.— Grace (Bender) Schwartzentruber of New Hamburg, Ontario, Mennonite mission worker in Brazil for 32 years and faithful servant at Steinmann Mennonite Church in Baden, Ontario, has died at the age of 74 years.

Schwartzentruber, a woman of “spunk”, knew from a very young age that she was destined to follow God’s call into international ministry, and never wavered from that call. She fluently spoke Pennsylvania Dutch, Portuguese, and English, and worked behind the scenes with her husband Kenneth, who operated a bookstore in Brazil for many years. She served with the Mennonite Board of Missions, the predecessor (in Canada) to Mennonite Church Canada Witness.

Schwartzentruber remained true to her convictions as she made many life choices, including choosing her life partner. “She had dedicated herself to foreign missions, and unless I sensed a similar call, she felt our relationship could not continue,” said Kenneth, her husband of 54 years, in a tribute.

Her hospitality was legendary in Brazil – a family guest book records over 3,000 visitors – as she made time for people, encouraging them to exceed their own expectations. Though firm on her convictions, “She was able to see change and grow with it”, said fellow church member Bob Lebold. “She was responsible for all her actions and pushed others to be responsible for theirs,” he added.

Schwartzentruber was an active participant in Mennonite congregations in Valinhos, Campinas and Taguatinga – teaching, worship leading, preaching, playing organ, leadership in women’s groups, organizing singing groups, and encouraging others to use their gifts. She was also active at the English-speaking interdenominational Campinas Community Church. For a time she was the bookkeeper for Associação Evangelica Menonita (AEM), the Brazilian organization of churches.

Schwartzentruber simply did whatever she could, “over and over.” She was known as a woman of adventure, always ready to accept a challenge and make the best of any situation. When a Volkswagen bus carrying 12 passengers powered out on a steep climb in Brazil, she readily had her passengers disembark and walk up the hill while she nursed the vehicle to the crest in low gear. When a ham radio request came in seeking someone to provide accordion playing instruction over the air waves, Schwartzentruber was at the ready with only detailed verbal instructions, since playing music over ham radio air waves is strictly forbidden. She was a self taught pianist and accordion player – and learned how to use a computer in her sixties.

As a mission worker in Brazil, she was progressive and challenged the local cultural norms where men are not expected to do domestic work. At a youth gathering she enlisted a gang of resistant young men to help with cleaning up the dishes after mealtimes. She made sure the job got done and engendered respect along the way.

Always ready for a card game of Rook, Schwartzentruber was also known for her skills as a tour guide to Brazil, a sewer and quilter, and was gifted in writing, public speaking, teaching, and bookkeeping. In her relationships she was a friend to many, using her humour, enthusiasm, and energy to infect others with God’s love, and engaged people of all ages, from all over the world.

Schwartzentruber passed away peacefully surrounded by family, on Wednesday March 9, 2005 at Freeport Health Centre of the Grand River Hospital, Kitchener. She is survived by her husband Kenneth, three daughters, one son, numerous grandchildren, siblings, and fondly remembered by many friends.