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Nighswander – ministry to continue in South Africa


Dan Nighswander and Yvonne Snider-Nighswander will begin a new phase of ministry with African Initiated Churches in South Africa. Their term will begin in August, 2006.

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May 16, 2005
-by Dan Dyck

Winnipeg, Man. — After a lifelong ministry in Canada, Dan Nighswander, and his wife Yvonne Snider-Nighswander, will continue their service to the church – in South Africa.

Nighswander, who only recently announced his resignation as general secretary of Mennonite Church Canada, has been appointed by the denomination’s Witness ministry to be an Anabaptist resource and liaison at the invitation of the African Initiated Churches (AIC) in South Africa. He will also teach Bible, theology and church leadership in a variety of settings. Additionally, Yvonne expects to become involved in AIC ministries relating to HIV/AIDS.

“Our first choice when I resigned my position was to serve the church in another part of the world. I was hoping to bring together my experiences as a pastor, administrator and teacher,” said Dan.

Reflecting on his ministry with Mennonite Church Canada and the coming shift in roles, Dan says, “It has been a privilege to be part of the decisions we [Mennonite Church Canada] have made these recent years, but I am satisfied to relinquish the responsibilities that go with the office. This new assignment gives me a chance to do some teaching and to be closer to congregational life. I'm delighted to continue working with MC Canada – I love this church. I believe in its vision, its values and its people.” Dan has been a camp director, conference youth pastor, pastor, and New Testament lecturer. Prior to his appointment as general secretary, he also served as denominational minister for Mennonite Church Canada.

The couple has been attracted to international work since their time at seminary in 1979. Global travel in the ensuing years has continued to whet an appetite for ministry in a cross cultural setting. “Our awareness of the Christian church overseas, our exposure to the global Anabaptist family and my experience in ecumenical relations have all made engagement with the international church more attractive,” said Nighswander. Yvonne adds, “Exploring the possibility of contributing in an area of fewer resources and working alongside people with a different perspective is an exciting and sobering prospect.”

Their decision did not come without considerable reflection and discernment. Among things they will miss are their children (they have two married daughters), social circles in Winnipeg, the familiarity of their current jobs and routines (Yvonne is currently employed by the Archives of Manitoba), and the seasonal snowfalls. Conversations with family and friends, a prayer retreat, and their close-knit community in Winnipeg all played a role in discerning and supporting their decision.

While they await the arrival of transition time, the pair is soaking up opportunities to meet seasoned international workers, reading up on South Africa, and learning about the story of Mennonite involvement in the AICs with which they will work.

Dan eagerly anticipates learning how the church is responding to issues of social transformation in the post-Apartheid era with the AIDS crisis looming larger every passing year. In doing so he will share his academic and pastoral experience with the Bible while at the same time benefiting from the visceral, Biblical richness of the AICs.

Yvonne is eager to meet South African people. “I want to learn about the the adversity imposed upon them, and the role of the church within that. I expect to be surprised, horrified, and enlightened as we find our place in the South African culture.” Yvonne expects to put to use her past experience as a nurse, community worker, and researcher, all the while using her considerable organizational skills.

Janet Plenert leads the International Ministries program for Mennonite Church Canada Witness. She is thrilled to see Dan and Yvonne put their gifts and experience to use in South Africa. “Yvonne’s gifts of hospitality and listening will open doors and build relationships. Dan’s extensive experience in church administration, teaching, ecumenical relationships and pastoring offer a unique combination of gifts crucial to church in South Africa.”

Their term will begin in August, 2006. Nighswander will be in his current position until November 30, 2005, followed by a study leave to do research and writing on a Believers Church Bible Commentary on 1 Corinthians.

The couple was introduced briefly to southern Africa when they attended the Mennonite World Conference assembly in Zimbabwe in 2003. Their South African ministry will continue the trajectory of relationship building by current Witness workers Brian Dyck and Lynell Bergen, who began their term in 1999 and will complete their service in early 2006. Mennonite Church Canada Witness partners with Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission and Mennonite Mission Network in South Africa.