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Serving with passion; Henry Dueck, 1927-2007


Nov 30, 2007
- Deborah Froese

WINNIPEG, Manitoba – Henry Dueck had passion for people and for the Word of God.  He dedicated his life to a career in mission work that lasted for more than 40 years, including voluntary service after retirement.  In partnership with his wife, Helen, Henry served in various educational and pastoral capacities, primarily in Latin America. 

After an eight-year struggle with cancer, Henry passed away on Sunday, November 4, 2007 in Winnipeg.  In an email letter to friends following her husband’s death, Helen wrote, “This has been another day in which we have experienced God’s grace.  My beloved passed away peacefully on Sunday morning after several days of pain and struggle.  He did not want to die but, although he lost the battle with cancer, he gained his crown in heaven.  He is in a better place yet I miss him so much.”

Henry’s memorial service was held at Douglas Mennonite Church on Friday November 9.  In a moving eulogy, Henry’s daughter Karen recalled the impact her father had made.  “Dad touched the lives of many people.  He was able to reach out to persons young and old, rich and poor, well educated and illiterate, while still remaining true to his values.”

Helen illustrated this capacity with a story from their time in Bolivia.  The leaders of a new church in a small impoverished community invited them to assist in developing a church constitution.  Henry created a detailed chart to help explain what he thought might be suitable, but when the time came to meet with the leaders, he left his paperwork behind.  Instead, he sat with them under a tree and listened to their perspectives.  “I always admired his way of speaking with great interest with academics but also being able to sit under the tree with country Mennos,” Helen said.

Henry was born in Coaldale, Alberta on October 17, 1927, one year after his parents, Jacob P. Dueck and Susanna Dyck arrived as refugees from Orenburg, Russia.  Life was not easy for the Dueck family, who, like so many other Mennonite immigrants, struggled to eke a living from the land. 

Compounding the struggle, Henry’s mother died when he was just nine years old.  Three years later, his step-mother died.  Even at that age, Henry’s faith was firmly established.  His younger brother, Jack, writes of that time; “On a dismal and blustery Good Friday, Henry and I stood in the shelter of the chicken barn, both shattered by the death of our second mother.  As a seven-year-old I muttered about the weather – it so matched my despair; Henry, the 12-year-old said, ‘But Jacob, Easter is coming!’”

Henry met Helen (Redekop) while they were studying in Winnipeg.  They were married in 1954 and continued their education at Mennonite Brethren Bible College.  After graduation, Henry pastored at the Mennonite Brethren Church in Kelstern, SK for a brief period.  He continued his studies in Waterloo, and in 1960, the Duecks answered a call to mission work.  They headed for Brazil under the auspices of the Mennonite Brethren Conference with three young children in tow; Karen, Robert and Suzanne.  They worked with German-speaking Mennonites in Curitiba and helped to initiate mission work in the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina.  In those years, son William and daughter Louise were born.

In 1969, the Duecks began working with the Commission on Overseas Mission (COM), the predecessor of Mennonite Church Canada’s mission ministry, Witness.  Over the next 23 years, they served in Uruguay, Bolivia, and Paraguay. They also took a short-term assignment at the Bienenberg Bible Institute in Switzerland, co-pastored at Charleswood Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, and spent eight months as missionaries-in-residence at Columbia Bible College in Clearbrook, BC.  They spent two winters in Mexico teaching in the Bible school and helping the German-speaking as well as the Spanish churches.

Henry’s dedication to theology was enhanced by his ongoing study.  Both he and Helen earned degrees from various institutions including Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana and Masters degrees from Princeton University.

Jake Harms, a former COM board member and long-time friend first met Henry in Montevideo, Uruguay in the early 80s .  He appreciated Henry’s theological sensibilities. “I gained a friend in him by virtue of a spiritual affinity, we both spoke freely and openly about theological issues,” Jake said. 

James Schellenburg, the Douglas pastor who officiated at Henry’s memorial service, saw Henry as a mentor.  “As a pastor, I particularly appreciated his passion for the church and the Word.  He had a passion for scripture that I would love to emulate.”

 “Henry had a broad and constant theological presence in terms of very solid teaching and impacting people way beyond what we can imagine,” said Jack Suderman, General Secretary of Mennonite Church Canada.  “He is one of the few people that has a double gift of priest and prophet.” Jack noted that Henry was not part priest or part prophet, but fully both.  He went on to explain that although Henry’s prophetic gift could make him theologically and biblically radical, his approach was never harsh or adversarial.  His priestly gift allowed him to demonstrate sensitivity to the pastoral implications of whatever he said.

Upon retirement in 1992, the Duecks moved to Herbert, Saskatchewan, but they continued working in a volunteer capacity.  In 1997, they were invited to develop an Anabaptist curriculum for Latin American Mennonite children, which they did with the assistance of Janet Breneman of Eastern Mennonite Missions. They agreed to undertake the project as long as the material was not simply translated, but written from a Latin American perspective so that the resulting text would more readily connect with those who encountered it.  Their condition was accepted.

In workshops for the Latin Americans writing the curriculum, Henry offered instruction on biblical and Anabaptist issues.  “He loved Mennonite history,” Helen said.  “He always did at least one or two lectures on the history and development of Anabaptist theology and the story of the Mennonite Church.”  For her part, Helen addressed psychology and teaching/learning methods for various age groups. 

Henry pastored the Mennonite Brethren Church in Herbert from 2001-2002.  In 2005, he and Helen moved to Winnipeg where they became active members of Douglas Mennonite Church.

For Helen, Henry’s passing means the loss of a husband, co-worker and friend. ”We always did things together... We’re very different people but somehow our relationship was built as much on our vocation as it was on our attraction to each other.  But I think what I miss most is the hour we spent in the morning drinking [yerba] mate.  We would have our morning devotions drinking our mate and just talk.  I miss that so much.”

The Dueck’s final accomplishment as a team was the completion of a family book compiling images and memories of their journey together.