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Jeff Warkentin: A life devoted to God
October 27, 1978 to September 24, 2011


October 17, 2011
-Deborah Froese

Winnipeg, MAN. — Jeff Warkentin’s passion for God shaped a life defined by service and relationships. As son, brother, husband, father, teacher, pastor, mission worker, musician and friend, he reflected God’s grace and love to all whom he encountered.

Warkentin’s skill in working with small groups played a key role in the ministry he shared with his wife Tany in Burkina Faso, where they served with Mennonite Church Canada for six years. During that time they helped to shape and nurture a congregation of university students in the capital city of Ouagadougou.

After a sudden and brief struggle with meningitis contracted after returning to Canada, Jeff passed away on Sept, 24, 2011 at 32 years of age.

Jeff is survived by his wife Tany and their three children, Danika, Asher and Kenai; parents Paul and Ruth Warkentin and Linden and Del Willms; sister Sandra Warkentin; brother Joel and his family; grandparents Jacob and Irene Froese; brothers-in-law Shami Willms and Topher Willms with their families; as well as many uncles, aunts, cousins and friends around the world.

At the funeral service held in Pincher Creek, Alta. on Sept 30, Topher read from a reflection written by Jeff’s parents. “We cannot understand why Jeff should leave us so soon when we thought there were so many contributions left for him to make...But we also know that many rich experiences were packed into the 32 years which God gave Jeff here on earth. We praise God for the joys and blessings that were ours to share with him during this short time....”

Tany expressed a similar sentiment. “I find blessing in the fact that we met each other so early, that God called us quite clearly at a very early age and that we were able to serve God so early. It strengthened our sense of identity as disciples, and our self-identity….Even though he was young, it feels as though he lived fully.”

During his formative years, the family practice of daily devotions was sometimes forgotten in the hustle and bustle of life – but Jeff always remembered. During the visit of a non-Christian school friend, his parents purposely overlooked the practice to avoid being presumptuous – but for Jeff, the Word of God was meant to be shared.

“Aren’t we devoting tonight?” he asked.

Warkentin attracted a wide circle of school friends and proved to be a natural peacemaker. “His wry sense of humour and his knack for making people laugh with a short quip delivered at just the right moment, could diffuse a potentially tense situation in a moment,” Topher read.

Warkentin was baptized at the North Leamington Mennonite Church in May 1995. After high school, he enrolled at Canadian Mennonite Bible College (now Canadian Mennonite University) where he met his wife-to-be, Tany Willms. Together, they dreamed of serving abroad.

In the following years, the Alberta-based family grew to include daughter Danika and son Asher. In 2005 a call from Mennonite Church Canada drew them back to Winnipeg to prepare for ministry in Ouagadougou. They arrived in Burkina in February 2006. Son Kenani was born in 2008.

When the Warkentins announced that their Burkina ministry would draw to a close in 2011, Siaka Traoré, pastor and President of the Burkina Faso Mennonite Church, wrote a letter of commendation describing their sensitivity toward others, their inclusiveness and hospitality. He also noted Jeff’s skill as a teacher. “Jeff, thank you for the good seed which you planted in so many hearts. I am convinced that if there is a treasure to leave with the others in this world, it is good education, good teaching.”

“Together we were so much more than we were separately… As a father, he was very loving and generous with his time, playing [with the children] fully with energy and love,” said Tany.

Jeff had just begun teaching at St. Michael’s School in Pincher Creek when he fell ill. On the morning of Sept. 30, before the funeral service, Tany and Jeff’s family visited the school. Students shared three African songs that Jeff had taught them, and showed them the cafeteria, papered with handwritten prayers for Jeff. 

“It was overwhelming,” Ruth said.

Nine-year-old Danika offered encouragement in a letter to her father’s parents. “Don't be sad about my dad even though we miss him down here but up in heaven he is happy with God. I always try to think of that when I get sad.”

Wise and comforting words for all of those who loved Jeff Warkentin.

Countless prayers and condolences have been shared with the Warkentins from friends and supporters across Canada and Burkina Faso. In addition to the funeral service of Sept. 30, memorial services were held at North Leamington United Mennonite Church in Leamington, Ont. and at Home Street Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, Man.