Mission worker, scholar served in Japan, inspired generations

Published: May 5, 2016

Wil LeVeist, Mennonite Mission Network

Robert Ramseyer helped to establish the Overseas Mission Training Center at AMBS.

Robert Lewis Ramseyer, a renowned missiologist who served three decades as a mission worker in Japan and two decades as a seminary professor, died Apr. 30 in Bluffton, Ohio. He was 86.

Ramseyer was professor emeritus of missions and anthropology at AMBS, where he taught between 1972 and 1996. Ramseyer was a 1950 graduate of Bluffton College (now University), and a 1954 graduate of Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Chicago (now AMBS). He earned an MA from the University of Michigan in Japanese Studies in 1959, and a PhD in Anthropology in 1969.

Beginning in 1954, Ramseyer, with his wife, Alice Ruth, served in Japan with the General Conference Mennonite Church’s Commission on Overseas Mission (a predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network) a few years after the United States dropped nuclear weapons on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II. (Total casualties are estimated at 200,000.) The Ramseyers served in Miyazaki, Nobeoka and Hiroshima. They founded Hiroshima Mennonite Church in 1980 and aided the development of the World Friendship Center in Hiroshima.

“I think that it was very important for them to share the love and peace of Jesus Christ among people who suffered because of the atomic bombing,” wrote Shizuo Tachibana, a member of Hiroshima Mennonite Christ Church, in a tribute letter upon hearing of Ramseyer’s death. “While they were in Hiroshima, they translated a number of books concerning the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki from Japanese into English.” Tachibana wrote that a memorial service for Ramseyer is scheduled at the Hiroshima church on May 15.

A renowned missiologist, Ramseyer influenced and mentored generations of mission workers through his personal witness in the field and in the classroom. Ramseyer founded the Overseas Mission Training Center at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, a cooperative relationship between AMBS and two mission boards: Mennonite Board of Missions and the Commission on Overseas Mission.

James R. Krabill, senior executive for Global Ministries for Mennonite Mission Network, was a student of Ramseyer’s at AMBS during the mid-1970s. Krabill and his wife, Jeanette, recall having dinner with the Ramseyers at their home. “It was an encounter that was deeply appreciated by a young couple preparing for an international assignment,” Krabill said. “Many of the people Robert supervised have subsequently served a lifetime in international-related ministries.”

Ramseyer taught at AMBS for a decade. He authored and co-wrote several books, such as Mission and the Peace Witness: The Gospel and Christian Discipleship and Sharing the Gospel. These helped to define and shape Anabaptist mission methods into the present.

“Bob’s key role as director of the Overseas Mission Training Center at AMBS was to guide the formation of mission and service students – before and during assignments – through customized course selections, personal mentoring, and providing opportunities for international workers to meet each other for mutual encouragement,” noted Walter Sawatsky, Professor Emeritus of Church History and Mission at AMBS. “What kept Bob (and Alice Ruth) so fresh and relevant was their repeated return to assignments in Japan, plus his wide connections to the Mennonite and ecumenical world of mission.”

The Ramseyers retired to Bluffton in 1997, where they attended First Mennonite Church.

Ramseyer is survived by his wife and their four children, Mark (Norma Wyse) of Lexington, Massachusetts; Joy (John) Betts of Bryan, Ohio; Sue Ramseyer of Bloomington, Indiana; and Jeanne (Thomas) Stenson of Quakertown, Pennsylvania; his grandchildren, Jennifer and Geoffrey Ramseyer, Rachel Betts (Nikhil Krishnan), Sarah (Charles) vonSeggern, Jacob Betts, Timothy, Elizabeth, and Matthew Konicek, and Brian (Jennifer), Kristin, and Randall Stenson; and siblings, sister, Mary (Robert) Wells, of Cincinnati, Ohio, and brother, William (Mary) Ramseyer, of St. Helena, South Carolina. He was preceded in death by a grandson, David Betts; son-in-law Robert Konicek; and by his parents, Lloyd and Ferne Ramseyer. Visitation will be May 5 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Chiles-Laman Funeral and Cremation Services, 239 S. Main St., Bluffton. The funeral service will be held May 6, 11 a.m., at First Mennonite Church, 101 S. Jackson St., Bluffton. Internment will be at Maple Grove Cemetery, Bluffton. In lieu of flowers, gifts may be made to the Bluffton University Lloyd and Ferne Ramseyer Scholarship Fund or to Mennonite Mission Network.

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