Missionary scholar concludes journey
Hans Kasdorf, a prominent theologian whose writing guides the mission endeavours of the Mennonite Brethren church, died Mar. 26, 2011, in Fresno, Cal., at 82.
“Mission was Hans’ passion,” says John E. Toews, a colleague at MB Biblical Seminary. This dedication led Kasdorf to serve the MB mission agency in a variety of roles including missionary to Brazil; director of the Church Mission Institute, a summer institute for pre-field MB missionaries; and as board member for what is now MB Mission.
Kasdorf also loved learning and helping others to learn. Though his early education ended before age 10, he later earned three master’s degrees and two doctorates through studies at Winkler (Man.) Bible College; MB Bible College, Winnipeg, Man.; Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kan.; University of Oregon; MBBS, Fresno, Cal.; Fuller Theological Seminary; and the University of South Africa. He spoke English, German, Portuguese, and Spanish fluently and read proficiently in Greek, Hebrew, Danish, Dutch, French, Russian, and Italian.
Kasdorf taught at Fresno Pacific University (1968–78), MB Biblical Seminary (1978–93), and Freie Theologische Akademie, Giessen, Germany (1994–1998). He also accepted short teaching assignments at Bible schools and training centres in South America and Europe.
The 1980s became the decade of mission at MBBS, in large part through Kasdorf’s vision. He published many scholarly works in English and German, “put[ting] MBBS on the missiological map for a small institution,” says Toews.
Kasdorf’s unique ability to combine his passion for evangelistic mission and a love for rigorous academic study made him an outstanding leader among Mennonite Brethren and beyond, in both church and college.
“[Hans] trained a generation of missionaries and mission leaders, not only from North America but from every continent,” say MB Mission staff members Randy Friesen, Ray Harms-Wiebe, and Vic Wiens in a joint statement. “As a missiologist, his prolific writing shaped much of the vision and many of the policies that today govern our work around the globe.”
“Kasdorf brings a rare combination of gifts: exceptional intelligence, eagerness to learn, solid scholarship and dogged self-discipline, but a personal grace, humility and deep piety,” wrote Henry Schmidt, then-MBBS president, in a 1999 Direction Journal article reviewing Kasdorf’s contribution to mission theology. “His students and colleagues respect him not only for his expertise in mission theology, history, strategies and future trends, but for his humble spirit, modest self-assessment and a style that ‘talks less but says more.’”
Born July 27, 1928, in Siberia, Kasdorf immigrated with his parents and nine siblings to Brazil in 1929 where life as homestead farmers was difficult. He got his first pair of shoes when he was 16 and his first book at 18.
As a young man, Kasdorf developed a love for God that was a central focus for his entire life. Moving to Canada in 1949 to pursue higher education was the first step in a lifelong journey through higher education. While in Canada he met Frieda Reimer, to whom he was married for
Kasdorf is remembered as gracious man deeply committed to Jesus Christ. “Beneath a proper and reserved public face was a man who loved others,” says Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary dean Lynn Jost.
“Hans lived humbly, knowing there was much that he did not understand and yet with the conviction that, through life and the Scriptures, God had revealed truth to him and his church family,” says Harms-Wiebe.
By his own account, Kasdorf lived as a pilgrim who “journeys with purpose, always facing challenges and tasks that give meaning to life en route.” In his autobiography, Design of my Journey, Kasdorf writes, “A pilgrim is always on the road, so to speak, and thus not able to describe the destination, at least not from experience. That is why my story will remain incomplete until my Lord writes the conclusion.”
—Connie Faber, Christian Leader
“Hans Kasdorf: A Gentleman, a Scholar, and More,” by Elmer Martens, a tribute
“Hans Kasdorf’s Contribution to Mission Theology,” by Henry J. Schmidt, Direction Journal, Vol 28 No 1, 1999
“A Select Bibliography of Writings by Hans Kasdorf,” by Stephen Holthaus, Direction Journal, Vol 28 No 1, 1999