Rudy Wiebe: A Persistent Friend for the Gospel
August 10, 1947 – Nov. 11, 2020
Not much more than an hour after the last post sounded for Remembrance Day, another soldier was laid to rest, this man a stalwart servant of Jesus Christ. Rudolph H. Wiebe went home to his King and Lord November 11th at 12:30 pm with his wife Marlene and daughter Laura at his side, assuring him of their love, giving him permission to let go, and reminding him that his Lord Jesus was waiting with open arms. He had been losing strength for a number of weeks due to the poor condition of his blood—after so many years of regular blood transfusions. More recently, he was receiving palliative care in his home, being made comfortable by Marlene and some home-care nurses.
He is the first scholar in the 25-year history of Global Scholars Canada to die.
Rudy loved to tell the story of meeting the famous Canadian Mennonite novelist, Rudy Wiebe. “Hello, I’m Rudy Wiebe,” he said, introducing himself to the writer. “No, I’m Rudy Wiebe,” was the reply. Then Rudy showed him some identification to prove the point and they had a chuckle as they exchanged cards. They both also share a middle name—Henry. Who is the real Rudy Wiebe?
Well, to us, Rudy Wiebe the gifted seminary linguist is the real Rudy Wiebe. Born in Leamington, Ontario in 1947, Rudy’s parents were good friends with the Reimers, who had a baby girl named Marlene, born just 3 weeks apart from Rudy. Rudy and Marlene went from riding the baby carriage together to dating at age 15 and to marriage at age 21, with a wedding on October 11, 1968. “It was those beautiful brown smiling eyes,” said Marlene. She couldn’t resist.
Rudy began his working career by teaching science at the high school level (1968-1970). He had received a B.Sc. in university, where he debated whether to go on to become a doctor or a minister—as he put it, a choice between being “a doctor of bodies or a doctor of souls.” Marlene and Rudy were born and bred Mennonite, but when a Reformed Baptist Church opened up in Leamington, Rudy was drawn to their ministries, and found it was a place he could bring friends and invite them to faith. Rudy had an evangelist streak in him, and this church seemed to fit that calling. Here he felt the heartbeat of the gospel of Jesus Christ, something that had already been reverberating in his own chest for years. Rudy and Marlene were ecumenical in approach: they have always maintained their friendships and connections with the Mennonite church, but Rudy was taken in by the Reformed Baptist theology, and the emphasis on God’s sovereign grace, and headed for their seminary in Toronto.
While studying for his Master in Divinity at Toronto Baptist Seminary and Bible College (TBS), Rudy served as a pastor at Faith Baptist Church in Oakville (1971-1975). It was a busy time, with a growing family and a growing church, mostly due their Vacation Bible School program. Rudy was then called to lecture in Greek and Hebrew at the seminary, where he also served as Registrar (1975-2004). During four of those years he was acting editor of The Gospel Witness, the magazine put out by the Jarvis Street Baptist Church. Rudy demonstrated a gift for detail, for organization, and for teaching the ancient languages in particular.
“I Want to Teach”
Rudy’s heart, however, was not in administration. “I want to teach,” he said after 29 years serving at the seminary. He didn’t have the PhD certification, but he had the dedication, and so he started looking for opportunities. Through an Evangelical Theological Society meeting in Toronto, he came upon this organization called Global Scholars, a group with multi-denominational connections and a passion for teaching local leaders in under-serviced educational institutions. Rudy and Marlene went to attend their annual vision conference in Kansas in 2002 and were inspired by the people and stories. They met Wendy and Adrian Helleman (the Canadian founders of Global Scholars) and Danny McCain (the original founder) and they decided to see what opportunities might lie for them in Nigeria. Danny McCain knew the needs and he was well-connected in Nigeria from his post at the University of Jos, and so the Wiebes came for a visit in 2003.
The visit confirmed their call, and Rudy became a principal lecturer in the Christian Religious Studies department of the Federal College of Education (FCE) Pankshin, Plateau State, Nigeria (2004-2016). Here Rudy taught Greek and Hebrew language classes, as well as classes on the Prophets, Paul, ethics and doctrine.
While there, Rudy co-wrote three textbooks on Christian Religious Studies and a Greek grammar textbook with his colleague, Rob Lillo.
Marlene, an associate with Global Scholars, designed and produced a series of English literacy texts with Rob’s wife, Adrienne and Hosea Danjuma, a local graduate student in education. This large and longstanding project they named The Phonics READING Adventure (TPRA) curriculum.
Read more about the ministries of Rudy and Marlene here.
A Persistent Friend
Let me introduce a part of Rudy’s character by way of a Bible text. Many know the passage from Luke 11: “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Because we know the text out of context, we forget that it follows up on a parable of man with unexpected guests who badgers his neighbour for some bread so he can feed the guests. Jesus says, “I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence.” Some text notes suggest that the mode of that persistence was repeated knocking on the neighbour’s door.
Rudy was a man who was on a mission, and he was always ready to come and knock again. And again. He was not a large man and he did not have an imposing presence. In fact, he was quite gentle and had a wonderful, gracious smile. But Rudy certainly could be persistent. Dr. Danny McCain, Global Scholars’ founder and a colleague of Rudy’s at the University of Jos wrote me a note, saying, “I am not sure I have ever met a man who was so conscientious and committed as Rudy was. . . I would take a hundred more men just like him today.”
When Rudy set his mind to a project or cause, no matter how daunting, he made a plan and then slowly but surely did what needed to be done in order to complete it. He was a meticulous fundraiser, knowing not only his donors’ names, but their family members. Even as late as a year or two ago, he would tour through churches, raising support for his work, his projects, and for the wider mission of Jesus Christ. I travelled with him and Marlene on one of these tours, and even though he was living from one blood transfusion to the next, he would seek people out, listen and remember their stories, preach a sermon, and then get ready to move on to the next church community. His newsletters were detailed, colourful, and always on time.
The projects were certainly worthwhile. Rudy and Marlene were involved in teaching, but they also wrote textbooks, published literacy books, lead AIDS Prevention seminars, and raised money to build dozens of makeshift but effective wheelchairs for the disabled in Nigeria. Some of these projects needs thousands of dollars and cooperation from numerous people to raise the money, transfer the money, and make sure it got into the right hands. Rudy was persistent and unwavering, and we estimate he trained over 4,300 students in those years. Unfortunately, due to his failing health, they had to come home in 2014 and continue their work from a distance in Toronto. They had one last visit in 2016, but Rudy and Marlene continued to research, write, and mange projects from their home.
From Persistence to Grace
Rudy had been needing blood transfusions for years, and we knew his condition was a vulnerable one. He had been getting weaker over the last few months, and entered palliative care at home just two weeks ago. He still wanted to finish his Greek grammar, and there remained some fundraising for the TPRA project that he was still determined to finish. Rudy was a persistent man, with an almost iron will, but his body could not sustain his heart’s desire to continue the work. Now Rudy needed to rest in what his Reformed theology puts at the centre of the gospel: God’s grace.
The day before Rudy died Marlene told me she read him Psalm 139 and told him he could go. “After that he seemed to be at peace,” she said. Marlene is certainly at a loss, saying “For 52 years my life revolved around that man.” But the care they have received, the timing of his death, and that it could happen in their home—she is left with so much gratitude. “We are so thankful for God’s mercy and grace,” she concluded.
Let me end with some more thoughts from Danny McCain. Rudy sometimes felt he needed to get his PhD in order to fulfill his calling. But he had virtues and a gift in teaching that were all that was necessary. Says Danny:
Rudy has been a man who easily submitted to authority and was sensitive to the needs of the people around him. He knew how to pinch pennies to save the money good people had given to support his ministries. He was a man without guile and without suspicions of others. He was not an ordinary person at all but a pious, practical and patient man… Rudy mentored many young people in Nigeria who will carry on his work and his name… he sets a very high standard for all the rest to follow.
Marlene and Rudy have had a unique relationship, knowing each other since the baby carriage. She has been left behind for now, although she is supported by her three daughters and two sons-in-law. Please pray for her and the family.
We follow a God of resurrection promises, and so we turn to that hope. Rudy has now knocked on the doors of heaven, and no doubt his Lord has opened the door wide and said, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” May the legacy of Rudy’s ministry continue to bless many across the globe.
A Celebration of Life service was held on Sunday, November 22nd at Morningstar Christian Fellowship in Toronto.
Rudy worked hard to finish up one more project before his health failed—revisions for a Greek Grammar textbook for African students. From now until the end of March 2021 you can help fund the publication of the book through Africa Christian Textbooks (ACTS) by giving to the Rudy Wiebe Memorial Fund. Visit our GIVE page and direct your donation to the Rudy Wiebe Memorial Fund. The family is also suggesting gifts in Rudy’s name be given to the Toronto Baptist Seminary.
Posted on November 12, 2020 by GSC Executive Director Peter J. Schuurman on the Sensus Divinitatis blog.