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Mary Catherine Kreider

Born May 2, 1906, in the big brick house on the family homestead near Campbelltown, Pennsylvania, (not in a hospital as today's babies usually are) I am told that I was especially welcome as the first daughter following three sons. Two younger sisters completed the family circle: one 3 1/2 years younger than I; the other, 9 years younger and for whom I was often nursemaid.

My father was a preacher, elected by the congregation according to the pattern of the Brethren in Christ Church in those days. Other church responsibilities followed which often took him away from home, although there was no financial support for the ministers at that time. I have been told that he once said on the floor of our annual General Conference, "Our church has a supported ministry - the wife and children do the supporting."

Father was a public schoolteacher when mother married him, but after several years and the birth of three sons, he took over the family homestead. On this farm in lovely Lebanon Valley in eastern Perinsylvania, I was born, played, worked, and from it went to school; elementary, in the village of Campbelltown, high school, in the famous chocolate town of Hershey, and to college in Elizabethtown.

The farm was a busy place. However, we all loved the country life it afforded. I was fond of reading, and if I could find no time for it, life was a dreary round! The Pennsylvania Germans thought time was for work, not for reading, and I was affected by the current climate. However, our parents did not drive us children as hard as did many of the people in the area. I never had occasion to doubt that their first concern was that we children learn to love and obey the Lord. We always had morning worship, often taking time to sing, besides reading and prayer. We still like to sing at family gatherings.

Mary Kreider, 1940

School was a joy to me. I was fortunate to grow up in an era when teachers were respected and worthy of respect. Seven years of grade school passed by without much conscious effort to learn, it seems to me as I look back. Oh, yes, I was careful to do my assignments, after a fashion at least. Some assignments in history and geography, for example, in which we read silently and then recited, received rather hurried attention if a story book was already open within the desk, ready to be slid onto my lap while the class book lay auspiciously open on the top of the desk. I could usually manage a good recitation by using all I could remember and so keep ahead of the small class. It seems to me that I absorbed rather than sought to acquire all through grade school and high school. (Perhaps larger classes and more competition would have been better for me, although I think Wordsworth had a point when he wrote:

"That we can feed this mind of ours
In a wise passiveness.
Think you, 'mid all this mighty sum
Of things forever speaking
That nothing of itself will come.
But we must still be seeking?"

-William Wordsworth from "Expostulation and Reply"

I graduated from Hershey High School in 1923, in a class that had shrunk from 32 or so in its freshman year to 11. Not by choice I had taken the Commercial course. I had been eager to study Latin and had entered that class. But after a day or two of school we were required to bring a written statement from a parent about which course we were to take. Father opted for the Commercial course from a pragmatic viewpoint. I loved my father too deeply to resent the change; and fortunately for me, in those days all the commercial students took Spanish during their third and fourth years. My report card shows that during the first month or so I did not know how to attack a foreign language, but after that I quickly caught on.

Some obligations kept me out of school for two years - except for a smattering of extension and summer classes. In college I made up for deficiencies, by taking physics, geometry and more language. It was in language that I desired to excel; but circumstances and years spent between three small colleges prevented specialization, so I wound up with two years each of German, French, and Greek. Under the teaching requirements of those days, my secondary state teaching certificate was credential for teaching those three languages, English, and the Social Sciences! I was graduated from Elizabethtown College in 1929.

I must backtrack to speak of my Christian experience. I wanted to be a Christian from childhood. Becoming a Christian meant to me confession and forsaking of sin and trusting in the Savior to forgive me and make me a child of God. I did this at a public altar at the age of 10 1/2 years. Later as I listened to the experiences others reported, I doubted the validity of my own experience, because it was not accompanied by great emotion. This started me on a course of doubting that troubled me for many years. How important it is that children be grounded on the Word and encouraged to speak out freely about their doubts and fears so that they may be clinically treated from the Word of God! I bear scars of those years and of certain "holiness" preaching during my college years; but the ultimate result was to drive me to search the Word and to read a variety of writers for light on the Word, and this searching was better than complacent shallowness.

My parents had sincere, stable faith; it was not their influence which misled me. However, they had both entered the Christian life as adults and a child's experience may have less of the climactic reversal of emotions.

At age 11, I was baptized by my father in the Quittapahilla Creek (many streams in this area have Indian names) and united with the Brethren Christ Church, putting on the "prayer covering" and the "plain dress" of our church at that time. This special dress set me apart from many of my schoolmates. However, I had some fine friends among those who did not dress as I did. Friends have contributed much joy and contentment and happy activity to my life - and still do contribute. The opportunity to make new friends has not ceased, but old friends mean much.

From the fall of 1929 to the spring of 1933, I taught in the academy and junior college departments of Beulah College (later Upland College), Upland, California. While there, childhood impressions that I should offer myself for service in Africa deepened into convictions. I applied to the Foreign Mission Board of the Brethren in Christ Church, was accepted, and arrived in Capetown, Southern Rhodesia, on Christmas Day, 1933. Our missions are located in what is now known as Zambia and Rhodesia, 1,300 miles north. I was assigned to Matopo Mission Teacher Training School. About two weeks after my arrival, the new school year opened (government calendar of 180 days minimum, from January to December with various holidays between). Without ever having seen an African class or teacher at work, I was taken to the highest class (Second and Third Year Teacher Training) meeting together for their academic classes, introduced and left there to proceed with Bible, arithmetic, English, and geography classes. Had I realized how much I was in need of orientation for the work, I might have fled. Fortunately, the 11 pupils received me graciously and put up with my inadequacies - better than the one government inspector who roundly criticized the geography course. (The missionary principal of the school was a gentleman and took full responsibility for having launched me with the textbook he had chosen.)

It's a poor teacher who doesn't learn more than his pupils. From the time I began teaching in California to the end of the days of my teaching, I consciously studied and planned - more than I ever had in college. When I was later put in charge of the professional training of teachers, I developed a new respect for the value of methods courses. Knowledge and enthusiasm go a long way toward making a teacher, but they do not make up for sloppy organization and poor methods. I learned a lot - though not nearly enough of anything to become an expert.

The two seven-year terms which I spent in Africa included several different placement, missions and time in countries both north and south of the Zambezi River, among the Tonga and Ndebele peoples respectively. I learned to love and deeply respect those people and had warm ties of friendship among both older and younger people. I saw among them a physical beauty of face and form equal to that of our proud white race - to say nothing of charm of personality, especially when the grace of God was in control. And they are intelligent and self-reliant, expressing these qualities in terms of their culture, which is only fair to expect.

Being interested in language, I applied myself earnestly to learning to speak Ndebele, and later when I moved north, to the language of the Tonga Since my teaching was largely in English and the teaching loads were full time, I did not achieve the proficiency I desired. But I did have a fair measure of communication. Without the language, one could not speak with the parents of one's pupils or with most of the older people, except through an interpreter. A strong sense of the necessity of proving interest in the people through learning their language motivated me, too. And I found that only through their language patterns could I begin to understand some of their thought patterns and improve my teaching of Christian or academic subjects. My father's sister (Sallie Doner), who had first gone to Rhodesia in 1904, constantly encouraged me in the study of the language. She was my first teacher and taught me much besides language during those 3 1/2 years before she returned to America to retire. She said whoever waits to speak the language until he can do it without error will never learn to speak it; and she often quoted someone who had said, "Before you first learn to speak a language you must butcher it". The longer one waits, the more one becomes aware of the language snares - ridiculous or otherwise - into which one may fall. Then courage wanes.

Mary Kreider at Sikalongo Mission

I had looked forward to giving as much as possible of my life in service in Africa. But when I came home after my second term, in 1950, it was to a widowed mother who had for several years been keeping house by herself. She was especially happy to welcome her only "single chick" to live under the same roof with her. I was her "peculiar possession" since there was no spouse to claim any right to me! And a missionary on furlough who has a home in which to which to make her headquarters is blessed! Along with the deputation and youth camp work, I also taught part time at Messiah College as a substitute for one of the teachers doing postgraduate work. This time I taught New Testament survey, sociology, and child psychology. I have indeed taught in many fields and am master of none!

For Mother's sake I made the difficult decision to not return to Africa (with prayer, of course). My brothers and sisters would have done their best for her, but they had their families to rear and I felt that was the task that needed their full attention. I cherish the memory of the twelve years with mother's home as my base, while first doing deputation for missions, then three years as a physician's receptionist, then attending Pennsylvania State University to secure the Master's Degree in German for a teaching post offered me at Messiah College. I was granted the degree in 1957 and for the next four years taught German and Spanish at Messiah College, spending weekends and summer vacations with my mother.

Mother's mind was clear, but her body was becoming more frail. In 1961 I resigned my position at Messiah College. The president offered to get a supply teacher and hold the place for me for a year or two; but I feared that they would be at a disadvantage in seeking a teacher for such a limited period, so I surrendered any claim to it.

The next school year, 1962-1963, I taught German in a public school near home. That January my mother contracted pneumonia and after five weeks in a hospital bed at home, her heart failed and she slipped quietly away to be with the Lord. She was 83 years old.

I had never known such parting sorrow before. Ever since that time, I've had a deeper sympathy for those who experience bereavement. I had never lived alone before. I learned that sorrow teaches lessons that joy and ease never can. The Lord was my anchor as I completed the last two months of the school year, helped to divide and dispose of mother's personal possessions, and moved out of the homestead into an apartment eighteen miles away in preparation for serving in the new Brethren in Christ Missions Office in Elizabethtown. I resigned my teaching position for the coming year.

For almost ten years I had been editing the foreign missions pages in our church paper "The Evangelical Visitor" on my own time. That now became one of my office assignments, along with other promotional tasks. A teacher in an office meets with unexpected frustrations, I learned! But I was secure in the belief that it was the Lord's place for me; and I worked there for ten years.

When I wanted to live in town instead of in the country apartment where I had lived for eight years, the Lord graciously led me to the present one into which I moved August 1, 1970. Gratitude for His care of me wells up in my heart as I write. It is within easy walking distance of the Missions Office, banks, stores, doctor and so on. And my Christian landlord and landlady are consistently considerate and kindly in their relationship with me.

Full retirement did not come as quickly as I had planned; but when it came I splurged not with money, but with time! I accepted invitations to go places and do things that I had not had the energy to do before. I had been asked to start the Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church library and I could give time to that. I continued teaching a Sunday School class, although I realized that with the group of married people now doing electives, it was wise to adopt the role of coordinator rather than attempting to teach every Sunday.

My brothers and sisters and their families are dear to me; keeping in touch with a large family is more time-consuming and more rewarding than for those who have little time. Retirement has been an enriching experience for me. And when a sense of aloneness comes up, it is an occasion to thank the Lord for His presence and for His wise plan for me to have time alone with Him.

"I know not what the future hath
of marvel or surprise,
Assured alone that life and death
His mercy underlies."

-From "The Eternal Goodness"
John Greenleaf Whittier

(This autobiography, with a few editorial changes, was written by Mary Kreider before her move to Messiah Village in 1984. The following reflections are shared by Nancy Kreider Hoke, a niece of Aunt Mary, who also served as a missionary with Brethren in Christ Missions in Africa some years later, and others.)

As I reflected on Aunt Mary's life, I saw clearly that she was a woman who loved her Lord, loved to study, and loved teaching - in Africa, at Beulah College (Upland College) and at Messiah College. Her letters, Evangelical Visitor missions reports, her poetry (several included later here), and appreciative comments from those who interacted with her, are sources from which we learn of the wide spectrum of her influence.

Mary's autobiography clearly expresses her love for learning, and her eagerness to grow in her faith. She credits the constancy of her parents' life and practice as profound influences upon her.

She graduated from Hershey High School as valedictorian of her class in 1923. (Having been class secretary, her record book of those business meetings still remains). In 1929 she graduated from Elizabethtown College. Being invited to join the faculty of Beulah College (later Upland College), she taught in the high school and junior college there from 1929 to the spring of 1933.

Aunt Mary said that she could not remember a time when she did not plan to be a missionary. That desire materialized when she arrived by ship in Capetown, South Africa, on Christmas Day, 1933, then traveled by train to Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia. Her beloved aunt, Sallie Kreider Doner, also a missionary in Rhodesia, was a great encourager and mentor to her. Aunt Mary's two terms spent in Africa were filled with teaching activities. She taught in both Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) at Sikalongo Mission, and Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) at Matopo and Mtshabezi. When I went to Matopo soon after Aunt Mary had returned home to the States, I was told by many teachers how Aunt Mary had influenced them. One of her students, J. D. Ndlovu, who later became Principal of Matopo Secondary School, told me that he greatly appreciated Aunt Mary's interest in his spiritual life.

In her notes prepared for talks while on furlough, she would give very poignant descriptions of African leaders or students. She wrote about overseer Rev. Nyamazana Dube, when he was the evangelist at Matopo Mission: "His appearance was of a benevolent, portly, good-natured but earnest man in his dark coat, khaki trousers, plain vest, clerical collar. He wept as he preached."

Letters to her family contain intriguing descriptions of life in Africa. She described campfire experiences as "a little world of light in a big world of pitch-place darkness and mystery, and just enough nearness to snakes, button spiders, poisonous centipedes and scorpions to make caution good-policy - just enough of lion and leopard stories to make unusual sounds eerie and to help you imagine what may be taking place in the dark recesses of yonder towering koppie with its overhanging rocks, bush-covered recesses and smelly caves. Away in the distance, the barking of wild dogs and jackals can sometimes be heard, or perhaps the sounds from a village may come floating in peacefully. But the horizon holds not bright lights of cities or neon signs, etc."

When she returned for her second term in 1943, it was during World War II. Mary traveled with Martha Kauffman and Henry H. and Grace Brubaker to Southern Rhodesia. It was a dangerous and exciting trip. They left their homes without any public announcement on March 27, traveled by train to Miami, Florida, flew to Panama and then on to South America. Aunt Mary had to fly by herself to Colombia because she was the lightest in weight. They boarded a ship from Buenos Aires to Capetown. The Atlantic Ocean was mined against German ships and also mined by the Germans to destroy Allied ships. On June 7 they arrived with thankful hearts in Bulawayo to the wonderful welcome of their coworkers.

Much could be written about Aunt Mary's life and experiences in her two terms in Africa. Her interest in the AmaNdebele (the people who lived where she taught) was exceptional. She learned the Ndebele language and was happy to be able to communicate with the local people. She always had many African friends, and she loved visiting villages and walking the many paths in the Matopo hills.

In a World Missions tribute read by Rev. David Climenhaga at her memorial service, she was commended for her faithful service in both Northern and Southern Rhodesia, and for learning both Ndebele and Tonga. She helped further African literature and served on the Tract Committee. She had the first literature-selling table at an African conference.

Aunt Mary dearly loved her family, including her nieces and nephews, and wrote frequent letters to them, many still remaining in personal collections or in the church archives. Even though far away in Africa, she kept in close touch, expressing her keen interest in each family, and also her strong opinions on many subjects. Her love for them was often expressed in these letters, such as the tribute she wrote of her brother Herbert and her feelings when she had her last visit with him; and her written account of her last visit with brother Ethan. We knew that Aunt Mary prayed for each one of us, and until we get to heaven, we will not know how invaluable those prayers were.

In 1947, while she was in Africa, her father died. Devoted to her parents, she deeply mourned his death. After her furlough, she felt God's call was to care for her widowed mother. Again she found opportunities to study and serve: earning her M.A. in German from Pennsylvania State University (a remarkable achievement!) in 1957. She taught German and Spanish at Messiah College for the next four years, (and another missionary and pastor, Rev. LeRoy Eberly, years later expressed his gratitude for the inspiration she gave him to learn Spanish - much needed in his service in Mexico). Then, because of her mother's declining strength, Mary taught German in a public school near home. These years of caring for her mother were delightful times for Mary; and when her mother died in 1962, at age 83, she experienced great sorrow.

Again she sensed the Lord's call to missions when she was asked to become Information Secretary for the Missions Office newly opened in Elizabethtown. She had already been the overseas missions editor for "The Evangelical Visitor" for many years. However, this new assignment meant more changes - change of home, home congregation and vocation. With true missionary spirit she thrust her energies and love for her Lord into this work for the next ten years. In her articles she sought to inspire monies for the "General Fund" as it was called then. Her interest and knowledge of missions made her a very good reporter. Several of those years she made her home in an apartment on her brother John's farm, giving his family memorable opportunities to spend time with Aunt Mary. Joyce Peterman Hughes, a great-niece, remembers Aunt Mary's enthusiasm for reading stories to her and her siblings in that upstairs apartment. "I am glad she was in my life", she said. "Her life was a real inspiration to me."

She retired from her work in the missions office in 1981. Years later she commented, "I am sure I would have continued in the work after retirement age if a slight tremor of long-standing had not grown much worse and greatly affected my writing and anything requiring close coordination. It is my thorn in the flesh and I apply Paul's healing words in 2 Corinthians 12. "Deliverance will come!" In the meantime, she was determined to continue doing all that she was able, instead of giving in to frustration.

In 1984 Aunt Mary moved into Messiah Village. Pastor Ron Burgard commented that she added spark and sparkle to life there. He remembers her as a faithful member of the church and Sunday School. She also taught Sunday School, and was always delighted to read stories to the child who came to her room for the Childrens' Family Center program. Friends and family members enjoyed stimulating visits with her. She was determined to be a good citizen, and kept abreast of current events. On one occasion she wrote a personal letter to President Richard Nixon expressing her disappointment at what she felt was unbecoming behavior for such a public leader. Conservative in her political views, she was very faithful in voting in local and national elections.

Aunt Mary's Schofield Reference Bible reveals a love for God's Word and an amazing degree of in-depth study and quotes gleaned from various sources. Her niece, Joanne Engle Miller remembers when Aunt Mary taught the teenagers' Sunday School class at Palmyra Church: "I especially remember a series she taught on Proverbs. It was the first time that book came alive to me. At the time I wondered how well she would relate to us teenagers, but I later realized that her love and knowledge of the Word was the main thing she taught me. Aunt Mary was a walking wealth of memorized passages - whether Biblical or other literary quotes." She was very fond of good literature, which made her a good writer. She was still reading John Bunyan's writings during her last months in nursing care. C.S. Lewis and John Milton were also favorite authors. She would often quote Pascal, Matthew Arnold, Andrew Murray, Hudson Taylor, Oswald Chambers and other devotional writers.

Her nephew, John K. Kreider, commented in a written tribute at her memorial service, "Aunt Mary had learned to live well at an early age. As I looked through her books and found many underlined portions, I came to the realization that her contentedness was rooted in her yieldedness. Here is an example taken from Charlotte Elliott's poem, "God's Will Be Done';

"Though Thou hast called me to resign
What most I prized, it ne'er was mine;
I have but yielded what was Thine
'Thy will be done.'

Renew my will from day to day!
Blend it with Thine; and take away
All that now makes it hard to say
'Thy will be done.'"

Aunt Mary's writings are filled with her desire to please God.

On January 12, 2001, she was called home to be with the Lord she loved. She is buried in the United Christian cemetery at Campbelltown, Pennsylvania in the Kreider family plot. The celebration of Mary's life at the Messiah Village chapel on January 16,2001, was a tribute to her as a woman of great faith.

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