Peter Dyck leaves legacy of service
Storyteller, pastor and servant dies of cancer in January at age 95.by Linda Espenshade and Ed Nyce of Mennonite Central Committee
Peter J. Dyck—storyteller, Mennonite pastor, author and lifelong servant to people in need around the world—died of cancer on Jan. 4. He was 95 years old.
Dyck, who lived in Scottdale, Pa., is well known in Mennonite, Brethren in Christ and Amish communities throughout Canada, Europe, Paraguay and the United States, especially for his work with Mennonite Russian refugees and with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).
Born in Lysanderhöh, Am Trakt, Russia, on Dec. 4, 1914, Dyck was a child when the Russian Revolution ushered in the start of the Soviet Union. At age 6, he almost died of typhoid and hunger that accompanied the Russian Famine of 1921.
Dyck and his family were rescued by food shipments sent from Mennonites in Canada and the United States, a kindness he would not forget. Six years later, his family, including eight siblings, fled Russia and settled in Saskatchewan.
Dyck attended the University of Saskatchewan and Bethel College, North Newton, Kan., and graduated from Goshen (Ind.) College with a bachelor’s in English in 1952. In June 1968, he completed his master of divinity degree from Bethany Theological Seminary, Chicago.
During World War II, he served with MCC in England. Motivating his decision to work with that organization was his memory of the food aid he received as a child. The food had come through a newly formed MCC.
"I knew these were people that do good. … They fed our family. They fed our community. Now they are asking me to go and do something like that for others? To me, it would almost have seemed immoral not to say yes," Dyck told author Robert Kreider, editor of Interviews with Peter J. Dyck and Elfrieda Dyck.
His decision to go was fortuitous not only for MCC but also for Dyck. In 1944, he married Elfrieda Klassen, a nurse who also was serving with MCC in England. She, too, was a Russian refugee who moved to Canada.
In 1946, the Dycks set up refugee camps in Germany for thousands of Mennonites who had fled the Soviet Union. Over time, they led 5,500 Mennonites by boat to South America, mostly to Paraguay. This experience provided content for Dyck's stories and was the basis of the book Up From the Rubble, which he coauthored with Elfrieda.
"Peter was a key voice in helping MCC supporters in Canada and the United States be aware of need in the world," says Herman Bontrager, chair of the MCC board of directors. "Peter and Elfrieda were bridges in that they built linkages and relationships across continents."
From 1950 to 1957, Dyck served as pastor of Eden Mennonite Church in Moundridge, Kan. The Dycks returned to Germany with their two daughters, Ruth and Rebecca, to direct the MCC program there and in North Africa for the next 10 years.
Peter Dyck then moved into an administrative position with MCC in Akron, Pa., where he was responsible for East-West relations in the midst of the Cold War.
For two decades after his "retirement" from MCC in 1981, Dyck traveled to speak at churches, schools and retreats. He was well-known among Amish and Mennonites for his inspiring stories and was popular among young people at Mennonite high schools and colleges in the 1970s and 1980s for his ability to engage them. At 90, he could still pack auditoriums.
Dyck authored five more books. Three were children's books. He also wrote a collection of his stories, Leap of Faith, and a meditation on growing old gracefully, Getting Home Before Dark. Dyck believed that credit for his efforts should be directed toward God, not him. "It is gratifying and also humbling to think that [God’s] purposes are accomplished through ordinary people," he told Kreider.
Dyck donated his body to the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, the last service he could perform for humankind.
In lieu of flowers and as a memorial tribute to his life of service, the family asks that contributions be made to the Peter J. Dyck Peace and Justice Scholarship at Goshen College. This scholarship joins Goshen’s Elfrieda Klassen Dyck Compassionate Nursing Scholarship.
For information about ways of donating, go to www.goshen.edu/give. To make an online contribution, click on "one-time credit card gift," choose the "other" box option for designation and type the fund name into the blank box.
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