Posted: June 24, 2020
23 July 1955–24 June 2020
Mennonite World Conference (MWC) lost Alfred Neufeld Friesen, a prolific author, theologian, historian and teacher who shaped Anabaptist theology globally. He died 24 June 2020 in Muenster, Germany, after treatment for liver cancer and kidney problems.
“Alfred Neufeld had a zest for life, friendship, and for our global church,” says MWC General Secretary César García. “Theologian, pastor, historian, teacher, photographer, music-lover, polyglot, father, grandfather, husband – these are only a few of the words that describe him.”
Alfred was born in Colonie Fernheim, Paraguay, on 23 July 1955 to Peter K. Neufeld and Margarete Friesen. He taught primary education in Filadelfia, Paraguay, and at the school for indigenous students at Yalve Sanga, Chaco, after graduating high school, then began his higher education in Fresno, California, USA, and Basel, Switzerland, until he obtained his PhD in theology of missions.
A pastor at heart, he served as youth pastor during his first sojourn in Switzerland, as adjunct pastor while in California, and as associate pastor of Iglesia HM del Barrio Clínicas in Asunción. From 1985-2009, he was a member of the pastoral team at Iglesia HM Concordia, Asunción.
Alfred served as rector of the Universidad Evangélica del Paraguay since 2005, where he began as professor in 1995, first at its related college CEMTA, then as lecturer from 1998-2009. Additionally, he served as director of Instituto Bíblico Asunción (1995-2003), board chair of the radio station OBEDIRA (1998-)
After serving on the General Council of MWC, he became chair of Mennonite World Conference Faith and Life Commission from 2008-2018. He represented MWC in several ecumenical dialogues, and played a major role in bringing together Mennonite churches in Paraguay to plan the MWC Assembly in 2009. He served as co-chair of the Trilateral Dialogue commission on baptism with representatives from MWC, Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. He continued to serve as chair of the MWC Renewal 2027 committee.
He also served the Mennonite Brethren in Paraguay on national and international boards and was a member of the International Council of the World Evangelical Alliance
Alfred recently wrote Becoming a Global Communion, a history of MWC. He was also the author of “What We Believe together,” a book explaining MWC’s Shared Convictions, which has been translated into more than half a dozen languages. He has scores of published articles and has been a sought-after public speaker in English, Spanish and German.
A whirlwind force of academic prowess, Alfred also exuded personal warmth. He could often be found holding someone’s baby, and he could comfortably speak with anyone no matter one’s education or background.
He is survived by his wife Wilma Elfriede Kaethler (m. 10 January 1981) and their four adult children. Despite hospital precautions and flight restrictions, Wilma and two of their children were able to be by his side in his last days.
—Mennonite World Conference release
Comments from MWC leaders
“Alfred’s boundless love for family, friendship, faith and life itself reached across the Anabaptist world and far beyond. With humility and keen wit, he had far-seeing vision for the church, communication ability, and theological understanding.” Nelson Kraybill, president
“Alfred was an extraordinary leader. With boundless energy, he joined his deep love of Scripture, hymns, theology, and church history, with an equally deep love for the church and the world. The global Anabaptist-Mennonite church has lost a great statesman.” John D. Roth, Faith and Life Commission secretary
“Alfred was a “force of Spirit”, one of God’s generous gifts to us all in the global church. I give thanks for this great friend, and will miss him dearly.” Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld, Faith and Life Commission chair
“Alfred’s commitment to truth, to Mennonite identity—especially Mennonite Brethren identity—and to receiving the gifts of all other churches made it possible for him to contribute to and shape the historic trilateral dialogue in ways that will prove beneficial to the three communions as well as to the wider global church.” Larry Miller, member of MWC Trilateral Dialogue delegation
“As the chair of Faith and Life commission he took care of individual differences in the members’ academic levels and set conducive atmosphere for fruitful discussions. During trilateral dialogue sessions, he exhibited exemplary prowess in putting historical complex theological debates in context so that harmony, unity and understanding prevailed among the members.
“I have known Alfred to be a very able leader who was humble, brilliant, relational, resourceful, prolific writer and a faithful follower of Christ Jesus. He has rested with the Lord at a time when he was to be a reservoir of knowledge and wisdom not only to the Anabaptist community but also to global community of faith. As Anabaptist faith community, we live to cherish the functions and life of Alfred.” Rebecca Osiro, MWC vice president
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