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August 18, 2016

Remembering James Sauder, “incurable” missionary

Written by  Nita Landis
James Sauder, December 1976 James Sauder, December 1976

SALUNGA, Pa. — “There would be many reasons for staying at home. We have already given our best 25 years to overseas work. We have built a house but have rarely lived in it. Our fruit trees invite us to remain and consume their bountiful harvest. Our parents have been in the hospital several times of late. We would enjoy keeping frequent contact with our growing children in the United States.”

Those were the words of missionary James Sauder (February 4, 1935 – July 22, 2016) after 25 years of evangelism, church planting, Bible teaching, and leadership development through Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) in Honduras and beyond. Yet Sauder and his wife Rhoda left home again to live and serve in the Dominican Republic, extending their missionary career to 30 years with EMM.

Why? Because, James wrote, “In many ways we are incurably missionaries. … We go because we believe that God will transform lives in the Caribbean and Central American areas. The active Word of God will call people to be faithful disciples of Jesus. New believers will be shaped into servant leaders. Real fellowship will happen and the Lord’s name will be praised as the high are brought low and the low are elevated.”

A church planter at 16 years of age and an ordained pastor at 19, Sauder began his missionary career seven years later at age 26. Present during the early years of Honduras Mennonite Church, Sauder gave much thought to church development, naming four stages of development — pioneer, partnership, integration, and autonomy. As the church moved into autonomy, Sauder noted the increased need for missionaries to listen humbly and deeply to national church leaders and to move in a spirit of willing servanthood.

James found his servanthood niche and personal passion in Bible teaching and leadership development. He worked to unite Central American Anabaptist leaders around the need to train leaders for the growing churches, laying the groundwork for SEMILLA, an Anabaptist seminary in Guatemala.

After years of service, Sauder described his own transformation from a person “trying to do everything that needed to be done” to a man who had discovered how to maintain internal well-being and multiply his efforts through discipling others and utilizing the gifts of all. In a February 1982 Missionary Messenger article, James wrote: “As I see the fruit during this last decade [in Honduras, Belize, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Haiti, Miami], I am convinced that the formation of disciples and the training of workers is the best investment of our resources for the future of the developing churches.”

Well said, James. Well lived.