January 7, 2020

Honoring Richard A. Showalter, a humble stalwart in the faith

Written by  Micah Brickner and Linda Moffett
In 2007, during Richard A. Showalter’s sabbatical, he and his wife, Jewel, traveled the historic Silk Road. Following their journey, the Showalters co-authored "A Silk Road Pilgrimage: Discovering the Church of the East." In 2007, during Richard A. Showalter’s sabbatical, he and his wife, Jewel, traveled the historic Silk Road. Following their journey, the Showalters co-authored "A Silk Road Pilgrimage: Discovering the Church of the East." Richard and Jewel Showalter/EMM

SALUNGA, Pa. — On December 14, 2019, the Lord welcomed home his faithful servant, Richard A. Showalter. Having served as the sixth president of Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) from 1994 to 2011, Showalter left a lasting legacy on both the organization he served and the Global Anabaptist church. 

“It seemed that all I had ever dreamed, and more, began to appear before my eyes,” Showalter wrote in his final EMM Missionary Messenger magazine column in October 2011, when referencing visiting the leaders of the young churches of the Majority World. 

“Rapid growth despite persecution and all kinds of other difficulties. A deep sense of comradery in Christ. Potential for partnership in mission that I had never imagined. Honduras, Guatemala, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Indonesia, the Philippines — here I met more stalwarts in the faith. The legacy of a church. Your legacy,” wrote Showalter.

While Showalter was quick to recognize the legacy that EMM and LMC — A Fellowship of Anabaptist Churches — left around the world, his humble leadership played a significant role in shaping that legacy. He too became a humble stalwart in the faith.

Among Showalter’s greatest contributions to the Global Anabaptist church was the creation of the International Missions Association (IMA) with four founding organizations, the mission arm of the Meserete Kristos Church in Ethiopia; PIPKA, the mission board of Gereja Kristen Muria Indonesia; the mission leaders of Amor Viviente in Honduras; and EMM in the U.S. 

The IMA was not a North American mission board relating to the overseas churches it had planted. Rather, it was a peer group of Anabaptist mission leaders from around the world. There are currently 25 organizations and networks around the world that are members of the IMA.

In November 1997, Showalter, the IMA’s first president, described IMA’s core convictions as “prayer, dependence on the Spirit, the centrality of the Great Commission in our missions, and taking the good news to those who have not yet heard.”

 “Richard would listen to anybody and everybody,” said Tilahun Beyene Kidane, IMA executive secretary. Tilahun described how Showalter tried humbly to learn from every part of the world.

In 2008, Showalter and EMM leadership took the unusual and unprecedented step of inviting five leaders from churches in the Majority World to speak into the work of EMM. 

In response to this peer review, Showalter asked Missionary Messenger readers, “Is it too much to hope that Eastern Mennonite Missions might be shaped as much by our partners from the Global South as by our own cultural preferences?”

One EMM worker serving in Central Asia, Maria — whose name has been changed due to sensitivity concerns — reflected, “I will never forget the time he went to dinner with [my husband] and I and a leader from Central Asia.” 

“After the meal, our acquaintance asked us his position in the company. When we shared he was the president, our acquaintance was floored. He had no idea and expressed great amazement at his humility and desire to listen and learn,” said Maria.

“I experienced him as a man of humility and godly spontaneity,” said current EMM president Gerry Keener. Highlighting both of these values, Keener recalled the time that Showalter and he were visiting leaders from the Vietnam Mennonite Church. While talking with Showalter, one pastor indicated that he had never experienced foot washing.

Showalter responded, “Let’s do it right now!” Keener described how participants from five different continents engaged in this moving and spontaneous time of foot washing. 

“This foot washing moment has become a signature memory of mine of Richard’s sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading in a particular context and to make a practical application of a Christian value,” said Keener.

“He said that the best Christian leaders are those that, first and foremost, know that they are loved by God. Only then can they love others well,” said Showalter’s daughter — whose name is not used due to sensitivity concerns. She, along with her husband and family, serve with both EMM and Rosedale International in East Asia. “He knew he was loved and extended that love to others.”

Prior to Showalter’s tenure as EMM’s president, he was the president of Rosedale Bible College from 1989 to 1994. He also served for many years as a pastor, church planter, and professor. The Showalters served with Rosedale International in the Middle East in the 1980s.

Showalter held a Doctor of Ministry from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a Master of Divinity from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, a Master of Theology from the University of Chicago, a bachelor’s degree from Eastern Mennonite University, and took courses at Fuller School of Intercultural Studies.

Following Showalter’s retirement from EMM, Richard and his wife, Jewel, continued to serve with EMM as long-term missionaries in East Asia and Kenya, and as non-resident volunteers resourcing the global church through both Rosedale International and EMM. 

Showalter left a lasting legacy beyond the churches directly connected to EMM. “I want to share my deep gratitude for Richard’s life and ministry in our global church,” said Mennonite World Conference General Secretary César García. “Richard’s leadership, attitude, and commitment to Christ and to our global church is a source of inspiration for many leaders across the world.”