January 16, 2020

Remembering P. T. Yoder, preacher first, doctor second

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In 1971, P. T. Yoder greets friends at the market in Awash, Ethiopia. Yoder learned to speak in both Amharic and Afar — the language of the people group of the same name in the Awash valley. In 1971, P. T. Yoder greets friends at the market in Awash, Ethiopia. Yoder learned to speak in both Amharic and Afar — the language of the people group of the same name in the Awash valley. Herb Kraybill/EMM

SALUNGA, Pa. — Paul Timothy (P. T.) Yoder Sr. passed away at the age of 91 on December 16, 2019. Yoder and his wife, Daisy, served as missionaries with Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) from 1956 to 1977.

In addition to Yoder’s service with EMM, he was a medical doctor, pastor, bishop, and the president of Virginia Mennonite Missions (VMMissions) from 1985 to 1990.

“P. T. combined medical practice with a spiritual ministry so completely that his colleagues often wondered whether he was a doctor or a preacher,” wrote Nathan B. Hege in Beyond Our Prayers, a history of the Meserete Kristos Church from 1948 to 1998. “He made it clear that he was a preacher first.”

In a March 1968 Missionary Messenger article, Yoder described an incident in which he was returning to Nazareth, Ethiopia, via a desert route. Several miles from the main road, they came across a stranded vehicle and its two passengers.

The woman ran toward Yoder’s vehicle frantically calling for help. Her husband had worked for 5 hours to try to free the car from a rut using only a table knife. In the course of these several hours, the man had fainted three times due to dehydration. Yoder quickly shared a container of water with the man, encouraging him to drink slowly.

Reflecting on this situation, Yoder wrote, “Without water our lives would be parched. Without the water of Christ our Christian experience withers.” Yoder drew together both the physical and spiritual realities in a way that made his mission work so impactful.

“Since EMM’s beginnings more than 100 years ago, our missionaries have exemplified the calling of incarnational ministry,” said EMM President Gerry Keener. “The Yoders certainly set the precedent with their service in Ethiopia. We are beyond grateful for the eternal impact left by Dr. Yoder’s ministry.”

Initially, Yoder served at the Haile Mariam Mamo Memorial Hospital in Nazareth. Out of this hospital, he also initiated a number of regional out clinics. The Yoders developed a mission in the Awash valley and worked with famine relief, among other ministries.

Yoder was committed to speaking with his patients in their native language. In 1972, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I visited the cornerstone unveiling of the new Nazareth hospital.

During their conversation, the emperor learned that Yoder could speak both the Amharic and Afar languages. With a smile on his face, he responded to Yoder, “It is good to learn the language of the people.”

Having also pursued both of his passions in academia, Yoder underwent studies in medicine and ministry fields. He held a Doctor of Medicine degree from The George Washington University, a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University, and a master’s degree in church leadership from Eastern Mennonite Seminary. Yoder did his undergraduate studies at Eastern Mennonite University and some coursework at Palmer Theological Seminary.

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