Elda Ruth Hiebert was born the youngest of three children to Gustav and Mary A. (Buller) Hiebert on March 18, 1931at Bethesda Hospital with her parents, a sister and brother living outside Goessel. Lorena recalls their mother, Mary, telling that when Elda was born, they thought she was still born. They set her aside to care for Mary and while they were doing that, Elda woke up and let them know she was alive and well. Elda, in her youth, lived in or near Goessel, Burns, and Elbing, KS. Siblings, Lorena Mildred and Leroy Vernon, were an important part of her life, influences, and family. She had a special connection with her brother, Leroy, as neither of them ever married and often spent time together going out for meals. While still living in Hillsboro, they would meet in Newton after church to eat out.
She recalls that as child growing up in rural Goessel a deep interest in missions grew in her, especially as it pertained to Africa. Specifically, she remembers “growing up in Tabor Church, Father would take us to church. A missionary came, Frank Manning, with his big booming voice and told us exciting stories that influenced her decision ‘I would be a Missionary.’” Elda wrote in a membership history book of Zion Church members, ‘I was directed by God’s leading and my education and training was done with this (being a missionary) in mind.’
Elda’s education was extensive and ongoing throughout her life. She graduated from Berean Academy in 1949 to which she said we had a lot of fun, Grace Bible institute with a degree in Biblical Studies and a minor in Missions in 1955 and Bethel Deaconess Hospital School of Nursing in 1958, Two years later she received her bachelor’s in science in Nursing at Bethel College of North Newton, KS. Much later, between her first and second terms in Zaire, she went to Brussels, Belgium for a 6-month course in French, (Elda was quite a linguist knowing English, low German, understood high German, French, Tshiluba and Gipende African languages, and it one point learned enough Spanish to get along for a few months in Mexico.) She then went to Tropical Medicine School followed by a year of midwifery. Through her years as a RN further continuous education training were necessary not only to maintain her nursing license in America but also in Africa.
During her early training Elda wondered, ‘Is this really for me? – Bible School, Nursing school and all the work entailed. I prayed often about this. I had talked to the mission board earlier. One day [I thought] If you’re going to go, better to do it today.’ She sent in her application. Things went fast. She remembered the verse from Proverbs 3: 5-6 ‘Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and he will make your paths straight.’ ‘I packed my barrels. At commissioning her theme verse was, ‘Low, I am with you always.’
Elda worked for and with AIMM-Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission in 1964 and came home to stay in 1991. AIMM (then CIM) was the sending board and the General Conference was the supporting board.
Elda narrates or summaries what she learned from pastors and evangelists both while on the mission and field and before as they went out asking for prayer. They would then return with a report of those who had committed their life to Christ: ‘I learned the value of family and extended family, of being available to others. I was always inspired by their witness to family and others so that they will also accept Christ and become a part of His family, and of God’s faithfulness, that He is trustworthy. He will do what he said He will do. It is my hope also that because of our presence they have turned to Christ and trust in the Lord and are living for Him and that there are those who have come to a saving knowledge of Jesus’.
In the Zion history, she tells of coming to Zaire, a country with very poor schooling, where children were educated till the sixth grade. But there are, at the time of her writing, schools for all ages of children, for girls through high school, Ag education in Congo and a nursing school along with Bible Institutes started by missionaries and a protestant University with departments in theology and medicine. Elda was quite a linguist knowing English, low German, understood high German, French, Tshiluba and Gipende African languages and she at one point knew enough Spanish to along a few months in Mexico.
A big part of Elda’s work was the six-month course of midwifery she taught to African women. We taught child and maternal health, medicine use and how to assist in the birth of a baby. Proudly she states, ‘We also had a Bible Class taught by our hospital chaplain.’
Her first term in Congo was a very troubling time for missionaries. There was much talk of revolts and rebellion. Rebels were burning villages, killing its people, and killing government officials. She describes times of uncertainty, house arrest, seeing the results of the rebellion from the air, as well as slipping by the soldiers and rebels. Elda recalls during this, ‘I thought of the prayer group with Mother and Helen Janzen praying for missionaries and I knew their prayers were being answered that day.’
Elda, during her last term, was helping to start a 4-year nursing school. Elda acquired letters from a local Dr., her church leadership and permission from government offices to go to 13 diamond buyers in Tshikapa to solicit funding. She believed that word got around to the local population as to what she was doing. One day she encountered 6-8 young men watching her and one tried to intimidate her by tripping her. ‘I saw it and then just looked at him and greeted him. He backed off…In the end I got 1,000,025 Ziares (the local currency). God was with us in many times and ways, and many circumstances. He is faithful.’ This nursing school opened in 1989.
After returning from the mission field Elda went to work for Salem Nursing home in Hillsboro, KS. She purchased her home and added 3 cats to her family. She also had a cat or two while on the mission field. Elda worked at the home until she retired in early 2000’s. Her church home has always been the Zion Mennonite church in Elbing. She had a very special connection with her 6 nephews and a special connection with Charles who found Elda’s Missionary zeal a motivating factor in his call to fulltime pastoral ministry. Elda, saw it in him long before he did, stating one time, ‘I don’t know why he doesn’t just go ahead and go into ministry.’
Elda’s legacy goes far beyond her family including sister, Lorena and Pete, both deceased); deceased brother, Leroy; her 5 living nephews, Charles (Karen), Rodney (Suzan), Russell (Ran), Warren (Debbie), and Roger (Pam) and deceased nephew Gary (Carolyn). Countless lives were changes by her hands of love and caring in the Congo and in the nursing home. The Spirit of Christ, through her hands of obedience and trust, drew many to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Elda moved to Newton in 2015, first to Bethel Kidron Village and then to Comfort Care Homes of Harvey County where she lived until her death on Friday December 13, 2019. At each facility the staff loved her dearly. The family is extremely grateful to the Rivercross Hospice for the love and care they extended to her.
Memorial service will be 11:00 a.m. Friday, December 20, 2019 at Zion Mennonite Church in Elbing with Pastor’s Ray Reimer and Rosie Epp presiding. Burial will precede the memorial service at 10:15 a.m. at the Zion Mennonite Cemetery. The casket will be open 15 minutes prior to service at cemetery. Visitation will be 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday at Petersen Funeral Home with the family receiving friends from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.