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  • Writer's pictureMennonite Mission Network

A ministry of accompaniment

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A memorial service will be held July 15, 2023, at 11:30 a.m. at Walnut Hill Mennonite Church, Goshen, Indiana.

Byrdalene Kay (Wyse) Horst, 81, of Goshen, died peacefully Tuesday, March 21, 2023.

Byrdalene was inspired by her mother’s enthusiasm for local and overseas mission to explore Spanish language education and mission work. At Eastern Mennonite University she met her husband Willis Horst when they both volunteered to do neighborhood outreach.

Byrdalene’s dream of becoming a missionary led her to volunteer for a summer at the Mennonite boarding school in Cachipay, Colombia.

After she received a B.A. in Spanish Education from Goshen College in 1964, she married Willis and they traveled to Arizona to teach on the Diné (Navajo) reservation. They grew to love relating with Indigenous Peoples and decided to answer God’s call to mission, beginning with two summers of linguistics training and one year of Spanish language study in Costa Rica.

Byrdalene would spend 38 years in service with Mission Network, beginning in 1971, when Byrdalene and Willis moved to the Chaco region of northern Argentina to accompany Indigenous churches until 2010.

Prior to the Horsts’ arrival in the Chaco, Mennonite mission workers had encouraged the formation of a totally Indigenous church, the Iglesia Evangélica Unida (IEU – United Evangelical Church) and supported the legal registration process. The Horsts embraced an accompaniment ministry, which was a radical approach to mission at that time. They worked closely with the IEU, as well as congregations of other denominations, focusing on the use of Scriptures in Indigenous languages and valuing the insights shared with them.

“Byrdalene and Willis shared with the broader church their deep belief that we as Mennonites, and Christians as a whole, will understand God’s message for us more clearly and more deeply when we seek to understand the insights of Native peoples, as well as people of all cultures,” said Linda Shelly, Mission Network Director for Latin America.

“We referred to our missionary presence as a ministry of accompaniment. We were there not to take over leadership, nor to teach how to be a “correct” church from our viewpoint. Rather, we sought to be a sympathetic ear, to discover together how God was guiding, and to encourage and strengthen their own identity as an ethnic people. We saw the goal to be a thoroughly indigenous church, with local spiritual leaders completely in charge. Our missionary presence was to accompany, “walk along side of,” indigenous leaders. This kind of missionary presence, so different from the established pattern of the time, was incomprehensible to most people outside the indigenous communities.”
“My Pilgrimage in Mission” - Byrdalene Wyse Horst In Mission FOCUS Annual Review 2012, Volume 20

As a member of what became an international, interdenominational team, Byrdalene taught literacy, led Bible study, served meals and traveled many kilometers, while nurturing in her four children her love of language and music. Byrdalene collected and recorded thousands of hours of Toba Qom and Pilagá church music.

"With our participation in the Mennonite Team, we met a Berta (Berdalene) totally committed to Christian mission. She was Willi's faithful companion and a tireless advocate and Bible teacher for Indigenous women. She will always be in our hearts together with Willi and we will carry her example to the end," shared Alfonsina and José Oyanguren, International Service Associates.

Gretchen and Keith Kingsley worked alongside the Horsts in the Chaco for a decade. “Byrdalene affirmed women’s leadership gifts in their Indigenous churches. She called them out to serve on the Argentine Bible Society’s translation team of the Toba Qom Bible, and its dramatic sound recordings of the Pilaga’ language New Testament,” said Gretchen.

Byrdalene was born September 4, 1941, in Archbold, Ohio, to Cora (Nofziger) and Harold Wyse. Byrdalene is survived by her children: René (Marlene Harder Horst) of Boone, North Carolina; Carmen (Eric Kurtz) of Goshen, Indiana; Emily (Malcolm Sedaca) of Córdoba, Argentina; Cristina (Lucas Robert) of Córdoba, Argentina; and seven grandchildren: Em, Tali, Elisa, Nayli, Khalil, Francisco, Serafín.

“We rejoice in Byrdalene’s life of risk taking, service, compassion and self-giving. She and Willie led an extraordinary life,” said Keith Kingsley.

Memorial gifts may be made to Mennonite Mission Network.

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