Verna Doerksen, Fred and Stella Neff: They Served by Grace Despite Weakness

by Terry M. Smith

BLUMENORT, Man.—An once exuberant child along with a pastor having roots in Germany and his wife were the centres of attention on Sept. 8, 2016, at Blumenort EMC as friends and family, and Board of Missions and national office staff gathered to honour Verna Doerksen and Manfred (Fred) and Stella Neff.

Ken Zacharias, EMC Foreign Secretary, welcomed people and led in prayer. A dinner followed: taco salad with cupcakes. People clapped in appreciation for the work of Diana Peters and others.

After dinner Rob Wiebe, part of Blumenort EMC, led in singing To God Be The Glory; Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing; Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You; and How Great Thou Art. Trish Reimer, from Prairie Grove, accompanied on piano.


Anthony Reimer, from Blumenort EMC, based a devotional on Paul’s instructions in 1 Cor. 12. California Redwoods are tall trees that survive tough times by interlinking their shallow roots. A four-word summary of Paul in 1 Cor. 12 is, “We need each other.” We are indispensible, interdependent, and interconnected. To reach the world for Christ, we need each other, he said.

Verna Doerksen

Credit: Terry M. Smith — In photo: Verna Doerksen

Carl Doerksen, Verna’s brother, said that his sister was retiring, yet not retiring. They were raised nearby on a small mixed farm. Verna’s cross-cultural service took her to Paraguay, Peru, Bolivia, and to Redcliff, Alta.

Carl identified some of Verna’s characteristics. First, she has heart for helping others. When he became a Christian, Verna challenged him to grow spiritually. During her three years at Nipawin Bible Institute, she wrote him letters of encouragement. Later, she encouraged young believers in Bolivia shunned for their faith in Christ.

Second, she was adventurous and energetic. The exuberance that her Dad wanted reduced led her to the Chaco, Paraguay, in the early ’70s. She enrolled with SIL, studied for three terms, engaged in jungle camp, and served for many years.

When she worked in Peru in literacy, energy was needed. Under threat from revolutionaries, she walked by night to where a plane could evacuate her—the basis for a best-selling book, he said.

Another attribute was her frugality; she manages money so well that the Board of Trustees might want to hire her to assist with its money issues, Carl said.

A highlight for Verna was when her parents visited her in Paraguay and Peru. They were proud of her missionary service. On behalf of the family, he offered their  congratulations and wished her well in the future, quoting Phil. 1:6.

Wycliffe’s Paul Meisner, with his wife Alice watching, spoke of the organization’s many workers from Manitoba and how it takes a team to do Bible translation. He thanked those present for their partnership.

He and Alice have appreciated Verna’s willingness to go where led to serve in translation, literacy, and discipleship. She accepted the cost of being separated from family. While Verna wanted to be near her ill mother, both knew Verna was where she should be.

Colleagues spoke of her being unpretentious, brave, friendly, one who made light of hardships, patient with village people; they were privileged to know her. With the words of Numbers 6, Meisner asked for the Lord’s blessing as Verna serves people in Redcliff.

Verna’s Response

Verna replied that her heart was full. She was thankful for supportive co-workers in Paraguay, and could not take much credit because no one works alone.

Her parents and Pastor John P. Loewen of Blumenort EMC encouraged her to enter mission work. She was determined, as the Psalmist wrote, to sing of the Lord among the nations; and, over the years, she did sing of him in many languages.

She was grateful for the EMC’s commitment to kingdom work, not just its agenda, shown by working with other mission agencies.

While she served as a nurse in Paraguay, nursing was not her passion; cross-cultural work and literacy training were. She wanted to give her life to something eternal, and delighted to help people read Scripture in their language because the Word of the Lord stands forever.

Verna had emotional challenges. When vaccines arrived late and she had to inoculate children by lantern light, her nerves were frazzled; she was comforted by a young man who played hymns on a harmonica. Another time, she was encouraged by reading a sign: Via Con Dios (Go With God). If the work seemed slow, 1 Cor. 15:58 helped; her labour was not in vain in Christ.

Someone said to her, “I could never do what you do.” Verna said she could not do it either, but people prayed and God was faithful.

Tim Dyck, General Secretary, presented Verna with a plaque. Diana Peters gave her flowers and a hug.

Manfred (Fred) and Stella Neff

Credit: Terry M. Smith — In Photo: Stella and Manfred Neff

Terry Scales of Community Bible Fellowship in Swan River, Man., said Fred and Stella moved to Swan River in the late 1980s. Stella loved hymns at Bible study. Fred did carpentry.

The Neffs later moved to Grand Rapids, Man., to serve a small church connected with Mid-Way Christian Leadership, holding Bible studies. Scales went there yearly, finding Stella to be a terrific hostess. The church sends its blessings; individuals do so especially, he said.

Fred is dealing with a serious health issue; the church and the Lord will stand with him. Fred will carry on at Grand Rapids, Terry said.

Don Buhler, also of CBF, said he was fortunate to call Fred and Stella “my friends.” Don has a few close friends, those closer than hunting and fishing buddies. He and Fred share this closeness.

Don saw Fred’s service as displaying the humility and gratitude Paul speaks of in Eph. 3. He is privileged to be a servant of God by grace, to preach of inexpressible grace. Paul said for this reason we kneel before God—what a perfect posture, Don said.

Don said that people are praying for Fred and Stella as Fred has chemotherapy for cancer. Fred has told him that since the diagnosis, people listen more to him and he has a new arena of service. Don echoed Paul’s prayer that God will strengthen his inner being to grasp the love of God that passes understanding, and CFB will be behind you, he said.

Ferlin Abrahamson of Birch River, Man., formerly interim director of Mid-Way Christian Leadership, shared his written thoughts through Malcolm Munroe, Mid-Way’s board chair.

Fred is from Germany and sees Canada through fresh eyes, Ferlin wrote. He’s the only person for whom Employment Canada agreed to pay for two years of training at Nipawin Bible Institute.

At Grand Rapids, Fred travelled with a pet German Shepherd; it took Ferlin a while to realize the significance of Fred’s choice. It is said that as an owner and a pet grow older, they become more alike. That’s true here “because I think Fred is a German Shepherd,” said Ferlin.

Fred and Stella’s Responses

Fred Neff said he was undeserving of this honour because of discouragement in ministry and not feeling as close to God as he does now. After NBI, he went to Grand Rapids and encountered some discouragements.

He knew he had peace with God, but did not have the peace of God until recently when he was diagnosed with cancer. He has peace and a renewed love for the Lord; his desire is to have many more years of reaching out in ministry, he said.

Stella said she was not present to say she is strong, because she is not. They have been together 44 years, and Fred is her strength. They know the future and she requested prayer. She had a heart operation last year and is grateful to be here for Fred. He is alone, she said, since most of his family members were killed during the bombing of Dresden in 1945.

A granddaughter asked her who would pray for them if “Opa” [Grandpa in German] didn’t. She replied she would. The child was surprised and asked, “Do “Kokums” [Grandmas in Cree] pray?” She welcomed prayer for the road ahead. Ken Zacharias came forward to lead those gathered in prayer for Fred and Stella.   

Tim Dyck, General Secretary, presented Fred and Stella with a plaque engraved with the image of a German Shepherd. Diana Peters gave them flowers.

Prayer Time

Terry M. Smith

Gerald Reimer, BOM Missions Mobilizer, led in a prayer time. Some requests were shared generally: a retired worker is travelling to Paraguay for a church anniversary, health is needed by a worker going on a prayer team to Asia, both a reserve leader and a young man (the latter facing court action) need help, and a retired missionary couple are elderly and their son died recently. Other requests were shared and prayed for within small groups.

Rob Wiebe led in Drinking at the Springs of Living Water, and then Ken Zacharias wished everyone a good night.

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