Ben Friesen Eidse was born on Oct. 12, 1928, to D.K and Elizabeth Eidse of Rosenort, Man., the twelfth of 20 children. He was the last surviving child and completed the circle in heaven on April 25, 2018, surrounded by family and friends on earth.
In 1949, Ben went to Pelly, Sask., under Western Gospel Mission, pedaling a bicycle to teach Bible classes in schools and adding cottage services.
He married Helen Reimer on March 30, 1952, after she completed nurse’s training. Their first of four daughters, Hope, arrived in 1953, the year they went to Congo as the first overseas missionaries of the EMC Board of Missions under (now) Africa Inter Mennonite Mission.
The Eidses built a medical-church-education centre in Kamayala, where they learned the heart language of the Lunda-Chokwe people.
Faith was born in 1955, the day Helen’s father, Peter D. Reimer, died in Canada. Six months later Faith was given up for dead. Ben begged God to bring her back and her eyes opened.
Charity arrived on Oct. 28, 1956, weighing nine pounds, and Helen’s kidneys shut down. While in hospice, Ben read her James 5:16, but realized that he was the one with sins to confess. He raced back to the men building the Kamayala church and apologized for getting angry. They said a white man had never admitted doing wrong and never apologized. When Ben returned, Helen’s kidneys were working again.
Eidse received a BA from Goshen College in 1959, followed by an MA from Wheaton. He returned to Congo alone in 1961, during tribal conflict, and delivered food and services. Over 600 came for counseling, including 31 chiefs.
Grace was born on Nov. 25, 1961, and the family returned to Congo in 1963, just before the 1964 Simba revolution. Ben sent his family ahead to Kinshasa and filled his van with students, driving through battle lines to safety.
After the conflict, Ben created a scripture memory program, changing the character of entire villages. During this term Ben sustained a progressively crippling, spinal cord/neck injury.
In 1969, Ben was selected by American Bible Societies to translate the Bible into modern Chokwe. Working with a pastor and a folklorist, they completed work in 1982. Native speakers loved the more dynamic expressions when praying or talking about God. The translation team also wrote a lesson book on the Christian disciple’s response to sorcery, which continues to change people’s worldview today.
After 30 years in Congo, Eidse was appointed president of Steinbach Bible College. He led its accreditation to a four-year college, a significant expansion, and a debt-free budget. In 1992, he was accepted to the University of Edinburgh, where he completed courses for a doctoral degree.
However, in 1995, Helen suffered a stroke and Ben cared for her in Steinbach for 16 years. During this time he became SBC’s first chancellor and counselled many people in a healing prayer ministry.
The Eidses received a Lifetime Service Award from the Association of Anabaptist-Mennonite Missiologists for leading Bible translation, planting 100 churches and establishing a mission centre in Congo. Their life stories were published in Light the World (Friesen Press, 2012). In 2015 Ben published his thesis research, The Disciple and Sorcery: The Lunda-Chokwe View (Cambridge Scholars Publishing).
Eidse returned to Congo for two months in 2010 to commemorate Helen’s life and encourage believers in prayers for healing and promoting women in church leadership.
Ben is survived by daughters Hope (Ben Wiebe), Faith (Philip Kuhns), Charity (John Schellenberg), and Grace Eidse, and their families. He was remembered in services at Rosenort EMC and Steinbach EMC on April 28 and 29 (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=SiQ_aYe6wbs), and laid to rest beside his wife in the Steinbach Heritage Cemetery. A mighty wind blew, assuring survivors of the Spirit’s continuing power in their lives.