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Alfred Neufeld Friesen remembered as a scholar who enjoyed life

Mennonite Brethren leader Alfred Neufeld Friesen, a prolific author, theologian, historian and teacher who shaped Anabaptist theology globally in his work with Mennonite World Conference, died June 24, 2020, in Muenster, Germany, after treatment for liver cancer and kidney problems.

“Alfred Neufeld had a zest for life, friendship, and for our global church,” says MWC General Secretary César García. “Theologian, pastor, historian, teacher, photographer, music-lover, polyglot, father, grandfather, husband—these are only a few of the words that describe him.”

Neufeld was born July 23, 1955, in Colonie Fernheim, Paraguay, to Peter K. Neufeld and Margarete Friesen. He taught primary education in Filadelfia, Paraguay, and at the school for indigenous students at Yalve Sanga, Chaco, after graduating high school, then began his higher education at MB Biblical Seminary (now Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary) in Fresno, California, and Basel, Switzerland, obtaining a doctorate in theology of missions.

A pastor at heart, he served as youth pastor during his first sojourn in Switzerland, as adjunct pastor while in California and as associate pastor of Iglesia HM del Barrio Clínicas in Asunción. From 1985-2009, he was a member of the pastoral team at Iglesia HM Concordia, Asunción.

Neufeld served as rector of the Universidad Evangélica del Paraguay since 2005, where he began as professor in 1995, first at its related college CEMTA, then as lecturer from 1998 to 2009. Additionally, he served as director of Instituto Bíblico Asunción (1995 to 2003), board chair of the radio station OBEDIRA (1998 to present.)

After serving on the General Council of MWC, he became chair of Mennonite World Conference Faith and Life Commission from 2008 to 2018. He represented MWC in several ecumenical dialogues, and played a major role in bringing together Mennonite churches in Paraguay to plan the MWC Assembly in 2009. He served as co-chair of the Trilateral Dialogue commission on baptism with representatives from MWC, Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. He continued to serve as chair of the MWC Renewal 2027 committee.

He also served the Mennonite Brethren in Paraguay on national and international boards and was a member of the International Council of the World Evangelical Alliance.

Neufeld recently wrote Becoming a Global Communion, a history of MWC. He was also the author of What We Believe together, a book explaining MWC’s Shared Convictions, which has been translated into more than half a dozen languages. He has scores of published articles and has been a sought-after public speaker in English, Spanish and German.

A whirlwind force of academic prowess, Neufeld also exuded personal warmth. He could often be found holding someone’s baby, and he could comfortably speak with anyone no matter one’s education or background.

He is survived by his wife Wilma Elfriede Kaethler and their four adult children. Despite hospital precautions and flight restrictions, Wilma and two of their children were able to be by his side in his last days.

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