USMB pastor dies after battle with cancer
By Connie Faber
Timothy Allen Bergdahl, pastor of Madera Avenue Bible Church, the USMB congregation in Madera, Calif., died Jan. 8. Bergdahl was diagnosed with cancer 3 ½ years ago and continued with his pastoral duties until just recently.
Bergdahl, who died at the age of 55, served the Mennonite Brethren church as a mission leader, writer, pastor and teacher.
“Tim Bergdahl was a man wholeheartedly committed to Christ and living and speaking and teaching in such a way that others would see Christ and find their hope in him,” said Gary Wall, the Pacific District Conference minister, in his remarks at Bergdahl’s memorial service held Jan. 15.
Bergdahl loved learning
Bergdahl, whose first friend was books, loved learning. He graduated from Point Loma College in San Diego, Calif., and earned masters degrees from MB Biblical Seminary, now Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, in Fresno, Calif., and Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif.
While living in Karachi, Pakistan, in the early 1990s, he attended the University of Karachi, earning certificates in the Urdu and Persian languages. Bergdahl received a doctorate in intercultural studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. Most recently, he served on the Fresno Pacific University Board of Trustees and taught at times as an adjunct professor.
Bergdahl was usually “the smartest person in the room,” recalled Wall, “but he never made you feel that way…. Tim pursued his doctorate, taught classes and served on the FPU Board not because he was an elitist scholar, but because he believed God had given him gifts and learning opportunities and a mind that he must use for the glory of God.”
A heart for Pakistan
Bergdahl’s passion for mission was sparked during his childhood. He was raised in San Lorenzo, Calif., in a multicultural neighborhood and early on formed a love for those of different faiths. While in college and graduate school, Bergdahl had a knack for meeting Muslims, says Bergdahl’s obituary. Some of his favorite places for doing so were gas stations and mini-marts, Arabic language movie theatres and ethnic restaurants.
Bergdahl and his wife, Janine, worked in Karachi, Pakistan from 1991 to 1996 with MBMS International, now MB Mission. Following their return to the U.S., Bergdahl worked for several years as the mission agency’s program director.
“Tim was a thoughtful (and humorous) interpreter of culture and faith who loved God and his mission,” says Randy Friesen, MB Mission executive director. “Tim's particular love for Muslim peoples led him to service, friendships and advocacy for a sensitive and strategic area of mission in our generation.”
Wall describes Bergdahl as someone who had the “heart of a missionary—firm in his beliefs and faithful in his convictions, but gracious and open in conversation with those who believed differently.”
A good shepherd
In 2007 the Bergdahls moved to Madera, Calif., and Tim served the USMB congregation there as pastor. Addressing the Madera Avenue Bible Church congregation during Bergdahl’s memorial service, Wall said, “(Tim) came and he loved you. By God’s grace he was a good and faithful shepherd of the people entrusted to his care. And you accepted and loved him and his family in return.”
Bergdahl loved the evangelical Anabaptist community and beliefs, says Friesen of MB Mission. “This was his chosen family and he served well in our midst as a mission leader, writer, pastor and teacher,” says Friesen.
Bergdahl discovered what he called his “inner-Mennonite” reading Anabaptist books in the Point Loma College library. He resonated with what he read and spent time talking with another student who was a Mennonite from Reedley, Calif. Eventually Bergdahl applied to MB Biblical Seminary in Fresno.
When a seminary friend learned that Bergdahl was a Mennonite who had never attended a Mennonite church, the friend introduced Bergdahl to his own pastor, Al Kroeker, who was pastoring Kingsburg (Calif.) MB Church at the time.
Kroeker’s daughter, Janine, met Bergdahl when the two were taking the same seminary class. At the time, Janine was working with international students at Fresno State University and a mutual friend thought the two should meet given their common interest in international students.
Tim and Janine were married in 1987. Their oldest daughter, Kayleigh, was adopted when the Bergdahls lived in Pakistan. Later, the family went to India to adopt their second daughter, Pradnya.
As the Bergdahl family made their way through the diagnosis and treatment of Tim’s cancer, they remained confident that God had a sovereign plan for Tim’s ultimate healing. Their conviction, said Wall, was that “God is at work in ways we cannot see. God is leading us and lovingly caring for us, even in the midst of suffering and pain.”
Pain is real
Bergdahl’s belief in Jesus as his good shepherd was evident in his blog, Like a Shepherd (http://likeashepherd.com/). As he blogged, Bergdahl “taught us how to suffer and die with grace, dignity and faith,” said Wall. The blog was “more than a place to post updates and notices about his cancer journey,” Wall said. Bergdahl’s blog “became a place for honest communication, a place to process life and faith, feelings and thoughts. A place to reflect and ultimately to encourage others that pain is real and God can be trusted,” said Wall.
This summer at the 2014 USMB National Convention, Bergdahl was one of two individuals recognized for service to the Mennonite Brethren church. Neither Bergdahl or Ron Voth of Koerner Heights MB Church in Newton, Kan., were “likely to be here” for the 2016 convention, said Steve Schroeder, Leadership Board chair and convention moderator.
“The truth is we’re all terminal,” Bergdahl told the delegates. “We (he and Voth) are facing that eternity and glory a little sooner.”
Voth died Sept. 22, 2014, and about four months later Bergdahl also met his Savior face to face.
Bergdahl was born February 9, 1959. He is survived by his parents, Robert and Beverley Bergdahl; his sister, Deborah, and her husband John Teats, all of Gilbert Arizona; his wife Janine; and their daughters, Kayleigh and Pradnya, all of Madera.
Remembrances may be made to the Kroeker-Bergdahl Memorial Scholarship at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary. 1717 S. Chestnut, Fresno, CA 93702
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