One of the reasons I am in the pastoral ministry today is because of the example of my uncle, Mahlon Amstutz. This may be because he and Aunt Ruth were regarded as heroes in the household where I was reared. Whenever a letter came from Chile—an aerogram on carefully-folded tissue paper with exotic postage stamps—it was an event! My mother would carefully and ceremoniously open those letters and read them as my brothers and I were gathered around the dinner table. There was always excitement in her voice. The stories we heard about her brother’s church-planting work in South America were, to us, adventure stories.
When he and Ruth were in the States on furlough, we gathered for family reunions. On those occasions I was attracted to his spirit of humility and optimism, his infectious smile, and the way he showed a personal interest in us younger nephews. I have a vivid impression that he took time for us. He asked sincere questions which made us feel that we mattered as persons.
Mahlon exuded a quiet strength which gave me hope that it was possible to be a Christian leader without being an authoritarian dictator, to be available, to be a good listener, to influence others through the power of a good example, and to lead with kindness. I wanted to be like him.
No doubt those qualities, and others, were why he and my Aunt Ruth were so fruitful in their 42-year ministry in South America. Their church-planting work required compassion as well as courage.
From 1945 until 1987, they worked closely with missionary colleagues and leaders of the national church in Chile, traveling extensively in pioneer missionary work, assisting small groups of believers located in remote areas, preaching, teaching, counseling and directing church choirs, as well as conducting evangelistic campaigns in different towns and cities.
Their work took them from Temuco to Santiago; from the southern Chilean Archepalego to the northern city of Antofagasta, where they spent their last years planting a new congregation in the northern-most region of the country.
In several conversations with him through the years, I tried to learn something of his methods in cross-cultural church-planting. He seemed to be less inclined to discuss an elaborate strategic vision and more inclined to make statements like, “We relied on prayer and the Holy Spirit.” Or, “We set up a gospel tent and preached, and the crowds would come.” Or sometimes he would say, “It came down to hard work and just doing what needed to be done at the time.” I got the sense that he simply made himself available to God, and God worked through him.
When they retired, Mahlon and Ruth moved to the Bradenton, Florida Missionary Village. Retirement did not mean inactivity. Mahlon was especially active as he participated in a weekly prison ministry to Hispanic inmates. At the Village he played his trumpet in the orchestra, and for a number of years directed the men’s chorus. He and Aunt Ruth maintained a regular regimen of exercise, riding their bicycles and swimming.
He and Ruth cooperated in the establishment of a new church near Bradenton during their years there. They were concerned about reaching the many young families moving into new housing developments near their church.
I remember visiting them in Bradenton a few years ago. After supper at the Village, we drove to the Alliance Church for the Wednesday night prayer and Bible study meeting. Most of the people there were retired missionaries, and the prayer time was precious. I couldn’t help but realize how these dear ones remain mentors and examples to me.
At the conclusion of that Wednesday night prayer meeting, my Aunt Ruth asked the pastor if the group could sing to me. Everyone joined in singing a benediction that brought a lump to my throat:
Bless him, Lord, and make him a blessing.
He’ll gladly Thy message convey.
Use him to help a great many souls,
and make him a blessing today.
That song, written by Henry Zelley, from the Alliance Hymnal, has been sung, I am told, at the commissioning of Alliance missionaries for many, many years. I was honored that they sang it for me.
I can think of no more fitting tribute to my Uncle Mahlon than that given by Luke to Barnabas in (Acts 11:24). “He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.”
—Pastor Randy Faulkner