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Mennonite Weekly Review obituary:

When Verney and Belva Unruh arrived in Kobe, Japan, in 1951 with eight other Mennonite mission workers, their task was simply to learn the language before going to Kyushu to plant churches.

The group's enthusiasm was so strong that a group of Japanese seekers meeting in a Kobe garage insisted on starting their own church and connecting with the General Conference Mennonite Church.

For Verney Unruh, who died July 8 at the age of 83, Japan was just one of many mission fields. Unruh devoted 38 years to ministry in Asia, in both Japan and Taiwan, as well as administrating Asian ministries for the General Conference mission agency, a predecessor of Mennonite Mission Network. He continued in pastoral roles for 17 years.

When Unruh and William C. Voth, pioneer mission in China, surveyed areas in Japan in 1951 where Mennonite mission work could begin, the neglected rural areas of Kyushu island seemed a natural place to work. Unruh had been born in such a place in eastern Montana.

The Unruhs were among the first 10 mission workers the General Conference sent to Japan.

"Verney was the real leader in all respects," said Peter Voran, one of those first workers. "He seemed to have the knack of seeing through situations in order to make correct decisions. Because of this, he also gained the respect of the Japanese."

Unruh was born May 8, 1923, to Anthony and Anna Albrecht Unruh, homesteaders living in a tarpaper shack. The family attended Bethlehem Mennonite Church of rural Bloomfield, Mont., where Unruh was baptized in 1937.

He went to Bethel College in North Newton, Kan., graduating in 1945 with a degree in Bible and religion. There he met Belva Waltner of Freeman, S. D. They were married July 7, 1946.

The newlyweds moved to Camino, Calif., where Unruh directed a Civilian Public Service camp. He graduated from New York Biblical Seminary in 1948 and accepted his first pastoral assignment in Pulaski, Iowa, before leaving for Japan.

They located in Kyushu and did evangelistic ministry, church planting and administration.

"Verney showed us by example what it means to be a witness for Christ in a new place, demonstrating concretely how one shares God's love and begins a new congregation," said Robert Ramseyer, who arrived in Japan several years later.

In 1966, the mission agency asked Unruh to become its first staff secretary for Asia. His responsibilities included ministry in India, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan, as well as with the Asia Mennonite Conference.

In 1978, after a year of study at Princeton Theological Seminary, the Unruhs went to Taiwan with the mission agency, by then known as the Commission on Overseas Mission. Unruh worked with a language teacher to translate into Taiwanese a book on training for elders and deacons. He pastored a local church, served on the Mennonite Christian Hospital board and advised the national church conference.

Retiring from overseas mission work, Unruh served in various pastoral roles at First Mennonite Church of Newton from 1989-98.

In June, he had begun orientation as part-time interim pastor of visitation at Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church near Goessel.

He is survived by his wife, Belva; three daughters and their spouses, Judi and Peter Mollenkof of Lancaster, Pa., Pat and Bruce Tilton of Gap, Pa. and Barbara and Ernest Beachey of Clearwater; a son, Paul and his wife, Christine, of Hesston; a sister, Helen Buller of North Newton; a brother, Leslie of Bloomfield; three half-sisters, Evelyn Klein of Langdon, N. D., Betty Blough of Salt Lake City and Phyllis Lobdell of Great Falls, Mont.; two half-brothers, Jim of Texas and Gerald of Billings, Mont.; 10 grandchildren and one great-granddaughter. He was preceded in death by three brothres, Willard, Robert and infant William; and an infant sister, Anna.

Services were held July 12 at First Mennonite Church. Burial was in Greenwood Cemetery.


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