(Sept. 6, 2012 - by Ralph Kurtenbach) You only needed a five-minute conversation with Darrel Klassen to learn that Ecuador was the place that he loved and the country he called home.
Klassen and his wife, Mandy, served as missionaries in that South American country for 28 years as dorm parents and later as guesthouse hosts with Avant Ministries (formerly Gospel Missionary Union). In addition, Darrel headed maintenance and operations at the Mangayacu Camp in the rainforest near Shell, Ecuador, and later was the mission’s office manager in Quito. In May the Klassens moved to West Kelowna, British Columbia.
For 10 years during his childhood, he lived in a dormitory for missionary children while his parents, Henry and Pat Klassen, served as missionaries in Ecuador’s Chimborazo province. Darrel graduated from Alliance Academy International in Quito in 1968. He attended LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas, for one year and later worked in engineering and surveying with the Manitoba Highways Department in Canada.
In church one Sunday, Darrel heard a missionary talk of his beloved Ecuador and felt that God wanted his young family to move to Ecuador, and they did just that in 1985.
Easygoing, down-to-earth and with a ready smile, Darrel’s demeanor made conversation come naturally and with all kinds of people. “He had a love for Ecuador and enjoyed being a tour guide to anyone that wanted to be shown around,” said the Klassens’ daughter, Kami Rudder, speaking on behalf of her mother and siblings. “He loved people and made everyone feel welcome.”
“Darrel frequently provided spiritual help to people with whom he interacted on mission business and often led others to a personal faith in Jesus Christ,” added Bruce Rydbeck, an engineer with HCJB Global in Ecuador who often helps oversee clean water projects in remote Quichua communities. “He was a faithful friend to hundreds of pastors, Ecuadorians and missionaries. His affable manner was appreciated by all.”
He was fluent in Spanish, having arrived in Ecuador at just under 2 years of age with his missionary parents in 1952. In addition, he could converse with the Quichua people with whom his parents worked. “He included people and never looked down on anyone; he treated people equally,” said Rudder.
With the Klassen name widely known among Quichua evangelicals due to the stature of his parents, Darrel gladly accepted invitations to speak at churches in outlying villages during his assignments in Ecuador’s Pastaza and Pichincha provinces. During the Klassens’ home assignments in North America he’d even rise to the occasion of public speaking, but “didn’t want to bring attention to himself,” according to Rudder.
His work helped mission agencies function more effectively in Ecuador. An Alliance Academy International teacher, Chuck Howard, said “I worked most closely with Darrel when he was the vice-president and adjuster for the Society for Mutual Aid in the Southern Hemisphere (SMASH) which provided insurance coverage for mission vehicles and transit. “He was always very friendly and efficient and did his work conscientiously.”
“Darrel was a person who was always ready to serve others,” said Richard Grover, a co-worker at Avant. “He would go out of his way to help any or all of us missionaries.”
Rudder said her father’s hobbies included working on vehicles, especially vintage cars. He enjoyed hiking, gardening and carpentry and liked to watch sports, including Formula 1 racing and soccer. For years he visited a friend in an Ecuadorian prison, mentoring him in the Christian faith.
“He honored retired missionaries who came through Quito by helping them in any ways he could,” recounted his colleague Janice Stuck of Avant. “He was a great tour guide; he loved to tease kids; he was a servant.”
“He loved the Quichua passionately and they loved him,” Grover said of Darrel, who told a North American church congregation in 2009, “I’ve spent maybe 35 years of my life in Ecuador. I’m a Canadian citizen, but I feel much more comfortable down there than I do up here.”
The feelings of displacement emerged again upon the Klassens’ return to North America in May 2012 to reenter what had become to him a foreign culture.
|Mandy and Darrel Klassen|
“Darrel and Mandy returned to Canada this spring and were on home assignment in Kelowna, B.C.,” said Grant Morrison, vice president and executive director of Avant Canada in Winnipeg, Manitoba. “Darrel was having difficulty transitioning between a very active ministry in Ecuador and what future ministry was going to be.”
The anticipated transition to Canada did not take place. Family and friends later learned of Darrel’s death by his own hand on Aug. 28, 2012. He was 62.
Born on June 23, 1950, Darrel Bruce Klassen is survived by his wife, Mandy; children Angela, Ryan (Jessica) and Kami (Nathan); three grandsons; his mother, Pat; and siblings Beverley and Cecil. He was predeceased by his father, Henry Klassen.
A funeral service was held Wednesday, Sept. 5, at Peachland Baptist Church in Peachland, B.C. To send messages of condolence to the family, visit www.hansonsfuneral.com.
To hear an inspirational message by Darrel Klassen given in Bellingham, Wash., in early 2009, visit http://www.oikosfellowship.org/content/mp3/klassen_011809b.mp3.
Sources: HCJB Global, Avant Ministries