Wilbert Ray Shenk 1935 - 2021

Wilbert Ray Shenk, 86, of Goshen, Indiana, died July 13, 2021, at Greencroft Communities. He was born January 16, 1935, outside Sheridan, Oregon, to Kenneth Marion and Frances (Kilmer) Shenk, the oldest of their six children (Russell, Byron, Myron, Donna and David). He married Juanita Grace Brenneman on October 10, 1957.

Shenk’s lifelong experience in world missions both as an administrator and scholar began in 1955 when he accepted an MCC assignment to Java, where he helped the church reestablish educational and medical service programs. In 1957, Juanita joined him, and the two were married there. He credited his lifelong approach to missions as beginning with their involvement in an established post-colonial church in Indonesia, where “we expatriates were never tempted to think of ourselves as being anything other than learners.”

 He spent the next three years in Eugene, Oregon, earning a M.A. in Economics from the University of Oregon.  Following a two-year stint with MCC as an assistant director, he began 25 years of service to the Mennonite Board of Missions, as secretary and then vice-president of the Division of Overseas Ministries. He was instrumental in helping MBM refocus its emphasis from colonizing church planting toward sustained mission-related relationships with religious groups around the world as well as the missional research to underpin that effort. To that end, he initiated and edited Mission Focus and Mission Focus: Annual Review, and helped  launch the Missionary Study Fellowship. He also was a longtime officer of the American Society of Missiology.

MBM granted him a leave of absence from 1973 to 1975 so that he could begin his doctoral studies at the University of Aberdeen under Andrew Walls and Harold Turner. He completed his Ph.D. work in 1978. His dissertation on Henry Venn, a foremost British mission leader in the 19th century, was published by Orbis Books in 1983. That book stands as one of many scholarly projects he undertook: including several more books, scores of scholarly articles and chapters, as well as 15 edited works.

Ready in 1990 for new challenges, Shenk resigned from MBM and first took a joint appointment in Birmingham, England, with Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and the British Gospel and Our Culture Programme. His seven-year project, “A Missiology of Western Culture,” was funded by Pew Charitable Trusts. He and Walls also produced a Festschrift in honor of Harold Turner, published as "Exploring New Religious Movements."

Shenk’s long career culminated with 25 years on the faculty of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, where he served as Paul E. Pierson Professor and Senior Professor of Mission History and Contemporary Culture. While in California, he and Juanita were active in Pasadena Mennonite Church, and he mentored some 30 master’s and doctoral students in their theses and dissertations.

Through it all, he was a devoted father of three, grandfather of five, and great-grandfather of six. He enjoyed walking, reading, listening to music and singing.  He is survived by his wife, Juanita; daughter, Suzanne Morris (Willie); daughter, Maria Shenk; and son, Thomas Shenk; as well as brothers, Byron (Ina), and Myron (Carol); and sister, Donna (Al).  He was preceded in passing by his parents, Kenneth and Frances; and brothers, Russell (Lavina, also deceased) and David (Mary Ellen, deceased).



Web Design and Web Development by Buildable