November 9, 1926 – August 29, 2015
A lifelong interest in missions took Beth Beckelhymer to Zimbabwe in 1968 to serve as a Bible teacher. An experienced teacher, having taught Bible and art at Central Christian College of Kansas, in McPherson, Kansas, Beth was an asset to the Free Methodist programs in Zimbabwe. She served two years and after seeing how little the African Christians had available for their spiritual development, Beth returned in March 1972 to Zimbabwe’s Lundi Mission. In addition to studying the Shangaan language, teaching full-time at Lundi Bible School, writing lessons, and participating in village evangelism, Beth served as Bible teacher at the annual missionary retreat in southern Africa.
Increasing civil war troubles brought changes in 1976. Missionaries passed on responsibilities to nationals and were transferred to other ministries or countries. She wrote, “To have a part in the growth of the church during these days of increasing suffering and victory is a great privilege.”
Beth was transferred to Salisbury, South Africa, to teach at the interdenominational Southern Africa Christian College. Later, opportunity came to travel to neighboring Malawi to continue the ministerial training of Malawi pastors and their wives who also had to leave Lundi Bible School. She returned to the U.S. in 1978 for deputation ministry.
In 1981, Beth was assigned to the Evangelical Bible Seminary (EBSemSA), a multi-racial college-level seminary, in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. Beth had a variety of responsibilities including lecturing, planning chapels, writing newsletters and providing other support ministries for the seminary. She also had opportunity to continue teaching short-term courses in several countries. Beth was a sought-after Bible teacher and speaker at women’s retreats and conferences. Beth always carried a deep concern for the Africans, their hunger for the Word of God and their desire for revival.
When Beth was in the U.S. for deputation in the mid-1980s, she became reacquainted with a former colleague and short-term missionary Rev. Eugene Stewart, who was the pastor of the Burien FMC, Seattle, Washington, at the time. He had previously served in India as an associate missionary (1968-1974). Eugene and Beth were married December 28, 1985, and left for Pietermaritzburg in 1986.
Together, Beth and Gene worked in church leadership training in South Africa, Malawi and Zimbabwe. They also enjoyed the informal fellowships and teaching with FM students. Beth wrote, “It is a real joy to see students grow and take a place in ministry or missions.”
The Stewarts returned from South Africa in 1990 and made their home in Washington state.
Beth’s Colleagues Write
Colleague Henry Church recalls when Beth came to Africa she was a single missionary who taught at Lundi Secondary School, in Zimbabwe. “She was a delight to the mission family with her great sense of humor and her passion to share Jesus with the students. I first met her there in 1972, when I visited Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) with Bishop Paul Ellis.”
“Later, after she married Eugene, they went to the Evangelical Seminary of Southern Africa, in South Africa. They made an indelible contribution to the life of the students and staff during their years there.”
“Beth was a person who cared about others and it showed through her life. She will be missed!”
“What a remarkable lady! She had more degrees than any of us in the mission. She was willing to teach wherever she was needed,” recall colleagues Philip and Carmena Capp. “Beth’s classes were never at a loss for people who signed up for them [at The Evangelical Seminary of Southern Africa] and she rapidly established a counter to the impression that black men were reluctant to accept a female instructor. Beth was very good at curriculum design and assisted in the early development of the course offerings at the Evangelical Seminary.”
“Salani gathle, beloved friend,” writes Florence Sayre. “Our family has only delightful memories of working with Beth at Lundi. She served the missionaries, as well as the African people. She was a strong influence on our daughter Patti. We are thankful for the years of working together and visits in retirement days.”