October 5, 1937 – November 1, 2013
Russel Peters, a farm boy from southern Indiana, became a Christian as a teen and two years later accepted a call to ministry. After college Russel served as assistant pastor at the Vincennes Free Methodist Church.
In 1963 Russel and his wife, Margaret, were appointed to the Democratic Republic of Congo (then known as Zaire), a new station for the Free Methodist Church. Here they would come alongside 7,000 members, people from the Babembe tribe. Although originally appointed to Hong Kong, Free Methodist World Missions leadership felt the Peters were fitted by training, temperament and spiritual experience to meet this challenge.
The Peters family spent six months in language school learning French before they arrived on the field. By December 1963, Russel was teaching at the junior high mission school, although he never had training as a teacher and they had been appointed as evangelistic missionaries. At that time he was working with pastors to lay the ground work for a two-year Bible school program. Though the pastors were eager to learn, the Peters soon had to postpone the Bible school plans and cancel pastors’ workshops so Russel could assume directorship of the junior high school. He taught English, religion and, later, French.
Even though there were no language text books available, Russel developed a good command of the Swahili language in a few short months. Russel translated and interpreted for the mission, taught English classes for Congolese leaders, served as the Congo field treasurer, and served as a member of the Congo Executive Council.
In June 1964, the Peters family left the Democratic Republic of Congo due to war and adjusted to another country, Burundi, They began studying their third major language, Kirundi. Russel was able to preach in Kirundi after less than four weeks of study. He prepared English messages for radio.
Russel and Margaret Peters were granted a medical furlough and returned to the U.S. in September 1964. During this time, Russel took graduate and doctoral courses at Indiana University and spoke in churches on some weekends. In November 1965, the Peters family was granted a leave of absence from overseas ministry.
From 1966 to 2004, Russel held various positions at universities, hospitals and churches across the country. Russel and Margaret returned to the Wabash Conference in July 2004 and pastored two churches until they retired to Florida in 2007.
Russel’s Colleague Writes
Colleague Martha Kirkpatrick, who along with her husband Jim served in Africa, remembers Russel and Margaret from Asbury Seminary. “Russel was very energetic. He was also very intelligent. In six months he was able to preach in Swahili and the same in the Kirundi language when they went to Burundi. The Africans were amazed at his ability. Russel and Margaret were also very conservative and saved their money. While we never served together in Africa, they were a good example to the rest of us.”