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Many of you entered Erwin's life at different times and places along his life's path. Here is a brief review of his life. The Christian faith, as understood from the Mennonite/Anabaptist perspectives, has been the foundation for not only his own faith, for the events that shaped his life. He was born more than 76 years ago when his parents lived in Los Angeles. They both were from the Russian Mennonite stream. By the time Erwin was 12, both parents had died of cancer - his father died first of pancreatic cancer, and 15 months later his mother died of recurring breast cancer. Then Erwin and his younger siblings, Norman and Barbara, went to live with their mother's brother, Alvin Eitzen and his wife, Lena, and their son, Howard. The Eitzens' farmed in northeastern Montana in a rural Mennonite community known as Lustre. There Erwin enjoyed seeing things grow, getting up early to walk among the wheat fields. After graduating from high school, Erwin went to Grace Bible Institute in Omaha, Nebraska. There he met Angela Albrecht, whose father was a Mennonite pastor in another rural Montana community about 120 miles from Lustre. They were married after graduation in 1966. Erwin graduated from seminary while serving as pastor of Indian Valley Mennonite Church in Harleysville, Pa., from 1968-1975. Two children, Marcia and Marc, were born during the years in Pennsylvania. In late 1975, the family began missionary service in Brazil, where a third child, Carla, was born.
In 1982, Erwin accepted the position of Executive Secretary of the Commission on Overseas Mission of the General Conference Mennonite Church. That took the family to Newton, Kan. Erwin's work included much travel, including overseas, where he had many interesting experiences, but also saw God at work around the world in different cultures and languages. In 1994-2000, Erwin, Angela and Carla went to Botswana. They served there in a joint assignment with Mennonite Central Committee and Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission. By 2000, Erwin accepted a position working again with the Commission on Overseas Mission, returning to Newton, Kan. That soon led to him being involved in the integration of the General Conference and Mennonite Church into the new Mennonite Church USA. His continued to use his administrative gifts on behalf of the new mission agency, Mennonite Mission Network, until retiring in 2008. After nearly a year and a half helping his brother in Fresno, Calif., who suffered with multiple sclerosis, Erwin and Angela moved in 2011 to Harrisonburg, Va., in the lovely Shenandoah Valley. Both daughters and their families lived in the area at the time. Marcia continues to live nearby, but Carla's family moved to Hesston, Kan., a couple of years ago, and son Marc and his family have lived in Corvallis, Ore., for the past 20 years. In 2017 Erwin and Angela moved to an independent-living apartment at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community.
Some of you have read the book the Rempels wrote that has details and stories of the various chapters of life summarized above - "Unexpected Invitations - Surprises, adventures, and opportunities in Mennonite ministries." As one friend has pointed out, this journey with cancer is certainly another unexpected invitation - an invitation to trust God more deeply, feel God's presence more intimately, and rest in God's love more completely.