Writer reflects on 50 years of ministry in Latin America

June 4, 2024 | News | Volume 28 Issue 7
Aaron Epp |
‘The God I know now is a bigger God than I knew growing up,’ says Helen Dueck. Photo by Aaron Epp.

Helen Dueck occupied herself during COVID lockdowns by writing. The result is a book that tells the story of her life in ministry.


Published at the end of 2023, Going Out and Coming In recounts the nearly 50 years Dueck and her late husband, Henry, spent living and working in Latin America.


From Brazil to Bolivia, Uruguay to Colombia and Mexico, the couple were invited to teach, first with immigrant churches and institutions before working with national churches in leadership preparation.


“Because we had worked in quite a few places, I was often asked if I would write about our experiences,” Dueck says, sitting in the living room of her Winnipeg apartment. “Then it was the pandemic and I had time.”


In the book, the 91-year-old writes about growing up in Saskatchewan and committing herself to missionary work as a teenager.


She reflects on attending teacher’s college, meeting and marrying Henry, and raising five children—all while pursuing ministry opportunities with the Mennonite Brethren Church and Mennonite Church, both in Canada and abroad.


Dueck felt a special desire to share her stories because she is the only one left of the foreign teachers who served on the faculty of the Mennonite seminary in Montevideo, Uruguay.


The book takes its title from Psalm 121, which Dueck writes was precious to her and her husband. Verse eight says, “The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.”


Dueck describes her goings out and comings in not as travelogues or adventures, but as experiences of God’s leading to places where she and Henry could serve and build God’s Kingdom together with others.


“We felt from the beginning that we weren’t trailblazers,” Dueck says. “That had been done. We were there to walk alongside the people and be church builders with the people. We saw ourselves as working with them, not for them.” 


The Duecks retired in 1992 and spent the next 10 years volunteering in numerous countries, including stints in India, Japan and Taiwan.


In 2005 they moved to Winnipeg. Henry died two years later.


Dueck, who attends Bethel Mennonite Church, reflects candidly throughout the book about her faith. In the final chapter, she writes that she sometimes wonders what she has left to give.


“Then I remember what a pastor once said in a seniors' Bible study,” Dueck writes. “‘Don’t forget that you can still love and pray: for your children, grandchildren and many more people.’”


Dueck writes about how meaningful her quiet times in the morning are, when she sips maté (South American tea) and reads from her Spanish Bible and German devotional. 


When Canadian Mennonite interviewed her, Dueck had just finished reading A New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren and had started reading The Temple at the End of the Universe by Josiah Neufeld.


“The God I know now is a bigger God than I knew growing up,” Dueck says. “I had many things to learn, and I still do.” “I guess that’s the way I look upon my life,” she adds. “I think it’s go to be about growing—growing into maturity.”

Going Out and Coming In is available at commonword.ca, friesenpress.com and amazon.ca.

‘The God I know now is a bigger God than I knew growing up,’ says Helen Dueck.
Photo by Aaron Epp.

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