My aunt, Helen Reimer Eidse, passed on last week… I was among hundreds who attended her funeral here in Manitoba (while thousands more attended simultaneous commemorative services in various cities and communities in Congo, apparently). Having grown up on another continent, I do not, admittedly, know many of my relatives well (in no small part due to their sheer numbers)—Helen was one of my long-since-departed mother’s ten[!] siblings [eight sisters, two brothers])—though in retrospect, I do wish I had had the opportunity to know this fine woman better.
Helen Reimer graduated as a Registered Nurse in 1952, the same year she married Ben Eidse, a talented linguist (who would go on to learn nine languages and ultimately translate the Bible into Chokwe, a Bantu language spoken by nearly 1 million in central Africa, and today the lingua franca of eastern Angola). Fueled by faith-inspired passion to make a positive difference where it was most needed, she gave her heart and a lifetime of service to the people of Congo, where for decades she ran a dispensary, a tuberculosis ward, and a leprosarium (where she administered groundbreaking cures for leprosy in the 1970s), while also bearing and raising four daughters: Hope, Faith, Charity, and Grace (yes it’s true… my cousins).
Among accomplishments far too numerous to list here, she ended up directing a total of 24 clinics, solicited medicinal donations from major pharmaceutical companies for her African charges, delivered over 100 babies per year, and introduced a nutritious strain of multi-colored beans (initially as a single handful to help the lepers in her colony at Kamayala as a simple, practical means for them to grow a nutritious cash crop—and today reportedly selling by the tonnes and one of the most popular offerings in the produce markets of Kinshasha, sub-Saharan Africa’s second largest city [with a population of over 10 million], about 600km from the location of the legumes’ first introduction near the Angolan border)—these are now known across the western Congo as “Mama Eidse beans.” Small wonder then that she is known in that long-embattled country as “Congo’s Mother Theresa.”
After Helen and Ben returned to Steinbach “to retire,” her home became a haven for the elderly, the homeless, and numerous foster children. It’s said that Helen read the newspaper differently from other people, with an eye for those with hurting hearts and broken lives—she called and visited parents whose children had been arrested, driving them to court and sitting with them during trials, and becoming an advocate for “juvenile delinquents” who had no one else to support them. Frugal to the nth degree, this fine woman would reportedly put even the most dedicated of today’s dumpster-divers to shame when it comes to active recycling, re-using, and re-purposing for the benefit of have-nots.
In 1995, Helen suffered a major stroke that confined her to a wheelchair for the ensuing 15 years—though this could not stop her from the prolonged and attentive listening to, singing with, laughing with, and prayer with (and for) all she would encounter. (At the funeral, my aunt Grace Warkentin, Helen’s younger sister, confided that Helen had recently expressed that “she was good and ready to leave this ‘cage of a body’ at any time”)… to which I can only reply: May you fly free and high, with the wings of the angel you seemingly have always been!
Two days after the funeral, I was very pleased to finally spend several hours in heart-felt face-to-face conversation with my cousin Faith Eidse, who had come up from Florida for her mother’s funeral. I’ve posted about Faith previously here—(she’s an award-winning writer, among other accomplishments)—I thought it appropriate to share a short piece that Faith wrote for Rhubarb Magazine here that sets a suitable context for remembering her amazing mother Helen…
Stay good, Menno homies near and far…