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Claassen, Virginia (1933-2011) | Mennonite Archival Commons

Name: Claassen, Virginia (1933-2011)

Historical Note:

Mennonite Weekly Review obituary:

Virginia Mae Claassen, a 40-year mission worker to Japan who taught elementary school to missionary children and English to Japanese nationals, and co-pastored a Japanese church, died Oct. 22 in Newton, Kan., after living with cancer for nearly five years. She was 78.

Fellow mission workers say she will be remembered for her humility and the strong friendships she forged with Japanese people.

"Virginia was a devoted, faithful servant of the Lord, and was passionate about God's mission in Japan," said Sheldon Sawatzky, a Mennonite Mission Network worker in Taiwan who was the mission administrator for Japan during Claassen's last few years of service. "She was a very humble, gracious person and deeply loved by the Japanese."

Claassen, born to Carl and Elise Classen on June 20, 1933, grew up on her family farm near Whitewater, Kan., and attended Bethel College in North Newton, Kan., beginning in 1951. She taught elementary school while taking classes, and graduated in 1957.

She then began her mission work in Japan through the General Conference Commission on Overseas Mission, a Mennonite Mission Network predecessor agency, in 1959. She later earned a master's degree in education from the University of Kansas.After graduation, she spent two years at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, in Elkhart, Ind., and earned a master's degree in religious education.

Claassen's first assignment in Japan was teaching at Miyazaki Christian School, an elementary school for missionary children — a position she held for 10 years.

She later taught English to Japanese nationals. Many of her students became close friends. One was Michiko Tanimoto, who visited Claassen near the end of September while her health was declining.

"She helped me broaden my view of life through her practicing Christianity, introducing me to many of her relatives and friends, and American culture and customs," Tanimoto said in an email. "Virginia had always worked hard to carry out her mission by helping in many ways, not only as a missionary, but also worked hard correcting our English compositions, teaching English at some schools and introducing American cooking."

Claassen took a year off from work in Japan to teach at the Hopi Mission School in Kykotsmovi, Ariz.

During her last 10 years in the country, Claassen took on a leadership position at Sadowara Mennonite Church in Kyushu, Japan, preaching and teaching. The pastor, Takahiko Yoshiyuki, said the congregation feels the loss, even 11 years after her departure.

"She taught us true love by demonstrating God's love to each of us," Yoshiyuki said. "She encouraged many people and gave tender comfort to us. She has given us lasting gifts at Sadowara Church."

Claassen returned to Newton after retiring from mission work in 1999 and began volunteering for Harry Hynes Memorial Hospice, playing host mother to international students at Bethel College and performing with the Kidron Bethel Village retirement community bell choir. She was a member of Emmaus Mennonite Church in Whitewater, Kan., the church that supported her during her ministry in Japan.

Yoshiyuki said her legacy lives on in Japan.

"We continue to demonstrate God's love to proclaim Jesus to all here in Sadowara, as Claassen-sensei showed and taught us," he said.

Claassen is survived by her brother, Milton Claassen, of Newton.

Her memorial service will be held at 2 p. m. Nov. 21 at Emmaus Mennonite Church. A memorial service in Japan will take place Nov. 20 at Sadowara Mennonite Church.

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