Eileen Grace Starr, MDiv 1969, 73, passed away September 20, 2018, at her home in Anchorage of pancreatic cancer. She was born in Flint, Michigan, on November 16, 1944, and became a Christian at age 12. At age 13, she felt God was calling her to be a missionary. She loved the outdoors, animals, gardening, and sports. After graduating from Davison High School in 1963, she followed her older brother Richard to Taylor University in Indiana, with the goal of becoming a medical missionary. She graduated in 1967 with a B.A. in zoology and medical technology. She desired more Bible training, so she again followed Richard to Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, where she earned a master’s degree in Religious Education. Following seminary, Eileen was planning to go to Africa. Instead, she came to Alaska, on what was to be a “temporary assignment.” She ended up staying for the remaining 47 years of her life. She worked as a medical technologist at Faith Hospital in Glennallen, as well as Professor of Christian Education at Alaska Bible College. About this time she was “adopted” into a native family, and they became extremely important to her. In 1981 Eileen founded Alaska Christian Ministries, which conducted events for SS teachers & pastors in Anchorage, Homer, Sitka, Fairbanks and Juneau. She earned a Ph.D. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 1989. In 1994, Eileen began annual, month-long trips to Far East Russia, conducting teacher-training seminars. The last several years she coordinated parenting seminars in the community and in local prisons. She passed away quietly at home, into the arms of God, on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018.
Wendy Beauchemin Peterson, PhD Intercultural Studies, survived a bout with cancer, finished writing her dissertation, and successfully defended A Gifting of Sweetgrass: The Reclamation of Culture Movement and NAIITS: An Indigenous Learning Community this past May. She received a book offer over the summer, and then, much to our surprise, pain, and sorrow, on September 28th, on a trip with friends to Paris, Wendy suffered a brain hemorrhage and passed without further suffering from one glory to another. May God bless Wendy, and comfort her husband Ed, and her children Melanie, Chad, and Cory.
Wendy came to us as one of a number of Native North American scholars in a special relationship between ATS and NAIITS: An Indigenous Learning Community (formerly the North American Institute of Indigenous Theological Studies). Wendy was Red River Métis – an Indigenous people who came into existence through the union of the French with Cree and Anishinabe Indigenous peoples of Canada.
Wendy was a founding member of the Christian movement to reclaim culture and identity that is neither less Christian nor less Native than the Creator intended. They met in 2001 to dream together and discuss strategies for raising up indigenous theological educators who would in turn raise up a new generation of native leaders. In Christ, all things are possible.
Once persuaded in her heart to come to Asbury, she was an excellent student who brought a world of experience in area of indigenous knowledge and perspective which she shared honestly and openly. This was her gift to the campus community.
Serving as Wendy’s mentor (Mike speaking) was both rewarding and humbling. We talked long and hard about how to do the research, what it meant, and how to write it up. I learned as much as I taught. Her vision was matched by passion to do justice to those who suffered through the worst of assaults, diseases, boarding schools, and alienation in society, as well as those who have worked hard to recover these memories and construct a way forward.
Dr. Peterson crafted her doctoral research into a three-braided strand weaving together the stories of the local, national, and global Christian revitalization movements among Indigenous peoples who had been dispossessed and disenfranchised by colonialists. No ‘dis’ no more. In the Christian reclamation movement, Indigenous peoples assert their own agency and identify as people with a history, a story, and a gospel that proclaims release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind (the colonizers), to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Wendy has told this story well; may it contribute to a rewrite of the dominant narrative and thus help her people.
Wendy began studies (Eunice speaking) at the seminary despite the fact that she already was a well-established theological educator deeply immersed in indigenous issues in Canada and the United States. She was resource person, mentor, and consultant as a tribal member. Not to be ignored was Wendy Peterson’s professional position as a longstanding member of the faculty at Providence College, Winnipeg. During her lifetime she served on multiple boards related to theological schools, churches, social welfare, government schools, and family concerns. She seemed endlessly “available”! She taught and personally mentored many students into leader roles. She modeled the skill of achieving successful cooperation of leaders in contexts of diverse group concerns. Indeed, she will be missed by all alongside whom she served in these organizations. And, above all other activities, she gave herself to the NAIITS group itself. Wendy filled roles as board member, organizer, magazine editor and collaborative overseer. She brought to them her wisdom, humor, vision, courage, truthfulness – the gifts of a common life lived out in an indigenous Christian way!
Dr. Peterson has many accomplishments in her lifetime. Commencement in 2019 would have been a crowning day for sure. But, as she said many times, this ceremony was not meant for herself alone. Rather, as she commented to women colleagues of the ESJ School, “I will go through it, in honor of the groups I represent, not for myself.” The more than 20 women of the ESJ School who knew her during their studies are arising to call out the names by which they received her: wise “Mother,” “my example,” “my woman role model as an educator,” “a trusted confidant and friend.” Wendy was always joyful, encouraging, collegial, hospitable, and generous with her time and resources. The gifts received, a gifting of sweetgrass, the women will pass on to others. We all miss her very much.
By Michael Rynkiewich and Eunice Irwin, in honor of our friend.