January 20, 1921 – October 30, 2014
Rev. Eugene Stewart, and his first wife, Minerva, served as associate missionaries to India beginning in 1969. Eugene was appointed to be a professor at The Union Biblical Seminary, the largest protestant seminary in India at that time. Over the 12 years Eugene had previously taught at Greenville and Central Colleges, he had watched students complete their preparation to minister in the harvest fields. Eugene felt this was an opportune time to personally undertake similar ministry for God in India. Before leaving, Eugene wrote, “Pray we may be communicators of God’s love. Pray we shall be enriched by our contact with His people in India. We have much to learn from them.”
While their India assignment held its challenges, the Stewarts were conscientious about doing excellent work for the Lord. In a September 1970 letter, Eugene wrote, “The Lord has been marvelously helping me to understand, to just wait (which is what India is all about, I sometimes feel), to listen, to learn, to grow in patience, love and endurance.”
After a year of deputation work from 1974 to 1975, the Stewarts remained in the U.S. to take up pastoral ministry. Eugene served as senior pastor of Rainier Avenue FMC, Seattle, WA, for the next ten years.
The Stewarts were involved in a car accident in December 1984 that claimed Minerva’s life. They had been married for 43 years.
Following Minerva’s passing Eugene again sensed God calling him to overseas ministry. He applied for short-term VISA service in South Africa. Prior to his assignment Eugene became reacquainted with a former colleague and missionary to South Africa, Beth Beckelheymer, who was in the U.S. for deputation. Eugene and Beth were married December 28, 1985, and left for Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, in 1986. In addition to helping train students for pastoral ministry, the Stewarts tutored some of the students who needed to improve their English. They returned from South Africa in 1990 and made their home in Washington State.
Eugene’s Colleagues Write
Colleague Henry Church, Africa Area Director at the time Eugene and Beth served in Africa, relates memories of working with Eugene. “We were so happy for Beth when she and Eugene made the connection. Two great people made one great team. Gene’s investment in the lives of the students at the Seminary in Pietermaritzburg has been paying dividends for decades. His gentle spirit and wise counsel were much appreciated by students and staff alike.
“As the mission director for the region, I was delighted to have this team in my area. They worked so well together, and there was never a moment of stress for me as their leader. Gene was a good friend.
“It was my pleasure to visit Eugene and Beth recently and he was as sharp as ever with penetrating questions and continued interest about both Africa and the Middle East. I will miss his friendship for a while, but expect to join him again one of these days. We will have a lot to talk about. I am thankful for his life of dedication and service.”
Colleague David Yardy says: “The four years Eugene and Minerva Stewart served in India were a very critical time in the emerging leadership of the Indian church. Rev. Stewart served as a professor at Union Biblical Seminary at the time Bishop Narendra John was a student. Subsequently, he helped pave the way for Bishop Narendra John to attend Asbury Seminary and then to Michigan State University (MSU) for his Ph.D. studies. Others benefited similarly from Eugene’s personal interest and care. When Minerva went to be with the Lord, a memorial fund was established to begin a hostel for the children of indigenous missionaries who served in remote locations. The Minerva Stewart Home for children of missionaries stands, even today, in memory of Minerva.”
Rev. Mrs. Jaya Narendra John (Bishopamma) and the Bishop write about Stewarts: “They were dedicated wholly to the work of the Lord in the Free Methodist Church in the Yavatmal area. Although new to Indian culture, their ability to adjust to new ways of living and dedication to the cause of the gospel helped them to make an invaluable contribution.
“Rev. Eugene Stewart gave leadership to the emerging mass movement among Mang people in the Patagoda area. This was a special and unique area for the Church Growth Movement of those times.”
David and Sherrill Yardy were able to visit Eugene in early September. David says, “He shared extensively and fondly of his ministry in India. The Indian church extends their condolences and appreciation for his sacrificial contribution to their church.”