Light of a life
Surrounded by congregation’s care in her last months, Indiana pastor showed power of love is stronger than darknessBy Kelli Yoder Mennonite World Review
GOSHEN, Ind. — In her final days, her sense of time gone, Heidi Siemens-Rhodes woke up asking if it was Sunday.
“She just really wanted to go to church,” Heidi’s mother, Jan Siemens, said. “People were amazed that she would come [toward the end]. It didn’t matter to her. She wanted to be at church.”
Siemens found it fitting that she died on a Sunday, June 24. It was nine months after she was diagnosed with cancer. It was also her 38th birthday.
Siemens, along with Heidi’s husband, Mitch Siemens-Rhodes, and their three boys — Theo, 9, Adam, 6, and Ira, 2 — were with her in their home. Earlier in the day, members of Assembly Mennonite Church in Goshen, where she served on the pastoral team, stood outside her window singing, candles in hand.
Candles appeared in another vigil held shortly after the diagnosis. Later on, friends took or found photos of candles and posted them to Facebook, tagging Heidi’s name, sometimes with a message of support. Her small group made a candle together that burned at her funeral.
Candles were a natural symbol of the witness of Heidi’s life.
“She showed us light is ultimately stronger than darkness,” said Karl Shelly, who served on Assembly’s pastoral team with her. “This darkness is awful, but it’s not all there is.”
Throughout the nine months Heidi lived with her diagnosis, congregations, friends, family, neighbors and strangers flocked to her story.
When she could no longer minister to her congregation the way she had at Assembly, her congregation found her online. She kept a journal on CaringBridge, a support site for people in health crises. By the end there were more than 100,000 visits to her blog, an average of nearly 300 per day. People have left more than 2,100 comments on the site’s guestbook.
“People would tell me, ‘That’s not typical, you know,’ ” Siemens said. “The response was just so incredible.”
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