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Last updated October 03.

Oct. 1, 2012 issue

Light of a life

Surrounded by congregation’s care in her last months, Indiana pastor showed power of love is stronger than darkness

By 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.

Heidi Siemens-Rhodes, a member of the pastoral team at Assembly Mennonite Church in Goshen, died June 24 after a nine-month battle with cancer. She is pictured with her husband, Mitch, and sons, from left, Theo, Ira and Adam.

Heidi Siemens-Rhodes, a member of the pastoral team at Assembly Mennonite Church in Goshen, died June 24 after a nine-month battle with cancer. She is pictured with her husband, Mitch, and sons, from left, Theo, Ira and Adam. — Photo by Darcy Holsopple Photography

“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.”

continued on next page »

Comments

  • Thank you Kelly for your story about Heidi. I only met her once in an Assembly worship service, in the summer of 2010 and kept in touch through facebook. I was part of Assembly for many years and still value the friendships and support which grew over the years after I moved out of the area. Her friendly, caring way of relating and love for people will be remembered with fondness.

    Els du Rieuu

    - Els du Rieu (sep 24 at 2:06 p.m.)

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