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Fall 1995 · Vol. 24 No. 2 · pp. 83–87 

Katie, A Writer in Pilgrimage

Wesley J. Prieb

Their ancestors were people of the trail—from the Netherlands to Prussia, South Russia, and Canada, where Walter Wiebe and Katie Funk were married. In 1962 the Wiebes, with four children, moved to Hillsboro, Kansas, where Walter found work in the Mennonite Brethren Publishing House. Only weeks later, after a period of illness, he died, forcing Katie to do double duty as mother and breadwinner. She found time to attend Tabor College. After earning a master’s degree at Wichita State University, she returned to Tabor as teacher of English and journalism.

Katie Funk Wiebe soon penetrated the Mennonite Brethren conference, serving on various conference committees. She wrote a column in the Christian Leader for 30 years. Roland Reimer, district minister, remembers her “. . . as a competent person dedicated to the church. Katie has lived out what she has been writing about over the years.” Currently Katie, now recognized as a professional writer and speaker, resides in Wichita near her children. She has helped many people recognize their gifts and then use them in serving Christ. Her word-power extends her witness around the world as a writer in pilgrimage.


Pilgrims, when they packed their trunks, often placed the Bible on top of their limited belongings. The Bible is Katie’s road map. She {84} studies it with daring freedom. And, like Hans Denk who believed that the Bible could not be understood unless it is obeyed, Katie reads the Bible as a guide for life rather than as a set of abstract doctrines. Following Jesus is her compass on the road.

Katie describes herself as a person “doing theology,” seeking to understand and explain God’s relationship with his children. Her practical theology emerges from real human experience and is never static. She has had the freedom to change her views during a lifelong process of making new discoveries on the trail.

Van Braght, author of The Martyr’s Mirror, recognized women as part of the exegetical community in early Anabaptist history. This is Katie’s concern too. She has helped many people return to the open Bible and the Anabaptist understanding of the free church in which all members are equal in the eyes of God. Her book Women Among the Brethren is a convincing statement that, historically, women have been faithful teachers of the Bible in the Mennonite Brethren conference and mission fields.


The Bible in the pilgrim trunk often contained family records. These family stories were connected with the children of Israel and helped establish sacred identity. Thus the family trunk became a precious symbol of a long journey beginning with the words of Moses, “Let my people go.”

Katie is by nature a preservationist. In Good Times with Old Times she urges readers to tell their family stories. In the foreword Margaret Anderson says, “I found myself accepting my past for what it was with its failures and successes. As a result I appreciate anew the me that has emerged from these experiences.” Robert Kreider, in the introduction, says that Katie helps us “. . . in the quest to be a people, to know God’s will, to have a sense of worth as one of God’s children.”

Katie writes, “The child with a sense of the past is a child of destiny.” Quoting an educator, she adds, “To destroy a civilization you do not need to burn its records in a single fire. Leave these records unread for a few generations and the effect will be the same.” In Who are the Mennonite Brethren? Katie helps readers remember their Anabaptist origins.


Conformity to Christ may mean packing trunks and migrating. Katie soon learned that for nonconformity the world may whip you. But she is not afraid to walk the narrow road. For her the provocative role of the prophet is more natural than the institutional spin of the priest.

In Alone: A Widow’s Search for Joy, Katie shares her struggle with her {85} new identity as a widow: “The Bible grants me the right to unique personhood. . . . I regard myself the way God sees me: a person whose faith is in the atoning work of Christ on the Cross. . . . I have never considered myself a feminist. . . . I am a believer in persons. If I’m a feminist, I must testify that Christianity has influenced my feminism. I am what I am because I have accepted Christ’s words of liberation for all humankind.”

Katie learned to accept solitude as a gift from God, an “opportunity to think, to learn to know oneself, and above all to learn to know him better.” She is a lonely prophet who, at times, can laugh at the absurdities she encounters along the journey.


People in pilgrimage know that the truly rich life is free and unencumbered by unnecessary baggage. Katie has found joy in living simply as a conservator rather than as a consumer. She travels like many Mennonite Central Committee workers: lightly, simply clad, unpretentious, always willing to visit and encourage lonely travelers along the busy highways and airways.

Katie asks, what are the things that really matter? What is really “real”? She agrees with the Greek philosopher Plato that “real things” last forever. Things that perish are only shadows of reality. Great ideas, good books, divine revelations, family histories, liberation stories, renewed lives of forgiven people—these are the realities for Katie, and they cost so little.

Her vision is frequently translated into simplistic acts of compassion, visiting singles and widows, gathering stories from the “omegas,” consoling the bereaved, playing with her grandchildren, and taking care of an ailing adult daughter. Murriel Stackley, former editor of The Mennonite, says, “When my husband died, Katie was the first caller to help me deal with my grief.”

Prayers of an Omega: Facing the Transitions of Aging, is a powerful witness because it is so profoundly simple, expressing the deepest desires of elderly people who have scaled down their physical properties and are now thinking about the real thing, the eternal and unconditional love of God who embraces all people with his extended and forgiving arms.


Pilgrim teachers are never restricted to a fixed place. They are mobile and free to cross national and cultural boundaries. They seek to liberate students from provincialism, bigotry, and abusive nationalism. They encourage the study of other languages and cultures. Above all, they encourage students to be global missionaries who share the love of God {86} with all nations.

Katie is a pilgrim teacher. She tears down the walls of segregation and racial prejudice. She challenges abusive use of power. She advocates stewardship of language. Words are power, and must be used with great care. “Sometimes I write seven drafts, because I am accountable for what I write,” she tells her students. And around the world her readers celebrate her.

Don Ratzlaff, editor of the Christian Leader, remembers her affirmation and encouragement in a creative writing class: “Her critiques were tough, honest, and always on the mark. Even today, I still see her as my teacher.”

Deborah Penner, a college English teacher and former assistant editor of the Christian Leader, says of her mentor, “She is the spiritual and intellectual ‘mother’ for Mennonite Brethren women writers. She holds the standard of excellence for those of us who follow in her footsteps.”

Wilfred Martens, who teaches English at Fresno Pacific College, opines, “As a writer whose wit amuses us, whose reflections touch us, and whose incisive thinking stretches us, we celebrate Katie’s prophetic voice."

Luetta Reimer, also of FPC English faculty, writes: “To read Katie is to hear her voice—an authentic, clarion voice—conveying a stalwart individuality. Yet thousands of readers have discovered that she speaks simultaneously for them, crafting words for their own hearts.”

Clarence Hiebert, former Tabor professor: “Katie’s perceptions and well-expressed analyses of events, ideas and systems prompt reflective thought. They offer insight, energize, and motivate listeners to offer serious responses.”

Margurite Fretz, a reader in Newton, Kansas, says, “Her communication with her readers is deeply empathetic.”

David Giesbrecht, librarian at Columbia Bible College, B.C.: “The writings of Katie Funk Wiebe can read as a spiritual journal of the Mennonite Brethren experience over the last forty years.”


Pilgrims are never cynical. They are always going somewhere as people of hope. They risk everything to be significant. Bless Me Too, My Father, is an eloquent plea to be recognized as being significant during the middle years, the fifties, after the children are gone. Katie notes that “Jacob blessed his sons, every one he blessed.” But what about his daughters, she asks. “Was I an unblessed daughter of Jacob?” How could she face the middle-age crisis without her father’s blessing?

Katie found her blessing in Philippians 3:12-13: "I press on to take {87} hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. . . .”

She found her worth and released the gifts God had given her. Although she finds human approval gratifying, she is more concerned about God’s steady, uplifting reassurance of who she is and what He expects of her. She sees herself through the mind of Christ and thus freely uses her gifts through God’s grace and power.

In Border Crossings, her most recent publication, Katie nudges the elderly to live a life of creative significance. The journey never seems to end for Katie as a writer in pilgrimage.

Jean Janzen, Mennonite poet, observes, “Her patient, skillful telling lives because of the fire in her soul—a passion to seek the truth and to record that journey.”

Wesley Prieb is Emeritus Professor of English, Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas, and curator of the Historic Church.

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