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January 1975 · Vol. 4 No. 1 · pp. 269–73 

D. Edmond - A Biographical Sketch

Loyal J. Martin

Do all persons given to books and study originate in the halls of academe? What forces mold the life of a man given to writing, to teaching, and to the study of Greek? It might appear strange that a scholar like D. Edmond Hiebert should grow up in the waving wheat fields and red-black earth of Oklahoma and Kansas. But these were merely the outward circumstances that enriched his life.

David Edmond Hiebert was born July 21, 1910, on a farm one and one-half miles east of Corn, Oklahoma. He was the sixth of eight children born to David Kornelius and Katherine (Warkentine) Hiebert. An older sister died in infancy. Two brothers are now farmers and one is a dentist. One sister married a Christian worker, one a farmer, and a third married a businessman.

Young David Edmond was soon called Ed to avoid confusion with his father, David. Dr. Paul Hiebert, an older brother by 7 years and a practicing dentist in Buhler, Kansas, describes Ed’s early days. “He got his studiousness from mother and his energy and quick temper from father. I remember,” says Paul, “one day John or one of us older ones had teased him. Eager to get even he ran around the house in hot pursuit. Before long he crashed headlong into a tree and complained loudly how we had hurt him. Outbursts were fairly common for him then,” recalls Paul, “but after he dedicated his life to the Lord, I never saw such flare-ups again.”

Interest in books came early to “D. Edmond” as everyone has come to know him over the years. He was known as a deep thinker by his playmates and would drop out of a conversation should a new book come to hand. Paul reports that Dad was sometimes exasperated when Ed “forgot” about herding the cattle and found him with a book somewhere in a corner. D. Edmond recalls that throughout grade school and high school years he thought of being a writer. Several times he even wrote a story but never had it published.

Born to a farming family, D. Edmond, however, was surrounded by an extended family of ministers, businessmen, and teachers. Paternal uncles included P. C. Hiebert, long time Mennonite Central Committee and Mennonite Brethren Conference leader; J. K. Hiebert, minister of the Ebenfeld, Kansas, congregation; C. A. Hiebert, president of Wall-Rogalsky Milling Company of McPherson, Kansas, and Daniel, a medical doctor. D. Edmond’s father, David Hiebert, sometimes described himself as the lone brother in the family destined {270} to take over the family farm and unable to go on to college. Mother’s brothers included John Warkentine, now 99, who was a school teacher all his active life and J. K. Warkentine, many years a banker in Hillsboro, Kansas.

The Hiebert family had moved to Corn, Oklahoma, from Buhler, Kansas, before D. Edmond was born. Eleven formative years were spent here. But father was anxious to give his children educational opportunities beyond high school, so in 1921 he moved to Hillsboro, Kansas, a center of education for Mennonite Brethren. Here father worked as a day laborer to support the family but was impatient to return to farming.

For D. Edmond the years in Hillsboro were crucial. It was here that he met the Lord in a conversion experience during evangelistic meetings conducted by Dr. Jasper A. Huffman, of Marion College (Indiana), then a Mennonite Brethren in Christ school. D. Edmond was baptized and joined the Hillsboro, Kansas, Mennonite Brethren church before the family moved to Ingalls, in western Kansas. Father bought a farm and the family attended the local Mennonite Brethren Church. The youngest sister, Mrs. Elsie Neufeld, and her husband still live on the family farmstead.

Teenage decisions about vocation and family took shape here. D. Edmond expressed his serious interest in fulltime Christian service while attending high school in Ingalls. While encouraging him to consider it, his parents also warned him to count the cost. “You will likely be poor most of your life,” they warned. His studious bent continued to assert itself as he graduated valedictorian of his high school class of fifteen.

D. Edmond enrolled in Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas, in 1929. Books now helped fund his college studies. A schoolmate of those days still treasures the Scofield Reference Bible he bought from D. Edmond. Tabor was experiencing difficulties of its own in those depression days so had to reduce its offerings to Junior College level. After two years D. Edmond transferred to John Fletcher College in University Park, Iowa.

The next few years were trying ones. D. Edmond was no fullback but had developed some speed, running the 100 yard dash in high school meets. One day while throwing a football he injured his neck. Later the same year he had to return home for surgery after an appendicitis attack. So he dropped out of school, wondering what the Lord had in store for him.

This interlude turned out to be a fruitful one (and also a precursor of much more serious illnesses through which God would glorify Himself). D. Edmond was invited to pastor a small Northern Baptist church in Ingalls, Kansas. It was this group that ordained him, with a Southern Baptist, a Northern Baptist and a Mennonite Brethren pastoring a Baptist church officiating. These 18 months gave opportunity to test the gift of preaching/teaching and verify the call of God for continued service. He preached at brother John’s wedding in Western Oklahoma, using as his text, “I am the El Shaddai,” Gen. 17:1. {271}

During this time a General Conference Mennonite family from Plains, Kansas, moved into the Ingalls community. This brought into the social circles an eligible young lady, Ruth Kopper. Before long it was not sermons for his brother’s weddings but his own preparations for marriage that occupied D. Edmond’s mind.

He returned to John Fletcher College to complete a major in history and graduate summa cum laude on June 5, 1935. Only one C marks his transcripts from Tabor and John Fletcher College—in Physical Education.

D. Edmond and Ruth Kopper were married the day after Christmas, 1935, and promptly left for Louisville, Kentucky, where he had been accepted at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Why Louisville? D. Edmond explains that it then held world recognition as a school of theology. Recalling his favorite professors, D. Edmond speaks of J. McKee Adams, his professor in Bible Introduction, as the most wide-ranging in knowledge. Others that impressed him were Edward McDowel and W. Hershey Davis, his Greek instructors, and Gaines S. Dobbins, his professor in Religious Education. D. Edmond did not come by his premillenial, pretribulation eschatology at Louisville, however. Teaching on that subject he describes as “vague, indefinite, and mostly amillenial. I got my premillenial convictions from reading and study—especially the Scofield Bible,” he recalls.

The depression was the major issue of the day and providing a living took major effort. For five years (1937-42) D. Edmond and Ruth commuted 50 miles to Vevay, Indiana, to pastor a small Baptist church. Later they added a second church, 35 miles from Louisville in Muldraugh, Kentucky, which D. Edmond also pastored on a half-time basis from 1938-41.

He completed Th.M. requirements in May, 1939 but continued without interruption his studies toward a Th.D. degree. During these three years (1939-42) he taught part time at Simmons University, a school for black students in Louisville. All this time he continued pastoring the church in Indiana and maintained satisfactory work in seminary.

His thesis, “Teaching Christian Doctrine in the Church Related College” was accepted in April and the doctoral degree conferred in May, 1942. D. Edmond had been invited to return to his alma mater, Tabor College, to teach in the Bible department, so he took this post the fall after graduation from Louisville. For one and one-half years he distinguished himself as a scholar and teacher. The next summer Larry and Dorothy were born on July 4.

Then illness struck again. Either from raw milk or infected animal meat D. Edmond contracted undulant (Malta) fever. Beginning in January, 1944 he was hospitalized for 110 days. Doctors reported never having encountered a higher level of infection. The illness left him very weak and he was confined at home for some months after this.

D. Edmond resumed teaching in fall but soon new problems arose. He began suffering a hearing loss, dizziness, and impaired vision. By {272} the time doctors had diagnosed the problem as after-effects of the undulant fever, the damage to his hearing was irreversible. D. Edmond wore a hearing aid for a year but eventually this was inadequate. He describes the specter of approaching deafness as “terrifying.” Ruth speaks of his spending hours in prayer alone beseeching God to allow him at least his eyesight. Added to the physical stress were the spiritual temptations that God was perhaps forsaking him, had counted his dedication and preparation for service all as naught. But a sure conviction, brought through dependence on God and belief in the promises of Romans 8:28-30, sustained D. Edmond in those days. Total deafness came in November, 1946. Alice Fay was born just weeks before this on October 23. He has never heard her voice. Special treatment by Dr. George Franz of Enid, Oklahoma, finally arrested the undulant fever and his balance was restored and eyesight cleared.

Life with a deaf husband and father demanded its adjustments. For a time D. Edmond commuted to Wichita to learn lip reading. But he was told that a man, especially one of analytic mind-set had great difficulty mastering the art. The children would try to mouth their words for him, but when he failed to understand they would sometimes get impatient. Once they were in school the dinner ritual always began with father’s plate stacked high with papers, notes, and messages collected during the day.

D. Edmond speaks of the ways in which his deafness has contributed to his life. “Obviously, it has closed the door to many distractions for me,” he says. “It has given me a deeper sense of biblical understanding. I probably would never have written the books I have, had I not lost my hearing.” Others surmise that without this impairment other schools might have been able to make irresistible offers and he would have been lost to the Mennonite Brethren brotherhood.

D. Edmond continued teaching New Testament and Greek courses in the Bible Department at Tabor College till 1955. Hundreds of students have gained new understanding or stimulus for further study in his Life of Christ, Pauline Epistles, or General Epistles courses. Scores have learned Greek and thus drawn aside the veil from Bible study under his tutelage. He speaks fondly of his teaching experiences at Tabor College with P. R. Lange, Waldo Hiebert, Lando Hiebert, and C. F. Plett.

When the ministerial training program of Mennonite Brethren churches became a seminary and was moved to Fresno, California, D. Edmond was naturally invited to join the faculty. He is the only present professor who was a charter member of that faculty in September, 1955.

When D. Edmond retires to part time teaching and to devote more time to writing in May, 1975, he will have completed 33 years of ministry to the Mennonite Brethren brotherhood. No count of the students who have attended his classes is available. But with his average of 12 hours each semester or quarter of his teaching career, he {273} has lectured for over 5000 hours at Tabor College and at least 8000 hours at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary.

His ministry has extended far beyond those walls, however. D. Edmond has personally pounded out the manuscripts for 624 Sunday school lessons as editor and writer of the adult study materials for Mennonite Brethren churches from 1958-1970. From his study have come nine textbooks or commentaries. These include commentaries on Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, An Introduction to the Pauline Epistles, another Introduction to the Non-Pauline Epistles, Personalities Around Paul, Working by Prayer and Wayside Wells (a compilation of poetry). He has contributed materials to the New Testament in 26 Translations and The Church in Mission. His name appears under 52 articles in the newly released Zondervan Pictorial Bible Encyclopedia edited by Merrill C. Tenney. Over the years he has seen 25 of his articles published in the Christian Leader and almost as many in periodicals ranging from Moody Monthly to Gospel Herald.

Asked about the most rewarding experience of his life-time, D. Edmond replied, “publication of my first book, Introduction to the Pauline Epistles, was the most stimulating experience I can remember. It awoke in me the realization that I had a ministry in writing.”

Pet peeves? “The thing that irritates me most about students is an attitude of indifference toward the Scriptures.”

Biggest goal for students? “It’s that I can instill in them a functional love for the Scriptures and the work of the Lord. It is my deep conviction that a real Spirit-led study of the Word which delves into the depths of the grammatical, syntactical, and theological will lead to such functional knowledge. I have never been able to make a sharp distinction between devotional study and scholarly study of the Scripture. If a scholarly study doesn’t lead to a deeper spiritual life then there’s something wrong in the study.”

D. Edmond has donated his library of 6,000 volumes to the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary library. Of these, 4,000 are volumes not now in the library holdings. He is retaining some 300 books of poetry. Says Dr. Hiebert, “I feel that Christian biography and poetry are some of the most valuable literature for personal growth and development.” This explains why one seldom sees him in a public place waiting for the meeting to begin without a book of poems which he is reading.

Loyal Martin is Director of Field Education at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California.

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