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Spring 2018 · Vol. 47 No. 1 · pp. 109–111 

Tribute to Katie Funk Wiebe

Jean Janzen

* I am deeply honored to be the dedication speaker for the Katie Funk Wiebe Writing Center. “Five to eight minutes,” I was told, which is a challenge when one considers the thousands of articles and numerous books which Katie wrote in her lifetime. This limit, however, is appropriate for a poet as we try to distill what really matters into a few lines.

What really matters about this day as we dedicate a center for writing? First, that the very act of writing is a foundation of our faith. We are here today because the story of God’s love for the created universe and its inhabitants has been given language and written down and lived.

Here today, at Tabor College, we are lifting the banner for a writing center that will honor Katie Funk Wiebe. Here students will be mentored as they seek to learn about the art of writing, and invited to sit in this quiet space to find language for their own particular search as they learn and grow. Here is a room of invitation and permission. In this space students will meet the spirit of Katie who illuminated thousands of readers by her desire and courage and the best language she could find to be a faithful servant of God. {110}

Katie, my beloved cousin through marriage, was a major inspiration for me with her Christian Leader columns as I was seeking direction in my own life. In the sixties and seventies, as I was raising children with my beloved husband in Fresno, California, her words sustained and inspired me over and over. I name her as a major voice in my decision to enter the creative writing program at Fresno State University in 1980 where I was taught by poets who honored my voice and shaped my future. Only after I had published several books did I learn that my Uncle Peter, Katie’s father-in-law, had self-published a book of poems, along with his autobiography, and that his son, Walter, carried that love as he pursued his education for a vocation in writing for the Mennonite Brethren Publishing House.

With my words today I seek to honor Katie with her own words: three important themes about her journey that I see as three guideposts for all who enter this space.

First, “I learned to believe in God because God is God and not a blessing machine.” Katie’s willingness to tell her story of loss and struggle is the very beginning of all good writing—to tell the truth and to tell all of it, the pain and the joy. We dedicate this space to honor Katie Funk Wiebe, the wounded writer.

Second, “I learned to love myself the way God had made me with my own talents and gifts, hopes and dreams, weaknesses and faults, despite what church and society cautioned me was out of bounds for a woman.” May Katie’s strong spirit be ever present in this space for every student, men and women, who enter and sit here seeking the next word. We dedicate this space to honor Katie Funk Wiebe, the courageous writer.

Third, “I became a theologian, if only a lay one. The task of theology is to root believers firmly in Christian truth and to help them better show God’s love to others. Theology is as important as Bible study. We live according to our thinking about God.” We dedicate this writing center to honor Katie Funk Wiebe, the loving writer.

Let us dedicate this space, then, to these three principles of writing: tell the truth, tell it bravely, and continue the journey of growing ever more beautifully as a beloved child of God. I would like to end this dedication with a poem, “Writing the Tree.” Whatever we write, we long for the finished piece to be a source of growth for the reader, that even as we sit and wait for inspiration, the reader, too, will find a stirring within themselves to grow and become more whole for the sake of God’s kingdom. {111}


To write the tree
You must sit down
And enter the seed
which lies in the dark,
which holds the map,
map of a stirring
in the cell, an alchemy
of earth, rain and sun
that cracks the shell,
that roots and rises
into word and line—
sapling, trunk, branches,
the breathing,
shining leaves.

*This tribute was given on October 21, 2017, at the dedication of the Katie Funk Wiebe Writing Center at Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas.—Ed.

Jean Janzen was born in Saskatchewan and raised in the midwestern United States. She attended Tabor College, Grace College, and Fresno Pacific University, from which she graduated in 1968. She received her MA in Creative Writing from Fresno State University in 1982. She has published seven books of poetry and two books of essays. In 1995 she received a National Endowment for the Arts grant, and her poems have been set to music by Alice Parker and Eugene Friesen. Her hymn texts for the Mennonite Hymnal have been included in numerous other hymnals.

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