How Mom Rachel ‘so loved the world’



Rachel Stoltzfus, photo provided.

At age 85 Rachel Stoltzfus, a member of our house church, got to see the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. She had grown up in the Midwest and eventually moved with her husband Robert to Harrisonburg, but never got to travel far from her roots.

As a youth she had dreamed of someday going abroad in some kind of mission work. But when she and her husband volunteered to the Mennonite Board of Missions soon after their marriage, they were assigned to plant an experimental integrated church in Louisiana instead. They were later transferred to Breathitt County, Kentucky, where they opened up their home to foster children and pastored a small Appalachian congregation.

When they moved to the Valley, they settled into a modest three-bedroom house near EMU with their two children and befriended and housed scores of international students, something Rachel continued to do alone for over a decade after Robert’s death in 1995.

In her final years Rachel went to live with her daughter Debbie and husband Gonzalo in Bethesda, Md., and about six years ago they rented a beach house and took Rachel with them to see the ocean. She marveled at being able to see so much of the horizon and taste the ocean salt water for the first time.

world mapRachel died in May of this year while on a visit here with her son David and wife Twila. On Independence Day members of her family, friends and our house church congregation celebrated her life in a memorial service held in her honor.

Notably present were some of the individuals from other parts of the world whom Rachel and Robert had befriended, many of whom expressed their deep gratitude for all she had done for them as their second mom.

So while Rachel never got to cross the Atlantic or Pacific, she had the kind of warm heart that welcomed the world into her own home, offering hospitality and room and board to new friends from places like the Congo, Kenya, Palestine, China and elsewhere around the globe. Scores of these individuals have gone on to careers in business, law and the medical field and see their time with ‘Mom Rachel’ as an invaluable part of their journey to success.

Rachel did all this out of sheer love for God and neighbor, without support of a board of directors or a charitable organization, and without any salary or retirement benefits.

If everyone lived like this, it would truly save the world.

Harvey Yoder is a family counselor and teaches parenting and marriage classes at the Family Life Resource Center. Questions relating to family concerns can be addressed to FLRC, 273 Newman Ave., Harrisonburg, VA 22801 or to His blog can be followed at





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