Yoder, Phebe Ethel (1903-1981)

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Phebe E. Yoder: teacher, nurse, missionary to Tanganyika/Tanzania, was born 26 January 1903 in McPherson County, Kansas, USA, the second of 10 children to Charles D. Yoder (9 May 1872-26 September 1923) and Susanna Heatwole Yoder (27 August 1880-7 November 1959) of Hutchinson, Kansas. She died at Hesston, Kansas on 9 September 1981 and is buried in the West Liberty Cemetery, Inman, Kansas.

Phebe Yoder stood in revival meetings held by Noah H. Mack of Pennsylvania at the age of nine and became a member of her home church at West Liberty Mennonite Church. At age 12 after reading Uganda’s White Man of Work, she sensed God’s call to serve specifically in Africa.

Phebe Yoder attended Hesston High School, graduating in 1922, and began teaching in a one-room school three miles from home. As she began to earn money she sent regular gifts to the Mennonite Board of Missions in Elkhart, Indiana earmarked for the work in Africa. Yoder earned an Associate degree from Hesston College, Hesston, Kansas and a Bachelor’s degree from Goshen College, Indiana in 1934.

Over the summer Yoder served as a nanny in New York City where she sensed God telling her to go to nursing school. Having no interest in nursing, but sure God was giving the instructions, she enrolled at La Junta Mennonite School of Nursing in Colorado. During her final term a letter from Orie O. Miller, secretary of the Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions asked whether she had a call and if so, be willing to go to Tanganyika. She accepted and late 1936 she was on the field.

Phebe served as a nurse part-time but her first love was teaching and it wasn’t long before she established a school so that new Christians would be able to read the Scriptures. During her second term she became the education secretary and oversaw the construction of a number of primary schools. In Yoder’s third term she arrived in Tanganyika with a truck outfitted much like a camper and became an itinerant colporter involved in literacy. She taught part time at the Mennonite Theological College, now Mennonite Theological College of Eastern Africa and in the Domestic Science school.

Early stages of dementia forced Phebe to retire in 1971 and she returned to the USA. For two years she did literacy work in New York City and then moved to Schowalter Villa in Hesston, Kansas.


Hess, Mahlon M., Pilgrimage of Faith. Salunga, Pa.: Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities, 1985.

Missionary Messenger (August 1982). Nearly the entire issue contains articles about Phebe from various writers.

Shenk, David W. Mennonite Safari. Salunga, Pa.: Eastern Mennonite Missions, 1974.

Stoltzfus, Louise. "A Planter of Trees: Phebe Ethel Yoder." Pennsylvania Mennonite Heritage 22, no. 3 (July 1999): 16-23.

Stoltzfus, Louise. Quiet Shouts. Intercourse, Pa.: Good Books, 1999.

Yoder, Phebe. Cassette tapes recorded by Phebe for Bertha Beachy on her life story. Located at Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society.

Original Mennonite Encyclopedia Article

By Elaine Sommers Rich. Copied by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 951. All rights reserved.

Phoebe Ethel Yoder served as an administrator, nurse, and educator in Tanganyika (Tanzania) under the Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities (Mennonite Church) for 35 years. She was born 26 January 1903 in McPherson County, KS, to C. D. and Susanna (Heatwole) Yoder and died 9 September 1981 at Schowalter Villa in Hesston, KS. At age 12, Phoebe felt God's call to Africa. She attended Hesston College and Goshen College (BA 1934 and ThB). In 1937 she received her RN from the La Junta [CO] Mennonite School of Nursing and went to Tanganyika, where she set up a nursing station in a garage, started schools, supervised the construction of 10 school buildings, taught, served as a nurse-doctor, and assisted in translating the New Testament into Jita and Swahili.

Author(s) Daniel L Wenger
Date Published February 2017

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Wenger, Daniel L. "Yoder, Phebe Ethel (1903-1981)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. February 2017. Web. 8 Aug 2022. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Yoder,_Phebe_Ethel_(1903-1981)&oldid=147172.

APA style

Wenger, Daniel L. (February 2017). Yoder, Phebe Ethel (1903-1981). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 8 August 2022, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Yoder,_Phebe_Ethel_(1903-1981)&oldid=147172.

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