Ezra T. Peachey ’54 (Seminary ’56) left his home in Belleville, Pa., in 1959 to drive 2½ days to remote northwestern Ontario. His initial mission, along with his wife Nannie and her sister and father, was to organize a two-week summer Bible school for native peoples in the small town of Red Lake at the end of a gravel road.
The two-week stint turned into 46 years, and Ezra and Nannie did not return to their native Belleville until 2005. During that time they raised three sons among the indigenous people, now called First Nations.
The only other jobs Peachey ever had were two years of church-related voluntary service in Puerto Rico before college and two years of teaching at Belleville Mennonite School after graduation.
In Red Lake Peachey taught at Red Lake Indian School and started churches. The First Nations people that he worked with came from the Ojibwa and Cree reserves. After the school closed in the late 1960s, Ezra established Red Lake Bible School to train future pastors and others.
Peachey mentored two First Nations Christians who returned to their reserves to start churches. “I wanted to stay in touch with them and others, but I couldn’t reach them by road,” he said. “So I got my pilot’s license, and our mission bought a plane.” For 20 years he flew a Cessna 180.
For 15 years Peachey headed a mission group of a dozen conservative Mennonite missionaries who worked in several towns in the area. Many of the missionaries and their children settled in the area after their terms were finished. They took jobs as teachers, pilots, or mechanics or worked in the two main local industries, logging and gold mining.
“Ezra modeled healthy indigenous principles for younger missionaries,” said Clair Schnupp ’59, a colleague and former EMU Distinguished Service Award winner. “An unassuming man, he was gifted in discipling leaders cross-culturally in powerful ways. He seemed to be ahead of his time.”