Anglican Church of Canada partners from around the world are shocked and devastated by the news that John Vandenberg, 32, died after being struck by a vehicle while cycling in Toronto on Sept. 5.
Mr. Vandenberg worked for the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund as the co-ordinator of Asia/Pacific development and global projects.
He was hit from behind by a van while riding with his wife, Monica. They were married last year. The couple was cycling at a leisurely pace, side by side, when Mrs. Vandenberg said she heard a loud bang and her husband was thrown out in front of her. News of the accident left dozens of co-workers at Anglican Church House in tears. They gathered in the chapel the day everyone returned to work after the long weekend to remember him and to pray for the couple’s families. Mr. Vandenberg’s job took him to many corners of the Earth where people are also mourning. “In his few visits to the Philippines, John won the respect and admiration of the ecumenical movement,” said Rey Natividad, executive assistant with the National Council of Churches in the Philippines. “His integrity and deep commitment to peace based on justice is an inspiration for many of us engaged in the movement for change in this country.” Members of the Central Visayas Farmers Development Centre in the Philippines added, “John is so dear to us, to the farmers, that we don’t want to let him go … John has the interests of the poor and the sufferings of the great majority in his heart.” Staff who worked with him at Church House spoke warmly of their colleague. “We’ll miss him because he was such a strong team member,” said Robin Gibson, director of the Primate’s Fund. “He helped us understand justice issues, not only the big picture of global justice, but the justice issues of everyday relationships in working. “He was so quietly competent. I never worried about anything he was doing because I knew it was being done well.” Raised in Taiwan, Mr. Vandenberg was the son of Mennonite missionaries. He was hired by the Primate’s Fund in 1995 after working for the Saskatchewan Council for International Cooperation. “He was wise beyond his years,” said Rob Shropshire, the fund’s Africa development co-ordinator. “He brought a maturity in his approach to his work which was beyond what you would expect from someone so young. “He really brought a lot to the staff in terms of being good natured, kind, very generous and really committed to his work and to justice and peace.” “I feel like I’ve lost a dear friend and we’ve also lost a really competent person,” said Susie Henderson, the fund’s outreach co-ordinator. Ms. Henderson lived a block from Mr. Vandenberg. “I think I’m going back and forth between believing and not believing,” he’s really gone, she said. “The last time I saw John he was going to the IGA … so part of me thinks he’s still there.” Ms. Henderson said she travelled with Mr. Vandenberg to the Philippines three years ago and found he embodied everything that the Primate’s Fund is about. “I saw first-hand the respect he showed for the people there and it was mutual the way that people treated him,” she said. The funeral was held at the Danforth Mennonite Church on Sept. 10 after which his ashes were to be buried in Saskatchewan. Staff at Church House were planning to hold a formal memorial service on Sept. 22.