Obituary of John David Derksen
John Derksen passed away surrounded by the love of his family in the Hamilton General ICU on Sunday, January 14th 2024. He suffered a traumatic neck injury and major complications due to pneumonia. A private family burial has taken place. A Memorial Service for John Derksen will be held on Feb. 11 at 2:00pm at River East Church, 755 McLeod Ave, Winnipeg, MB. The service will be live-streamed via ZOOM, with access through the following link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84751377160?pwd=NVZ1c00zNGw3b1YrT1ZOL0toSzNaUT09
Obituary for John David Derksen
John David Derksen was born in Brussels, Belgium on April 30, 1951. His parents, Henry and Helen Derksen were taking French language training in Belgium, on their way to serve as missionaries in the then Belgian Congo. John’s first home in the Congo was a remote mission station called Djongo Sanga, accessible only by vehicle to the Sankuru River, then by dugout canoe across the river, and then by foot from the river to the mission station. John only learned and spoke German for the first three years of his life, until other missionaries came to the station and English was used more predominantly.
John attended seven different schools from grades one to twelve. This included 5 years away from home - one of them when he was only in grade 3 - reuniting with his parents only during Christmas, Easter and summer holidays. He spent his final three years of high school in Winnipeg. John was an athlete as well as a scholar. He played varsity basketball in high school, and then coached a women’s basketball team. He was also an avid softball player throughout his life, including this past summer. As a grade 12 student, he was a participant on the nationally broadcasted television quiz show for high schoolers, Reach for the Top.
While on his own in Winnipeg, with the rest of the family back in Congo, John faithfully wrote letters to the family, who always looked forward to the news that he would convey. Often, he wrote about school or church activities, and also wrote about his visits with cousins and friends. He helped his family stay up-to-date with what was happening in Canada.
When John’s younger brother Paul came to Winnipeg to attend university, their Aunt Betty “sold” them her 1959 VW Beetle, for the total sum of $10. John and Paul shared the use of that car until John headed to Pasadena, California to complete a Master of Arts in Theology. Before he returned to Winnipeg upon completion of these studies, he sold the Beetle to someone who wanted to make it into a dune buggy. Presumably, John got much more than $10 for the car, but with student costs, it is doubtful that Paul ever saw any of the profits from that flip!
After completing his Master’s degree in the early ‘80s, John took an assignment teaching English to university students in Cairo, Egypt. He thoroughly enjoyed this experience, and worked hard to learn Arabic, so that he could both communicate better with new Egyptian friends, and so that he could try to read some historic manuscripts. He was fascinated by the Coptic Church, a Christian minority group in an otherwise Muslim country. He was a regular visitor at a Coptic monastery, teaching English, and enjoying conversations with the monks.
During the early ‘90s, John took an assignment teaching at the Near East School of Theology in Beirut, Lebanon. This was during one of the ongoing periods of conflict, and John would describe walking along the Mediterranean coast, watching war ships lobbing bombs and missiles into the city. After one bomb blast, he was asked if it was safe for him to remain in Beirut. His response was that he was perfectly safe, because the bombing was happening in another part of the city. His mother was not totally convinced.
John’s international experience also included a mission to Somalia as an observer of a United Nations peacekeeping operation, and to Congo, with Nel, as an observer for their national elections. During this trip to Congo, John and Nel decided to take an active role in the support of an orphanage, after meeting the director and her staff. This work with the orphanage, facilitated through Accountable Development Works, was a passion for John and Nel.
John also pursued and completed his PhD in Anabaptist History, which led to further teaching opportunities. Primarily, this was with Menno Simons College, in affiliation with the University of Winnipeg and Canadian Mennonite University. He enjoyed his interactions with students, and he stayed in this position until his retirement. John taught courses in world religions, and in peace and conflict resolution. When he found that there was little written on the history of peacemaking, he decided that he would write a book that could become a university primer on the topic, covering from earliest recorded history to the present. In the final days of 2023, John completed the book, and it is now almost ready for submission to the publisher, who has been enthusiastically awaiting this book. John was hopeful that his book would become a standard textbook for peacemaking courses in universities across North America.
In 2005, John finally met the love of his life. Just two days before John’s fatal accident, his brother asked him about his decision to change from being a confirmed bachelor (until age 54), to being a happily married man. John’s response was that he never considered himself to be a confirmed bachelor, but he was simply waiting for the right person. He needed to find that special person “who was going in the same direction”. John and Nel’s courtship was a whirlwind affair. They were introduced over email in March of 2005, met for the first time in May, and were married in December. John immediately became step-father to three daughters, which subsequently led to him to becoming grandfather to seven grandchildren.
John relished his family life. Even when he was hard at work in his study, writing his history of global peacemaking, his door would be open, just in case one of the grandchildren came for a visit. The last 18 years of his life were filled with camping, wiener roasts, family picnics, skating, playing games with and nurturing his family. This was a never-ending source of joy for John.
John always had time for people. This is a defining characteristic of John’s life. People mattered most, and the gift of added family that John received upon his marriage to Nel was a blessing that he greatly treasured.
John had a strong faith in God and was a committed follower of Jesus. He was a faithful participant in various church communities throughout the course of his life. His concern was for those who were less privileged, and his life was one of service. In our final goodbyes to John, several of us noted how he set an example for us of compassion, caring, and dedication. We know that the memories of John’s life will stay with us for the rest of our days.
John was predeceased by his parents, Henry and Helen Derksen, and his father-in-law Albert Dahl. He is survived by his wife Nel, three step-daughters Angela (Roman), Leah (Paul) and Corinne (Darren), his mother-in-law Eugenie Dahl, as well as eight grandchildren - Julian, Annika, August, Elliot, Adrian, Llewyn, Alex and one who has yet to be born. John is also survived by his brothers Paul (Katherine) and Gerry (Marg), and sister Viola, as well as 19 nephews and nieces. He also leaves many cousins and close friends.
A Memorial Service for John Derksen will be held on Feb. 11 at 2:00pm at River East Church, 755 McLeod Ave, Winnipeg, MB. The service will be live-streamed via ZOOM, with access through the following link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84751377160?pwd=NVZ1c00zNGw3b1YrT1ZOL0toSzNaUT09
In memory of John, donations may be made to Congo’s Children, through Canada Helps, Accountable Development Works. Supporting the work of Georgette (Director) and the children in her care has been an important part of John and Nel’s life. The funds raised for Congo’s Children help feed and clothe the children, and give them a caring home and schooling. For donations to and more information on Congo’s Children, see: