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Lives well lived: two pioneering mentors remembered

Marilyn Stewart (1941-2018) and Bill McConnell (1941-2018)  

Photo: InterVarsity USATwo pioneers of IFES ministry in Latin America have gone home to meet their Lord: Bill McConnell on 28 November 2018 and Marilyn Stewart on 1 December 2018. Both Marilyn and Bill were active in their local InterVarsity/USA chapters as studentsGod used InterVarsity to prepare them for ministries which touched believers in Latin America, at home in the States and around the world.  


Bill McConnell, with his wife Beth and children, were invited by ABU Brazil to serve as missionaries among university students there. A few years earlier, in 1961, at the Urbana missions conference, Bill and Beth had committed themselves to spend their lives declaring the gospel and to seek out a place in an underserved part of the world to fulfil this commitment. During their 15 years in Sao Paulo, Bill trained Brazilian staff, led the creation of the publishing company ABU Editora and inspired many students in their walk with Jesus.  

Ziel Machado, then the young General Secretary of ABU Brazil and later IFES Regional Secretary for Latin America, writes: “In his final years of ministry in Brazil, Bill dedicated himself to mentoring and caring for the ministerial formation of the boy (as he affectionately called me), who had taken over the leadership of the movement in a very difficult period...  

Two things I learned from my dear mentor, at that time; to have faith and practical sense. These, and many other lessons which I have learned from him, are etched in my heart. 

Marilyn Stewart and her husband Doug have been dear mentors and wise spiritual directors for many IFES and InterVarsity students and staff. They met while serving the Lord among students in Florida and, after their marriage in 1964, they spent over 25 years in student work in Latin America. The first five years were in Bolivia and Argentina; then the Stewarts moved to Mexico to where they were involved in the national student movement and, later, in the IFES regional team.  

David Bahena, IFES Regional Secretary for Latin America, writes of Marilyn: “Marilyn was a mother and mentor to many. Her ministry was marked by love, prayer and service. She had a hospitable love that overflowed in generositywas seasoned by prayer and always with an attitude of service. Her passion and gifts were in formation and spiritual direction. With her eyes, words of prayer and loving hands she renewed and refreshed the hearts of many.” 

This ministry continued when Marilyn and Doug returned to the USA, where they served with InterVarsity for a further 20 years, first as national field directors and then as specialists for pastoral care and spiritual formation. In addition, they maintained their prayerful involvement in the wider IFES family, supporting Compa Mexico and investing in the lives of staff, both personally and at global IFES events.  

Marilyn and Doug were appointed as IFES honorary vice-presidents at World Assembly 2015 and wrote then: “We retired in June 2011 after 51 years in InterVarsity and IFES, full of gratitude for God’s love, faithfulness and grace all those years, and for the privilege of investing our lives in these front-line ministries of the Kingdom.” 

May God give us all his peace and strength as we grieve the loss of these dear teachers and friends. We praise God for their lives and pray for comfort and grace for their families, as well as the many friends and mentees who were influenced by their ministry. 

You can read more about Bill McConnell’s ministry in a tribute to him written at the time he retired from his position as Associate Director of Advancement for InterVarsity/USA here

You can hear more of Marilyn Stewart’s story told in her own words in her plenary address at the Urbana missions conference in 1993: 

Marilyn Stewart - Urbana 93 from InterVarsity twentyonehundred on Vimeo.

In addition, InterVarsity/USA has published tributes to Bill and Marilyn.

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