Tribute to John Burkart †

Born 23.3.1927103922_Leidbild_Burkart.indd
Joined the Mission Society23.9.1950
Zimbabwe: Apprentice trainer: Locksmith, electrical installations, car mechanics: Gokomere (1954–1958), Driefontein (1959–1985); Butcher's shop in Driefontein
Pilot for flying medical service1967–1979
Co-founder and trainer of St. Paul's Brothers Driefontein: autobiography: “We had enough room”
Driefontein: Retirement2011–2021

“I have found my vocation and lived it, a never-ending
never-ending development, a gift from God.”
(according to John’s autobiography, p. 115)

I am honoured to speak at this memorial service about John’s testimony of faith. He is the nephew of Andre Burkart, who married my sister Maria Josefa Kaufmann of Horw. John has received the appreciation he really deserves with his book “We had enough room” and in the film “End of the Mission”.

So it is my concern to express praise and thanks to God which, in my opinion, was somewhat neglected in the film. We have every reason to sing the Magnificat, because God also did great things for John.

Our mission in Zimbabwe was a real combination of development work and proclamation of the Good News with word and action. It was in the spirit of our SMB: a service to the church in development and need.

We now hear the curriculum vitae as reported by John himself:

  • “For thirty years I was engaged in apprentice training, together with three skilled workers in locksmithing, plumbing and steam installations, electrical home and industrial installations, and also in motor mechanics.
  • During my first home leave (after 10 years of missionary service) I trained as a butcher and meat processor. This was to improve the missionaries’ unbalanced diet.
  • In 1967 I trained at a flight school in Harare. For 12 years I was a pilot for the Flying Doctor Service in Zimbabwe.
  • I became co-founder and trainer of indigenous brothers “Brothers of St. Paul.” (We older SMB brothers needed to be replaced).
  • In 2011 I moved to the Retirement Home at Driefontein Regional House, but still held the religious care of the St Paul Brothers.
  • My wish is – as Africans expressed it – “You missionaries have spent your lives for and with us. We want you with us even in death.”

Br. John Burkhart SMB 17 Sept. 2015

On the day of John’s death, we received an appreciation from three doctors who had dealings with him as a pilot.

Dr Markus and Christine Bieri wrote: “John was a lovely man, with a great heart for his fellow man, whose welfare was his mission in life. He did good to countless people.”

Dr Richard and Loretta Stoughton wrote from Canada: “John was always up for a merry laugh, but also had a very human side.”

Dr Herbert Aschwanden and his wife also held John in high esteem.

Our Magnificat also includes the joyful thanks that John said yes. Another person would have been broken after all he went through.

Thanks also for the extra talent for drama. With Br. Linus Schwaller, he performed humorous plays that helped us to catch our breath during war and peace. He himself mentions in his book, this talent that got him over the worst.

During the War of Independence, John and his confreres in Driefontein understandably sympathised with the white big farmers and worried about the future in solidarity with them.

Today is Candlemas. Let us think gratefully of the ambulance’s spotlight that illuminated the airstrip at Silveira at just the right moment. John was on his way to an emergency late in the afternoon, with Dr Stougthon on board, when darkness fell. The light enabled him to land his Cessna 182. ■

Walter Kaufmann 02.02.2021

The end of the mission − A piece of Swiss world history (german)

“We had enough space after all” − book vernissage (german)