John Vandenberg: In memoriam

by Robin Gibson
Director of PWRDF

A tragic bicycling accident on Saturday, September 5th claimed the life of John Vandenberg and robbed the international development community of one of its finest workers.

John and his wife Monica were cycling together in Toronto when he was struck from behind by a vehicle. Monica was not hurt. John immediately lost consciousness and was taken to hospital where he died early Sunday morning, September 6th. John was 32 years old and he and Monica had been married a little over a year.

John was the Asia Pacific Development Co-ordinator for the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund. He had been working at PWRDF with the Anglican Church for three and a half years. John was deeply respected by his colleagues at PWRDF and by ecumenical colleagues and partners around the world. He will be sorely missed. His gentle spirit, his firm convictions about justice and his capacity for hard work characterized his work and relationships.

Staff at PWRDF are gathering together a collection for John’s wife and family of people’s work memories of John. Those wishing to send a contribution may mail it to PWRDF at 600 Jarvis Street, Toronto, Ontario, M4Y 2J6 or fax it to 416 924 3483.

Those wishing to make a donation in John’s memory are asked to contribute to the Mennonite Central Committee, the development organization of John’s home church and the place where John and Monica met. Contributions can be sent to MCC, 50 Kent Avenue, Kitchener, Ontario, N2G 3R1.


John has called each of us by name at The Primate’s Fund, and shared himself in innumerable moments of passionate dedication, shy confusion and simple service. We are profoundly grateful for the gifts of his life and work with us and mourn his untimely death.

The Primate’s Fund Staff

PWRDF Partners’ Tributes

Many of our Asian partners have expressed their grief at the loss of a good and faithful friend, and we share some of their letters with you:

“John is so dear to us, to the farmers that we don’t want to let him go and at this very unexpected moment, at that. However, what else can we ever do? This is always life. We’re here today, but tomorrow we may be gone or some other time. Death can vary in significance. Though death befalls on us all, it may be weightier than Mount Everest or lighter than cotton. Because John lived a life of profound service and committedly worked with the oppressed and deprived people of the world, his death for us is as heavy as Mount Everest.”

FARDEC, Central Visayas Farmers Development Center (Philippines)

“In his few visits to the Philippines, John has won the respect and admiration of the ecumenical movement. 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. Indeed, John Vandenberg’s death is a big loss in our struggle for justice, peace and integrity of creation.”

National Council of Churches in the Philippines

“In today’s social situation with its priorities of money and success, partnership has been considerably de-valued. But John was rich in the essential qualities of partnership –simplicity, open-ness, sensitivity and humility and at the same time strong, determined and committed in the cause of justice and peace. He was a warm friend to many of us and a lover of Sri Lanka.”

World Solidarity Forum for Justice & Peace in Sri Lanka

“We would like to express our deepest condolences to you for the sudden death of John, our dear friend and partner. We are one with you in your moments of grief and sorrow. The sudden demise of John is a big loss for you and for us whom he had served relentlessly and supported through the years. We are inspired with his dedication and unwavering support to our endeavors and our just cause. John will always be in our hearts as we continue the cause he also believed and worked for.”

Cordillera People’s Alliance, the Montonosa Relief and Rehabilitation Services, and the Development Agency for the Tribes of the Cordillera, Philippines

“Our day started with the shocking news of John’s untimely death. It left all of us numb. It was hard to believe that this could happen to a very dear friend. To others–maybe. But not to John!

And while the tears continue to blind our eyes and sorting out our feelings is a most difficult task, life must move on. John would want it to be so.

He was an ally of our people’s struggle for liberation. He was constantly looking for ways of accommodating our requests. He lobbied for our projects and concerns at all levels. He endeavoured to understand our situation and the options we had taken. Keeping a comfortable distance, he challenged our positions all in the spirit of ensuring a deep comprehension of what we wanted so he could effectively advocate our issues and concerns. No task was too menial for John: meeting us at airports, getting us warm clothing, providing us with phone cards, photocopying documents for our perusal…And when he came to visit us in the Philippines, he related with our people, not as an overbearing funding agency representative but as a partner in the struggle for justice.

There never was an idle moment for John. Wherever he was–in the office, at home, in hotel lobbies, at restaurants–he was forever reading and writing…maximizing the time as if that day was his “last day at work.” He was well aware of how urgent the work of PWRDF’s partners was and he had to respond to such urgency.

The empty space at the PWRDF office on the second floor of 600 Jarvis Street will, henceforth, be a reminder of the suffering poor in the world and their challenge to the Anglican Church of Canada.

And for John’s friends in the Philippines, we are certain that, someday, when we shall have reaped the fruit of our struggle, his memory will dance and rejoice with us and his name will be on our people’s lips.”

KASIMBAYAN, Ecumenical Center for Development (Philippines)

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