Vern Middleton: August 13, 1935 - January 31, 2024


It is with exceedingly grateful hearts, that we remember Northwest professor, Dr. Vern Middleton, who passed away at age 88 on January 31, 2024.


Vern was described as a man of adventure, curiosity, and faith-filled passion. Vern began his ministry with his wife Helen, in the early 1960’s, setting off for mission work in India.


Dr. Howard Andersen recalls, “Dr. Pickford gathered faculty and some students, of which I was one, to go to the airport to see them off. It was a cold rainy day, and they stood on the tarmac of the old airport which was little more than a tower at the time. Prayers were said, hands were shaked, and Vern and Helen made their way up the rickety stairs into that big old mid-century flying machine for their momentous trip to India. It was the very early days of the ‘Trans Canada Fellowship,’ and the ‘Regular Baptists of BC’ were very proud to be making this momentous contribution to international missions in a whole new modern era of missionary activity.”

Howard continues that “some 15 years later with Northwest developing, the notion of having a bona fide experienced missionary on the faculty took root. Vern and I exchanged a number of typewritten airmail letters halfway around the world and things began to shape up.


“We felt it necessary for at least some of the faculty and some of the board to interview Vern before offering him an appointment. But how to do this? Travel was way too expensive. We hit on the possibility of a phone call. Conference calls were very rare as were overseas calls at the time. We bought a gadget to put in the middle of a table in my office, plunked the phone receiver on it, had a BC Tel operator standing by the whole time and went ahead with the call. All very expensive and a bit extravagant. After a few minutes of introduction, Vern said, ‘OK, go ahead and ask me some questions.’ We did, and by the end of an hour or so he seemed almost disappointed that we had no more questions. And the rest is, as they say, history.”


Vern taught Missions, Evangelism, and World Religions at Northwest, bringing global concern for the Kingdom to hundreds of his appreciative students. One of Vern’s first students was Dr. Brian Rapske, then one of the first two students enrolled in the newly minted Northwest Baptist Seminary. Dr. Rapske recalls Vern entering the dining room, saying a few hellos, and then coming over to introduce himself. Both were new, both knew God had called them to Northwest, and both had a pile of questions to ask! As Brian reflects, “It has been a treasure to me that I could know Vern as a beloved teacher, strong encourager, and later, to my delight, as a dear colleague and friend.”


Vern taught at Northwest for 27 years, from 1976 to 2003. He brought students on temple tours to enhance their understanding of world religions and cultures. He led numerous mission trips, often partnering with field missionaries to give the students a realistic experience of missionary life. And as alumna Peggy Conteh Wallace said, he “showed me a world beyond what I knew, and taught me to share Jesus (not white evangelical culture).”


Perhaps one of Vern’s greatest contributions to Northwest was the number of students he taught, trained, and recruited for missionary service. Dr. Larry Perkins, President Emeritus shares, “I do not think anyone in the history of our Western Canadian Fellowship did more to advance the cause of Missions than Vern, together with Helen. This included his strong interest in ‘ethnic’ church planting and motivating many people to consider missions as their vocation.” To this day, we have alumni serving around the world because of Vern.


Vern also saw the opportunity for ‘missions’ here at home. Dr. Elsie Froment remembers, “Vern was enthusiastic about the growing migration to Canada of people from other countries because they could be evangelized here.” And Northwest Registrar, Loren Warkentin, shares that Vern had a “lasting influence on my own understanding and interest” of reaching the Sikh community here in British Columbia.


Vern’s life was not without tragedy. “I remember the weight of grief when his son vanished. Invisible, but it was like his knees just buckled a bit on the stairs, his footprints left deeper imprints in the grass. He didn’t hide it, nor show it. He carried pain and helpless unknowing with grace, for years. It was a witness of authenticity and faith that left a deep, lifelong impression on me,” shares Ruth McGillivray, long time family friend, and Executive VP at Northwest.


Vern courageously took on doctoral studies at Fuller Seminary while teaching at Northwest. He studied under the famous Donald McGavrin, who initiated the church growth movement in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. Vern’s thesis, “Donald McGavran, his early life and ministry: an apostolic vision for reaching the nations,” was published by the William Carey Library in 2011.


In 2019, Vern was awarded a Distinguished Service Award from Northwest to recognize the immense contributions he made to the mission of the school. Indeed, his impact cannot be understated. As Dr. Brian Rapske so accurately summarized, “With heartfelt hospitality and intense passion, Vern embodied in his life, ministry and teaching the truth that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was the answer, without apology, to the great need of the world!


Vern, we are so grateful for the lives you touched through your ministry at Northwest and beyond.

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