John F. Funk was a man of vision and action. He spent his early years in Eastern Pennsylvania and attended the Freeland Institute to become a high school teacher. After teaching two years, he joined his brother-in-law Jacob Beidler and they purchased a sawmill in Chicago. This venture was highly successful and soon they were also making newsprint and they invested in a small printing company. The printing press was useful and enabled them to work with the young evangelist Dwight L. Moody. It was Moody who convinced Funk, who was still only in his 20s, to give his life to God and serve the church.
Funk accepted the challenge, returned to his home church in Pennsylvania, was baptized, married Salome Kratz, and moved back to Chicago. He went back to his former job but he added a new dimension: a weekly newspaper, The Herald of Truth. The goal of the paper was to unify all Mennonites in North America. In 1863, during the American Civil War he published a book titled War: Is it Evil or is it Good? With the success of this work and the continued encouragement from Dwight L. Moody, he devoted more time to publishing and writing.
At the age of 32, Funk sold his portion of the Chicago business and moved to Elkhart Indiana. There he established the first Mennonite Publishing office in North America and his newspaper served as the flagship of the firm. He also published Mennonite books including the massive Martyrs Mirror and The Works of Menno Simons.
Funk formed a loosely organized mutual aid society which took on the task of aiding Russian Mennonite immigrants in the 1870s. Funk traveled with the first group to Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota to scout out prospects for settlements. Furthermore, he raised funds to assist with relocating many who arrived with inadequate resources. In total, they assisted more than 20,000 immigrants over a four year period.
In 1893 he returned to Chicago to attend the Columbian Exposition. Funk was captivated by the art museum and its contents but he didn’t care for the ethnographic exhibits which, in his estimation, had far too many naked people.
Funk had an eye for talent and in short succession hired gifted, young men (J. S. Coffman, John Horsch, H. A. Mumaw, Noah Kolb, Daniel Kaufman and G. L. Bender) who worked in his publishing firm. Together they formed the nationwide Mennonite Church General Conference which met for the first time in 1902. This organization established active committees that formed
Unifying all the Mennonites was far more difficult than he had ever imaged. Funk became discouraged when, as the decades passed, instead of unity, he witnessed new schisms. Troubles increased for Funk when the young assistants no longer passively accepted his stringent management methods. Most of his staff resigned en masse in 1908 and moved to Scottdale, Pennsylvania where they started the Mennonite Publishing House and a new magazine The Gospel Herald. His own publishing house was floundering and he had to declare bankruptcy. Even though that was a personal failure, of sorts, the ventures he began became highly successful: The mission board, Mennonite mutual aid, committee for orphans and youth, the service committee, and the college all remained in Indiana where they are still to this day. John F. Funk was a man of vision who was able to realize most of his dreams for a more unifed and effective church.
Reader: Surely the Lord would say of John F. Funk
All: Well done thou good and faithful servant.
The Living Mirror: Archaeology of Our Faith