September 16, 1922 – October 29, 2009
Rev. Peter Ipema, 87, missionary laureate, scholar of Islamic thought, accomplished linguist, and one who was gracious and straightforward in his dealings, passed away on Oct. 29, 2009, from complications of degenerative dementia.
Ipema was born in Chicago and grew up in Englewood, Oaklawn, Ill.
He attended Evergreen Christian School and Chicago Christian High School. He graduated from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 1944 and from Calvin Theological Seminary in 1948. He married Alice Jean Steenmeyer in 1942. She preceded him in death in 1989.
Ipema was ordained to ministry in the Christian Reformed Church in 1948 and soon left for Nigeria as the CRC’s first missionary to the Tiv people. His exceptional linguistic skills soon became evident: he became a scholar of the Tiv language and taught that language to many missionaries who subsequently arrived in Nigeria.
From 1951 to 1963, Ipema served the Church of Christ in the Sudan Among the Tiv (NKST), which had been established by the South African Dutch Reformed Church Mission. This church soon became the fastest-growing mission venture in the world. Ipema also served as Christian Reformed World Missions’ Nigerian field secretary from 1958 to 1963.
This humble, joyful believer was greatly loved by the Tiv people, who addressed him as “Baba” (Father), but he was equally cherished by his fellow missionaries.
Ipema acquired a reputation as a world-class authority on Islamic thought. Hartford Seminary granted him a Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1971.
In 1974 CRWM appointed him to be the general advisor to the “Islam in Africa” project, and in that capacity he was stationed in Kenya. In 1981 he became the Director of the Mid-East Fellowship Center in Chicago.
In l986 he served Terra Haute CRC in Indiana. He retired in l987, but twice returned to the land of the Tiv to teach at the Reformed Theological College of Nigeria (RTCN).
At his funeral several mission leaders spoke, including some Nigerian church leaders. “The secret of his determination and graciousness was his closeness to Jesus,” one said. “The legacy of this elder statesman is beyond recounting,” another said.
Ipema is survived by his wife, Martina “Tina” Van Staalduinen, herself a veteran missionary to Nigeria; by his children William and Michelle Ipema, Philip and Robin Ipema, and Loretta and Ronald Duemler; and by nine grandchildren and twelve great-grandchildren.