Goodbye beautiful writer, our lovely friend

By Karen Stiller

This weekend Faith Today senior writer Debra Fieguth died, following a massive stroke. If you have read Faith Today over the years, you will have no doubt been influenced by Debra in your life and faith, even if you didn’t know it was her.  She wrote from the busy intersection between life and faith, the living out of our beliefs — because that is really where she shone.

Mama Debra, as she was known, fourth from right, passionately committed to biblical hospitality and one of her favourite topics to write about.
Mama Debra, as she was known, fourth from right, passionately committed to biblical hospitality and that was one of her favourite topics to write about.

To be a senior writer for Faith Today means that writer is a “go-to” person for us. It means that we can assign that person almost any story and know it will be done well. Debra was a go-to person in her work. She was also most certainly that in her life.

Debra was an activist of the faith. She was someone intent on making the crooked straight, setting right what had been made wrong.

Debra was a go-to person for countless numbers of international students who found a home through weekly dinners and I’m guessing endless drop-in visits to their home in Kingston. Debra and her husband Ian lived and breathed hospitality. It’s just what they did. She wrote a book about it.

I don’t know the exact number of refugees Debra brought to Canada, but she was the passionate force behind forming groups, inspiring others, raising money, and then helping, it has to be at least dozens, settle.  There are many, many new Canadians who call Debra friend and will never forget the hospitable, dedicated woman who helped bring them to Canada.

When our church started the process of sponsoring refugees, Debra was the first person I called. When the EFC hosted a webinar on how to help refugees, Debra was one of our expert guests, bringing her practical and thoughtful help. She wrote a recent “how-to” article that has helped many churches across Canada understand that sponsoring refugees and helping them build a new life is something that they can do, maybe even something they should do.

The world of professional Canadian Christian writing is often small and when it is at its best, family-like. Debra and I became friends. There was a small group of women writers in the Toronto area who would meet every now and then and talk about our happy things and our sad things. Debra would drive in from Kingston and we would share a meal, share advice. When Debra spoke, we listened. She brought years of journalism, and very good food, to the table. She was a go-to person for us.

When the team behind the book Evangelicals Around the World: A Global Handbook for the 21st Century knew we needed help, it was Debra that we called. She was already writing for the book, creating a series of profiles of ministries around the world serving their communities. She was our go-to person for that project, because we knew she would know a good story when she saw it, that she would contact the right people and then write it up brilliantly. I was the managing editor of that project, outside of my Faith Today work,  and she became an essential companion and sounding board as we copy-edited together, interacted with writers around the world and laughed at the sheer enormity of the task in front of us. I was so thankful for Debra.

Canada has lost a quiet hero. We have lost a gentle friend, a gifted writer, a passionate advocate. A husband has lost a wife who clearly was also his best friend and companion in a deeply-lived generosity.

What we do still have is a record of a life and work done well. Here are just a few of the articles Debra Fieguth has written for us over the years.

Thank you Debra.

Why do we have so much stuff? (May/Jun 2016)
“Every once in a while I need to purge my cupboards and closets of clutter. And as I purge, I ask questions: Do I really need to maintain an inventory of 14 pashminas? Why have I never worn the earrings I thought were so attractive five years ago? And what was I thinking when I amassed all those doilies, as lovely as they are?”

How to help a refugee family (Nov/Dec 2015)
“Since that day in early September when the image of a tiny boy’s body washed up on a Turkish shore began circulating in the media, thousands of compassionate Canadians have been wondering what they can do to rescue families fleeing conflict.” Refugee sponsorship is a serious undertaking with many challenges and demands, but it can be one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll ever have.

Educating Omar (Sep/Oct 2015)
Seven years after she first heard the words, “This is a hopeless case,” and responded with, “We don’t do hopeless,” Arlette Zinck is still determined to see Omar Khadr through high school and into university. Most Canadians know his name, and most have opinions about him. To some he is an unfortunate victim of his family’s ideology who unwittingly became a child soldier. To others, such as former public safety minister Vic Toews, Khadr is a “well-known supporter of the al-Qaeda terrorist network and a convicted terrorist.” Other government leaders have used similar language.

Hearing the Truth, working for reconciliation (Sep/Oct 2015)
Six emotional years, thousands of sad stories, and 94 recommendations later, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released its final report in Ottawa in early June. The executive summary, almost 300 pages long, called Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, outlines the commission’s findings and includes several recommendations aimed at churches. Reconciliation is not about “closing a sad chapter of Canada’s past,” the report reads, “but about opening new healing pathways of reconciliation that are forged in truth and justice.”

Why hospitality is holy: a call to the ancient art of welcoming (Nov/Dec 2011)
“Our small house was abuzz with activity on Christmas Day as we hosted a big dinner for family, friends and international students. I asked sisters-in-law to slice bread and prepare vegetables. I directed a brother-in-law to serve drinks and had our two “adopted” Mexican university students to carve the turkey and stir the gravy. The small kids were running around and jumping down the stairs, shrieking. The noise level was high and climbing higher. The stress in me rose as I tried to pull together all the details before 20 of us sat down to eat.

Suddenly, I wondered where my husband was, and why he wasn’t helping! I poked my head into the dining room, and there was Ian, deeply engaged in conversation with two Chinese students, answering their questions about theology and Church history, completely oblivious to the frenzied activity going on around him.”

Beyond our cultural comfort zones (Mar/Apr 2012)
“Despite the challenges and hard work, those who have embarked on the journey of developing intercultural churches see the rewards clearly.”

3 thoughts on “Goodbye beautiful writer, our lovely friend”

  1. You have captured Debra eloquently, Karen. She was a consummate professional, a gifted writer and a wonderful person. She wrote a number of articles for the Anglican Journal while I was editor there. And it was always a joy to see her and Ian at conferences in the years after that.
    There will be many of us in the world of Christian writing who are deeply saddened by her early death.

  2. I go back with Debra to “ChristianWeek” days in the ’90s. Harold, Doug, and Deb were a talented and dedicated trio putting out a remarkably sensible and informative newspaper to a largely unappreciative community, alas. Ian, Deb, and I shared a snack in Regent College’s atrium not very long ago, and it is very sad to remember her smile, her wit, her passion, and her integrity as she has been taken from us so abruptly…

  3. Thank you for this lovely tribute. I had only been in Kingston for about two weeks when I found myself invited to dinner at Ian and Debra’s house, the start of a special friendship. I’m so sad to have lost someone whom I regarded as an honorary mother and grandmother to my children. Mama D challenged me and helped me grow in Christlikeness. My hope is that my life may leave an impact on others, as hers has left on so many.

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