fellowship

Giving time

Author: Lydia Penner

Mennonites in the Netherlands, like the Dutch in general, are very active people. They believe in taking responsibility for their own  lives and for the society they live in. 

Witnessing

There is hardly a profession or trade where Mennonites are not found. At their work-place they can get into discussions about their values. Their children usually go to ordinary public schools rather than to Christian schools because Mennonite parents prefer to teach their own brand of Christianity to their children. Often the only ones in the class with a church connection, these children are sometimes asked about their beliefs and what the church is about.

 

Birthdays

The Mennonite children are involved in sports, music and theatre, activities which support personal development. Yet many are also active in the Sunday school. There they work to raise money for projects at home and abroad. To contribute to an organization supplying birthday boxes to families with a limited income, the children in The Hague, a city on the west coast, prepared goodies to sell after a church service. In the Netherlands it is very important to celebrate your birthday, which includes, for children, offering a treat to classmates.  With these boxes, children in poor families can have a birthday celebration like everyone else.

 

Bicycling

Mennonites of all ages are fervent bicyclists, as the quickest and cheapest way to get around in a crowded country, for the exercise, and from environmental considerations. In Joure, a town in Friesland, young people organized a bicycle trip in the footsteps of Menno Simons, from Witmarsum, where he was born, to Bad Oldesloe, where he died, by which they raised money, through sponsors, for a facility for the handicapped in a nearby community.

 

Volunteers

Like Christians in other churches, parents, seniors and singles are very active in volunteer work, not only in the congregations, but also in the community they live in. For example, they are hosts or hostesses at museums; serve in committees for support of cultural activities; help out in hospitals and care homes by bringing patients to activities and looking after the flowers given them; spend time with people with few contacts; do shopping for the housebound in the neighborhood; help family and neighbors in need - you name it, they’re doing it. Some congregations, like Zaandam, Surhuisterveen, Rottevalle and Drachten, give support and hospitality to refugees in the country.

 

Witnessing

There is hardly a profession or trade where Mennonites are not found. At their work-place they can get into discussions about their values. Their children usually go to ordinary public schools rather than to Christian schools because Mennonite parents prefer to teach their own brand of Christianity to their children. Often the only ones in the class with a church connection, these children are sometimes asked about their beliefs and what the church is about.

 

Birthdays

The Mennonite children are involved in sports, music and theatre, activities which support personal development. Yet many are also active in the Sunday school. There they work to raise money for projects at home and abroad. To contribute to an organization supplying birthday boxes to families with a limited income, the children in The Hague, a city on the west coast, prepared goodies to sell after a church service. In the Netherlands it is very important to celebrate your birthday, which includes, for children, offering a treat to classmates.  With these boxes, children in poor families can have a birthday celebration like everyone else.

 

Bicycling

Mennonites of all ages are fervent bicyclists, as the quickest and cheapest way to get around in a crowded country, for the exercise, and from environmental considerations. In Joure, a town in Friesland, young people organized a bicycle trip in the footsteps of Menno Simons, from Witmarsum, where he was born, to Bad Oldesloe, where he died, by which they raised money, through sponsors, for a facility for the handicapped in a nearby community.

 

Volunteers

Like Christians in other churches, parents, seniors and singles are very active in volunteer work, not only in the congregations, but also in the community they live in. For example, they are hosts or hostesses at museums; serve in committees for support of cultural activities; help out in hospitals and care homes by bringing patients to activities and looking after the flowers given them; spend time with people with few contacts; do shopping for the housebound in the neighborhood; help family and neighbors in need - you name it, they’re doing it. Some congregations, like Zaandam, Surhuisterveen, Rottevalle and Drachten, give support and hospitality to refugees in the country.

 

The Pax Boys – Our angels of peace

Author: Isabel Mans
Translator: J. Jakob Fehr 

‘They were angels to us‘, said a woman who witnessed their activities. These peace angels were young men from the USA who refused to perform military service after World War II and were sent to Germany to help its rebuilding. They performed a peace service with the aid agency Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).

 

Love as a Philosophy of Life

Roger Hochstetler  came to Germany in 1951 to show his solidarity with the Germans. Although Germany had caused much suffering in the world, Hochstetler felt a connection to his Christian brothers and sisters in Germany. Most Americans of the time hated the Germans, but Hochstetler said ‘Love was always my philosophy of life. We built houses to help the victims of war‘. The Pax Boys built settlements for Mennonite refugees from Prussia and Russia and new Mennonite congregations were founded there.

 

Ambassadors in the Name of Christ

The Pax Boys came to Germany in the 1950s ‘in the name of Christ‘, which is the motto of MCC. They wanted to be ‘ambassadors of peace‘; they lived in simple accommodations, declined wages and even paid $75 a month in order to be a part of this project. Dwight Wiebe wrote:

 

Peace means a time for healing, caring and repairing. ... I arrived in Europe in the 1950s, where I met 30 young Pax Boys, ages 18 to 22, who had come to Germany to put their Christian faith into action. All of them came equipped to be ambassadors of peace.

 

Without prior instruction or professional assistance they dug cellars and foundations and constructed houses with only basic tools. Local newspapers reported with surprise that they would build homes for strangers – their former enemies.

 

Tangible acts of peace

It took 5 months of work by eight Pax Boys to erect the Mennonite parish hall in Krefeld. This created a big saving for the congregation both financially and in building time. In the town of Wedel near Hamburg a parish hall and 11 duplexes were built between 1954 and 1958. By the end of the 1950s about 120 persons were living there. The Pax Boys also contributed to the youth work and helped establish the congregation in Wedel. They were a visible sign of peace in a landscape that had been destroyed by war.

 

Celebrating Christmas Together

Author: Paul Hege

For someyears, the Mennonite Church of Strasbourg has participated in ‘Vivre Noël Ensemble’. This eventallows us to put ourfaith in action at the service of ourneighbor, to renewour vision on Christmas, to team up withothers and be active in our city.

Togetherness

Eachyear, 15 to 20 people fromourchurchchoose to spend the night of December 24th togetherwith about as manyguests, people on the marginswhootherwisewould have a verysad and lonely Christmas. None of us regret thisexperience. Somedepict the delight of a different Christmas thatis more turnedtowardourneighbor and enriched by the spontaneous contributions of ourguests. Others are grateful for the richness and depth of conversations withourguests, despite the languagebarrier, sometimes; some contacts continue and evenbecomefriendships. Many point out thatthiskind of time allows us to becomeaware of the needs and povertythatweoften come across on the daily basis withoutseeingthem.

For the church, itis a beautifulproject in whicheachmemberfindstheir place, couples and single people alike, children and parents, and older people. We encourage eachmember to participate and we notice thatmany are ready to do itagain the followingyear.

Ecumenical

‘Vivre Noël Ensemble’ wasinitiallylaunched by a solidarity Christian institution. Today, itis an organisation in whichvarious Christian and non-Christian associations and severalchurches are involved, and with the support of the City of Strasbourg, they help about 300 marginalized people to celebrate Christmas in dignity.

They are welcomed by the differentpartners, each in their venue, according to theirmeans. The cluster isresponsible for the meal, the gift for everyguest, and the dispatch of guests to different venues: thus, the different host teams focus their attention and energy on an entertainingwelcome. The organisation alsoorganizes a friendly time downtownunder the tall Christmas tree, whichstarts off the feast, with hot drinks, pastries and music: in this place the guests and the hosts meet up before the groups separate and the party goes on in different venues.

As a smallchurch in ourbig city, we are verypleased to have foundour place in thisproject, whichwasinitiated by Christians and thensharedwithothers, and webelieve,  throughit, our Lord ishonored in Strasbourg.

Sunday Schools, Scouting Groups, Catechism and Seminaries

Author: Beate Zipperer
Translator: Anne Zipperer 

Children

It is common to tell children Bible stories at home, but also on Sundays in church. In many churches, while the adults are having church service, the children are with one or more volunteers in Sunday school. But it isn't a real school. There are no grades, nor are the children judged by their knowledge, but rather they get to know God and together they practice how to follow Jesus. The children exchange thoughts and emotions about what they heard, and ask questions. They pray and sing together, they do handicrafts and play games.

In the ‘Evangelische Freikirche Mennonitengemeinde Ingolstadt e.V.’, which is our church, the children start the church service together with the adults and at a certain point in the service they go off to follow their own program. They meet in four different groups age groups to hear Bible stories and talk about other topics related to religion.

Some churches also offer weeks especially for the children. The children really like this and it gives them the opportunity to deepen their own knowledge and invite friends from school, to talk with them about faith and Jesus. In some churches you can also find a group of Royal Ranger, a Christian Scouting Group.

 

Youth and young adults

Nowadays in many churches catechism is called church instruction or bible instruction. These instructions do not automatically lead to baptism, but they are an opportunity to concentrate on topics regarding the Christian faith and also to look at the Anabaptist movement, and at people's own practice of faith.

In youth groups but also in church services specially geared to adolescents, young people can practice fellowship and discuss theological topics.

In addition to education in the church, the ‘Jugendwerk süddeutscher Mennoniten e.V. (JUWE)’ organizes retreats, schools and training courses in Southern Germany specifically  for children and adolescents.

 

Adults

Seminars for all ages (for example family retreats, retreats for the eldery and basic courses for everyone) broaden and enrich the education in Mennonite churches. They are either organized in local churches or in trans-regional conference centers. A good and well known conference centre is the Theological Seminary Bienenberg in Switzerland.

Children’s and youth work

Author: Johannes Dyck

In Germany, much children’s work nowadays is done by young church members providing an effective way of taking part in church life. In the Soviet Union, children’s and youth work was a hot issue.

 

Since 1929, the law forbade every kind of special meeting, including those for women, children, and youth. When after 1955 newly established churches tried to obtain a legal status, the authorities demanded strict adherence to this law. Moreover, they often even forbade the presence of children in regular worship services. From time to time, Sunday services were interrupted by authorities and school teachers who made lists of school children in attendance. Usually the next day at school the listed children were called before school directors and bullied in front of their class. For the young churches and young parents, the persecution time between 1958 and 1966 was a struggle for the children. Finally, the parents won the battle, and the children were permitted to attend the regular services.

 

Victories in spite of risks

Shortly after this first small victory, churches in various cities started small Sunday-schools for children in private homes. In cities, this work could be kept hidden better than in villages. For this work, several persons, including young women, were imprisoned. Nevertheless, this risky work, often done by young women, was performed until the emigration to Germany.

 

Young people taking the lead

Youthwork also belonged to a grey legal area, often tolerated by officials. Usually, it was organized in small groups which met in private homes for fellowship and Bible study, often twice a week. This part of church work showed big potential and provided churches with young people that were ready to take on responsibility and accept ministry in the churches. Youth choirs also came into being, serving as an important attraction point for young boys and girls. The infrequent performances were a real festive occasion for churches.

 

Good hope

Things that were prohibited by the Communist government, became much more popular in the new  freedom in Germany. Knowing the importance of children’s and youth work for the churches’ future, Mennonite congregations built a flourishing children’s and youth work in Germany that keeps children in churches up till today. Considering the often large Mennonite families in Germany, this work serves as an important factor of confessional family growth.

 

 

 

Congregational Life

Author: Johannes Dyck

The congregational life of Russian-born Mennonites in Germany in many aspects still follows the traditional ways that existed in Russia before the times of persecution. Every Sunday the congregation gathers for one or two services. The order of a usual service is simple – three short sermons are combined with singing of the choir and the congregation. The sermons are delivered by preachers of different ages and spiritual experience. The number of preachers in one church can reach several dozens.

Continuation of preaching

This tradition comes from the Pietistic revival meetings in Russia which started in the 1840s, when several participants shared their testimonies. In the early Mennonite Brethren church, the existence of many preachers in congregation soon became a tradition. Involvement of many brethren made all of them active in proclaiming the Word of God and gave additional strength to spreading the gospel. In the post-war revival that occurred in times of severe suppression, having a  big number of preachers was the best way to survive – when the leaders were deported or even imprisoned, there was always a new man to replace them.

 

Themes and singing

Following the old Pietistic tradition, the main content of a sermon is encouragement in faith. Often, preachers make calls for repentance, conversion and getting born again. Popular themes are discipleship, holy life and separation from the world. These themes are also the focus of regular prayer and Bible study meetings. An important part of the Russian-born Mennonite piety is singing. In times of persecution, when no Bibles were available, Christian songs could easily be memorized and shared amongst the persecuted. Often they were the only way for single isolated persons as well as for small groups of getting comfort and strength in faith. For many young people, German spiritual songs were the way to start to learn German. An important place in the church service is also given to choral singing.

 

Relationships and meetings

The congregational life is not limited to worship services by far. It expresses itself by close personal relations between church members. This model for closeness and intimacy of church relations was established long ago, through colony life in a rural setting when fellow church members were also neighbors living in the same village. An important part of congregational life are closed members' meetings. Here baptismal candidates tell about their faith, and church discipline is practiced; here issues of common moral standards and witness before the world are debated; and here important decisions are made.

 

A modest man who helped shape the Mennonite Brotherhood

Author: Marius Romijn

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the influence of liberal protestantism decreased in the Netherlands, while orthodoxy and Catholicism remained stable. Many young liberal pastors struggled with the concepts of 'sin and forgiveness'. They were inspired by the English Quakers, especially the meetings in Woodbrooke; putting Christ and prayer at the centre. Lay people could lead in spiritual matters and in practical tasks.

 

Tjeerd Hylkema was, as a Mennonite student of theology, touched by lay piety, lay people working in the church and by the peace testimony. He contacted other Mennonites about the possibility of introducing these concepts into the Brotherhood. This became the start of the Vereniging voor Gemeentedagen ('Congregational Days Association'), a combination of national and regional meetings, working groups and gradually also conference buildings and camping barracks. Women could fulfill all the roles too, and this revived the brotherhood. Hylkema, the minister of the village of Giethoorn since 1912, was the chairman of this movement for ten years. The Central Mennonite Board ('ADS') started out feeling uneasy about the socialist, feminist, pietistic and orthodox features. The magazine of the Congregational Day Association, 'Brieven' ('letters'), was first published in 1918. Committees focused on  Bible studies, organising summer-camps for young people, pacifism, and other issues.

 

In Giethoorn, Hylkema established a training institute for basket-weaving. He also initiated aid for the Russian Mennonites, who were persecuted heavily after the Revolution of 1917. The booklet he wrote in 1920 De geschiedenis van de doopsgezinde gemeenten in Rusland in de oorlogs- en revolutiejaren 1914 tot 1920 (‘The history of Mennonite congregations in Russia during the war and the revolution 1914-1920’) was reprinted and also published in German. He was a great help during the emigration of hundreds of Russian Mennonites to North- and South-America, via Rotterdam. Help was also organised for impoverished Dutch families after the depression of 1929. During World War II, he organized a transport of Jewish children to London, and aid for refugee camps in the Netherlands.

 

After serving in Giethoorn, he became a minister in Amersfoort and Amsterdam. He served as president of the Dutch Mennonite peace-organization, and worked for the library of the Peace Palace in The Hague. He wrote for the 'Brieven', published several books, and was one of the editors of the Mennonite Hymnbook (1944). His work for the 'Gemeentedagbeweging' strengthened international relations, and helped to widen the goal of the 'ADS'  the 1924; 'enhancement of worship-services' (mainly by supporting the Seminary), was expanded with: Support of material, ethical and religious interests of Mennonites, and representation.

 

Tjeerd Hylkema was a modest man, who in spite of his poor health, could realize many of his ideals. He was a great help to the Dutch Mennonites entering the twentieth century.

 

Entrepeneur and Reformer

Author: Nataly Venger

Johann Cornies – a representative widely trusted by Mennonites, who made his career by working for the Russian government. The government supported Cornies as a promoter of reforms. His values differed from the values of religious leader J. Warkentin who insisted on keeping congregations isolated and refused cooperation with the  Russian elite. The public support received by Cornies was based on his success as an entrepreneur. He was involved in trading, sheep breeding and brewing and he owned a small businesses. The profits from his agricultural business he invested in the development of industry, a determining sector for the future success of the colonies.

 

Leader of settlements and of societies

Johann Cornies started his career in 1817 when the Guardianship Committee nominated him as leader of the new Danzig settlements. He then took over the colonies of emigrants from Wittenberg. From 1825 he was working on the ‘Nogan project’ which aimed to civilize the Nogay population. Cornies demonstrated wonderful administrative skills, tolerance and an ability to match the demands of the Russian government with the needs of a traditional society.

Being a leader of ‘The Forestry Society’ (1830) and ‘The Agricultural Society’ (1836) he managed to oversee many projects concerned with economic progress. ‘The Agricultural Society’ existed until 1871.

 

Innovations and Neu-Halbstadt

During the time in which the landless population grew, Johann proposed a new plan,  which devoted small land areas in the suburbs of the colonies to members of the congregations. He donated 100.000 rubles of his personal savings to the establishment of a new colony named Neu-Halbstadt.

Cornies was a private banker who lent money to Mennonite and German entrepreneurs, Russian landlords and politicians, and who made communities supply credit to young entrepreneurs. Johann organized a program in which Mennonite craftsmen taught craft skills to Bulgarian youth. He successfully reformed the education system.

 

Future oriented

Cornies believed that the goal of the Mennonite ideology was to keep the settlement together and to establish justice within the congregation. His beliefs were influenced by his pietistic values. Even though he was an authoritarian leader, he achieved positive changes within the colony. He was certain that the future of the colonies in a modernized Russia depended upon the market developments within the settlement. Thus most of his reforms were focused on future success. The results of his projects were positive and evident in the decade that followed.

Committed to the disabled

Author: André Hege
Translator: Christopher Mobbs 

Two Foundations in the Paris area, ‘Les Amis de l’Atelier’ and ‘Domaine Emmanuel’ are closely linked to French Mennonite history. These groups have helped or guided 4.000 people in 70 institutions and services.

 

History

This activity was initiated in 1950 through the friendship between Mennonites and a family with a disabled child.  Something had to be done about  the situation of the child, and in a small prefabricated building with neither water nor electricity a group of children started meeting. This insignificant initiative was developed into something more substantial through the creation of a first ‘Assistance through Work’ Centre in Chatenay-Malabry and then a second Centre with accommodation for disabled people in Hautefeuille, in the countryside East of Paris.

 

Little by little, with government funding, our development has progressed. We have become more professional, seeking to better understand the individual needs of each person and to personalise their care.  The accommodations are adapted to assure maximum community integration. Home support services have now been added for those who can, with the right care, continue to live at home.

 

Both Foundations have created Centres specifically built and run for older disabled people. The ‘Domaine Emmanuel’ has developed special facilities for those who are mentally disabled after a mental illness.

 

Brotherly love: Accepting different points of view

Some of our homes provide full time medical care for those who need more intensive care. The two Foundations now have facilities for those suffering from severe disabilities. Both, working with Medical Institutes, welcome disabled people and in particular autistic children. Through these services we spread a message of respect and consideration which we pass on to disabled people.

 

We want to show consideration and respect to everybody, helping them to become responsible for their own lives as much as possible. It is also our aim to integrate disabled people into a normal work situation whenever possible. Providing somewhere to live and work creates integration and reduces the feeling of isolation.

 

We believe that brotherly love is increasingly being affirmed and revealed through our willingness to accept different points of view. Our experience must always remain appropriate to today’s needs and must show both creativity and adaptability.

 

Our websites (in French)

http://www.fondation-amisdelatelier.org/

http://www.aede.fr/