Mennonite Historical Society of Saskatchewan

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Farewell and Thank You to Der Bote

By Vera Falk and Verner Friesen

The German language publication Der Bote was first published in January of 1924, just months after the first wave of the 1920s Mennonite migration from Russia arrived in Rosthern, Saskatchewan. That was 84 years ago. Because of a dwindling German readership, Der Bote will cease publication in March of this year [ed. 2008].

To recognize the very valuable contribution which Der Bote has made to Mennonite life in Canada and beyond, and to honour those whose vision and initiative brought the publication into being, several celebrations were planned across Canada. One such celebration took place at Bethany Manor in Saskatoon on October 13, 2007 with about 100 persons attending. The Mennonite Historical Society of Saskatchewan had been asked by current editor Ingrid Lamp to host the event. Dave Bergen, executive secretary for Mennonite Church Canada's Formation Council, which has overseen the publication of the paper, brought greetings on behalf of Mennonite Church Canada. He acknowledged that the end of publication brings significant feelings of grief and loss to long time readers.

The main presentation of the evening was delivered by Esther Patkau, now Spiritual Care Coordinator at Bethany Manor. Esther gave an excellent summary of the tremendous contribution which Der Bote has made through eight decades. Following is the main part of Esther's address.

Der Bote has successfully carried out its initial purpose and intention: to build bridges between the old and the new. Changes have come in format, in style, in content, but Der Bote has week by week faithfully recorded the history of the Mennonites in Canada in articles written by its readers - in layman's language terms. It has documented the experiences of the Mennonites through the good times and the difficult times, through testings and celebrations.

In the 1920s it recorded the pains of loss of homeland and loved ones, of separation from family and friends, of adjustments to a new country, new language, different culture and practices. It carried the names of those who were new arrivals and locations where they established new homes, thus building a communication network between relatives and friends.

In the 1930s Der Bote was a vehicle of consultation and advice of how to improve agriculture practices in times of drought and crop failures. It encouraged the readers to continue strong in the faith. Whenever word came about the struggles of the Mennonites who had remained in Russia, the fate of the families who were being ripped apart by the Stalin regime, or of those sent into Siberian exile, the messages were spread through Der Bote.

In the 1940s with pressures that came with the war, Der Bote directed attention to the young men who faced military conscription, and chose to become conscientious objectors (CO).

In the aftermath of World War II, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Der Bote was an instrument through which refugees and displaced persons from Ukraine and in Germany were reunited with relatives in Canada. It brought descriptions of the needs of those who had been relocated to Paraguay and assisted in providing aid to those who were trying to eke out a livelihood there.

When the door began to open so that Mennonites from Siberia could be repatriated to Germany in the late 1970s and 1980s, Der Bote carried many lists of names, eventually leading to eight pages as an insert for many weeks, listing names and addresses of those who were being repatriated to Germany. In all it listed over 30,000 names of Umsiedler over a period of 20 years, but then because of increased costs leading to a deficit in publishing these lists, the listings had to be ended.

Der Bote has been an instrument to strengthen the faith of its readers. From the beginning there was "Oberlicht" - a weekly devotional. In later issues it was renamed "Licht von Oben" - (Light from above) which gave devotionals or sermons as preached in a congregation somewhere.

For about ten years, 1940-1949, Der Bote presented "Biblische Geschichte" - Sunday School Bible lessons as prepared by Rev. John G. Rempel; later others, like Sarah Lehn, continued writing more lessons. In recent years Der Bote has carried the adult Sunday School lessons from the Uniform Series, translated into German.

The annual prayer week devotionals have been published, so that even if the readers could not attend the sessions in their church, they had access to the devotional material.

Der Bote has documented the history of our schools. German English Academy in Rosthern was already in its teenage years when Der Bote was born. When the new immigrants became students or faculty, Der Bote carried articles depicting life at the school both in the living quarters and its classroom studies. It told the story of the change from GEA to becoming Rosthern Junior College in 1946, and other developments since then.

Der Bote has reported on beginning, development and closing of other educational institutions - the various small Bible schools that sprouted in the 1930s, scattered through the provinces, including Rosthern Bible School and Swift Current Bible Institute. It documented the vision for future needs that led to establishing Canadian Mennonite Bible College, and more recently the change to Canadian Mennonite University.

The Rosthern Bible School had its beginnings in 1932, and students from that institution were contributors to Der Bote to tell of the activities and its outreach into communities through student groups who visited churches, or taught Sunday School in nearby rural schools. It has carried reports on young people going out in summer months to teach Daily Vacation Bible School in scattered, isolated, small Mennonite communities.

Der Bote has influenced young people. It has expressed the concerns of church leaders and families on how to keep the young people interested in faith and church activities. For several years a section referred to as "Jugendecke" (a page for youth) even printed articles in English to engage the youth, reporting on the activities of the Youth Organizations, both in Saskatchewan and other provinces. It documented young people's retreats and summer camps.

The annual provincial and Canadian conferences, the ministerial and women conferences, even Mennonite world conferences, have received their fair share of publicity - first the outline of program schedule and invitations to attend, then the reports of discussion and decisions at conference. "Referate" - papers on various topics and issues presented for discussion at conferences have been printed in full. The readers learned to know the issues that conference and churches faced, and they learned to know the leaders.

Through the years there has been a section called "Aus Gemeinde" (from the churches) which has reported on the many house worshipping groups in the 1920s, that lead to becoming organized congregations. It has brought reports from churches across the country, their activities, their special events of baptism, communion services, Christmas and Easter celebrations, song fests and choir workshops. The ordination of ministers, elders, missionaries, the commissioning and sending out of MCC and other relief workers has been documented, and also the ministry of these workers in their varied places of work. Do you recall the reports of C.R. Klassen and Peter Dyck in the late 1940s after the end of World War II of their MCC ministry in Germany, finding the displaced Mennonites from Russia and Ukraine and their efforts to help them emigrate to Canada and later to Paraguay? Through those reports and publication of the names of the displaced, many found their relatives in Canada. Der Bote has carried many articles giving insight into the ministry in Canada, e.g., the work of the Pioneer Mission among the Native people in northern Manitoba, and the mission ministry abroad, the readers were willing to pray and to give financially and from their material possessions to minister to those who were less fortunate, and to support conference projects. The readers learned to know the workers.

Der Bote has also been a supporter of women's auxiliaries (usually referred to as Ladies Aids). When the small periodical, Missionary News and Notes, published by the General Conference Women's Missionary Association in USA, dropped the German supplement in 1946, the Canadian women put out "Unser Missionsblatt" (Our mission paper) in the German language to report mission work to Canadian women. But that paper suffered financial problems and was discontinued in 1963. After that Der Bote took up the challenge and included a regular page for women's ministry, under the title " Frauenseite Daheim und Draussen" (Women’s page for home and abroad reports). That has continued to the present and gives accounts of the work that women do in their congregations and conference.

Who can count the hundreds of obituaries that have been published, giving the life story of individuals who loved the Lord, in their life related to others beyond family members and have been a blessing to those who knew them! Through the publication of their names, friends across the country have been notified of their passing, and readers have taken note of God's leading in the lives of the individuals.

Who has counted the reports of anniversaries, birthdays, weddings, school reunions, retreats, seminars, family gatherings, and special celebrations that have been described? Each one has affected one or more readers. It has been communication within the Der Bote family.

Der Bote has also been the vehicle to introduce its readers to new publications with its advertisements and book reviews. It has carried literature from past and present writers, poetry, hymns; some books have been printed in instalments.

Der Bote has had a reader's forum where ideas and opinions, support and criticism, reactions and suggestions on issues discussed, have been given expression.

Der Bote has been more than just a weekly periodical that came into homes to provide reading material where several decades ago money was scarce and books were few. It was a letter from friends to friends, sharing emotional and spiritual values, raising questions, giving answers.

The articles in Der Bote have been indexed in several volumes. What a rich resource for finding the history of our parents and grandparents. These indexes are of great value for finding information on what is being researched, whether on individuals, families, congregations or other topics.

See also Der Bote Celebration Comments by Dave Bergen from Mennonite Church, Canada.

[last updated - Aug/26/2021]

Mennonite Historical Society of Saskatchewan

Room 900 - 110 La Ronge Road,
Saskatoon, SK, S7K 7H8
Archive Hours: Monday: 1:30 - 4:00 p.m. Wednesday: 1:30 - 4:00 p.m. & by appointment on Wed. evening.