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No public mention was made of the corona virus which is cancelling many public meetings these days. On Friday, March 6, a special MHSS evening, the guest speaker was Abe Janzen, a son of Abram G. Janzen, Blumenheim, SK., and a long- time former Director of the Alberta MCC. The Fellowship Centre at Bethany Manor was almost full. People drove in from surrounding communities. President John Reddekopp opened the meeting with announcements and an invocational prayer.
Dick Braun introduced the Jake Quiring Singing Group, consisting of two Old Colony families with young children, and several single women. They sang several accapella songs in Low German and then one in High German. It was interesting to observe that some of the young girls were able to read Plautdietsch from their song sheets. It was later confirmed that thesechildren are homeschooled; no wonder.
Leonard Doell introduced Abe Janzen. A storyteller like his father, Abe swept us along in his stories of the people in various Mennonite colonies in Bolivia. He called this, Connecting with the Low German Speaking Mennonites of Bolivia. His 48 slides helped to illustrate his experiences and conversations.
As a young man, Abe had gone to Bolivia to work for MCC. There he met Kathy, an MCC worker from the USA, who came as a teacher. They were married.
This time he went as a representative of Die Mennonitische Post, and Das Blatt für Kinder, two publications that are read in Mennonite communities all around the world, but are especially prized in Bolivia for all the letters in each issue from Mennonites around the globe.
Das Blatt is used in the colony schools as reading material for the children. Not many families can afford to subscribe to Die Post, but these are offered as reading materials in the small libraries that exist in most MCC centres, so when they come into the larger towns and cities, about every two weeks - the Mennonites always make a stop at the MCC Centre to read Die Mennonitishe Post.
Die Post is well aware of this affection for their paper, and has an annual budget of $100,000 just to meet the need in Bolivia.
Abe informed us that there are about 150,000 Low German Mennonites in Canada, and almost that many in Bolivia also. They are located in 82 Colonies there, plus there are four colonies in Peru now, and some in Argentina. (This is not counting the ones in Paraguay and Brazil).
He told us of the Amish Mennonites from Belize, who had “stared life down” with no motors. They cut hardwood with a carousel of horses turning a wheel. They don’t allow photos, but some young boys allowed Abe to take a picture of them. Half an hour away is the opposite kind of colony with fancy modern farm machinery.
He told of several quiet people making a difference by how they served their people. One, a nurse, delivered 44 babies in 3 weeks.
One man leads a committee that brings in water for an irrigation system, using brick cisterns. Another man is a schoolteacher, veterinarian and doctor. He’s run off his feet, but he teaches himself what he needs to know by firing up a generator and turning on his laptop after everyone else is in bed, so he can watch how-to Youtube videos!
Many farmers ship milk and cheese and make about $70/day. This keeps them from getting rich, but brings enough to meet their needs.
Anna Driedger, who has 11 siblings, set up a small library, so that they would have reading materials.
A 60 year old woman is teaching 15 women Spanish on Monday mornings, so they can shop more intelligently in Santa Cruz.
Another man set up a payphone in a locked fridge on his farm located between the Reinlander and the Swiss colonies. People come from both colonies to use his telephone.
But then Abe also told how he had mentioned to someone going back to Bolivia before he was going to arrive that he planned to visit his cousin on a certain colony. By the time Abe got there, he had already met half a dozen people who knew via the grapevine that he was coming, and they informed Abe that his cousin’s family was expecting him for lunch on Tuesday.
Coffee and refreshments were enjoyed after this meeting.
Saturday was blustery and windy; the numbers that arrived for the 9:30 Annual Business Meetingof MHSS were considerably down.
David Neufeld presented an interesting perspective on creating history, rather than interpreting it. (You will find the text of his devotional in this section, Making History.)
President, John Reddekopp, again chaired this meeting, and we heard financial reports as well as reports from various areas of the organization.
Harold Loewen, Board member, conducted a quick re-election of two Board members whose terms were up. Elizabeth Friesen and Susan Braun were promptly returned to the Board.
Jake Buhler, Secretary of the Board, observedthat there are about 100 Mennonite pastors in Saskatchewan, and we should try to get more of them involved in this organization.
Other suggestions were also noted as things to work on this year.
After a coffee break, and the arrival of more people, we were ready for another session of Abe Janzen’s stories. This time he focused on Connecting with Low German Mennonites in Canada. He urged that we be careful about stereotyping our Mennonite people. There are many kinds, and when we hear of some doing something shameful, we need to ask ourselves what that says about us. There are many groups, even Mennonite colonies beside each other, that don’t like one another at all. Some get along well with other ethnic groups. Some are totally self-reliant, needing no one else.
An outside observer commented that Mennonites don’t love their land; they are always ready to pick up and move on. Is that from our history of migrations?
This talk raised a lot of issues and questions, to consider. The Question and Answer session raised even more questions until time to break for lunch.
This lunch was served by a different caterer than we’ve had for a number of years, Abe and Marge Peters, who did a fine job.
After lunch, Dick introduced Harris Ford again. Harris will be moving on, but reported on last summer’s interviews and expressed gratitude for all he learned and the warm welcome he received at each interview. Dick traveled with him to Swift Current where they met more storytellers, and in all he collected 12 'conversations,' which he transcribed and which are also video-taped. Our archives has a complete set of these.
Efforts are being made to get copies of the interviews that were done 40 years ago, and are now in a Regina library.
Dick Braun told of his and Kathy’s trip to Brazil to be present for the 100th Anniversary of the arrival of Aeltester John P. Wall, who spoke five languages.
Dick is also a storyteller, so we got the background on the migration of many Old Colony Mennonites from our area, to Mexico and some on to Paraguay. John P. Wall became sick, but would not allow an operation and died in Brazil, where he was buried.
A number of the Wall descendants showed up but some said that if they had heard about it sooner, there would have been another 100 descendants there!