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My Tribute to Rev. John J. Janzen

February 7, 2003
(Presented by Ruth Marlene Friesen)

The truly humble don't grovel in gravel; they do exciting things, things they enjoy, just because they are willing to put a hand to anything.

John J. Janzen is a humble man whose attitude is that he has but done the Master's bidding and deserves no special thanks. By faithfully doing all the little things he sees to be done, he has over his 80 years so far - got quite a few big things accomplished. For the most part they've been things he could do gladly, and that have given him great joy.

John J. Janzen was born January 29, 1923 in Gruenfeld, Ukraine, to Rev. Johann H. Janzen and Katharina Lehn. He came to Canada with them at 6 months, to Main Centre, Saskatchewan. Four younger brothers were added to the family. Jacob, Frank, Henry, and William, or Bill, (who was my very first school teacher).

John grew up on a farm at Neuanlage, and when his father died, John became a father figure to his younger brothers, and learned responsibility.

He was married on October 20, 1946 to Nettie Ens. The next month, he was elected to the ministry by his church.

John was ordained at Neuanlage Grace Mennonite in June 1952, and retired as Lead Pastor on April 1, 1986. Whole books could be written about how he served that congregation faithfully, while supporting his family as an electrician, and often giving or helping out people in need that no one else knew about. He spoke an encouraging word at every encounter, and generally let God's love bubble forth in many creative, cheerful ways.

For example, together with Nettie he led many Summer Bible Schools and camps. One summer he organized more than 20 DVBSs, and once was in charge of all VBS work in the province under the Conference of Mennonites in Saskatchewan.

He also loved to teach a week of evenings that he called Winter Bible School, aimed at youth and older.

All that's besides performing 186 weddings, speaking at many funerals, and often being involved in evangelical meetings locally. The only time that he ever turned down an invitation to speak was in Mexico, where he'd already done 23 evenings in Low German, and the doctor said the elevation was too hard on his blood pressure.

It gives him pleasure to know that the course of Bible studies for Grade 5s he organized in the Hague school are still continuing.

Retirement didn't mean afternoon naps forever more. John was soon recruited to fill in as an interim pastor at the small Compass church near Meadow Lake. What was suppose to be three months became three years from 1986-89. It happened again at Hoffnungsfeld church, 1990-92.

He really meant to slow down after that. Honest, he did! But he'd been keeping tabs on our Saskatchewan River Valley Museum in Hague, even while away, and when he paid them a few visits on his return home, he saw work to be done, and simply put his hand to the plow again.

His interest in family history and genealogy had been on-going for many years. In those little pockets of free time that only the truly busy know how to find, he'd written a book on his Janzen family and roots, then one on Nettie's Ens family too. This was all during his years of ministry.

Oh yes, let's count in his slim volume, a self-published booklet on Ruth in the Bible. and the history book, "As I Remember It," done up with the help of Abram Janzen, for Neuanlage's 100th Birthday Celebrations in 1995.

In 1993-94 John got on the museum board and threw himself wholeheartedly into making that a success. Again, when the Letkeman's house-barn unit from Hochfeld was moved onto the grounds, he never asked for titles or assignments. He just saw work he could do, and did it. In fact, he did pretty well all the wiring and plumbing in the new display building. That's when, he says, he began working there on a daily basis, and because people keep coming around for tours when no one else is available to do so, he drops whatever he's at, and gives them his best tour.

I personally had a genealogy pen pal arrive last August, with her brother, and when we took them to the museum, John Janzen was the one who shows us around and had many good stories to tell about almost every item there!

In the summer time he is there six days a week. I believe the work has become just as full-time as his ministry years ever were. They never have separated for him, as he is still in charge of the Saturday night Open Air service that is conducted on the Sask River Valley Museum grounds from June to Labour Day weekend. He still leads a mid- week Bible study for Seniors at Neuanlage Grace, and teaches a Men's Bible study class during Sunday School.

Today, January 29, he turns 80. Most 80 year old men might be signing off and putting "The End" to their life story about now, but not John Janzen. He still has unfinished projects to do.

A school teacher has started a web site for grade Four students that tells the stories of Saskatchewan's various peoples. John has been asked to write up the stories of Mennonite settlers for that level of understanding. He enjoys this assignment quite a lot; it mixes well with his work on a book of personal memoirs for his family.

That's not to say he doesn't allow time for fun and personal relationships. He loves visiting with their four children, and playing with the grandchildren, challenging them to solve puzzles, and telling them stories.

Some of his best stories have come out of a family reunion in the Ukraine, when a number of the Janzen clan went on a 12-day tour in 1997 to the place of their roots.

Since then they've made another trip to Germany where they met cousins never seen before, who had also escaped Russia.

Rev. John Janzen, you may be walking slower and making jokes about being forgetful, but the Lord keeps very accurate records of what you've said and done over the years. I've only named a few highlights to show that you have been a worthy and prolific contributor to Mennonite society and history. I only give you token recognition to show our appreciation. Though it embarrasses your humble spirit, I know that one day you'll have far more crowns to lay at Jesus' feet. The rest of us will wish we'd followed your example and done much more.

May God bless and reward you correctly and completely!

* * * * * *

[Note from Ruth: The above Tribute was presented when Rev. Janzen was still alive. On November 24, 2004, John and Nettie were both killed instantly in an accident in Alberta. They were on their way to their grandson's funeral in Creston, B.C. Shortly after that I was asked to provide the above Tribute for publication in the Historian. I felt it important to offer with it, the following introduction to explain what this dear couple had meant to me personally].

My Introduction

Some people always worry about being misunderstood, or unappreciated. From the time I came home in 1983 to care for my parents, and started attending the Neuanlage Grace Mennonite church, I recognized in John and Nettie Janzen, people who had absolutely none of those hang ups.

They focused on others, and cheerfully stepped in to do many behind the scenes things, so everything would go smoothly for the sake of others, and for God's glory. Being a bit of a church mouse myself, I could admire and appreciate these character traits.

They became especially dear to me for all the visits they made to our home when my mother was so ill, and kept asking for the "preacher people" to come. How often they cheered me when I needed it most! While some people seemed to avoid visiting, not knowing how to talk to Mom, the Janzens had no fear, and always made her feel good too.

The Janzens encouraged my writing, genealogy work, and just about any creative idea I had. Since my parents were not demonstrative with praise, the positive feedback and encouragement from this couple ministered to my heart just wonderfully!

After Mom died and I could go to church again, I was usually found sitting with them second pew from the front-right.

So I felt honoured when asked to write and present a profile of John J.Janzen for the Historians Night, on February 7, 2003 at Bethany Manor. When I asked him directly for some data on his life, they came over, and he graciously began to write down the major events of his life.

It had been my habit to profile some of my friends and put them up on my web site, which promotes my novel of that title, and also the theme of Christian friendship and mentoring. Naturally, my tribute to Rev. Janzen went up in my collection of roses (friends).

I got to thinking that Nettie deserved a spotlight too. Shortly after I did a profile on her as well, and published it on the site. I also gave Nettie a printed copy, and it tickled her with pleasure.

Notice these profiles were written in 2003. Both of these dear friends were instantly in the presence of the Lord, when they were hit by a truck at a highway intersection in Alberta on November 25, 2004.

Personally, I feel it was a gift from the Lord that they could depart together. Neither had to suffer the extreme grief of one being left behind to wait. The tributes to them at their funeral were beautiful!

P.S. I no longer have the tributes on my website, due to some other changes.

[last updated - May/19/2022]
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