I will, as promised in the last post, write about Katie Funk Wiebe and her book You Never Gave Me a Name, within the week I hope, but first this….
I’m just back from the launch of Leaders Who Shaped Us, a book of 25 biographies of Canadian Mennonite Brethren. (This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Mennonite Brethren denomination, and the centennial of the Canadian part of it.) Harold Jantz (left) planned the book, served as its editor, and also wrote six of the biographies. This evening, in his usual passionate and persuasive way, he highlighted the significance of some of them. Abram Kroeker, for example, not only a key early player in the potato growing industry of Manitoba, but a tireless promoter of Sunday school in churches, so much so that he became known as Mr. Sunday School. And entrepeneur C.A. DeFehr who was always on the scene, it seemed, when it came to building up the institutions of the church.
It was while he was on holidays, Jantz said, and thus energized, that the idea for the book came to him. He realized that he knows a great deal of early Canadian MB history, and he also knows how quickly memory can disappear. He put together a list of 25 names out of a great many he could have chosen — 25 people who demonstrate influence and “shaping” of the Canadian church in various ways over the century. A number of the biographical subjects, including Herb Neufeld, John Redekop, Nick Dyck, and others, are still alive. David Ewert, who is also written of in the book, is unfortunately very seriously ill following a stroke several days ago.*
Nineteen writers contributed to the volume in all, and those of us from Winnipeg who were around — Ingrid Koss, Dorothy Siebert, Sarah Klassen, Doug Heidebrecht, and myself — participated by reading a portion of our piece or talking about the experience of researching and writing our particular subject. I had written the article on B.B. Janz, “Moses” to some 20,000 Mennonites who managed to leave the Soviet Union in the 1920s and subsequently a leader in many aspects of Mennonite life here in Canada. I found him quite compelling. He was intelligent, sensitive, and persistent to the point of stubbornness. I liked his position on how conscientious objectors might have participated during World War II (as non-combatants, but providing service in the interests of life even on the battle front), though he annoyed conservative Mennonites by it and had no success with the government in developing such a program either. There was even a small personal connection, as my mother whispered to remind me after my little spiel tonight; B.B. Janz had ordained my father for church ministry.
I saw the completed book for the first time this evening. It looks great and I can hardly wait to read it.
*David Ewert died April 23, 2010. See post in his honour.