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Migration changed Mennonites

Staff writer

Mennonites thought of themselves as a community “passing through” the world in their journey from the Netherlands to Poland, then to the part of Russia now known as Ukraine.

But they began to think of themselves as a community that was part of the world when they immigrated to Kansas starting in 1874.

The second event of a yearlong Mennonite Heritage and Agricultural Museum’s sesquicentennial observance, “Faith, Courage, Action — 150 Years,” was a talk Sunday at Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church near Goessel by Bethel College history professor Mark Jantzen

Mennonites left the Neth-erlands because they were persecuted, even put to death, for their practice of baptizing adults.

They lived in Poland for years, then were encouraged to relocate to Russia because of a charter privilege that granted them farmland and exemption from military service in Russia if they would settle there and farm.

Mennonites settled towns across the Volga River with German Lutherans brought to Russia by the same charter privileges.

During their 53 years in the Russian empire, Mennonites saw change in their outlook and views of themselves. They farmed successfully, developed an education system, and formed political offices.

The only institutions that Mennonites ran in Poland were their own churches, Jantzen said.

Pietism became a stronger element of their faith.

“Their communities created high legal, social, and political rules to their theological rules,” Jantzen said.

Mennonites changed from being a community based on replication of family and congregations to a community focused on doing things to better the world, he said.

The recasting of Mennonite self-image while in Russia had a profound effect on adherents, Jantzen told his listeners.

In the 1870s, Russia an-nounced that military service would be coming to settlers in the Volga River valley, and schools established by the Mennonites would now be taught in the Russian language.

“Those who didn’t like that deal could leave,” Jantzen said. And they did.

Last modified Feb. 21, 2024

 

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