Sunday, December 29, 2013

What does Anabaptist mean?

The name Anabaptist is derived from the Greek term anabaptista, or "one who baptizes over again." This name was given them by their enemies in reference to the practice of "re-baptizing" converts who "already had been baptized" (or sprinkled) as infants.  [1] Anabaptists required that baptismal candidates be able to make their own confessions of faith and so rejected baptism of infants.

The early members of this movement abhorred the name "Anabaptist", claiming that since infant baptism was unscriptural and null and void, the baptizing of believers was not a "re-baptism" but in fact the first baptism for them. Balthasar Hübmaier wrote:

“I have never taught Anabaptism. ...But the right baptism of Christ, which is preceded by teaching and oral confession of faith, I teach, and say that infant baptism is a robbery of the right baptism of Christ...” [2]

(1) Harper, Douglas (2010) [2001], "Anabaptist", Online Etymological Dictionary, retrieved April 25, 2011.n

(2) Vedder, Henry Clay (1905). Balthasar Hübmaier, the Leader of the Anabaptists. New York: GP Putnam's Sons.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Part one: Low German Mennonite History. From the Netherlands to Poland

Tracing the steps of my ancestors back as they began seeking religious freedom and Catholic priest, all the way up to 1540s in the early 1540s the Anabaptist movement in the Low Countries along the North Sea had become under the influence of Menno Simons, a former Catholic priest.  He faced severe persecution along with his followers known as Mennonites.  "What is a Mennonite?" explains how this happened.)

Spain ruled the Netherlands at the time and the Spanish Inquisition had no mercy for the Anabaptists, who believed in baptizing only adults upon confession of faith, refused to bear Spain ruled the Netherlands at the time and the Spanish Inquisition had no mercy for the Anabaptists, who believed in baptizing only adults upon confession of faith, refused to bear arms, and insisted that the church and state be separate.  The Martyr’s Mirror documents many gruesome events that took place in the Spanish Netherlands.  Over 1,200 martyrs sealed their faith with their own blood in the region.  Of these, three-fourths were Mennonites.

The severe persecution caused the Anabaptists to look for a place where they could live their faith without the threat of torture and imprisonment.  To many Mennonites, Poland seemed to be the answer.  A huge number of the Polish population had been wiped out by the plague.  Rich farmland in the Dazing region along the Baltic Sea was flooded and in ruins.  This appeared to be a land of opportunity and a large number went there by boat from the 1530s to 1600.
Dutch businessmen hired the Mennonites to build dikes and to drain the lowlands along the Vistula and Nigot River deltas in northern Poland.  This was not new work to the Mennonites, who were used to building dikes in Holland.  Draining the land, which was from three to seven feet below sea level, was no easy task.  Swamp fever was a serious problem and over half of the first settlers died.  With time, the swamps were turned into rich farmlands.

Because of their valuable contribution to the country, the Mennonites enjoyed limited freedom in their early years in Poland.  However, they were not granted citizenship rights nor were they allowed to build their own church houses.  The Mennonites met at their homes, where services were held in the barns and sheds.  During this time the bishop, ministers, and deacon leadership was organized.  Menno Simons visited the region in 1542 to help resolve a church dispute.

             In 1642, King Wladislaw IV of Poland demanded an annual sum of money from the Mennonites in exchange for the right to live in his country.  They were also allowed to have their own schools, which was wary important to them.  The right to build plain, simple church houses was granted around 1750.  By this time High German had replaced the Dutch language for church services.  The Bible had not been translated into their everyday Low German (Plattdeutsch).   There is more on the history about the language in my post (“why is it Low German?)

  By now the several Polish surnames like Sawatsky, Rogalsky, and Pankratz were found among the Mennonites. Not enough land was available to support the growing farming communities, and many Mennonites became merchants, weaver, and artisans.

                War broke out, and in 1772 the country of Poland was divided among Prussia, Russia, and Austria.  The Mennonites were now under Prussian-ruled government, laws were passed to keep them from purchasing more land.  Military exemption was granted only after large cash payments were made.  The state did not recognize the Mennonite ministry and did not allow them to preach on public grounds.  

               This meant a Lutheran minister would have to attend Mennonite burials, as the cemeteries were public ground.  To avoid this, some Mennonites established family burial plots in their front yards.  Neither did the state recognize marriages performed by the Mennonite ministers. 

            Unreasonable tithes were demanded by both the state and Lutheran Churches.  For many Mennonites, it didn’t appear as if Prussia held any future for their church.  It was time to seek another country, as their ancestors had done over two centuries earlier.  In the late 1780s, when Catherine the Great invited them to farm the steppes of the Ukraine, many Mennonites felt that God was answering their prayers. Click here to continue reading Part two: Low German Mennonite History. From Poland to Russia the Ukraine.

           Credits go to beautifully written book (Called to Mexico.)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Why is it Low German?

I so often get asked: "Why is it Low German?"

Plautdietsch speakers today are mostly the descendants of Mennonites who fled from what is today the Netherlands and Belgium in the 16th century to escape persecution and resettled in the Vistula delta. They took with them their Dutch, Frisian and Dutch Low Saxon dialect, which over time they mixed with East Low German dialects, the so-called Weichselplatt, of the region.

As Mennonites they kept their own (primarily Dutch and Low-German) identity, using Standard Dutch well into the 18th century. At the time of their migration to the Russian Empire, their spoken language resembled the dialects of the region with only some few Dutch elements.

Their East Low German dialect is still classified as Low Prussian, or simply Prussian. Russian Mennonites trace their genealogical roots mostly to the Low Countries and north Germany, and to a lesser degree to southern Germany and Switzerland.

Beginning in the late 18th century, the expanding Russian Empire invited Germans and many from the Kingdom of Prussia, including many Mennonites, to create new colonies north of the Black Sea in an area that Russia had recently acquired in one of the Russo-Turkish Wars. This is now part of present-day Ukraine as well as other countries. Beginning in 1873, many Plautdietsch-speaking Mennonites migrated from Russia to the United States and Canada.

In 1922 Plautdietsch-speaking Mennonites from Canada started to settle in Mexico, and in 1927 in Paraguay. In the 1930s Mennonites emigrated from Russia directly to Brazil. The first Mennonite settlement in Bolivia was founded in 1957 by Plautdietsch-speaking Mennonite from Paraguay. Soon very conservative Plautdietsch-speaking Mennonites from Canada, Mexico, and Belize also relocated to Bolivia, settling together. In 1986/7 a settlement was founded in Argentina by Plautdietsch-speaking Mennonites from other Latin American countries.

High and Low German

There are two principal divisions of the German language: High German, or Hochdeutsch, and Low German, or Plattdeutsch. One of the most striking differences between them is the result of a consonant shift (usually referred to as the second, or High German, sound shift) that took place before the 8th cent. A.D. in certain West Germanic dialects.

This sound shift affected the southern areas, which are more elevated and hence referred to as the High German region, whereas it left untouched the Low German prevalent in the lowland regions of the North.

In a broader and purely linguistic sense, the term Low German can also be extended to cover all the West Germanic languages in which the second sound shift did not take place, such as Dutch, Frisian, and English.

English: I (will) make (something) to eat and then go to sleep.

High German: Ich mache essen und gehe dann schlafen.

Low German: Ik maak eten un gah denn slapen.

Friday, December 20, 2013

What is a Mennonite?

The Mennonites are a Christian group based around the church communities of Anabaptist denominations named after Menno Simons (1496–1561) of Friesland (at that time, a part of the Holy Roman Empire). Through his writings, Simons articulated and formalized the teachings of earlier Swiss founders. 

The teachings of the Mennonites were founded on their belief in both the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ, which they held to with great conviction despite persecution by the various Roman Catholic and Protestant states. 

Rather than fight, the majority survived by fleeing to neighboring states where ruling families were tolerant of their radical belief in believer's baptism. Over the years, Mennonites have become known as one of the historic peace churches because of their commitment to pacifism.
In contemporary society, Mennonites either are described only as a religious denomination with members of different ethnic origins or as both an ethnic group and a religious denomination. 

There is controversy among Mennonites about this issue, with some insisting that they are simply a religious group while others argue that they form a distinct ethnic group.  

Some historians and sociologists treat Mennonites as an ethno-religious group, while other historians challenge that perception.

There are about 1.7 million Mennonites worldwide as of 2012. Mennonite congregations worldwide embody the full scope of Mennonite practice from "plain people" to those who are indistinguishable in dress and appearance from the general population. 

The largest populations of Mennonites are in India, Ethiopia, Canada, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the United States, but Mennonites can also be found in tight-knit communities in at least 82 countries on six continents or scattered amongst the populace of those countries.

Below are the Mennonites I am mainly posting about.

There are Low German Mennonite colonies in Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Mexico, Uruguay, and Paraguay, who are mostly descendants of Mennonites from Eastern Europe. A small Mennonite congregation continues in the Netherlands where Simons was born.

I will be adding more posts about the Eastern European Mennonites, tracing the migration history.

I got most of these facts from               

Friday, December 13, 2013

The secret life of a Low German Mennonite Teenager

Sundays we were allowed to visit with other youth, either at someone’s home or out on the streets of our colony (darp).  At the age of thirteen, we no longer required adult supervision.  Most of the time we sat around eating sunflower seeds, wishing boys from a different darp would come and visit us.  Sometimes we drank coke, but not everyone could afford it.

The conference Mennonite teens would play volleyball or go on trips to the mountains or have movie days. They drove cars.  We Old Colony Mennos didn't drive cars at the time, or dare to join in with their sinful activities. 

In our darp, there were two Conference Mennonite families; we got along fine with them.  I remember being jealous, though; it seemed like they had a much better life than we did.

Occasionally we would go to their house on a Sunday to watch movies.  The first time I went we watched Home Alone; it was so much fun I had butterflies in my stomach, but it was kind of scary, too, because I felt like I was doing something wrong.  I always felt uneasy butterflies in my stomach for enjoying myself.

At the age of fourteen, most of us would start smoking.  We smoked in secret because if our parents found out, they would be furious. 

I remember feeling so sick after smoking but I continued to do so because it was “cool” and the boys our age smoked and drank beer and mezcal with coke (mezcal is Mexican liquor distilled from the fermented juice of certain species of agave – you could buy a whole gallon of it for a couple of pesos).

The conference Mennonite youth didn't drink or smoke.  They went to a different school that taught about health and things that were bad for you like drinking and smoking. 

We didn't learn any of that in our school.  We thought we weren't supposed to do it because it was a sin not because it was bad for our health.  We learned from a Bible written in High German, but we couldn't even speak High German.  We were not to question any of this because we were Old Colony not Conference Mennonite.

We didn’t play ball because girls were not supposed to jump or get on the ground since that would cause our skirts to go up and boys might see our underwear.  And besides, what business did girls have playing around like that?  That was shameful behavior.  The Conference Mennonite girls would wear pants under their dresses. But, to us, that was a sin.

There was a man-made lake at the end of our darp; it had a huge dam around it.  One Sunday afternoon my friend Agnes and I were so bored, we decided to go to the lake.  We took off our dresses and went in just wearing our white under dress and we used our düaks (kerchiefs) to do some fishing. 

We both didn't know how to swim.  Suddenly a Mexican man appeared and took our dresses and put them up on a tree far down the dam.  We were very scared.

The water was very muddy.  Our dresses and düaks got all gray from the mud.  We caught some little fish; the düaks were really good fishing nets.  We put the fish in our shoes with some water. 

I held the fish while Agnes claimed the tree to get our dresses back.  We put the dresses on and walked bear foot back to her house, which was not too far from the lake.  We put the fish in water trough at Agnes’s farm. 

When I went home that Sunday afternoon I felt butterflies in my stomach again, and I never worked up the courage to tell my mother what we had done.  Monday morning, while doing laundry, my mom couldn't figure out why my underdress was so gray.  I’m sure she had some idea but she never asked what happened.

By the time I was fifteen my mom realized that letting us go to an evening program with the Conference Mennonites youth was actually a good idea.  From then on we were allowed to go to a Spanish class once a week, my brothers and sisters were not that into it.  I loved it. I went every chance I had.

I loved learning new things, things I had never known of.  I will be forever grateful to my mom for letting me go. It made a huge difference in my ability to learn English when I came to Canada. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Old Colony Mennonites verses Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference in Durango Mexico

Up until 1993 there were only two types of Mennonites living in Nuevo Ideal Durango Mexico: Old Colony Mennonites and Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference.

Old Colony Mennonites:
There are Old Colony churches in most of the Colonies accept the one I grew up in, since it is too small and far from the rest.  Up until the mid-90s, we had to ride a horse and buggy for a good 30 minutes or so to get to the nearest church. After that, we started driving cars and using hydro.  There is still no church in my home Colony.                                

Old Colony women always wear black kerchiefs as a head covering after marriage. 
All females wear a black one to church whether married or not.  On any other occasion, girls wear a white one, usually just to keep warm; we didn't have to wear it all the time.  Women always wear self-made knee length colourful, floral dresses with pleats in the skirt.

We have our own schools and only learn basic math and lessons from the Bible, which is written in High German. One teacher per school, and girls sit on the right side of the school and go until the age of 11-12 and boys sit on the left side and go until they are 12-13 years old.

Evangelical Mission Conference Mennonites:

These Mennonites only had one church for all living in the            Nuevo Ideal area, and all the members had to drive to this one church. They have built a few more new churches since then.  They speak Low German as well and have always used hydro and driven cars.
They don’t wear head coverings and wear modern clothing that can be bought in stores. They also have their own school but use a modern curriculum, they have a teacher for each grade and learn English and Spanish and go until the graduate each grade. 

The pic in this post is from google images

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