Anyway, last Friday my church was invited to attend a MCC (Mennonite Central Committee) festival in Abbotsford. First off I probably need to briefly explain my connections with Mennonites and what the MCC is and where on earth is Abbotsford?
First off, let me start by saying I cannot in full honesty and conviction call myself a Mennonite. My husband happily is. I am a born again Christian first and foremost and I give Christ my first allegiance as does my husband, however I don't really identify with any one Christian denomination as a key player in my own personal history or really that of my family's. There is probably more than one. Being ethnically British Id say the Church of England at some point or another and more recently Pentecostal revivals in New Zealand (on my mothers side anyway). That said, I hugely respect my husbands particular convictions that stem from his Mennonite heritage and I am interested about learning more even though Im a pathetic pacifist and I feel it is my God given duty to enjoy (not abuse!) alcohol.
Anyway let me answer the easiest question first - where is Abbotsford?
Abbotsford is specifically a rural city. It started off as a small town at one point (a lot like Ashburton, New Zealand) then over time the population really just exploded and its become a city in its own right. Its about a 45 minute drive from Coquitlam where I live. The reason the MCC fest was in Abbotsford is because that is where the far majority of BC Mennonites live.
My last name is Giesbrecht (its is a common Mennonite name apparently), it is my husbands family name and his family on both sides are descendants of Russian and/or Ukrainian Mennonites. However, even though they are descendants of Russian/Ukrainian Mennonites, they were never ethnically Russian, they're ethnic origins are actually German/Dutch. Pretty confusing eh.
Because of the persecutions against Anabaptist groups particularly the Mennonites and to avoid military conscription (which were contrary to their pacifist beliefs), the Mennonites first moved from the Netherlands and Flanders (Northern Belgium) to the Vistula Delta area (Polish Prussia). Eventually molding their germanic dialects with the local Polish dialect to form their own called Plautdietsch (Low Mennonite German). Eventually in 1786, Frederick William II became King of Prussia and he enforced severe fines on the Mennonites in exchange for continued military exemption. However, prior to this in 1763, Catherine the Great of Russia invited Europeans to come to Russia and settle in sections of land esp in the Volga River area and negotiated a specific non conscription special treatment for the Mennonites. The German Mennonites responded to this in huge numbers. The Mennonite Russian colonies that formed and grew were self governing, self educating (school was compulsory for children, a rare thing at that time for farming communities), completely independent and successful agriculturists (esp with wheat) and they staunchly remained just a tad separatist, marrying only Mennonites preserving their low German language and culture, which is still spoken today amongst some Canadian Mennonites.
Of course, the non conscription special status only lasted until 1880s when Nationalism was becoming rife. And losing status this freaked out the Mennonites who had been successfully avoiding Russification and melding with the rest of Russia. The brother of the Tsar promised the Mennonites a compromise, they would not have to be in combat but they would have to get involved with war in other ways. Some Mennonites agreed to this and stayed, others refused and started planning a en masse immigration to to the large cheap land availability of the prairies in Canada and central north US.
By the time WW1 rolled around, the Mennonites in Russia were socially and economically very advanced and controlled huge agricultural and business estates. They had a reputation for outstanding efficiency and quality and were noted across Russia for their agricultural and organizational abilities. The precedent of non-resistant national service that had been established years before and the Mennonites therefore had a system to handle military service requests at the outbreak of war. During World War I, 5000 Mennonite men served in both forestry and hospital units and transported wounded from the battlefield to Moscow and Ekaterinoslav hospitals. The Mennonite congregations were responsible for funding these forms of alternative service, as well as supporting the men's families during their absence.
Unfortunately, Lenin, Stalin and Communism had taken over the Russian Empire by 1915, devastating Ukrainians and Mennonites alike from having their land, grain and livestock confiscated. Mennonites in particular where horrifically targeted being branded as Kulak's - wealthy Christian farmers. Essentially an enemy of the new Soviet Empire. Thousands of Mennonites were murdered, robbed, imprisoned and raped during this period, and villages including (and around) Chortitza, Zagradovka and Nikolaipol were damaged and destroyed. Many more lives were lost to typhus, cholera and sexually transmitted diseases, spread by the armies warring throughout the Ukrainian colonies. After this period many Mennonites were dispossessed and ultimately their remaining properties and possessions were nationalized by the Communist authorities.
In 1920, a famine occurred and Russian and Ukranian Mennonites sent a plea of help to their Mennonite 'brothers and sisters' in North America, who answered by uniting various American and Canadian Mennonite branches to form the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).
The Mennonite Central Committee (www.mcccanada.ca)
Via existing Mennonite Missionary relief workers in Istanbul, Turkey at the time who at great risk to their own lives, entered Ukraine during the Russian Civil War and after one year provided 25,000 people a day with rations over a period of three years beginning in 1922, with a peak of 40,000 servings during August of that year. Fifty Fordson tractor and plow combinations were sent to Mennonite villages to replace horses that had been stolen and confiscated during the war. The cost of this relief effort was $1.2 million. As conditions improved, Mennonites turned their attention from survival to emigration as they saw no future under the communists. The MCC, generated funds to help the Russian and Ukrainian Mennonites emigrate to Canada and join the rest of the Mennonite denominations and start new lives.
"Through the years, MCC has worked to follow the call of Matthew 25:35-36 to reach out to those who are hungry, thirsty, ill or in prison and to welcome strangers. Many Mennonites have experienced war, hunger and refugee flight and long to respond to people facing crises today. 'This donation is given in thanks for help we received many years ago,' writes one woman. 'When I was a child in Russia, I was fed by MCC. When my husband was a prisoner of war after World War II, he received help from MCC. We never forgot.' " (Taken from MCC website). From North America, many groups, fearing state persecution and searching for a way to "live quietly on the land," had left to form groups in Belize, Mexico and Menno Colony of Paraguay beginning in the 1920s.
This is how my husbands family came to Canada. I am unsure if they were in the first wave or second wave of Russian/Ukrainian Mennonite immigrants but either way thats where theyre from. Both sides of my husbands parents families ended up in Manitoba (a Canadian prairie region) where they were born (except for my father in law who was born and raised in Mexico before moving to Manitoba as a young teenager) My husband and his three siblings were also born in Manitoba. By the 2000s my parents in law moved to Vancouver in British Colombia and my husband followed shortly after before moving to New Zealand briefly (my home country where we were married). We both moved back to Vancouver BC where we attend Eagle Ridge Bible Fellowship - a Mennonite Brethren church.
The other half of the Tradex warehouse was a flea market and auctions. I have to say the flea market was quite disappointing with a lot of junk I wouldnt even see at a garage sale. HOWEVER, their auctions are amazing!! They were auctioning off two brand new RVs, a yacht, leather furniture and flat screen tvs. The even more astonishing thing I was told about was that MCC every year auction off a loaf of bread, last year this loaf of bread went for 45,000 dollars. Must be special bread ahahaha. What amazes me is the sheer unparalleled generosity and hospitality of every Mennonite Ive met esp at this event. When you ask someone why on earth would someone be silly enough to spend $45,000 on a loaf of bread I hear, "because its going to help another group of people just like we were in Russia." These people never forget hardship and their history, and as a result it makes for a whole population of people compassionate for other persecuted starving people around the world. I couldn't help but be a bit gobsmacked. Its the kind of peacemaking, industrious Christian love I hear about but don't often see on such a large scale as this.
Before you leave my blog out of being sheer bored from my history lesson (as concise as I could make it thankyou very much!), scroll down and check out the beautiful hand made quilts that were up for auction as well. These usually sell between $5,000-10,000 and they take about 2 or so years to make..
- Varenyky with farmers sausage.
Lots of fat!