Since this column is being written during the Thanksgiving weekend, my thoughts are focused on those things for which I am thankful. It’s really not hard to be thankful living in a country of peace and prosperity, enjoying family, friends and community, and engaged in jobs and other community activities. Reflecting on the past also gives us reasons to be thankful. I’m thankful for the reformers of the sixteenth century: Martin Luther, Menno Simmons, Felix Manz and others who courageously took issue with the church and the government of the day and proclaimed that the church’s teachings and practices were no longer in keeping with the teachings of Christ as found in scripture. It is unlikely that we, the present church in the western world, can fully understand the courage summoned and exhibited by these people. Courage that in many cases led to persecution or death. I’m thankful for stories about people like Dirk Willems who left his “run for freedom” to save the life of his pursuer, only to be recaptured and eventually executed. Willems had a very clear understanding of the value of a person’s life and made a conscious decision to risk his own life to save another’s, even his enemy’s. I’m thankful for leaders who found new places for the Mennonites to settle and live life as they believed to be appropriate. It was always important to them to have control over the education of their children, to worship and interpret scripture together, and to be exempt from military service. Over time the ongoing quest for these freedoms took them to Poland, Russia, Germany, Canada, Mexico, Paraguay and other countries. Despite their intention to live apart from mainstream society, Mennonites made significant contributions to the life, culture and economy of the countries where they relocated, perhaps most notably to agriculture. As reported in Roland Sawatzky’s recent articles, Poland is making considerable effort to preserve historic Mennonite culture despite the fact that there are no longer any Mennonites living in that country. I’m thankful for organizations like the Mennonite Heritage Centre, the Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies, the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada, the Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society and others who work at preserving, telling and interpreting the stories from our past. The latter group developed a vision to preserve and interpret stories through a collection of artifacts more than 50 years ago. In 1964 this vision came to fruition with the incorporation of a museum, today known as Mennonite Heritage Village, which tells these stories to people from more than 50 countries every year. Today I’m also thankful for the people and resources which enable MHV to do its work. A supportive constituency provides significant financial resources to enable its operations. Staff and volunteers bring enormous amounts of vision, passion and talent to this museum. These resources, human and financial, come together in wonderful ways to ensure that future generations will have opportunities to learn about and learn from our history.

About the Author

Gary is responsible for the overall management of MHV. Guiding the staff, informing the board, and networking with officials, volunteers, corporate sponsors, individual donors and other guests. He has a business diploma and a MA in Global Studies from Providence Theological Seminary. With his family he did humanitarian work for 18 years in Asia, including being a CEO of a Compost Enterprise in China. He loves to discuss the Mennonite story and how it is relevant in our world. Learn more about the MHV.

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