Syria and its refugee crisis have been prominent in the news of late. Because of atrocities taking place in that country, many of its residents have fled to find homes in a number of European countries. It seems to me that conditions in my home country would need to be extremely bad before I would choose to leave my home, my possessions, and maybe some of my family to re-establish myself in another country. And indeed, life in Syria currently appears to be exceptionally difficult.

   As I listen to the news, my mind is often drawn to Mennonite history stories I’ve heard from the 1920s and 1940s. Life in the former Soviet Union became very difficult for many people during those time periods.

   In her book The Russlaender, Sandra Birdsell tells the story of a young girl who lives through the horrors of 1920s Russia. During this post-World War I era, bands of bandits were raiding and brutalizing communities, particularly large estates. The girl in the story lives on an estate owned by a wealthy Mennonite because her father is an employee of the farm. The estate owner and most of his family are murdered by bandits. While the girl survives the massacre by hiding in a pit prepared for her by her father, she spends years experiencing the hardships common to refugees in that country at that time.

   When I was a boy, George Sawatzky was a professional photographer in Winkler. At that time, Mr. Sawatzky lived alone because he had become separated from his wife and daughter during their panicked attempt to flea Russia after World War II. He succeeded in getting onto the train (and eventually to Canada), but his family did not. As a result, they spent decades living in separate countries. When George and his wife finally located one another in their later years, Mrs. Sawatzky came to live in Canada, but their daughter only came to visit because she was now an adult and had a family of her own.

   Being refugees is part of our history as Mennonites. How quickly we forget the impact of those experiences. At Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) we try to help people remember and value their roots.

Fall on the Farm

   Our last festival of the 2015 season was wonderfully successful. Despite all the rain preceding the event and forecasted for festival day itself, we were blessed with a beautiful sunny day, with enough wind to keep the mosquitos in hiding and to provide a milling demonstration in the windmill. More than 1,900 people chose to come and enjoy the various pioneer demonstrations, entertainment, and food. While this is not a record turnout, it’s right up there with the best turnouts we’ve seen in recent years.

   The hog- and chicken-butchering demonstrations are always highlights at this festival. Children are quite fascinated to see all the parts of a chicken laid out on the table. Adults and children alike are intrigued by the process of making and smoking sausage.

   The ground was too wet for any field-work demonstrations, but the steamer was operational and did some of its work sawing lumber at the sawmill and also threshing a load of wheat sheaves. Firewood was cut by a horse-powered saw and the umgang.

   Many visitors took the opportunity to enjoy an MHV waffle with vanilla sauce, prepared by our MHV Auxiliary. This festival also offered fresh apple fritters and corn on the cob.

   We are grateful to have been so well supported by our constituency this year.

Calendar of Events

September 20 – Supper From the Field (4:30 & 6:30)

October 1 – Livery Barn Restaurant and outdoor Village closed for the season

October 4 – Vespers Service (7:00 PM)


October 15 – Volunteer Appreciation Evening (7:00 PM)

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. is Steinbach's only source for community news and information such as weather and classifieds.