Along the Road to Freedom

   On August 9 we celebrated the opening of our latest exhibit in the Gerhard Ens Gallery. Along the Road to Freedom is a collection of 26 paintings created by artist Ray Dirks, who is also the Curator at the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery in Winnipeg. This exhibit is on loan to Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) and will occupy our temporary gallery till October 12, 2016.

   In 2008 a group of four people approached Alf Redekopp, then- director of the Mennonite Heritage Centre in Winnipeg, and Ray Dirks with a vision to preserve the stories of Mennonite women who brought their families out of Soviet Union after the Russian Revolution and during World War II. In most cases the husbands of these women had been killed or taken from their families in horrific ways. Alf and Ray accepted the challenge, and the project began. And now, eight years later, the completed exhibit has arrived at MHV.

   On opening night, MHV Curator Andrea Dyck created the context in which these stories took place by providing an overview of the conditions Mennonites faced in the Soviet Union during the Russian Revolution and World War II. Eckhard Goerz read a poetic narrative of his family’s experiences during this time. Ray Dirks talked about the process of collecting these stories and turning them into works of art.

   To remind us that the plight of refugees is still very real and current, Pastor Shadrach Mutabazi, attending with his wife Miriam and two daughters, talked about the family’s experiences as refugees from Congo.

   Pastor Shadrach’s stories and those of the women depicted in the paintings are moving and often horrific. Those of us who have not lived through such experiences can only be grateful that we have been spared.

   Many Russian Mennonite refugees journeyed for years before reaching Canada or Paraguay, where they were finally able to settle and create a new home. Family members sometimes became ill and died along the way. Anna Goosen Giesbrecht, grandmother of Wanda Andres, lost her husband and her son in the Soviet Union and led her remaining six children to freedom in Canada over a period of years. In an act of desperation, she eventually sold her wedding ring in order to purchase food for her family.

   It is remarkable how so many of these people held onto their faith in a loving God throughout their extremely difficult experiences. One can’t help but ask the question, “How would my own faith come through similar circumstances?”

   The United Nations Refugee Agency reports that globally 65.3 million people are currently displaced from their homes. Of these, 21.3 million have fled the country in which they were living and are now refugees. Many Canadians are once again responding to this crisis with generosity, as has been the case in the past.

   Along the Road to Freedom is a moving exhibit, to say the least, especially for the four individuals whose vision led to its creation-- Wanda Andres, Henry Bergen, Nettie Dueck, and Hans Funk. All four were able to attend the exhibit opening on August 9.

   The Gerhard Ens Gallery is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. until the end of August, and then to 5 p.m. through September and October.

Calendar of Events

- September 5: Fall on the Farm - 9:00 – 5:00

- September 18: Supper From the Field

- September 22: Volunteer Appreciation Event

- September 29: Auxiliary Fundraising Dinner

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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