Community Generosity

   News stories in the Steinbach media this week reported that in 2015 Southeastern Manitoba communities have once again demonstrated particular generosity by way of charitable giving. According to a Steinbachonline article, there are nine communities in the Southeast which recorded higher rates of tax filers claiming charitable donations than the provincial average. The same article reports that during the same time period there were ten communities in the Southeast whose median donation was higher than the provincial average. We’re in good company.

   While Mennonites are only one of the faith groups represented in this Statistics Canada information, we at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) know that community spirit has long been a part of Mennonite history. During a time when Mennonite faith, life and culture were still thriving in Russia, the Waisenamt (orphans office) was developed as a means to look after orphans, and later widows as well. This Waisenamt was funded and administered by the Mennonites as a trust fund for the needy. The Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online states: “The Waisenamt, however, established before the mutual credit bank, was most characteristic of the village community and its mutual aid practices. It was in fact a trust organization formed to assist minors who were orphaned, and to administer their inheritance funds. The money could be invested, saved, or distributed according to the best interests of the parties concerned. Evidence that the Waisenamt  satisfactorily served a need is the fact that it was still in existence in the 1950s in a number of Mennonite communities of Russian background, especially in Canada and Paraguay.”

   Mennonite Central Committee had its beginning in 1920 as a response to the extreme needs of Mennonites in the Russia. Esther Epp-Tiessen, in her book Mennonite Central Committee in Canada, records the following story: “On 17 August 1920, Mrs. John Schultz of Milverton, Ontario wrote to Levi Mumaw, secretary-treasurer of the newly-formed Mennonite Central Committee in Scottdale, Pennsylvania. She was responding to a call for contributions of clothing and money for Mennonites in need in what was now the Soviet Union. In her cryptic four-sentence letter, Mrs. Schultz wrote that no one in her community had clothes considered good enough to send overseas. However, she enclosed a donation of $34.08 which she designated “for Russia.”

   In our past and in our present, MHV has been a beneficiary of the community generosity in Southeastern Manitoba. While not all our support comes from this region, most of the approximately $250,000 in donations we receive annually comes from local donors. In the last 18 months, our constituency has also pledged and donated over $2,100,000 toward our Foundations for a Strong Future development initiative. We are blessed to be established in a community where generosity is part of our DNA.

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March 5: 7:00 PM - Vespers Service

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About the Author

Barry is the Executive Director of the Mennonite Heritage Village. While he does not consider himself to be a historian, he places a high value on the preservation and interpretation of the Mennonite and pioneer stories that help people of all ages understand and appreciate their heritage. Learn more about the MHV.

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