A travelogue series on Mennonite places
Visiting Mennonite sites around the world is on my bucket list and with this series of articles I hope we can take a kind of tour of these places together. We will start with the original sites in Switzerland, Holland and Germany, go east to Poland and Ukraine and then to Mexico and Latin America and finish in Africa where there are more Mennonites living than anywhere else in the world.
I’ve had the opportunity to visit Europe twice with my family and found it was a good experience to learn history. It was special to use tangible experience to teach our kids about the Reformation, the underground Anabaptist movement and its real challenges. Our kids were little, but they were amazed by the beautiful homes that Anabaptists (early Mennonites) lived in and how the house where they were first baptized is literally under the shadow the Grossmünster – the Protestant Cathedral of Zurich whose priest and members would eventually drive them out of the city. A 40 minute drive away we found the Täuferhöhle – the ‘Anabaptist cave’ where Mennonites hid with the support of local farmers. In the quiet darkness we prayed and sang just like they did. We could imagine what it cost the Anabaptists to live out their new faith in old Europe.
To feel and see the geography of our direct descendants also deepened our connection. As we drove through the flatlands of Holland’s Friesland, an agrarian region near the ocean, one of us exclaimed, ‘this is why I feel so at home on the flat prairies, but love being near the ocean too.’ Five centuries later the sentiment was still there.
As we left the homeland of Menno Simons we made a stop in Münster, Germany. While Menno Simons was teaching about peace and nonviolence, 200 kilometres away Anabaptists violently took control of Münster city because they believed that it would usher in Christ’s return. We looked way up at its church towers and found the three cages that once held the violent Anabaptist ring leaders. It wasn’t the highlight of our trip, but sobering experiences are important too.
Cultural and history trips can also promote world peace. The more we understand each other, the more we can respect each other. These trips involve developing connections with local people, swapping stories and sometimes even email addresses. At the Mennonite Heritage Village we always enjoy engaging international tourists, telling them our story and hearing from them how we are similar.
While in the Netherlands we visited a historic windmill that produces pigments for painting. When the old miller found out we were Mennonites he invited us into his inner workroom, where there were hundreds of flasks containing all kinds of coloured powders. He was excited to meet us as his wife had also been from Friesland. Holding each of our hands in turn, he looked us in the eye and pronounced a specific blessing to each one of us. We left that windmill feeling connected to a place and a people.