Grade 5 students responded with a chorus of “oohs” and “aahs” as Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies summer worker Carmyn Campbell displayed pages of an old diary recorded on the back of evaporated-milk can labels. On June 20, 60 students from nearby Linden Christian School visited the archives to learn about Canadian immigration. Groups of eight students visited the centre for 10 minutes each.
Campbell, an education student and former Canadian conference leadership intern, packed the short visit with fun facts about the centre, and gave students a peek at the oldest book in the archives (more than 400 years). However, the heart of the visit was Anna Baerg’s story.
As a young woman, Baerg kept a diary from 1916–1924, written in German on salvaged labels, documenting her experiences in Russia during the civil war.
Learning the book they were viewing was “her actual diary,” students responded, “That’s really cool!” followed by a hush. Baerg’s vulnerable writing gives readers a picture of the horrors she, her family, and community endured at the hands of soldiers and bandits. Campbell led the children in a discussion of why the Baerg family wanted to leave Russia during the war.
Students empathized with the diarist as she recounts individuals being murdered, the opportunity to emigrate, and torn emotions of wanting to be safe versus leaving friends and family. “I think it would be hard to decide,” said one student. The children observed that Baerg’s story is not unlike that of today’s immigrants who come to Canada in search of a better life, often leaving behind family and loved ones.
Filled with pieces of history and theological writing, the Centre for MB Studies is a valuable resource for students young and old. A visit to the centre provides opportunity to learn about the Mennonite Brethren of the past, helping us understand our present and anticipate our future.