Daughters in the House of Jacob: A Memoir of Migration
Dorothy M. Peters with Christine S. Kampen
Daughters in the House of Jacob begins with the stories of Dorothy Peters, a professor of Bible, and Christine Kampen, a Mennonite Brethren pastor. The two cousins set out to explore the “legacy of faith” and “migration of a vocation across generations and gender” in their family. Both authors note that they consciously trace their vocational calling back to their grandfather Jacob J. Doerksen, himself a pastor who had died while his children were still young and whom the authors had never met.
Peters and Kampen begin by sharing their own stories, before tracing themes of family, faith, vocation and storytelling back through the generations of their family, from Peters’ father Leonard and Kampen’s mother Betty to grandparents Jacob and Anna, and all the way back to great-grandparents Agatha and Jacob F. Doerksen.
Drawing on stories shared by “elder-storytellers,” Peters and Kamp capture the family’s oral histories in this memoir. The authors carefully incorporate diverse narratives, allowing divergent viewpoints to be heard, and do not shy away from presenting even some of the painful aspects of the family’s history. The resulting memoir is both generous and honest, and offers a gift not only in capturing the legacy of this particular family for generations to come, but also in contributing to the larger Mennonite church a rich reflection on our shared history.
As a first-generation Mennonite, I appreciated the insights this work offers. The Mennonite history I was taught in seminary took on flesh in the stories of this family’s migration from South Russia to Canada. History comes alive and is given richness and dimension as the authors share the way that events like the Russian Revolution and subsequent wave of migration to Canada shaped this family’s stories.
I must confess that I wrestled with what the authors refer to as “the family mantle of pastoral ministry” or “the legacy of pastoring, preaching and teaching the Bible.” This is less a critique of this particular memoir as it is a caution to all of us to remember that as the Mennonite Brethren continue to follow God’s call to evangelism and church planting, with each generation we graft new members into our collective family tree. Increasingly, Mennonite Brethren are a global people, with diverse stories and cultural backgrounds that reflect the grace of God at work in a multitude of ways in individuals and families.
As I did thesis research listening to the call stories of Mennonite Brethren women, it was my experience that no two call stories are alike. A rich tapestry emerges when we attend to the many different ways God calls his people to particular vocations.
As we embrace this story of God’s faithfulness to successive generations of this family, let’s not forget the many other ways that God’s faithfulness takes expression. Vocation, ultimately, isn’t hereditary: it is always a gift from God, however that gift is received.
—Kathy McCamis is community pastor for House Blend Ministries, Winnipeg. Her MA thesis at MB Seminary was entitled The Mennonite Brethren Practice of Discerning a “Call To Ministry” : Learning from the Experiences of Mennonite Brethren Women.