A book written 100 years ago by a German Baptist minister provides insight into the relationship among Mennonite Brethren and German Baptist churches in German communities in what is now Ukraine.
Through the translating efforts of retired educator, Walter Regehr of Winnipeg, Johann E. Pritzkau’s 1914 book, German Baptists in South Russia, is now available in English.
“I feel humbly grateful that I have been able to do something for my Mennonite community to make this material available,” said Regehr at a November book launch hosted by the Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies (CMBS) in Winnipeg.
Religious persecution did not stop Baptists, Mennonites and others from starting a spiritual renewal movement among German-speaking people who had been invited by Catherine the Great to settle in South Russia, Albert Wardin, a Baptist scholar from Nashville, Tenn., told the gathering of 45 people.
Jon Isaak, CMBS director, says the book offers insight into the challenges and opportunities for the German colonists of South Russia to work together.
“Over 100 years ago, MBs worked together with other Christian groups,” says Isaak. “MBs have not always done so. Recently, MBs have once again realized that we can always do more together than by ourselves, even partnering with those with whom we differ as we participate together in God’s mission in this world.”
However, he adds, Pritzkau’s account of the early history of Baptist churches also points out “embarrassing aspects” of early MB missionary activity in South Russia.
Pritzkau writes that membership in a state-recognized church was important to establish national identity since the local church submitted the certificates of death, birth, baptism and marriages to the Russian government.
Although MB churches nurtured and baptized new converts, Pritzkau says they did not grant membership status to new converts from German Catholic and Lutheran villages. The MB church feared it would lose its privilege of military exemption given to Mennonites and their descendants.
In his account about the Baptist church at Kronental, Pritzkau says the first members had been baptized by MB evangelists. But without formal membership in a recognized church, the new converts were considered stateless and suspect. As a result, they turned to the German Baptist Association for acceptance into the Union.
MB influence in Russia is seen throughout the Baptist history book. “We can learn from the successes and failures of that early MB mission, especially as we learn how to work together with other Christian groups,” says Isaak.
—Gladys Terichow is the staff writer for the Canadian Conference of MB Churches