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A faith to die for

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350th anniversary of Martyrs Mirror
Akron, Pa.

Martyrs Mirror is newer than the Bible and longer than some copies of it.

Like the Bible, though, the book has a powerful message for today, said Mennonite historian James Lowry, at a June 8–10 conference, “Martyrs Mirror: Reflections Across Time,” at Elizabethtown College.

We live in a materialistic age, said Lowry, as Dutch Mennonites did in 1660 when Thieleman van Braght revised and added to previous books and records about Christian martyrs, aiming to spark spiritual renewal.

“The Martyrs Mirror is the correct medicine for 21st-century Christians, and especially for Mennonites,” Lowry said.

More than 60 people gathered to mark the 350th anniversary of the 1660 edition, called The Bloody Theater of the Baptism-Minded and Defenseless Christians. In the book, van Braght tells of martyrs from the early church and persecuted groups in Europe through the Anabaptists of the 16th and 17th centuries.

One story tells of Anneken Jans, drowned in 1539 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, after she was arrested for singing a hymn in public. Another remembers Dirk Willems, from Asperen, the Netherlands, who escaped from prison but stopped running to rescue his pursuer, who had fallen into an icy pond, only to be recaptured and executed in 1569.

John D. Roth, professor of history at Goshen (Ind.) College, announced the Mennonite Historical Society in Goshen is planning a conference on the Martyrs Mirror in 2012 and discussing the possibility of extending the collection of accounts to the present day.

“The suffering church has continued in many parts of the world, including in the Anabaptist Mennonite world,” Roth said.

—Celeste Kennel-Shank, assistant editor of the Mennonite Weekly Review, for Meetinghouse.

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