SHIPSHEWANA, Ind. — People who come to northern Indiana with curiosity about the Amish and Mennonites often find their way to an Amish-country attraction that teaches them about Anabaptism.
About 260 people from a variety of Anabaptist church groups gathered Sept. 9 at the Farmstead Inn Pavilion to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Menno-Hof information center with a hymn sing followed by cake and ice cream.
Menno-Hof is a series of walk-through museum exhibits led by a guide explaining the Anabaptist story from its origins in the 1500s to the present. It opened in May 1988 and received its millionth visitor this year.
This year was the 10th anniversary of the hymn sing celebration. Menno-Hof executive director Jerry Beasly said the event was formerly known as “Singspiration,” but that name was dropped because it was confusing.
Beasly said Menno-Hof’s purpose was to share the Anabaptist story with visitors to the area.
“It’s a great place to get up in the morning and go to, knowing you’re going to meet people from anywhere,” he said.
Beasly said he tries to maintain a pool of around 50 volunteers to lead tours. Some volunteers come from all over the U.S. and Canada for 30-day terms leading tours and helping maintain the facility. They are provided with on-site apartments.
Beasly, who has been executive director for the past eight years, as well as from 1998 to 2000, said he appreciated getting to work with people from various Anabaptist groups.
“I think it’s a wonderful way to spend my retirement years,” he said. “. . . I wish more Anabaptist folks could see it and hear it.”
Al Mortenson of Louisville, Ky., volunteers for a 30-day in-house term every spring. He said he particularly enjoys connecting with international visitors.
“A lot of them come to Shipshewana just for Menno-Hof,” Mortenson said. Many international visitors he has talked to express interest in learning about Anabaptism.
“Some really want to learn about Anabaptists because it’s a somewhat different understanding of the Christian faith,” he said.
While Menno-Hof volunteers avoid pushing their faith on visitors, Mortenson said he will often recommend further reading material from the museum store in response to questions about faith.
“[Menno-Hof] clearly presents the challenge of following Jesus,” he said. “It encourages visitors to think more about how they’re going to follow Jesus back home.”
Board member Fern Yoder said Menno-Hof filled a need to explain Anabaptist faith to visitors.
“Everybody wants to know what Amish and Mennonites believe,” she said. “If somebody asks me why I believe what I believe, why I dress the way I dress, . . . it’s because of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Yoder said when she has customers at her business ask questions about her faith, she directs them to Menno-Hof.
Managing director Susan Miller said while she grew up Amish, she never thought Amish people would be interesting to non-Amish people. But in her role at Menno-Hof the past eight years, she has been called to give presentations on the Amish, particularly in areas where new Amish settlements are forming.
“[Menno-Hof] is almost like a local outreach globally,” she said.
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