New books for 2021: History books

The Oct. 29 issue of Anabaptist World included several mini reviews of recent books. Some of them are history books.

It’s an answer worthy of Jeopardy! (Anabaptist version): “This nation is home to the oldest Mennonite community outside of Europe and North America.” The question: “What is Indonesia?” The fact that this clue would stump most North American Mennonites is reason enough to welcome John D. Roth’s A Cloud of Witnesses: Celebrating Indonesian Mennonites (Herald). But there’s a timely reason too: Indonesian Anabaptists are scheduled to host the one-year-delayed Mennonite World Conference assembly July 5-10, 2022, at their “Holy Stadium” in Semarang. Thus there’s no better time to follow Roth — who directs Goshen College’s Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism — on a tour of the 170-year history of Mennonites in Indonesia, from their origin in Dutch mission work to their prominent spot on the list of the largest national Anabaptist communities today. — Paul Schrag

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The Bruderhof, a pacifist collection of more than 2,900 people living in intentional Christian community in 23 settlements on four continents, celebrated its centennial last year by producing a visually stunning 300-page hardcover Ebenezer. Another Life Is Possible: Insights from 100 Years of Life Together (Plough) by Clare Stober, with photography by Danny Burrows, includes a nod to history but gives far more attention to the present and highlights about the individuals who have made the community what it is.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about life in community, and I hope the book can dispel some of those,” said Stober, who conducted close to 150 interviews in 10 communities on three continents over two years. “For example, those who have chosen to live together are still individuals. We struggle with many of the same issues others do but find solutions in our life together.”

Beautifully illustrated by Burrows, a professional photojournalist, Another Life Is Possible is just as accessible to Bruderhof novices as experts. It is the definitive window into Bruderhof life.

Included is a foreword by Rowan Williams, former archbishop of Canterbury, who writes, “My friends on the Bruderhof are witnesses to the peaceable kingdom — not merely people who believe peace is an ideal worth pursuing, but men, women and children who trust the God of peace sufficiently to give their lives to incarnating the peace of God.” — Tim Huber

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Canner Boy is a history of the mobile cannery that Mennonite Central Committee has operated for 75 years. John Hillegass, a second-generation canner boy (his father served in the 1960s), describes the challenges and joys of this unique ministry. From his 13 years with the cannery, Hillegass has collected many stories about navigating the confusing world of myriad Anabaptist groups. The cannery is one of the few enterprises that connects diverse Anabaptists who otherwise do not work together well. He tells the stories with humor and respect. The chance for people to connect and be personally involved in feeding the hungry makes operating the cannery well worth the effort. Photos and documents enhance the account. Canner Boy is self-published and available from the author at — Gary Smucker

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If you’re looking for a primer on peacemaking with plenty of dramatic stories, try Resurrection Peacemaking: Plowsharing the Tools of War — Thirty Years with Christian Peacemaker Teams (Resource Publications) by Clifford Kindy. Kindy is an Indiana farmer and Church of the Brethren member who has devoted his life to peacemaking. His consistent message is that war does not work and that “nonviolence is most effective when it intentionally retakes the initiative from the actors of violence.” His work with CPT has taken him around the globe to war zones, where he and others have confronted violence in creative, courageous ways. He points out that the local nonviolent actors in those war zones are equally or more creative and courageous. The book’s short chapters lend themselves to small group study and discussion. — Gordon Houser

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Seven Radical Elders: How Refugees from a Civil Rights-Era Storefront Church Energized the Christian Community Movement: An Oral History (Cascade), edited by David Janzen, is an inspiring book. It follows four women and three men who were involved with an interracial church on Chicago’s West Side in the Civil Rights Era and later moved to Reba Place Fellowship in Evanston, Ill. The book collects interviews with them, with appreciative comments from people who know them. Their stories include their struggles and failures but show their faithful commitment over many years to the way of Jesus. As Janzen writes in the introduction, these elders “present a clear and prophetic critique of the present age coupled with a positive witness to the reconciling love of God in community.” — Gordon Houser

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Veteran Mennonite Central Committee worker Edgar Stoesz, now in his 90s, presents 43 true short stories drawn from a lifetime of service in Stories: Beyond Ourselves (Masthof). One of the chapters consists of 20 vignettes, proving that Stoesz can say something meaningful and entertaining in just a few words. Often with humorous touches, many of the stories illuminate MCC history through his experiences in countries such as Paraguay, Germany and Haiti and his acquaintance with MCC luminaries such as Orie O. Miller and Elfrieda and Peter Dyck. Stoesz hopes to speak to a new generation of MCC supporters who probably don’t know the old stories their parents heard. His stories of the Men­nonite colonies in Paraguay, including the challenges the settlers overcame, are especially well told, based on countless visits over 50 years. — Paul Schrag

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Writing a history of Everence is a complex undertaking. That’s because Everence (known as Mennonite Mutual Aid until 2010) is a massively complex organization, with a plethora of programs, services and subsidiaries needing to be explained. But seasoned historian John D. Roth largely succeeds in Where the People Go: Community, Generosity and the Story of Everence (Herald). He has turned what could have been arcane, dry and confusing into something accessible and understandable.

Where the People Go is much more than a discourse on mutual aid, insurance and investment plans. Roth doesn’t shy away from the conflicts and tensions that occurred in an institution that was on the cutting edge for a church long ambivalent about money matters.

One of the book’s strengths is its descriptions of MMA/Everence’s leaders, both strengths and weaknesses, and how they shaped the organization’s development from a small ministry headquartered in a Goshen, Ind., house to an operation now managing billions of dollars in assets.

Receiving scant attention, however, is an explanation of MMA/Everence, originally an (Old) Mennonite Church institution, becoming inter-Mennonite. Roth briefly notes how it happened but not why. Nor does he address how and why Everence now serves a range of denominations, including the non-Anabaptist Quakers. Just like its financial services, that’s part of Everence’s legacy. — Rich Preheim

Anabaptist World

Anabaptist World Inc. (AW) is an independent journalistic ministry serving the global Anabaptist movement. We seek to inform, inspire and Read More

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