On Sept. 18, 1923, the first issue of a four-page newspaper appeared in Newton, Kan., bearing the grandiose title of Mennonite Weekly Review. The goal, according to H.P. Krehbiel, president of the Herald Publishing Co., was to provide “an English Mennonite periodical suitable particularly to the needs of the Middle West.” Not long thereafter, the periodical extended the scope of its coverage by identifying itself as “A Mennonite Family Paper — Published in the Interest of Mennonites Everywhere.”
Today, more than 90 years later, the paper is still going strong, bearing since 2012 the even more expansive title of Mennonite World Review.
During the past three years, it has been my privilege to write a column for MWR that has tried to contribute to the paper’s commitment to defining the “Mennonite world” in a truly global fashion. The idea was to select a periodical from a group in our global Anabaptist-Mennonite fellowship and then to read through its most recent year. Often, I would also gather additional information from other sources and ask a few questions of the editor or denominational leader by phone or email. My columns attempted to communicate a sense of both the history and the distinctive character of each group through the lens of these periodicals.
Now, after 30 columns, it’s time to bring the series to an end. At the outset, I hoped the column could offer a sense of the colorful variety of groups that make up our global Anabaptist-Mennonite fellowship. Here I was only partially successful. The column featured six periodicals from Europe, nine from Latin America, 12 from the U.S. and Canada and two from Asia. Regrettably, Africa was not represented. This was partially a reflection of my linguistic limitations. Although I included periodicals in English, German, Dutch, Spanish and French, I was unable to read anything in Amharic or Oromo, the two main languages of the Meserete Kristos Church in Ethiopia, our largest national church body. Nor did I feature any periodicals in Hindi or Telugu, or Indonesian, languages spoken by large numbers in our Asian churches.
About half of the 30 groups covered in the column represented conservative fellowships such as the Old German Baptist Brethren; Church of God in Christ, Mennonite (Holdeman); Pilgrim Mennonite Conference; Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church; Bergthaler Mennonite Church and Biblical Mennonite Alliance.
Along the way, I encountered a host of interesting surprises. I had not expected to find a conservative Mennonite devotional text with a monthly distribution of almost 300,000 copies (Beside Still Waters) or a periodical featuring the writing of Amish and Conservative Mennonite women (Ink & Quill). The columns gave me a deeper appreciation for the Old Colony Mennonites in Belize (Leserfreund), Mexico (Old Colony Mennonite Support Newsletter) and Bolivia (Menno Bote), as well as the mission outreach of conservative Mennonite groups in Costa Rica (La Antorcha de la Verdad), the Philippines (Philippine Witness) and Guatemala (Sendas Derecha). I learned about indigenous Mennonite communities in western Canada in the pages of Intotemak and the dynamics of change among Mennonites in the Paraguayan Chaco (Chaco Press).
Clearly, even in a digital age, the printed word still has the power to inform, inspire and build community and identity. I am grateful to the editors of MWR for their commitment to telling the Anabaptist-Mennonite story from a truly global perspective.
John D. Roth is professor of history at Goshen (Ind.) College and director of the Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism.
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