I – Family Roots

Family Roots – Chapter OneOur forefathers came from the Friesland area of northern Holland near the Zuider Zee where the “”Platt Deutch”” is spoken to this day. History tells us that many Hollanders left this area during a severe persecution in the sixteenth century. The state church of Europe had become corrupt. Offices were sold to the highest bidder to fill the church coffers. rich scoundrels ruled the church. Popes and cardinals openly committed adultery. They used concubines and bragged of their sexual exploits. Sins were “”forgiven’ at a stipulated price for extra church money. People began to rebel against sin in high places. In Germany, Martin Luther made an impact throughout Europe by nailing his ninety-five theses of protest on the church door at Wittenberg. However, the church warred to protect their control. Ignatius Loyola, a Spaniard, founded the Jesuit order of the principle of “”Absolute and Unconditional Obedience to the Pope. (1Henry H. Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook, 24th ed Grand Rapids:Zondervan 1065, p 680 ) Their motto read: For the greater glory of God. The church felt it their duty to destroy everything that did not agree with the Pope’s decree. This order included all those who protested against the sinfulness in the church office. Multitudes were massacred in the Netherlands, Spain, South Germany, Poland and other countries. Even though the Bible was not in print, the masses were forbidden by the church to read God’s Word. but God raised up men in the clergy who had access to the bible and they grew restless under the sins of their superiors. Bible study was intensified.This feeling of unrest consumed several men in northern Holland — men like Menno Simon. This young village priest in Pingjum had extra time on his hands. Along with other church officials, “”he indulged in playing cards, drinking, and in diversions as…is the fashion of such useless people.”” (2 Cornelius J. Dyck, An Introduction to Mennonite History, Scottsdale: Herold Press, 1967, p 80 ) His heart became increasingly troubled about doctrines in the state church. Did they teach the truth? He wondered how the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper could turn into the actual body and blood of Jesus. Simon turned his spare time into Bible study instead of indulgences. He had agreed with Martin Luther on God’s grace in salvation, but he began to question the practice of infant baptism. (3 Dyck, p 86 ) Again he turned to the Bible. He came to believe that baptism must be a voluntary act of a repentant, believing heart. Through study, Menno Simon also saw a need for pure living which was contrary to the life lived by most church officials. His doubts about the state church became too strong. He left the priesthood to become a leader in the Anabaptist movement. Thinking people were troubled because “”church and state had been so closely linked in the Medieval period that the state considered it…’duty to enforce the accepted belief of the established church.’ ( 4 Dyck p 86) In Holland many Anabaptists were massacred for their beliefs through torture on racks and strangled; some were slowly roasted in fires or burnt at stakes. In the Roman Empire, anyone who dared to be baptized twice were put to death — especially in the Netherlands. Those who left the church suffered persecution. as the Anabaptists increased in number, so did persecution.Studies show that the Belgium and Netherland martyrs could have reached as high as 2,500. The protesting groups were forced to worship secretly. When conditions became unbearable, the leaders searched for a place to live in peace. That place was offered to them by the king of Prussia. He had swampy, useless land in the Danzig area that could be reclaimed. These industrious, thritfy Dutchmen knew how to build dikes that claimed land from the sea; surely, they could turn these worthless acres into fertile farmland. The King made his offer with stipulations. The Mennonites (as they were called from Simon’s first name) were offered freedom from military service for their young men through a privilege tax. They would remain on the land they reclaimed with a promise never to proselyte their Prussian neighbors in their Anabaptist faith. And last of all, the Mennonite children would enroll in German schools and the German language alone would be used for all assemblies. The Mennonites agreed to the King’s conditions. For approximately two hundred years they lived in Prussia. But all things change.Like Jacob of old, families were large and as the Mennonites increased in number, so did their need for land. Where would young farmers live with their new brides? It was impossible to buy land out of their reclaimed area. The King made new demands. The Mennonites were forced to feed armies stationed in their area and to ship quantities of food to the Prussian army. Soon the young Mennonite men were drafted for the army — unless they could “”buy”” their freedom. This was an impossibility for many. During this time the German language was used in church assemblies and children learned to read and write in German. They tried to comply with the King’s orders but they were proud of their Dutch heritage. Yes, outwardly they yielded what their fathers promised. In the privacy of their homes they stubbornly clung to their mother tongue, their mode of peaceful living and the faith in God they suffered for.When the Prussian King made increasing demands and reneged on written agreements, the Mennonite leaders turned to God in prayer. Their answer came from an unexpected source. The Czarina Katherina of Russia needed wheat farmers for newly acquired farmlands north of the Black Sea. Would the Mennonites be willing to move to Russia to farm wheat? This offer was accepted as a signal of God’s divine guidance.