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Fall 1998 · Vol. 27 No. 2 · pp. 197–98 

Book Review

Moving Beyond Secession: Defining Russian Mennonite Brethren Mission and Identity 1872-1922

Abe J. Dueck. Winnipeg, MB and Hillsboro, KS: Kindred, 1997. 179 pages.

Reviewed by John B. Toews

How quickly can a story of faith and Christian vibrancy be lost! For the Mennonite Brethren in Russia the years 1872-1922 marked a period of remarkable church growth, congregational solidity, and conference development. The era was characterized by the growth of foreign mission awareness, evangelism among the Russians, and unprecedented musical progress. Sadly, only a few partial or full minutes survive to document the spiritual energy and vitality of that era.

For example, the recorded agenda of the first conference of Russian Baptists and Mennonite Brethren held in Rueckenau in 1882 focuses on missions among both Russians and Germans and mentions the missionaries by name. The minutes end in a matter-of-fact fashion: “Brother Christian Schmidt preached a concluding sermon about giving to missions. The {198} donations amounted to three hundred rubles.” What happened next? We do not know. There are no records. The documentation of the next Brethren conference dates from 1903. There is again a concern with missions and evangelism, but we have no information about the previous two decades.

As I read through the documents preserved in this volume I wondered what Dr. Dueck experienced while collecting and translating them. There was not much to show for half a century of Mennonite Brethren faith and life. It must have felt like saving a few family treasures after fire destroyed the family home. The “treasures” which survive in this case are official in nature and the author states his intention of primarily focusing “on the Mennonite Brethren Conference and its leadership.” Yet even if he had decided to broaden his scope to include early autobiographies and conversion accounts, or reports on early sermons, worship styles, and faith crises, he would have encountered the same dearth of material.

We must commend the author for doing what he did. His efforts enable us to read about some of the faith and works which characterized our forbears. His is an exacting translation which, while capturing the context of that day, renders the past into a contemporary, very readable English. Some years from now Dr. Dueck may present us with a second volume of documents, especially since Russian and Ukrainian archives are beginning to disclose their Mennonite treasure. Thank you for a job well done.

John B. Toews
Professor of Church History and Anabaptist Studies
Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia

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