Previous | Next

Fall 1999 · Vol. 28 No. 2 · pp. 187–200 

Early Mennonite Brethren and Evangelism in Russia

John B. Toews

The expansionistic policies of Catherine II (1762-1796) won Russia access to the Black Sea by the end of the eighteenth century. Already in the 1760s she decreed generous settlement terms to any foreign colonists willing to settle in so-called New Russia. Mennonite migrants from Prussia first settled on the west side of the Dnieper River in Ekaterinoslav province between 1788 and 1796. This colony was commonly known as Chortitza but in recognition of its seniority also called the Old Colony. A second settlement, usually referred to as the Molotschna, began in 1803-1804 and was situated approximately one hundred miles southeast of Chortitza. Both colonies spawned a number of daughter colonies in the Ukraine and elsewhere in the immense Russian Empire.

During the first decades of its existence the Brethren house church became the setting both for the conversion of the sinner and the subsequent nurture of the saint.


Under the terms of settlement people migrating to New Russia were grouped according to religious affiliation. Though they all spoke German, Catholics, Lutherans, and Mennonites were required to settle in separated, self-contained colonies. They not only lived apart from Orthodox Russians and Ukrainians but from each other as well. For the Prussian migrants this created an all-Mennonite world characterized by a high level of self-government. In practice this meant that while elders and ministers attended to spiritual matters, some members of their congregation of necessity attended to the affairs of the Mennonite state. In a {188} sense, all village inhabitants belonged to both the heavenly and the earthly city. Russian Mennonites held dual citizenship in two kingdoms and, unfortunately, the dividing line between the two was often invisible. Yet for Mennonite settlers in New Russia this was the only world they knew, and most felt comfortable in it.

In such a merging of church and community it was impossible to separate the concerns of one from the affairs of the other. Every problem, religious or civil, involved everyone, and it was difficult to determine where the jurisdiction of one ended and the other began. Inherently such a system favored the status quo. Longstanding custom and tradition facilitated the interaction between the earthly and heavenly city. Such an arrangement might force the church to tolerate a mundane spirituality and endorse traditional patterns in worship and congregational life. Conformity and stability were nevertheless in the interests of both civic and religious leaders since any shift in priorities threatened a delicate balance. As sincere and spiritual as Mennonite elders and ministers may have been, they could not readily endorse alternate religious structures.

When the Mennonite Brethren rejected the piety of the established Mennonite church in 1860, their nonconformity invoked a sharp reaction from both civil and religious leaders. The existing marriage of church and state brought immediate demands for the suppression of the dissidents. With near unanimity the elders declared that they could not give their consent to the formation and existence of a new religious fellowship. Prevailing religious frameworks, it seemed, made revival in the context of the existing Mennonitism impossible. Little wonder that calls for renewal by individuals and small groups during the 1850s and 1860s evoked a predominantly legal response.


We still lack adequate information on the question of Brethren beginnings. In the mid-1860s, Chortitza district elders Jacob Hildebrand and Gerhard Dyck informed the inspector of the foreign colonies in South Russia that some ten years previously (1855) a Jacob Janzen in Kronsweide began “interpreting the Bible differently.” 1 The report which reached the Department of Religious Affairs for Foreign Denominations in St. Petersburg also noted that during that year some twenty-nine settlers apparently left the church. On April 12, 1855, the elders officially informed the district office that thirty-three families led by Jacob Janzen and Johann Loewen wanted to organize a new church. The district office responded by arresting the leaders and imprisoning them for anywhere between four and thirteen days. {189}

Following several years of calm the religious unrest re-emerged, ostensibly spearheaded by Gerhard Wieler, then a school teacher in the Molotschna. It was Gerhard who organized the one and only book burning in the early story of the Brethren. Ironically some of the very books which originally inspired the religious quest of some of the dissidents were consigned to the flames. These included the sermons of Ludwig Hofacker, Arndt’s True Christianity, and Stark’s Prayer Manual. 2

The early Brethren struggle for equilibrium has been well documented in P. M. Friesen’s monumental compilation. 3 What is often overlooked is the simple fact that from the very onset, the Chortitza dissidents met in homes. When the religious ferment re-emerged in the early 1860s, the district office, with the probable blessing of both elders, prohibited the sectarians from meeting in private homes. When a Wilhelm Janzen from Kronsweide objected, he was arrested, incarcerated six days (March 6-12, 1862), given ten strokes with a birch whip, and fed only bread and water. On March 9, a Peter Berg was also arrested. 4

It is clear from the earliest Brethren records in Chortitza that the early Mennonite Brethren Church was a house church, and that the authorities feared the impact of such gatherings upon the larger community. This practice of gathering in homes for religious edification probably predated the 1850s. In the Chortitza of the late 1830s services were held in only three locations on a weekly basis: Chortitza, Osterwick, and Neuendorf. On December 15, 1838, the diary writer David Epp (1781-1843) records an instance in which unruly youths disturbed house services at the residence of Peter Dyck of Kronsthal. The incident suggests that serious Christians in small villages occasionally gathered for spiritual nurture apart from public worship services.

In the Molotschna settlement three signatories of the Brethren secession document of 1860 relate some significant information about their early Christian pathway. Jakob Wall, Jakob Bekker, and Abraham Peters all link their conversion to the existence of house fellowships in several Molotschna villages during the 1850s. 5 When Jakob Bekker speaks of his rather quietistic coming to faith in 1853, he mentions personal Bible study, the use of a prayer book, and participation in a local house church. Following a lengthy period of penitential agony he notes that “gradually my heart lightened.” On the third day of Christmas in 1854, he “experienced intense joy, for I felt absolutely certain that the Saviour had been born in me.” 6 The setting: a home Bible study. Abraham Peters, reflecting on the years 1853-1855, writes that he and his wife read the Word as a family and in groups with like-minded people until people were converted to the Savior. 7 All three accounts mention the pietist revival {190} preacher Eduard Wuest as a participant in such house churches, but it is uncertain whether he helped establish them or was simply an important catalyst in these small group revivals. The Chortitza house fellowships appear to have no connection with Wuest, at least initially.


The earliest information as to the content and practices of such gatherings also comes from Jakob Bekker’s account. Prayers were spoken, hymns were sung, and some brothers “led a devotional study.” In 1861 observers sent by the Old Church somewhat elaborate on the patterns of early house church activity. 8 The visitors, who attest the authenticity of the reports by their signatures, noted that the hymns were sung “using happy melodies.” Furthermore, “a most unusual joy” found expression when some “waved their hands, made happy faces, and uttered sounds which they called praise.” While the observers noted that the house church worship “transpired in a quiet, orderly manner” and that there were “no transgressions against public order,” they also recorded that the study of a selected text “was interrupted or expanded a number of times by the observations of others.”

This particular sermon in a Liebenau house fellowship was preached in Low German. A Waldheim service was characterized by songs from the Glaubensstimme hymnal, spontaneous prayers, and a dialogue sermon. Amazingly, observers felt that, far from disturbing public order, such participatory exegesis “served to provide a well-rounded exposition of the biblical text.” A Ladekopp house church likewise combined prayer and many hymns with the simple observance of the Lord’s Supper. The descriptions of these services provide one additional perspective: lively singing was accompanied by what observers felt were novel musical instruments—flutes, violins, and harmonicas. Low German services with community dialogue on the biblical text; new hymns and musical instruments; freedom to celebrate the experiential and personal; a spontaneous order of worship; widespread participation in spoken prayer—such patterns characterized early house church piety.

The fact that the so-called Froehliche Richtung (exuberance movement) marred the innocence and beauty of these fellowship groups and jeopardized their public reputation is well documented. The desire to sustain the ecstasy of conversion as well as their inexperience in small group dynamics exposed the emerging fellowships to the domination of arrogant, self-assured personalities. Emotional, out of control meetings attracted undue public attention and brought widespread ridicule. In a sense, the exuberance movement was a celebration of beginnings {191} reflecting a selfish spirituality more focused on emotional joy than on the demands of discipleship. Fortunately this concern with the celebrative and experiential was declared unbiblical by the “June Reforms” of 1865. The initial dynamic of the house church, though somewhat impaired, was not destroyed.

Conversion for most of the early Brethren adherents occurred amid the ebb and flow of everyday life. A long-held truth in Russian Mennonite spirituality required that faith and life were connected. All the documents pertaining to the split from the Old Church, including the reports submitted by investigator Alexander Brune, suggest that the failure of that equation stood at the center of the early Brethren protest. When that protest erred on the side of the emotional, it was ultimately the demand for an equilibrium between the joy of new faith and the demands of discipleship which won the day. Conversion, however joyous, also demanded consistent living. It appears to have worked. In Chortitza the earliest known designation of the dissidents was “die Frommen” (the pious ones), a term not used in derision but in recognition of their godly walk. All that changed during the exuberance movement. Lively, celebrative services soon earned them the name Huepfer—the leapers or jumpers.


How did the Brethren house church practice evangelism? Later nineteenth-century accounts do not provide a composite picture of the process. Surviving documents come from communities scattered throughout the vast Russian Empire. The majority are from the last two decades of the nineteenth century. However localized and dispersed these accounts may be, they provide a very consistent portrait of how the house church dynamic impacted evangelism. Initially in both the Chortitza and Molotschna settlements the structured and formalized piety of the Old Church gave way to the intimacy of private homes, informal Bible discussions, hymn singing, and prayers. In this fashion the Old Church house fellowships of the 1850s became the Brethren churches of the 1860s.

Informal evangelism was an integral part of the house groups from the very beginning. The newly converted wished to evangelize their fellow villagers and did so in the only way they knew how: through Bible study and prayer. Unfortunately there are virtually no surviving documents which illustrate the inner dynamic of this process during the 1850s and 1860s. Its profile emerges more clearly for the 1870s and 1880s, thanks to the efforts of John F. Harms, the editor of the {192} Mennonite Brethren periodical, Der Zions-Bote. During the 1890s he invited his readers to share their conversion stories with his subscribers. Those who responded were mainly second generation Brethren, with the exception of the three secessionist signatories mentioned earlier. More than half of some one hundred and fifty accounts published between 1890 and 1900 portray a local Brethren Bible study group, or several members of that group, as instrumental in leading the individual to conversion.

These house churches might begin with one or two families in a village who invited others to join them. During the first decades of its existence the Brethren house church became the setting for the conversion of the sinner and the subsequent nurture of the saint. Many of the nineteenth-century conversion accounts stress the relational qualities of the care group which easily attracted the serious seeker. Persons of both genders comment on the openness, empathy, and vulnerability which they experienced in the context of the Abendstunde (evening meeting), Gebetsstunde (prayer meeting), or Bibelstunde (Bible study). 9 The style of these simple services was flexible and inclusive. It was a nonthreatening, noncoercive environment which allowed for a sudden soul crisis or the gradual escalation of a spiritual turmoil leading to conversion. This evangelistic setting brought with it an instant caring community already well known to the individual. Counsel and encouragement came from those who lived in the same village and endured the same life stresses.

Evangelism in the context of the house church was effectively supplemented by the Brethren use of itinerant ministers. This practice, inaugurated at the first conference in 1872, appointed five or six ministers to annually visit Brethren adherents scattered throughout the vast Russian Empire. Distances or membership numbers do not appear to have deterred these traveling preachers. Wherever they appeared they conducted Bible studies in homes or schools, occasionally participated in special festivities or celebrations, and always made home visitations.

In such settings the personal and intimate spirituality of Brethren beginnings was easily retained. These visits provided small, isolated congregations with a sense of connectedness and belonging. 10 As conference appointees these itinerants ensured uniformity in worship style, an affirmation of small group spirituality, and theological orthodoxy. It was simply expected that evangelism took place in such a context. Nineteenth-century reports of such meetings consistently record conversions and express surprise and dismay if they did not occur.


The edification of the saint never excluded the saving of the sinner. {193} Surviving excerpts from the 1865 diary of the itinerant ministers Christian Schmidt and Jakob Janz show that “our discussion centered on the fellowship of the blood of Jesus our Lord” and that “we rejoiced that our salvation depends entirely on the fact that Jesus loves us.” 11 At another location they held an “edifying discussion about God’s mercy to us poor sinners.” 12 Just over a decade later Jakob Dirksen of Muensterberg reported on a house gathering where “we experienced with joy how the Spirit of the Lord convicted several youths . . . who pleaded for the forgiveness of God and man.” 13

In the 1880s and 1890s the reports of the itinerant ministers are usually not given to listing the number of sinners saved and saints edified. Rather they record long journeys in order to reach every village where Brethren adherents lived, and it did not seem to matter whether the house church had six or thirty members.

Once on location, these ministers engaged in activities characteristic of the house church: preaching at edification meetings; home visitations; communion celebration; foot washing; participation in harvest and thanksgiving festivals. The Brethren elder and itinerant minister, Hermann A. Neufeld, estimated that over a ten-year period he visited every village in the Russian Empire where there were Brethren. It meant contacting some three thousand homes, preaching an equal number of sermons and traveling over one hundred thousand versts by train and three thousand by wagon. 14 Reflecting on a visit to the Ignatyevo settlement early in the twentieth century, he wrote:

We held the prayer week in the following manner. We brothers and sisters and many others gathered every evening. After one or two songs were sung we opened with Scripture reading and prayer. Then a number who desired to do so prayed alternately. Several brothers and sisters related their conversion. More prayers and testimonies followed. Songs or [single] verses of songs were sung in between. The Lord manifested himself and blessed the prayers and testimonies so that tears were shed and many were [inwardly] moved. It seemed that souls wished to repent and be converted and we had a blessed time. 15

Bible reading, hymn singing, prayers, and testimonies—here was a liturgy with broad lay participation. People could share the personal and experiential, and serious seekers were drawn to such vulnerability. In such a context conversions happened naturally and subsequent nurture {194} by caring brothers and sisters was guaranteed. The place of conversion became the place of discipleship. Following conversion the individual immediately belonged to the small group which the conversion accounts simply designate as die Geschwister, a German term implying deep intimacy, belonging, caring, and concern. The convert’s understanding of the Bible expanded in a setting of community exegesis, and his or her evolving discipleship occurred under the watchful eye of loving brothers and sisters.

The story of the Brethren church in Margenau, Molotschna, somewhat illustrates the interaction between care groups and evangelism. During the late 1870s one informant estimated that only thirty of approximately five hundred villagers attended the local Mennonite church with some regularity. Preaching in the context of the house church during the early 1880s resulted in a number of conversions and led to the formation of a Brethren church in 1884. A decade later the church had over seventy members. By then it held regular Bible study and prayer meetings, organized a youth and missions group, and conducted Sunday school for the children. 16 The Margenau story would be duplicated again and again.


There was another side to early Brethren evangelism: seeking to convert Orthodox Russians and German Lutherans, activities which soon invited the intervention of tsarist authorities. The so-called Privilegium which set out the terms of Mennonite settlement in the Russian Empire guaranteed religious freedom but did not speak to the question of evangelism among the Russians.

This issue was specifically addressed in one of several manifestos dealing with foreign colonization which were issued by Catherine II in 1763. 17 It expressly forbade proselytizing among the Orthodox population. When enthusiastic Brethren evangelists baptized a number of Russian nationals during the 1860s, police investigations, arrests, and imprisonments often followed. This story can be partially reconstructed from police reports surviving in the St. Petersburg State Archives, from some early Russian Baptist sources, and from materials published by P. M. Friesen.

On December 1, 1863, the General Consistory of the Lutheran Church in South Russia wrote to the Russian Minister of Internal Affairs, Peter A. Valuev, requesting that the State Councillor Alexander K. Brune be sent to Ekaterinoslav province, among other reasons, to collect information about “a new, mystical sect in the Mennonite colony of Chortitza.” 18 Brune did not complete his assignment for some time, {195} citing as excuses illness as well as the necessity to interview sect leaders in the colonies. 19

On September 30, 1864, the new Minister of Internal Affairs, Alexander G. Troinitsky, finally received the first part of the report. 20 Brune began by providing a brief history of the Mennonites and their migration to Russia. Then he cited the main reason for the separation: “the bad conduct of many in the Mennonite brotherhood.” In the Molotschna settlement the founders of the new movement were identified as Isaac Koop of Elizabethtal, Abraham Cornelson of Grossweide, and Johann Klaassen of Liebenau. Those accused of evangelism (spreading the teaching) were Wilhelm Bartel of Gnadenfeld and Benjamin and Jacob Bekker of Rudnerweide.

Guided by these leaders, the sectarians at the close of their services erupted into “an insane and noisy celebration with hymns sung to contemporary secular melodies accompanied by violins, accordions and wild dancing. As the dissidents explain it, all this is done to praise the Lord.” Brune’s report also noted that Jacob Bekker and Heinrich Huebert publicly rebaptized people in the Yushanlee River.

In the Chortitza colony Brune identified the early Brethren leaders as Abraham Unger, Heinrich Neufeld of Einlage, and Gerhard Wieler of Chortitza. He found it significant that “people from other denominations, especially Lutherans, can join the sect.” He reported that such people were baptized by full immersion in the Dnieper River and wore special baptismal gowns for the occasion.

Brune then reports that in 1862 these leaders together with a Peter Berg were under investigation for “spreading the teaching of the sect and converting Orthodox people to the new teaching.” All four appeared before a regional court on June 10, 1862, but the court did not feel it had enough information to judge the case. The investigation nevertheless established the undeniable fact that the early Chortitza Brethren were evangelizing among the Orthodox Russian population.


The investigation not only proved that Neufeld and Unger “confessed that they rebaptized everyone who accepted their teaching,” but that Gerhard Wieler had “corrupted the [religious] values of thirteen Russian workers in Unger’s carriage factory.” Wieler was also accused of seeking to convert his mother’s fourteen-year-old servant girl, Tatyana Filipova, as well as one Andrei Khomutenko. Brune noted that he had interviewed an “Orthodox peasant boy Matthew Serbulsky on June 4, 1864, who was rebaptized in the Dnieper River by Wieler in {196} October, 1863.” Likewise Gerhard rebaptized a shoemaker’s apprentice, Andrei Patasenko, on April 21, 1864.

In early May, 1864, Wieler together with Jacob Bekker arrived in the Neu-Danzig Lutheran colony in the Kherson region east of Nikolaiev and on May 5 had baptized seven men and four women in the Ingul River. Many Russians and Germans witnessed the event. Brune further reported that a German teacher from Liebenau whose identity could not be established (likely Gerhard Wieler) had succeeded in converting Orthodox peasants in the village of Ostrikov. Brune’s report mentions two other instances of Russian evangelism. A Johann Klaassen acquired “spiritual books for some Orthodox peasants while Jacob Reimer of Felsental secured a Russian New Testament for the peasant Demyan Veletsky.”

The contents of this archival document are partially verified in Alexander Karev’s The Russian Evangelical Baptist Movement. He reports that the Ostrikov house meetings attracted between twenty-five and thirty-five peasants. He further confirms Wieler’s baptism of Andrei Patasenko. Likewise Karev briefly alludes to the evangelistic activities of Wieler and Bekker in Neu-Danzig. 21 On September 15, 1862, the Brethren adherent Kovalski baptized another twenty men and women in Neu-Danzig, only to be arrested and exiled from the region. 22

Anxious to find a model for their emerging church, a delegation of seven Lutherans visited the Brethren in Einlage only to find them hopelessly split by the exuberance movement. Not long after, they elected one of their number, Johann Pritzkau, and sent him to make contact with the German Baptist leader J. G. Onken in Hamburg. When Brune completed his report on September 21, 1864, he observed that some twenty families numbering sixty-six persons had joined the new sect, and he assumed they belonged to the Brethren. 23 Some years later these Brethren converts became Baptists. 24

Additional evidence of early evangelism is contained in two letters penned by the first Brethren elder, Heinrich Huebert. In 1862 Huebert and two unnamed persons were present at the baptism of Priska Morosov, a Russian servant girl in the Huebert household between 1855 and 1862. Huebert refused to divulge the name of the baptizer and was imprisoned in Tokmak for some months in 1865 and later placed under village arrest in Liebenau. Beaten and coerced by her own family, Priska eventually returned to the Orthodox Church. Elder Huebert himself was kept under village arrest for months on end. An appeal to higher authority finally secured the internal passport he needed to join his family, who had already migrated to the Kuban. {197} 25


State and police pressures put an end to direct Brethren proselytizing among Russian nationals by 1870. Fortunately this coincided with the emergence of an indigenous evangelical movement in South Russia. The first attempt to organize the scattered groups of Russian believers came in 1882 when a special conference convened in Rueckenau, Molotschna. More Brethren than Russians attended. The meeting was a prelude to a second 1884 gathering of Russian believers in Novo-Vasilevka, close to Berdyansk. This assembly, jointly led by the Baptist J. G. Kargel and the Brethren leader Johann Wieler, 26 is usually regarded as the first conference of the Evangelical Russian Baptists. Of the thirty-three delegates only six were Brethren. 27 The Russian Baptists were on their own, yet the Brethren had provided them with organization and structure, a legacy they themselves received from the German Baptists during the turbulent 1860s.

Tsarist law, cultural and linguistic barriers, some theological differences—all these factors ensured separate identities for Brethren and Baptists. This combined with the perceived need of revitalizing a spiritually decadent Mennonitism gradually shifted Brethren priorities towards in-group evangelism. Surviving documents, however, suggest no discernible change in the method and style of this evangelism during the last three decades of the nineteenth century. While some house groups became congregations meeting in actual church buildings, there was no substantial shift in the liturgical and spiritual content of their house church piety.

It was natural that the early Brethren spoke much of personal conversion since this experience had brought ultimate meaning to their lives. Even the 1865 reaction to the excesses of the exuberance movement never completely eliminated the celebration of the salvation experience. It could be argued that for almost half a century the style of Brethren worship was in part evangelistic: by its deployment of hymns exalting the experiential, testimonies recounting the miracle of personal conversion, and formal salvation preaching.

Basic to an understanding of early Brethren evangelism, whether applied to converting the Orthodox or converting cradle Mennonites, was their method of reading and studying the Bible. The practice of community exegesis, which began in the 1850s and was still very much in evidence in the early twentieth century, brought lay experience and insight to questions of faith and life. Such a process resulted in biblical literacy and, supplemented by itinerant preaching and the insights of {198} local lay ministers, generated a high level of spiritual maturity. Villagers spoke to each other amid a common language and cultural ethos. People belonged to one another with minimal distance between leaders and followers. Informal organization, simple liturgies, and lay empowerment—all members of the house church were evangelists in such a setting.


  1. During the past few years some reels of microfilm dealing with various aspects of the Russian Mennonite experience were obtained from the Central Government Archive of the former USSR. Reel 1 contained many files from the Ministry of Internal Affairs (State Security) which related to the emergence of the Mennonite Brethren. It was entitled, “The Huepfer Case.” The term Huepfer (jumpers, leapers) was a derisive designation used by other Mennonites to describe the early “Froehliche Richtung” (exuberance movement) during which early converts celebrated the experiential joy of their conversion by singing new hymns, by playing new instruments in worship (violins, accordions, flutes, triangles, and drums), and by ecstatic dancing and shouts of praise. It appears a trifle ironic that an early Brethren shortcoming would be so permanently inscribed in the national archives of that day (Fund 821, Inventory 5, Case 976. Brune to the Minister of Internal Affairs, Peter A. Valuev, December 5, 1864, pp. 9-19).
  2. Brune to Valuev, December 5, 1864. The book burning incident is also recorded in Heinrich Epp, Aeltester Abraham Unger: Gruender der Einlager Mennoniten Bruedergemeinde (Halbstadt: H. F. Brune, 1907), 15.
  3. P. M. Friesen, Die Alt-Evangelische Mennonitische Bruederschaft in Russland (Halbstadt, Taurien, Raduga, 1911).
  4. St. Petersburg, Microfilm Reel 1, Fund 821, Inventory 5, Case 976. Brune to Valuev, December 5, 1864.
  5. Jakob Bekker, “Meine Erfahrung,” Zions-Bote, 1900, no. 17, 1-2; Abraham Peters, “Bericht,” Zions-Bote, 1899, no. 11, 3; Jakob Wall, “Rueckblicke und Abschied,” Zions-Bote, 1900, no. 50, 1.
  6. Bekker, 1-2.
  7. Peters, 3.
  8. Mennonitische Blaetter 10:1 (February, 1863): 15-16. These reports also reached the Ministry of the Interior in St. Petersburg.
  9. The accounts suggest that the meetings were held once or twice a week. See for example Helena Braun, “Meine Bekehrung zum {199} Herrn,” Zions-Bote, 1891, no. 45, 34; Jacob Wiebe, “Meine Erfahrungen,” Zions-Bote, 1894, no. 10, 2.
  10. Some reports list as few as six adults while twenty or thirty persons constituted a good attendance. J. Fast, “Reisekizzen,” Zions-Bote, 1891, no. 17, 1; W. Loewen, “Alexanderkrone,” Zions-Bote, 1891, no. 16, 3; Klaas Enns, “Sparrau,” Zions-Bote, 1894, no. 12, 2.
  11. P. M. Friesen, 373.
  12. Friesen, 374.
  13. Friesen, 431-436.
  14. Hermann Neufeld Journals, II (Winnipeg, MB: Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies, 1904). A verst is equivalent to 1.067 km and .6629 mi. This later Brethren elder relates how he obtained a certificate of baptism in 1883 so that he could get married. Spiritually he was deeply affected a year later while attending a Brethren baptism. Subsequently both he and his wife attended Brethren prayer meetings and Bible studies. His conversion followed a lengthy penitential agony. Both he and Katarina immediately joined the Brethren. As he expressed it, “We were very happy in the fellowship of the Geschwister and took great pleasure in the prayer meetings, Bible studies, and services.” It was also in the context of this community that Neufeld was affirmed in the ministry. See the H. Neufeld Journals, “Lebensgeschichte oder Tagebuch von Hermann und Katarina Neufeld, Nikolajewka, Russland, I Buch.”
  15. Hermann Neufeld Journals, “Unsere Lebensgeschichte,” I, 348-50. During his thirty-eight years as an itinerant minister Neufeld estimated that he had made six thousand home visitations, held two thousand Bible studies, preached five thousand sermons, conducted at least five hundred marriages and a similar number of funerals. In all he had traveled nearly 300,000 versts (320,000 km, 200,000 mi.) by wagon, rail, and steamship (Ibid., II, 488).
  16. “Margenau, Russland,” Zions-Bote, 1894, no. 15, Beilage.
  17. David G. Rempel, “The Mennonite Commonwealth in Russia: A Sketch of Its Founding and Endurance, 1784-1919,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 47 (1973): 269, 283-86.
  18. St. Petersburg Microfilm Reel 1, Fund 821, Inventory 5, Case 976. Evangelical Lutheran Consistory to the Minister of Internal Affairs Peter A. Valuev, December 1, 1863, 1a. A letter from Valuev to the Consistory dated March 5, 1864, expressed ministerial concern that these sectarians intended to proselytize (Ibid., 2).
  19. Fund 821, Inventory 5, Case 976. Brune to the Department of Religious Affairs for Foreign Denominations, September 24, 1864, 23. {200}
  20. Fund 821, Inventory 5, Case 276. Investigating Magistrate of the Evangelical Lutheran Consistory to Alexander G. Troinitsky, Ekaterinoslav, September 21, 1864, 26-37.
  21. Alexander Karev, The Russian Evangelical Baptist Movement (ms. trans. Frederick P. Leman, Evansville, Indiana, 24ff). Copy in possession of the Center for MB Studies, Fresno, CA.
  22. J. Pritzkau, Geschichte der Baptisten in Sued-Russland (Odessa, Wenske and Lubeck, 1914), 12, 31.
  23. St. Petersburg Microfilm Reel 1, Fund 821, Inventory 5, Case 276, Brune to Troinitsky, September 21, 1864. On June 11, 1869, Abraham Unger baptized thirty colonists in Old Danzig, which became the nucleus of a Baptist congregation in that colony (Karev, 26).
  24. Pritzkau, 31-34.
  25. St. Petersburg Microfilm Reel 1, Fund 821, Inventory 5, Case 975. Heinrich Huebert to Brune, August 13, 1865; Heinrich Huebert to Baron von Balujev, September 28, 1866, 98-100, 130-131.
  26. There were two Wieler brothers, Gerhard and Johann, both highly gifted but very different in temperament. Gerhard, verbally gifted and inclined to the emotional and ecstatic, became a leading advocate of the exuberance movement. Johann, restrained and reflective, steadily opposed the excesses of his older brother and was at one point excommunicated by him. The brothers made substantial contributions in at least two areas. Fluent in Russian, both functioned as advocates of toleration and civil rights for the fledgling movement. They were also strongly committed to evangelism. On the one side stood Gerhard, the persuasive preacher and baptizer, on the other Johann, who gathered and nurtured newly converted Russian believers.
  27. Karev, 15-19, 23ff. On Kargel’s role in the evangelical movement in Russia see J. G. Kargel, Zwischen den Enden der Erde: Unter Bruedern in Ketten (Wernigrode am Harz: Licht im Osten, 1928).
John B. Toews is Professor of Church History and Anabaptist Studies at Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia.

Previous | Next