Who are we? Why are we here? Where did we come from? What is the meaning of life? Always questioning, wanting to understand. Life is one huge puzzle with many pieces that never seem to go together just right. There are people and organizations that have tried to sell us a finished picture of a puzzle, with beautiful framing. But if you look closely you can see that some of the pieces are missing or have been smeared with filler to hide the holes.
One thing that the vast majority of my ancestors have in common so far, is that they were farmers. I can't find any of them that held a position in politics or government. It's interesting for me to note that in my family, farming seems to be everywhere I look. I don't find them living in cities or the middle of towns. I always find them living in the countryside, several miles from the closest town. In those days even the towns had only a few hundred people living in them.
It's hard today for us to imagine life in earlier centuries. Everything moved at a much slower pace. There were no microwave ovens. There weren't electric stoves. If you wanted even boiling water, it was a process. Most likely you had a wood stove that heated your house, and needed constant supervision and filling to keep it going. You had to make sure you always had firewood and kindling. Everyone in the family had a job to do to keep things going. There was no modern machinery, and no electronics.
Life was hard and simple. In the 1500s in Europe, 1/4 of all children who were born died before they reached the age of 5. War was rampant. Government and the Church took control over who could own property, over whose births were deemed legitimate, whose marriages were valid, and over whose wills were legal. You were automatically Roman Catholic.
Farmers lived a simple life. All they wanted was land to raise their crops and to raise their families and follow their beliefs in relative peace.
Around 1525 the Anabaptist Movement began in Europe. This is where Mennonites have their roots. Anabaptist means "rebaptizer". They believed in adult baptism rather than infant baptism. To me this seems as much a rebellion against the official Roman Catholic dictates as it was a doctrinal belief.
Menno Simons was an Anabaptist, and the Mennonite faith is named after him.
|Menno Simons 1496 - 1561|
"Simons was a humble man who lived a hard life. A priest of the Roman Catholic Church, he left by his own choice around 1536, believing he could no longer live with his conscience as a Roman Catholic, He felt that neither the Catholics nor the Reformed Church did much for the inner life of a man, that it was all externalism and hypocrisy. He opposed the fanaticism of his day, and could not understand why Christians persecuted one another. He had many struggles over discipleship and holy living, and truly believed that dedicated Christians would receive persecution from the world. Followers of Menno Simon's teachings came to be called Mennonites, and their work later spread to Russia, the United States and Canada. The Mennonites have always been pacifists, and are earnest, industrious Christians, who have often lived in communal settlements."
In spite of violent rejection by the Church and Government, torture, killings, and many martyrdoms in the 16th century, Anabaptism and the Mennonite faith continued to spread across Europe.
|Execution of Mennonites|
This engraving depicts the execution of David van der Leyen and Levina Ghyselins, described variously as Dutch Anabaptists or Mennonites, by Catholic authorities in Ghent in 1554. Strangled and burned, van der Leyen was finally dispatched with an iron fork. Bracht’s Martyr’s Mirror is considered by modern Mennonites as second only in importance to the Bible in perpetuating their faith.
Part Three will be next.