Early in our stay in Molochansk we encountered a very friendly elderly lady on her way into the Mennonite Centre. She recognized that we were the new North American Directors and greeted us with a smile and the phrase “Guten Tag (Good day in German)”. We stopped to talk but found out her German was even more limited than ours. In answer to my question, she told me that she had learned German during the 2 years (1943-45) that she had “worked” in
. From my own knowledge of history, she most likely was part of the forced labour that was brought to Germany to keep the war machine going. Her circumstances in those years most likely were not pleasant. However she had such a friendly manner that one could not help but feel that she had come to terms with her past and forgiven the wrongs that happened to her. Germany
|Band in front of|
(Mennonite Boys School)
As I stood with the dignitaries listening to the speeches (through my interpreter) I realized that my prepared speech was on a different theme than the other speakers. They were all thanking the veterans for their sacrifices. I wanted to talk about forgiveness. I thanked the many people, including some of the veterans, who had shared their stories of the war with me and commented on the fact that I felt that many had forgiven the past and that this gave me hope for peace for the future.
While not a war story, I was reminded of another Mennonite story involving forgiveness. Sometime in the early 1860’s, a beautiful young Mennonite girl was in one of the seaports on the Crimean Peninsula. The Russian naval fleet was in harbor and one of the officers on board was a prince in the Romanov family. They met, things happened, and the young girl ended up back in her Mennonite village, pregnant and in disgrace. She gave birth to a boy and experienced an emotional breakdown soon after. The boy was placed for adoption with another Mennonite family and given a new surname to distance himself from the disgraceful events of his birth. The result is that there are Mennonites with Romanov blood.
I have a friend in Winnipeg who is a direct descendent of that fateful event in Crimea. Last summer he was touring Europe with his family. When they got to St Petersburg, they took a tour of the Winter Palace. While walking through this beautiful palace, his teenage daughter looked around approvingly and commented, “You know mom, it’s nice to be home”. Her great-great-great-grandmother would be pleased to know that she has been forgiven.
Our work at the Mennonite Centre is getting busier as we try to wind down our time in Molochansk. There are more petitioners every day with their heart wrenching stories. We listen to their stories and decide if we should refuse their request, help them within the discretionary guidelines that we have for making decisions, or document their request and submit it to the Board in Canada for their consideration.
We have just returned from a short walk to the local grocery store. It is amazing how the townspeople have changed since our arrival. When we first got here, nobody would look at us or acknowledge us as we walked down a street. Now we can’t go out without a greeting or even a cautious attempt to talk from people we meet. Teenagers are the worst. They recognize us and we hear a deliberate “hello”. It is an invitation to talk and we always make the time to do that. We have never before been so popular with teenagers.
For more information on the work of the Mennonite Centre, please go to:
For information on the work of the Mennonite Economic Development Association (MEDA) in Ukraine, you can see an excellent Ukraine Youtube video produced last fall by a Winnipeg Mennonite film producer: