Crossway Publications
Published: 1993
932 pages
ISBN: 0-9694504-0-4

The Kleine Gemeinde Historical Series

Vol. 6

Leaders of the Mennonite Kleine Gemeinde in Russia, 1812 to 1874

Edited by Delbert F. Plett

From the foreword: “What is the price of a man’s soul?” The impact which major decisions had on a person’s eternal destiny articulated the lives of many individuals within Mennonite congregations in 19th century Russia. For the members of the conservative Kleine Gemeinde (KG) this spirituality was a communal experience so that the religiosity of the whole was also the spirituality of the individual. Therefore, one also asks, “What is the price of a community’s soul?” For when the soul is lost, everything is lost. This raises the question, “What articulated and defined the spirituality of the Kleine Gemeinde?”

For the unprejudiced and judicious reader, the answer to these questions and more is found between the covers of this book. Within these pages, and the documents which they set forth, the reader will find an expression of the soul of the KG people; a definition of that which inspired them to persevere in their faith in the face of logic, reason, and frequently, their own apparent self-interest. These sermons, letters and diaries capture the zeitgeist of the Mennonite world of 18th century Prussia, which was transplanted to the fertile steppes of Southern Russia, and from there again to Canada and the United States. Here once again new villagesand paradigmsarose from the prairies and gave renewed meaning and life to the dreams which those grandmothers had in their hearts as they choked back tears of farewell, watching the horse-drawn wagon trains of their children and grandchildren leaving villages like Tiegenhagen and Fürstenwerder, not far distant from the mighty Vistula River, as its gurgling, muddied waters flowed onward to the sea and into infinity. . . .

These are some of the leaders of the KG: Klaas Reimer, the founder; Abraham Friesen, the builder; Heinrich Balzer, the thinker; Peter P. Toews, poet and historian. Taken together their writings form a powerful body of Christian literature and teaching. When looking at “Kleingemeinde” congregations in Belize and Mexico to this very day, one occasionally wonders what became so deeply ingrained in the psychology of these people that they remained fiercely loyal to its tenets long after the flower and beauty which had blossomed forth with its founding in the Molotschna in 1812 had faded and become but a distant memory? This body of religious writings, more than anything else, provides the answer to this question.