Crossway Publications
Published: 1999
352 pages
ISBN: 0-9694504-0-5

Saints and Sinners

The Kleine Gemeinde in Imperial Russia, 1812 to 1875

Delbert F. Plett

From the back cover: In this book, Saints and Sinners, Delbert F. Plett has integrated twenty years of research, writing, and translation of primary sources about the Kleine Gemeinde Mennonites founded on the steppes of Imperial Russia in 1812. With its genetic roots planted firmly in the sandy soils of the Prussian Vistula Delta, and its spiritual ethos informed by the Anabaptist wing of the Reformation in Holland in 1536, the Kleine Gemeinde blazed a trail of biblical faithfulness throughout the 19th century.

In 1874, the Kleine Gemeinde denomination migrated to North America together with 16,000 other Mennonite and Hutterite Anabaptists. They left Russia in search of religious and cultural freedom, settling in the western plains of North America where they established settlements which evolved into the modern-day villages of Rosenort, Kleefeld, Blumenort, and City of Steinbach, Manitoba, and Meade in western Kansas. The Kleine Gemeinde story has continued with the transplanting of the denomination to Jagueyes in the mountain valleys of northern Mexico in 1948 and ten years later to Spanish Lookout in the jungles of Belize.

Plett’s work is much more than a recounting of Kleine Gemeinde history. He has brought forth a fundamental reinterpretation of the religious history of the Russian Mennonites. In this account, the Kleine Gemeinde are faithful preservers of the conservative tradition articulated by their Anabaptist forebears, striving for nothing less than the restitution of the New Testament church.

In addition, Plett has discovered for posterity the culture and spiritual ethos of an entire people. In his quest, Plett has recaptured a lost civilization, speaking for the vitality and vibrancy of ages past going back to medieval times when Low German and the Hanseatic League dominated social life and culture in Northern Europe and around the Baltic Sea.

In page after page of documentary history, Plett develops these themes and more, telling above all the story of a community with a revolutionary message, but always human and mortal, made up of saints and sinners. As an expression of genuine Biblicism the Mennonite Kleine Gemeinde was informed by a Christian vision that gave breath and life, and reformed social constructs which affected the rights of women, the plight of the poor, and the hope of the dispossessed.

Above all, Mr. Plett tells the fascinating story of a community which applied ancient strategies to survive as a people, successfully transplanting their culture from one continent to another and from one century to the next