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Menno Simons: Pioneering a Way of Peace

Updated Aug 28, 2023
Menno Simons: Pioneering a Way of Peace

"I just want to punch that Derrick right in the mouth!" exclaimed Jan Simons one evening at supper. "He's the meanest kid in all of Wismar, maybe even all of Germany!"

Menno Simons looked across the table at his wife Gertrude and sighed. Would their son never learn what they'd been teaching all these years? "Why do you think Derrick treats you so badly?" asked Menno.

Jan set down his spoon and considered the question. "Derrick said his parents know about your books. He said we Anabaptists don't belong here--that we should move away. I'm sick of moving, Father, and I'm tired of bullies like Derrick."

Menno Simons was a leader of a new Christian group called Anabaptists. For this reason, he and his followers were hunted criminals and had to move from town to town.

"We're not moving any time soon, Jan. The officials of Wismar say we can stay and we don't even have to hide." said Menno.

"But that won't change Derrick's mind. I just want to teach him a lesson," said Jan.

"Son, you remember what happened when Uncle Peter and the others used force to try to create a Christian community, don't you?" asked Menno.

"Yes, I remember." Jan stared at his soup for a moment. "Do you miss them Father?"

"I sure do. But, without their sacrifice I might never have had the courage to stand for my own beliefs. They had good intentions, but their methods were all wrong. Violence is never the answer Jan. You'll just have to come up with another plan to handle Derrick," said Menno.

The Ship in the Ice

A few weeks later, Menno and Jan were walking along the docks of Wismar's icy harbor. "Look," said Jan, "there's a light in the harbor. No ship would sail now, would it, Father?"

"I don't think so," said Menno. It was December 1553, and the coldest weather he had ever seen in northern Germany. "No ship has left Wismar for a week."

"Maybe a ship is trying to come into port then."

"If so, it will take the city rescue crew to save them from the ice," said the preacher.

"Now, that's a job I'd like!" grinned Jan.

Menno shook his head. "It might sound exciting, but it's also dangerous. We'll see what happens by morning."

The next day when father and son passed the same way, no one had rescued the people from the frozen ship. After asking a few questions, they discovered why.

"Those are John Lasco's people out there," growled a city official standing with other onlookers on the icy dock. "They're part of the Reformed Church, and Germany is Lutheran now. We Lutherans don't want them! We already have enough trouble from the Anabaptists."

Menno Simons' face got very grim. He grabbed his son's arm and hurried down the street.

Helping Those Who Hurt Us

Within an hour, several of the leading members of the underground Anabaptist church of Wismar gathered in Menno's home. Jan and his sisters listened to them talk.

"Why should we do anything?" asked one man. "It's not our concern that they're trapped on that ship. Menno, have you forgotten how John Lasco treated you in East Friesland?"

"No, I haven't forgotten," answered Menno. "He mistreated many of our people and we had to leave. And that was after pretending to be my friend!"

"But now they need help," said Gertrude, Menno's wife. "If the city crew won't rescue them, we must."

"If we go out there, everyone in town will know about it, and we will be in worse trouble," objected another Anabaptist. "Besides, it's extremely dangerous out on that ice and we don't have the training or the equipment."

"There are children on that ship," Menno argued. "We must help them. I understand Lasco's own children may be out there."

"All the more reason to leave them there," grumbled a serious voice. "Whether Reformed, Roman Catholic, or Lutheran--everyone is against us. Why should we help them?"

"Brothers and sisters," pleaded Menno, "what would our Lord have us do? Are we not called to show God's grace to all people, even our enemies?" His words silenced the protests, and in a few minutes all agreed to meet at the harbor with food and supplies to rescue the refugees.

Taking the Risk

"Father, I know what to do!" exclaimed Jan as they hurried to the harbor.

"Yes, Jan, we'll rescue Lasco's people. It will place us in danger, but it's the right thing to do."

"Sure Father, but I'm talking about Derrick."

"Ahhh, Derrick, the bully," answered Menno. "Well, what have you come up with?"

"He's been treating me badly for weeks now, but I'm going to try a new tactic. I'm going to be nice to him, before he even has a chance to be mean!"

"Now you're catching on," said Menno. "Perhaps a kind word or a smile might take the wind out of his sails."

"Yes, and if that doesn't work, I'll just steer clear of him. There are plenty of other kids to play with."

Menno's smile showed Jan that he approved. "We must follow Christ's ways, Jan, even if it costs us."

Jan and Menno worked along with the other Anabaptists to rescue the Reformed Church refugees from the icy waters. At first, the refugees seemed thankful, but before long, they wanted to be accepted by the Lutherans in the town. Some of the refugees stirred up trouble for the Anabaptists, turning the town against them. Within a few months, the Anabaptists were chased from the city.

Menno Simons lived most of his life on the run because the Anabaptists were not accepted by any of the established religions. Menno taught his followers to live in peace and to serve others, even in times of difficulty or conflict. His writings helped to spread his ideas and eventually those who followed his ways became known as Mennonites. Those who helped him often paid with their lives.

Despite all the opposition they faced, the Anabaptist faith spread. Though many of Menno's followers were killed for their beliefs over the years, some of them always survived.

Today there are many denominations that come from Anabaptist roots. The Mennonites, Amish, Hutterites, and Brethren in Christ are just a few.

Make It Real! Questions to make you dig a little deeper and think a little harder.

1. Have you ever been in a difficult conflict with a friend or an acquaintance? What did you do to solve the problem?

2. Why might fighting back or violence not be the best solution in many circumstances?

3. Have you ever done something nice for someone who has been mean to you? What happened?

4. Are there times when fighting back is a good choice? Why or why not?

Suggested reading:

Hero Tales Volume I by Dave and Neta Jackson, (Bethany House Publishers).

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The Betrayer's Fortune by Dave and Neta Jackson (Trailblazer series), Bethany.

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Cover photo credit: 1677 illustration by Christoffel van Shechem, via Wikimedia Commons

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