Lives of Service

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letters from June 1924 mark the first exchange of correspondence between Joseph D. Graber and Minnie Swartzendruber about their decision to commit their lives to mission work.
These letters from June 1924 mark the first exchange of correspondence between Joseph D. Graber and Minnie Swartzendruber about their decision to commit their lives to mission work. Just over a year later, the two were married and appointed as missionaries to India through the Mennonite Board of Missions. Source: Joseph Daniel and Minnie (Swartzendruber) Graber Papers, 1920-1978. Box 14, Folder 4 and Box 15, Folder 1. HM1-503. Mennonite Church USA Archives. Elkhart, Indiana.

As young students in their early 20s, J.D. Graber and Minnie Swartzendruber thought they were headed toward careers as educators. A new set of correspondence at the Mennonite Church USA Archives sheds light on their early lives, their courtship, and their decision to serve as missionaries in India. The mostly handwritten letters between the two span a period of four years (1921-1925) and contain rich details about their family life, social networks, educational pursuits, and Mennonite faith.

About the decision to serve in India, J. D. wrote, “I’m absolutely sure if we make this a matter of earnest prayer God will take care of all difficulties and will open the door for us to go if He wants our lives in India.” In her letter of response, Minnie wrote that God’s strength gave her courage “and makes me willing that our comfortable little home in some college town should fade away. Such is alluring to a young lover’s eye but God forbid it should blind our eyes from the realities of life, the responsibility to be met, and the joy of doing it.”

After seventeen years in India, J. D. later served as the first full-time general secretary of the Mennonite Board of Missions from 1944 to 1967. Minnie was the president of the Women’s Missionary and Service Commission from 1950 to 1959 and spoke widely throughout the church. The collection also includes diaries and journals, sermon notes, and a series of published and unpublished manuscripts that J. D. authored over the course of his career.

Ministers of the Eastern District of the General Conference Mennonite Church, 1898

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Ministers of the Eastern District of the General Conference Mennonite Church, during a conference session at the Springfield meetinghouse near Coopersburg, Pennsylvania, in 1898.  While the Eastern District never printed rules for attire, ministers wore distinct garb into the late nineteenth century. Picture from left to right are Levi Schimmel, Silas Grubb, Harvey Clymer, Augustus Shuhart (layman), Jacob Moyer, Andrew Shelly, Anthony Shelly, William Gottshall, Allen Fretz, and Nathaniel Grubb.

Forrest Moyer Moyer, Archivist, Mennonite Heritage Center

First Mennonite Church, Allentown, Pennsylvania,1958

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Members leaving worship at First Mennonite Church, Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1958. This photo was one of a series promoting expansion of the church building at that time. By the late twentieth century, demographics had changed and the First Mennonite Church declined in membership, with nearly all members living outside the city. In 2006, the congregation closed, and the building was taken up by the Eastern District Conference for a English-Spanish bilingual church plant called Christ Fellowship.

Forrest Moyer, Archivist, Mennonite Heritage Center

La Rouviere Children’s Home, Marseilles, France, ca. 1941

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#2-La Rouviere Children's Home, ca 1941

(MCC Photo/Virgil Vogt)

During and after World War II, Mennonite Central Committee operated or supported numerous homes for orphaned children throughout Europe. Here MCC worker Edna Ramseyer, in front, holds the youngest member of the La Rouviere Children’s Home near Marseilles, France. Names of others pictured are unavailable.

Frank Peachey, Mennonite Central Committee Archives

Bishop Jacob Hostetter (1774-1865)

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Jacob Hostetter (or Hochstetter) was a farmer, mechanic, tailor, shoemaker, and basket-maker from the Manheim area. He was a bishop in the Lancaster Mennonite Conference who served as the Conference moderator following the death of Bishop Peter Eby in 1843.

This photographic portrait was taken in the 1850s and is remarkable in several ways. First, it depicts someone who was born before the United States of America existed. Second, it was made at a time when there was some contention among the Lancaster Mennonites about the use of photographic portraits. John Ruth writes that Hostetter “reluctantly yielded to his family’s persistent requests for his picture. But that brought him serious criticism, as expressed by an anonymous letter writer from Farmersville, in the conservative region of Groffdale. Bishop Hochstetter had acknowledged to the conference several years earlier that his picture had been taken, and he did not find it pleasant to have the matter thrown up to him again at the age of eighty-four.”1


  1.  John L. Ruth, The Earth Is the Lord’s: A Narrative History of the Lancaster Mennonite Conference (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 2001), 533-534. 

William and Clara Anderson, ca. 1940

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William and Clara Anderson, ca. 1940

William and Clara Anderson, pictured here in plain Mennonite attire circa 1940, were early members of the Rocky Ridge Mennonite Mission near Quakertown, Pennsylvania. They were the first African-Americans to join a Franconia Conference congregation, in 1932. That year, at the conference in Franconia meetinghouse, a resolution was passed: “That a colored applicant applying for admission at the Rocky Ridge Mission, be baptized and received into the Mennonite Church.” This resolution, which was read from the pulpit in all conference congregations, established a standard of racial integration.

Forrest Moyer, Archivist, Mennonite Heritage Center

Chortitza region, Russia, October 1922

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#1-Chortitza, Fordson Tractors, Oct 1922

By mid-1922, many of the horses and other draft animals in South Russia had died due to the war and starvation. On June 26, Mennonite Central Committee purchased 25 Fordson tractors and Oliver gang plows, plus necessary spare parts, which left New York on July 24, arriving in Odessa in late August. These first tractor-plow units went to Chortitza and Molotschna. The total cost of the delivered shipment was US$13,838.90. A second shipment of tractors and plows left New York on December 23.

Frank Peachey, Mennonite Central Committee Archives