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Fall 1991 · Vol. 20 No. 2 · pp. 160–61 

Book Review

Peter C. Hiebert: He Gave Them Bread

Wesley J. Prieb. Hillsboro, KS: Center for M.B. Studies, 1990. xiv + 149 pages.

Reviewed by Herbert Giesbrecht

Historical and analytical studies of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), as a relief organization, have become quite numerous. Studies of individual leaders closely associated with MCC and its beginnings are but few as yet (Paul Erb’s Orie O. Miller: The Story of a Man and an Era and Herbert and Maureen Klassen’s Ambassador to His People: C. F Klassen and the Russian Mennonite Refugees). Wesley Prieb’s biography of P. C. Hiebert, as he was popularly known, strikes a more personal and engaging tone than these other accounts of individual leaders, however. Perhaps the author’s close acquaintance with the subject of his narrative and his deep admiration for the man best account for this intimacy of tone. Prieb’s many years of college teaching in English literature account for the simplicity and clarity of style which mark this biography.

Relatively brief, Prieb’s biographical account encompasses P. C. Hiebert’s many public activities and achievements with a remarkable sense of breadth. To many Mennonites Peter C. Hiebert is known only as one of the progenitors of MCC in the wake of World War I and the famine crisis in postwar Russia. Prieb recounts this riveting chapter in Hiebert’s experience and service, devoting special attention to Hiebert’s own family heritage and developing Christian convictions as preparatory. But Hiebert was also an influential educator who helped to shape the lives of many young Mennonites in the USA, as a teacher and student evangelist. He, {161} together with Henry Lohrenz, worked hard towards the establishment of Tabor College during the early decades of this century. Prieb’s own lifelong involvement with this college has enabled him to treat both the arduous struggles and singular contributions of P. C. Hiebert, in the early history of Tabor College, with fine sensitivity and care.

Hiebert was also crucially involved in the MCC program of immigration and resettlement of Mennonites in Paraguay and Brazil (1929-30), and in the creation of the MCC Peace Committee in 1939. The author’s account of Hiebert’s pioneer contributions towards the development of civilian service for conscientious objectors during World War II, and towards the launching of the Mennonite mental health and hospital movement just after the War, pays further tribute to the high vision and dedication of this extraordinary leader.

While truly ecumenical, P. C. Hiebert remained involved throughout his life in the work of his own church (Mennonite Brethren) and competently served its conferences in a variety of offices. Above all, he preached in its churches (in America, Europe, Russia, and South America) across a span of six decades, in both the German and English languages. According to Prieb, P. C. Hiebert was probably the first one among American Mennonite Brethren to receive a B.A. degree and the first minister to preach fluently in English.

But it is particularly in Prieb’s portrayal of Hiebert’s personal character, relationships to family and friends, and faith convictions that this biography comes alive and engages the reader at deeper levels. The book leaves no doubt whatever that Hiebert was a winsome disciple of Christ and that his very active life of public service was a sincere endeavor to recover, for himself and for his people, the Anabaptist vision of radical discipleship.

Herbert Giesbrecht
College Librarian at Mennonite Brethren Bible College
(recently retired)
Winnipeg, Manitoba

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