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Fall 1992 · Vol. 21 No. 2 · pp. 75–77 

Book Review

Flammen unausloeschlich: Mission der Mennoniten unter Zaren und Sowjets, 1789-1989

Hans Kasdorf. Bielefeld, Germany: Logos Verlag, 1991. 221 pages.

Reviewed by Peter M. Hamm

This German work is second in the Logos series of East European church history. Its title could be translated, Unquenchable Flames: Mission of the Mennonites under Czars and Soviets, 1789-1989. The multilingual author, Dr. Hans Kasdorf, was a missionary in Brazil and is currently a professor of missions at the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno, California. The book reflects Kasdorf’s thorough training as a theologian, historian, and missiologist. His heartbeat for world missions penetrates the entire work.

The first four of nineteen chapters deal with foundational matters where Kasdorf’s understanding of mission comes to bear. Citing Brunner’s maxim that the church exists by mission as fire exists by burning, Kasdorf argues that where there is faith there is mission and that church and mission go together as fire and flame. However, he does not assume that the flame was burning brightly throughout the bicentennary. While some might question his assertion that the Mennonites were a mission movement (perhaps more a mission field), they surely must agree with Kasdorf that true faith transmits the heritage of mission. So the Russian Mennonites have two stories to tell: their 400-year faith pilgrimage since Menno and also their last 70-year story of martyrdom. As a historian, Kasdorf reflects on the meaning of history: its reliance on oral tradition and human experience, its understanding of time, and need for research. As a missiologist, Kasdorf clarifies his meaning of mission as sending, as witness, and as crossing boundaries. Repeatedly, Kasdorf relies on missiologist Gensichen’s notion of dimension in mission (the divine provision) leading to intention (human implementation).

Two chapters set the stage for mission during 1789 to 1860. In the prehistory stage, 1789-1835, the Mennonites missed choice opportunities for mission in their varied response to the manifesto of Catherine II. Yet Russian Bible societies and evangelical missionaries from West Europe working among nearby tribal groups fanned the potential flame for mission. The awakening in subsequent years, 1835-1860, through influences of Wilhelm Lange, Tobias Voth, and Eduard Wuest, led to the birth of the Mennonite Brethren, a more likely mission movement.

In four further chapters, Kasdorf highlights the mission thinking and expression during the years 1860-1917, alleging that there was more mission by Mennonites in these 57 years than in the previous 300. Mennonite Brethren (MB) targeted other Mennonites, Lutherans, and eventually orthodox Russians, despite the manifesto which forbade the same. The General Conference Mennonites observed the manifesto and concentrated on overseas mission and witness through lifestyle. Kasdorf highlights the itinerant preaching among both groups. Here one might question why Kasdorf has not included the dynamic itinerant preaching among the Allianz movement, neither GC or MB. In terms of overseas mission, the GCs had a head start with Heinrich Dirks going to Sumatra in 1869. The MBs followed twenty years later with Abram Friesen going to India. The flame of mission was unquenchable.

In three further chapters, Kasdorf features the golden age of mission opportunity, 1917-1929, a time of great activity and sacrifice. Here was the first real breakthrough to the people groups of Russia, after the tie with India was broken. In a context of revolution, civil war, and famine, the tent mission courageously responded to great spiritual hunger. This was {77} followed by itinerant preachers, several of whose stories are briefly told, and the outreach thrust at great personal sacrifice to outlying people groups such as Osyaks of northern Siberia. Certainly the flame of mission burned brightly.

The final cluster of five chapters concerns the sixty years of martyr mission, 1929-89, a saga only partly told. Here Kasdorf explains the merging of evangelicals and Baptists, including Mennonites and Pentecostals, and the eventual separation into registered and independent Mennonites. Interestingly, he depicts the character of the martyr witness as portrayed not only by the Mennonites, but also by the atheistic historian Ipatov. To illustrate how Mennonites witnessed under most difficult circumstances, Kasdorf has collected informal reports from numerous workers in the region of Karaganda, representative of martyr mission elsewhere. In the last chapter, Kasdorf reflects on the changing times which conclude his story. Despite all attempts to quench the flame, since persecution led to scattering, the flames only spread. The new era of peristroika and glastnost provided new freedom, for some to leave the former USSR because they saw their mandate complete and for others to stay and further fan the flame of mission.

Unique among histories of Mennonites in Russia, this work analyzes the story from a missiological perspective. Buttressed with references to German missiologists, Kasdorf writes eloquently in his mother tongue, but plainly for all to be inspired by that legacy of mission which is central to our faith history. It is my hope that the work will be translated into English to expose that legacy to the many not familiar with German.

Peter M. Hamm
Retired Missions Administrator
Abbotsford, BC

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