1. A Decision of Faith
The founders of Hoffnungsau Mennonite Church came to America in 1874 from what was then South Russia, and is now part of south eastern Ukraine. Most of them were Dutch Mennonites formerly from Prussia who had moved to South Russia, forming what was called Molotschna Colony. Many of these villages and the original buildings still exist today.
The majority of the original Hoffnungsauers weremembers of the prominent
Mennonite church located in the village Alexanderwohl of the Molotschna Colony.
In July of 1874, most all of the Alexanderwohl congregation migrated to America. Many of the group settled in the Goessel, KS area—establishing the existing Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church . Several families settled in Henderson, Nebraska, while the remaining group under the guidance of Elder Dietrich Gaeddert settled in and around the Inman/Buhler area (west of Turkey Creek). Members of this group became the founding members of Hoffnungsau Mennonite Church.
It is important to remember why an entire village/church of people left their homeland en masse for a new land. Dietrich Gaeddert—the first elder of Hoffnungsau—wrote the first History of Hoffnungsau Mennonite Church. The account was written in German longhand, into the first pages of the Hoffnungsau Record Book: Volume 1 (original copy in the Bethel College archives; a photo copy in our church records). The history is entitled Kurze Chronick (A Short History).
Elder Gaeddert’s history reflects in length why Mennonites decided to leave Russia. For Gaeddert there was one primary reason for leaving. He writes that the nationalism and, “the militarization which was sweeping Europe , was also coming into Russia . This struck directly at the center of our faith, since we were believers in nonresistance, unable to take part in military training or service.”
A glimpse of the often heated and difficult debates that followed is recorded in the “Kurze Chronick”
"Naturally the question now was: “Lord, what would You have us do now?” For the answer to this question the Book of Truth was eagerly searched. Answers were found variously, but all seemed to say clearly: “Follow me,” according to Mat. 9:9; Luke 9:23; Mat. 8:22 and John 10:27ff.
In the earlier period of Russia ’s re-militarization program, the talk everywhere where there were Mennonites, centered around: What now? Two options seemed to evolve: 1) To leave Russia, and to flee from the encroaching danger that threatened our faith, following what our Lord said in Luke 21:36; or 2) to stay in Russia, even if it meant that we might need to give our lives for our faith, as so many of our forefathers had done. The thinking on this question was divided. Some said: “If we place ourselves into the situation of which Jesus speaks in Luke 14:28, we feel we are ill equipped to pay this price; therefore we take with thankful hearts the further words of our Lord in Matt. 10:23, “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next . . .” Others presented yet different points of view; they said this was evidence of too small a faith if we pick up and leave. One must have faith and be ready to stand up for such faith regardless of the consequences and not flee from it. Increasingly we seemed to move toward the conclusion that we should move to a different place."
The decision to leave was not easy, but after many heart wrenching farewells the group traveled by train to Hamburg, Germany. After a sermon from John 14:18 the group embarked across the Atlantic Ocean for America. In October, 1874 they arrived in central Kansas. Elder Dietrich Gaeddert offered this prayer of Thanksgiving:
"To the Great God and Father who guides and protects in such a marvelous way,
be glory and praise!!
He guided over sea and over land;
He led us.
May His holy will be done!!"
Has a person ever asked you the name of your church, and after you told them they said, “Haphnyngs . . . what!?” Have you ever needed a good computer password with six or more digits and used Hoffnungsau because nobody can spell it? So, how in the world did we ever get the name Hoffnungsau?
There is a story behind the name—it’s not just a random choice of words! According to Elder A.J. Dyck, the tongue twister term originated
"On the day that a number of the group (of Mennonite émigrés from Russia were out looking over the land to determine where they would settle) had gone from Hutchinson, Kansas their final destination, to look for suitable location for settlement, they came to a high ridge north of present day Buhler, Kansas, and could overlook the wide stretch of prairie to the east and north: they seemed well pleased with the place. Johann Dueck, who was later to become deacon in the congregation, make the remark in German: “Dies is ja hier eine wahrhaftige Hoffnungs Au” (This is truly a Hopeful meadow/view). Dietrich Gaeddert had heard this statement, and said this should be the name of the church that was to be organized, and thus it was so decided. (“Mennonite Life.” Oct. 1949)"
The Congregation has kept the name ever since. From time to time the church has seriously discussed using an English translation. In 1945 the Hutchinson News-Herald reported that:
"The name “Hoffnungsau” clung to the old church, until a few years ago when the name was changed to Hopeview church, a liberal translation of the old name from German to English. But there are many that still call it by the old name, which they like best."
Whether this change was official is historically Break Down
uncertain. Elder Albert Gaeddert, in Hoffnungsau German English
Mennonite Church : 1874-1974, had the following to say hoffnungs = hope
about translating Hoffnungsau into English: au = meadow/view
"It is difficult to put the full meaning into one word. The German “Au” means meadow. At the same time when used together with “Hoffnung” it takes on also the meaning of a field of promise. Hopeview has been proposed, but this limits the richness of the expression greatly."
Hoffnungsau has a rich meaning, but it isn’t one-dimensional. Although, the open prairie east of the Buhler ridge was a hopeful meadow, compared to the sand-hills, in terms of geography, it also represented a higher hope. Hoffnungsau wasn’t named after any old hope. The Hope of Hoffnungsau is, in fact, that we worship a faithful God who, from generation to generation, offers us forgiveness and redemption. In the name of Jesus Christ we worship, fellowship and serve with the hope that God will continue to be faithful.
Thoughts for Reflection
For Curiosity’s Sake
Here’s some trivia you may never use—even in a game of Trivial Pursuit. Hoffnungsau didn’t really become an official church congregation until December 8, 1875, when they elected a minister and a deacon. Furthermore, they didn’t become an independent congregation until May 14, 1876, when Dietrich Gaeddert was ordained as Hoffnungsau’s first elder (until then they had shared an elder with Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church).
What isn’t trivial is that Hoffnungsau has a history of faithful vibrancy and Christian outreach. Within several years, Bethel Mennonite Church of Inman and the former Hebron Mennonite Church of Buhler were formed because of differing views on matters of worship, polity and expression of piety. With solid leadership, however, Hoffnungsau, grew rapidly. By the turn of the century people came quite a distance from the surrounding Buhler/Inman area to worship at Hoffnungsau.
As Hoffnungsau grew—in size and distance—the need for more meeting places became evident. In 1909 a church building was built in Inman and then in 1913, also in Buhler. The elder and ministers of Hoffnungsau traveled to each meeting place to preach and lead worship. Due to logistics, it was wisely decided that each church plant become an independent church, electing their own ministers and elder. Buhler Mennonite Church (a.k.a., “The South Church”) organized in 1920 and Inman Mennonite Church in 1921. All of these churches became loyal partners in the Western District Conference and remain so today.
In 1920, Hoffnungsau Membership stood at 450 and then dropped to 245 by 1923. This was not considered a loss by the “Mother” Church because these members helped the two new churches begin outreach programs in their respective communities. As recently as several years ago (helping Christ Community Church in Shaumberg, IL) Hoffnungsau has maintained the tradition of helping start up and/or building new churches. Hoffnungsau’s missional work of building institutions also includes helping establish and sustain Bethel College (N. Newton), Prairie View Mental Health (Newton), Pleasant View Home (Inman), Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (Chicago and Elkhart, IN), Victim Offender Ministries (Newton) and Civilian Public Service. Hoffnungsau members have served in crucial roles for each of these institutions and also many others.
In 2007, Hoffnungsau continues to supply many workers for missional church-related ministries, both around the world and across the street. This ministry is based on a firm ethic of Christian service. One detail which has not been established about Hoffnungsau is how many of its members have taken part in Voluntary Service, PAX, pastoral ministry, MCC and or other conference level leadership (and also how many participants have then returned to the church as committed and passionate leaders). Maybe this will become the basis of research projects for future students.
When Hoffnungsau celebrated its 100th birthday (1974), Elder Albert Gaeddert observed that even in the face of fluctuating membership there was purpose for its existence, he wrote:
"The important thing is that the congregation always seems to have had strong reason for being. It has always sensed that her contribution is a unique contribution and that is to help each one to find his/her own God-given talent and to develop that to the full."
Thoughts for Reflection
For Curiosity’s Sake