Mennonite Heritage Village

Own Your Story

Village News (March 21, 2019)

By Gary Dyck

Own Your Story

One of the most vital roles parents and elders have in a society is to pass on the stories of their family and their tribe. Some cultures do this very well, but some cultures have become ashamed or apathetic about it. The problem is not a lack of good story content, but a lack of good storytellers. Michelle Obama prefaced her recent biography with the conviction that it is important for parents to help their children to know their story, “…they helped me see the value in our story, in my story, in the larger story of our country. Even when it’s not pretty or perfect… Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.”

Our status can quickly be reduced to nothing. Family and friends pass on. Possessions get stolen or eventually rusts away. All that remains is our story. Your story is what you have. No one can take it away from you, but you can lose it if you don’t take responsibility for it.

Recently, I sat down with our Senior Curator and she showed me the planned layout for our upcoming Russlaender exhibit. Russlaender is the term for those Mennonites who came from the Soviet Union in the 1920s or later. In the middle of the gallery layout a drawing of a smaller room with three walls caught my attention. She told me of their plans to set it up how a kitchen would look at that time and to look like someone had just left the room. Thousands of Russlaender Mennonites had to flee from their homes. They experienced World War I, famine, Communist revolution, civil war and anarchy. Some intentionally left their homes looking like people still lived there. They had a faint hope that it would keep trespassers away and that they would be able to return one day to the only home they had known. This is what this room within the gallery room will represent.

Life can change very quickly. We all need to be grounded in an over-arching narrative. Without one, life can be too overwhelming when it takes us into the unknown – which it will. Knowing your story and making it known to your clan equips you and them for the future.

This year, take the time to bring your children and your grand-children to the Mennonite Heritage Village Museum (MHV). Prepare a couple of anecdotes to tell them as you go, make a story of it! Make connections for them from what they see at the museum with what you know about your own family history. Stop awhile at the Russlaender exhibit and get them to imagine how it would have felt to leave that kitchen. And before you leave MHV buy a couple of books at the Bookstore. Our staff have many books they could recommend to you. Preserving the content of the Mennonite story and helping you be a story-teller for your family is what we at MHV live for. Story-telling is an integral role you have as a parent or a grand-parent; make it yours, so they can make it theirs.

Calendar of Events

April 2, MHV All General Meeting – 7:30 PM, Open to the Public