‘Truth’ in GermanBy John D. Roth
In recent years, two significant German-language papers out of Canada ceased publication. The demise of the Die Mennonitische Rundschau in 2007, after 127 years, was followed in 2008 by the end of Der Bote, after 85 years. Descendants of the German-speaking subscribers either shifted to English or moved on to more remote parts of the world.
Thus, it is amazing that Herold der Wahrheit (Herald of Truth) — a 24-page German/English monthly periodical of the Amish Publishing Association — is now celebrating its 100th year. In a context where periodicals are dying and reader tastes becoming increasingly homogenous, Herold der Wahrheit is a small symbol of continuity and the persistence of tradition.
The paper takes its name from a periodical begun in 1864, appearing simultaneously in German as Herold der Wahrheit and in English as Herald of Truth. Herald of Truth merged with Gospel Banner in 1908, becoming Gospel Herald, the main denominational periodical for the Mennonite Church. The German version ceased in 1901, a victim of the language transition among North American Mennonites.
A decade later, two Old Order Amishmen from Iowa — Samuel D. Guengerich and Jacob F. Swartzentruber — had a vision for a revived German/English publication. They established Herold der Wahrheit in 1912 in the hopes of preserving the language, spirituality and practices of Christian faithfulness they feared were being lost.
By 1920 they established the Amish Mennonite Publishing Association to oversee the paper. In 1955, the corporation dissolved as more liberal groups, frustrated in part with the prominence of German in the paper, parted company. From 1956 to the present, board members and editors have all been Old Order Amish, mostly in Kalona, Iowa.
For a full century, Herold der Wahrheit has fulfilled the vision of preserving tradition through the power of print. Each issue begins with a devotional editorial in German, followed by several articles on biblical topics, history and practical Christian living, also in German. Then follows a mostly parallel format in English. Articles not written by one of the three editors are sent in by readers or reprinted from other conservative periodicals.
Concluding each issue is a section, “Our Young People,” with a youth-focused sermon and children’s word puzzles, a Bible quiz and brief letters. Children can earn cash credits by completing the exercises (most earn 2 cents; successfully translating the children’s story from German to English earns 25 cents).
Comparing current issues with the paper’s first appearance reveals continuity. The paper continues to feature the writings of early Anabaptists like Dietrich Philips or Menno Simons. And overall themes — focused on topics like humility, buying and selling, repentance and conversion, avoidance and the ban, sin and the challenges of church unity — reflect a tone of biblical authority, doctrinal clarity, fear of worldliness and a concern for practical application that comes through just as clearly in 2012 as it did in 1912.
How much longer Herold der Wahrheit will survive is a question raised by the editors themselves. At a time when the Amish community is growing rapidly, the circulation of the paper hovers around 375 (this despite an offer of a free one-year subscription to all newlyweds). But the effort to maintain a language, a tradition and a sense of community through the power of print is still very much alive in the pages of Herold der Wahrheit.
John D. Roth is professor of history at Goshen (Ind.) College and director of the Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism.
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