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Last updated August 22.

Aug. 20, 2012 issue

Modern ‘Martyrs Mirror’ Envisioned

Goshen hosts gathering to guide project collecting stories of those who have suffered for their faith

By Kaeli Evans Goshen College

GOSHEN, Ind. — More than 35 people from around the world gathered at Goshen College Aug. 5-8 for a consultation on “Bearing Witness: A New Martyrs Mirror for the 21st Century?”

Goshen College professor of history John D. Roth leads a conversation at an international consultation, “Bearing Witness: A New <i>Martyrs Mirror</i> for the 21st Century?” More than 35 people from seven countries gathered at Goshen Aug. 5-8.

Goshen College professor of history John D. Roth leads a conversation at an international consultation, “Bearing Witness: A New Martyrs Mirror for the 21st Century?” More than 35 people from seven countries gathered at Goshen Aug. 5-8. — Photo by Kaeli Evans/Goshen College

Hosted by the college’s Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism, the gathering explored the possibility of a story-gathering initiative, focused especially on the theme of “costly discipleship.”

Conference organizer and Goshen professor of history John D. Roth said Anabaptist groups have had a long tradition of storytelling, particularly stories of those who have suffered or died because of their convictions. In 1562, Dutch Anabaptists secretly published a collection of martyr stories, known as Het Offer des Herrn (Sacrifice Unto the Lord). Later editions culminated in 1685 with an expanded version called Martyrs Mirror.

No further expansions have been published, though many Anabaptists have continued to suffer for their faith, including in places such as Indonesia, India, Zimbabwe, Congo and Colombia.

Roth invited scholars and church leaders from a wide range of groups to discuss the possibility of gathering stories of costly discipleship.

Participants affirmed the project, encouraging Roth and co-moderator, Bluffton University professor of communication Gerald Mast, to cultivate a broad base of support for the research and gathering phase. The group also identified challenges to be addressed as the project continues.

“There can be a danger,” said Jack Suderman, former general secretary of Mennonite Church Canada, “of speaking about victimization from a perspective of power, or that we use the suffering of others to bolster our own positions.”

Other participants noted the logistical and practical challenges of gathering stories from a global body of 1.7 million members. Participants also wrestled with the question of who “qualifies” for inclusion in the project.

Some argued for narrow definitions — focusing the initiative only on individuals from Anabaptist groups who had died for their faith. The majority favored a broader scope that would include some stories of nonresistant Christians outside the Anabaptist tradition, as well as those whose suffering did not necessarily result in death.

Roth noted the title of the consultation, “Bearing Witness,” was an effort to shift the focus from physical suffering to deeper reasons behind suffering.

continued on next page »


  • Do Anabaptists have to keep on segregating in martyrdom? I've read that an average of 160,000 Christians of all sorts and denominations are killed because of their faith each year according to Gordon-Conwell Seminary's Center for the Study of Global Christianity. More energy should be spent on our unity in Christ with all believers, both living and dead.

    - Gary Olsen-Hasek (aug 20 at 3:57 p.m.)

  • Gary I get what your saying but I disagree with your assumption that being distinct is the same as segregating ourselves. I work overseas and our distinct identity as anabaptists is somthing that the world sees and appreciates. We need to live and love our christian brothers as Jesus, but that doesnt mean we always try to make all christian groups homogenous.

    What your suggesting is a good idea but its going to be hard enough to filter through the stories of 1.7 million of us, let alone the rest of the followers of Jesus in the world. Mennonites are known for working together with others though Maybe if other groups seriously wanted to be involved space would be made for them as partners?

    - Darnell Barkman (aug 23 at 1:15 a.m.)

  • I think this is a great idea. I love the marytrs mirror and think its such a vauable and encouraging compolation of the stories from church before us. I'm looking forward to extending the vision it casts to my childrens generation! Thank you for continuing to value our history and example of Jesus lordship over our people for the world.

    - Darnell Barkman (aug 23 at 1:22 a.m.)

  • this is a worthy project.

    when janet and i worked in russia with mcc again and again pastors resonated with the anabaptist story because it was a history of principled choices that resulted in suffering. that resonated with the folks from behind the iron curtain.

    - walter bergen (aug 23 at 9:43 p.m.)

  • I don't think the new Marytr's Mirror should be restricted to Anabaptists. Any faithful Christians who die a martyr's death should be included. That said, the editors should be careful to exclude greedy ministers or people who profess to be Christians but are seeking political office, since maybe the killing happened because of rivalry and jealousy that had nothing to do with belief.

    - BARBARA BROOKS (aug 28 at 10:22 p.m.)

  • I get what Jack Suderman said about “There can be a danger of speaking about victimization from a perspective of power." But my person experience as a college student discovering Anabaptism, strengthened by a European Anabaptist tour left me inspired. I was in awe of the martrys and then and still wonder if I have faith that could be so strong to endure suffering. That's where I hope this emphasis goes, to inspire Discipleship, not to lord it over other denominations or use guilt that we are superior.

    - Brian D. Stucky (sep 2 at 1:45 p.m.)

  • Oh no, I suppose it will have a lot of anti-Israel rhetoric in it and have a lot of stories about all those peace makers who have ‘suffered’ for the Palestinian cause, then gone home to their privileged lives. I think it will simply become another political tool for the activists rather than a book of inspiration. I will stay with the Martyrs Mirror that I now have.

    - Erika Fels (sep 6 at 5:06 p.m.)

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