John F. Harms (1855-1945; Photo: GAMEO)
John F. Harms, editor of the Mennonitische Rundschau, wrote a passionate call for help in 1884. The circumstances of the migrants to Central Asia had become desperate, and a small group decided to join their fellow believers in our continent; they couldn’t do it without help. The response was remarkable, swift and effective.
The following is my translation of the article, with the help of DeepL. Underlined words were originally emphasized by inserting spaces between characters: “Khiva” was “K h i v a”. I have added paragraph breaks for clarity. Elena Klassen kindly prepared the original transcription from the Gothic German script. The German text is in the German language version of this blog post. Scans of the original magazine are also available online.
published Mennonitische Rundschau 23 Apr 1884 p 1-3.
Thanks be to God that energetic steps are being taken among all Mennonites in America to possibly bring all Mennonites over from Asia. Who will help in this work? Large and small gifts will be gladly accepted by the editor, J F. Harms, Hillsboro, Kansas.
Distress in Asia.
The readers of this newspaper have been informed from time to time about the situation of our fellow believers who have emigrated to Asia; perhaps only a few of them will be astonished or surprised to hear about such distress in Asia, which urgently needs to be remedied in a different way than has been done so far. The remedy will be discussed in more detail in another place; here, only a few excerpts from letters, which speak for themselves, are intended to point out the distress, from which the inclined reader can deduce the urgent need for rapid help.
From Aulie Ata it is written: "Poverty has gotten so out of hand here that we hardly know what to do, in addition we are already in debt to the crown (government) to the tune of 150 rubles ($75.00 per family?). Since the time when we once made the difficult journey to Asia for the sake of our faith, we have already experienced more hardship and misery than the pen can describe or the mouth can utter. Already on our journey through the Don and Kalmyk regions we had to endure a lot. Many of our people died on the way. We stayed in Tashkent for two years, where some were snatched away by climatic diseases [typhoid fever]. — When we arrived in the country at Aulie Ata, smallpox broke out and was rampant for half a year. We were so far gone that we could no longer cover our nakedness, but we bought some clothes and bread with the gifts you sent. — A big hardship is also irrigating the land here, because we don't have enough (running) water for that here, and making wells is impossible because of the depth [required]. In the winter we have to melt snow and ice, and this winter we had very little snow. We have come so far in our afflictions that we must cry out to God and man for mercy.”
In Khiva, the situation is just as sad. The following is reported from there: "Of the thefts reported in my last letter, there have been several more, so that a total of 46 horses and 20 cows have been stolen, followed by brazen burglaries and robberies, in which the robbers used both firearms and sabers. Praise and thanks be to the Lord that no lives were lost, but wounds, more or less serious, did occur. Two brothers received saber blows on the head, one of them almost had his ear cut off. Oh, they were terrible nights." — The robbers found a small sum of money at one woman’s home. — This only made them more rapacious, and the burglaries became more and more bold. Thus in one place, they drove away the inhabitants of the house and built a fire in the house, they burned tables, chairs, etc. and ordered the inhabitants of the house to leave, and when this order was not immediately obeyed, the robbers cut them with their sabers. — It is reported of one family that, under heavy forebodings, they had just committed themselves to the protection of God in serious evening prayer and were going to bed, when they soon heard the heavy blows of an ax on the door. "Now they are here," they whispered to each other, woke up all the family members again and united in fervent supplication to God, while the robbers tried to break the door down. The door, however, did not seem to give way quickly enough, and the robbers went on their way without having achieved anything. —
Many more such scenes could be mentioned, but enough for this time, for it is already clear enough from what has been reported that those who have fallen among the murderers, so to speak, need the help they so ardently desire, namely to be able to escape these hardships by emigrating to America.
Dear reader, how much will you give so that the Mennonites from Asia will come out of their misery? Will you give a dollar? Or even just fifty cents? Even less will be accepted with thanks and delivered. - J. F. Harms, Hillsboro, Kansas.
Calls for help from Asia.
Many of the same have already been sent by our fellow believers who have emigrated there, but mostly they were only private requests and if they were congregational requests, they were only for help to settle there in Asia. Now, however, there are calls for help to resettle in America, and we share these excerpts from letters.
From Aulie Ata it is written: "We realize that we have gone too far into the East — several families have already thought of taking our flight to America — and we ask you for your advice as to whether this could be made possible. We are now again between fear and hope, for we have again been told by the authorities that if we do not accept (compulsory military service?), we will not be able to stay here. — It is not likely that we will receive even a kopek for our houses and households, although we have built up quite a bit, because we thought we would now have some peace. Many are also willing to stay, even if it means going to prison, but we are six families in number who have agreed to emigrate if this can be done. But we lack the means, so we ask all brothers in Christ, "You will surely do as much as God will give you strength and joy.“ — We were together yesterday, January 22, and discussed our emigration in prayer and supplication. We have to rent arbas (two-wheeled carts) beginning in Aulie Ata from town to town. A merchant has this line under his control as far as Orenburg and an arba costs 100 rubles on this route. From Orenburg to Samara, there is already a train. From there we have to get our emigration passports from Berdyansk. — We unanimously ask everyone to come to our aid with the necessary travel money. --
From Khiva it is written: — "Since my last letter to America, our situation has become even more serious. — Although a guard has now been sent for us, one cannot have any confidence in the conditions here, given the complete powerlessness of the local government, especially since it still lacks the right will and only does what it has to do for Russia's sake. — But the serious question is what we should do. For a while we had the intention of going to the Russian side to live there as subjects of Khiva. We therefore made enquiries about it, the officials wanted it, but they could not give their word for the simple reason that the military law was against it. We have now, i.e. first of all some families, come to the decision to emigrate to America and expressed our intention to the congregation the day before yesterday (January 28). — But we have almost exhausted all our financial means and, encouraged by some of your earlier letters, we would like to ask you for your help. We are well aware of the demands we are making on you, and yet, apart from childlike, faithful prayer to the Lord, who is rich above all those who call upon him, this is the only way left to us. — If the Lord does not make the hearts of our loved ones in America willing to give, then the possibility of getting away from here, although the Lord's hand is strong enough to help in other ways, would almost be cut off. We cannot calculate how much the journey would cost. From here to the nearest railway station, Orenburg, about 1300 verst (over 800 miles), a person might cost 30 rubles, from there to the Prussian border probably a little more; from there to America you know better than we do, dear brothers. It is a large sum and we would not dare to ask you for help if we knew any other way. — Our request now is whether you can make it possible for perhaps 20-30 families to come there. We would like to leave here as soon as possible, as staying here longer could easily have serious consequences.”
In another letter from Khiva, it says: "We would gladly use the cheapest seats, 4th class on the railway, and steerage on the ships, if only we are helped. —”
The above cries for help speak for themselves and we only wish that they will find a sympathetic ear among readers everywhere and willing hearts and hands to help. --
Do you feel compassion for the brothers in Asia? Surely! Then give, yes, give something! Give at once! Give according to your ability! Give willingly! Address to: J. F. Harms, Hillsboro, Kansas.
Excerpt from a letter.
From a letter from Aulie Ata to Peter Becker, Dakota, we take the following:...Beloved brothers, it is heavy on our hearts to write to you again and to thank you for your love and loyalty that you have shown us. "Blessed is he who takes care of the needy, whom the Lord shall save in the time of trouble." [Psalm 41:1]... We wandered here as free people, but now it seems that it cannot be and probably will not be. It is so finely laid out and the little [state] services we are supposed to render seem small, but we may yet be caught and fully come under the law of conscription. Now we, I and brother-in-law Eck, as your fellow brothers in Christ, come to you for advice and ask you to take the matter in hand and examine what is best for us. We have little time and must decide soon to accept [the service] or leave the country. It seems that there will be a separation again. The colony chief, Jakob Janzen, and the village chief were recently away for two days and submitted a petition to the high authorities. The village chief himself said to me: "Those who are willing to emigrate to America can begin to work for it.” — But what can we do? We are like the prisoners of Zion if we do not receive help from your country. We have now learned from Jakob Schmidt's letter, that you should have advice for the families who are from Tobias Unruh's congregation in Karolswalde. There are four of them here, namely my family, the Peter Ecks, the David Schmitts, and the Andreas Bullers. Four families from Karolswalde are in Khiva: the Bernd Beckers, the Benjamin Dirksens, the Peter Unruhs and the Cornelius Unruhs. These dear brethren are much worse off than we are, as can be seen from a letter from Cornelius Unruh. I think it would be good if the letter were published, so I am sending it along...
Letter from Dec. 19, 1883, from Khiva from Cornelius Unruh to his siblings in Aulie Ata.
Dear siblings.......We and our children are quite healthy and wish you the same with all our hearts.......We have harvested nothing this year and whether we will sow or reap in the future year is only known to God. It seems as if we are completely finished, because we are being robbed and plundered by the local inhabitants. Already 37 horses and 15 cows have been stolen from our village, including our horse and cow. There is hardly a night that the thieves do not sneak through the village and take whatever they can get. From the 16th to the 17th of December we lived through a terrible night. I don't want to describe to you in detail what kind of screaming and whining and what kind of shooting was heard there; it wouldn't do any good either - praise and thanks be to God that it didn't cost any human lives. We know that this is a test for us, and God wants to see how we will fare in it. We would like to fight back and defend ourselves, but because we know that it comes from the Lord, we have to endure this evil; but we certainly hope that the Lord will save us.... Ten families live in another village about two verst from here, they have surrounded themselves with a wall. There are 45 families living in our village. I will not mention anything else about our congregation, except that it is sad to say that Jakob Stärkel, Dietrich Ott and Gerhard Dück were baptized in the river and moved from us to Petro Alexandrovsk….
Remaining your brethren,
C.U. [Cornelius Unruh]
Minutes of the Meeting for the Support of Needy Immigrants from Asia.
On April 4, 1884, at the home of Bernhard Regier in Newton, Kansas, at the instigation of brother Peter Claassen, a number of brethren who had received appeals for help by letter from Asia, respectively Aulie Ata and Khiva, met to discuss ways and means of how the brethren seeking help can most quickly and beneficially fulfill their ardent wish to escape the hardships in Asia poignantly described in various letters, and to seek a sheltering asylum in America.
The group organized itself by electing brother Christian Krehbiel as president and David Goerz as secretary.
1. Brother Peter Claassen presented letters and dispatches from the brethren in Nebraska, from which the assembly is glad to hear that the brethren in Nebraska wish to work together with those in Kansas in the work of relief.
2. However, as the urgency of the requests from Asia makes immediate action necessary, the group elected a committee of seven brothers as follows: the president and secretary of the aid committee formerly known as the "Board of Guardians", Chr. Krehbiel and D. Goerz, to the Business Committee in conjunction with B. Regier of Newton as President and Abr. Sudermann as Treasurer and H. Richert of Neu-Alexanderwohl, Wm. Ewert of Bruderthal and D. Gaeddert of Hoffnungsau as members of the committee.
3. A copy of these minutes shall be sent to the brethren in Nebraska with the wish that a committee may also be elected there with whom the Kansas Committee may communicate.
4. The absent committee members, D. Gaeddert, H. Richert and Wm. Ewert shall also be sent a copy of these minutes and the minutes shall also be published in Bundesbote, Herold der Wahrheit, Menn. Rundschau and Evangeliums Panier.
5. An appeal to all for enthusiasm in support of the Asian emigrants is also to appear in said papers.
6. D. Goerz reported to the meeting that he had already made enquiries with the various steamship companies about special rates for the emigrants and was asked to continue the negotiations.
7. As a basis for such negotiations, today's meeting commits itself to a provisional deposit of $1000 until a sufficient amount of support, which should be around $8,000-10,000, is collected or at least secured.
8. The assembly requests brother Claassen to travel to Nebraska with these minutes, to consult with the brethren there and to bring back to us the result of the discussions there.
9. Decided to telegraph the twenty families in Khiva and to write to the six families at Aulie Ata that efforts are being made here to help them. -
10. Brothers B. Regier and Abr. Sudermann are asked to write to the brethren in Prussia to ask for their help in the matter of support.
11. Support funds shall be accepted and used as gifts or loans, as determined by the donors; loans, however, are to be for at least three years and without interest.
12. The committee shall conduct business under the name "American Mennonite Aid Committee.”
13. Moved to adjourn until brother Peter Claassen returns from Nebraska and reconvenes the group.
Christian Krehbiel, President.
David Goerz, Secretary.
The Mennonites in Asia must be brought over! It can happen!!! It will happen!!! Do something about it too, dear reader.
An appeal to all to support needy Mennonites in Asia who would like to emigrate to America.
Many thousands of dollars have already been sent from America to Asia to help the Mennonites there with their difficult settlement, and that is right, beautiful and worthy of recognition. Such gifts have been gladly given and gratefully received, for which we have many testimonies — which encourage us to continue this support. However, it is now becoming ever more apparent that this one kind of help alone is not sufficient and not far-reaching enough, and many a donor has said when sending their gift to Asia: How much more lasting and far-reaching could our gifts be to the brethren in Asia if the money sent there were used to pay for the journey of the brethren to America. Here in our vicinity and in our midst, the brethren who are now in need of help would soon be so well established that they would no longer need support. However, such remarks were only made in silence, for none of the donors wanted to agitate for America through their gifts, and that is not what these lines are intended to do. — The conviction and faith of those brethren who once held firmly that Asia would be the gathering place of the Bride Church should not be challenged by withdrawing or even diminishing the support so needed by those brethren. — But if, even without any action from this side, there are those among the brethren in Asia who realize that they have gone too far to the East, and who would like to escape the robbery of their possessions, murder and death on the part of the heathen nations surrounding them, and for this purpose turn to America with the cry: "Help us so to escape the misery here and come to you in America" — then a second avenue of help opens up for us here, which we must not neglect any more than the first (indicated above) and it is important here: To do the one and not to leave the other. --
Thus, the request and invitation goes out herewith to all who kindly listen to the "Calls for Help from Asia" elsewhere in this paper, and who recognise the necessity of the requested help from the short descriptions of the "Distress in Asia" (in another column), and agree to the mode of relief noted below: send your gifts to support the needy brethren in Asia to travel to America, to brother Abraham Sudermann, Newton, Harvey County, Kansas.
Such gifts are gladly accepted by way of donation, but advance payments on loan for no less than three years without interest are also welcome, because the sum of $8,000 to $10,000 needed to support the twenty-six families already ready to travel would perhaps not be collected quickly enough by gift alone, but would be easier to achieve with the help of advance payments.
The "American Mennonite Aid Committee" chosen to administer and use these gifts and advances will endeavour, on the basis of previous experience in the matter of relief and emigration, to stretch the incoming relief funds as far as possible by concluding passage contracts at the cheapest possible prices in the shortest possible time. --
We gladly hope that the willingness of our congregations to help and give may also prove itself anew in the support of these brothers calling for help to come over from Asia. --
On behalf of the meeting held in Newton on April 4, 1884 for the support of needy immigrants from Asia.
The American Mennonite Aid Committee.
To bring about help for our brethren in Asia is, above all, our main task in editing this issue of the "Rundschau". The descriptions of the conditions there are not exaggerated, but told simply, but truly. Have any of our readers remained without compassion? — — If this is not the case, there should not be a single reader who does not do something to support the emigration project. Even the smallest mite will be accepted. Just think, many drops make the sea, — if each reader were to donate a dollar, or even more if possible, it would raise quite a sum. A close friend here wants to sell a cow and the proceeds are to be given to the emigration of the Asian brethren. Who wants to do the same? You well-off people, — dig deep into your pockets! The sum needed is large and the rich givers are few.
Elder Peter Becker from Dakota, who sent us the letters received from Asia, addresses the following serious words to our readers: "Dear immigrant brothers and sisters, when we look at our emigration lot today, we may say with the Psalmist: "Our lot has fallen most delightfully; a beautiful inheritance has become ours.” [Psalm 16:6] We have enjoyed peace and tranquility up to this point, and the Lord has blessed our work so that the fortune of some has already increased, and almost without exception we have all made a good living. Who has now so faithfully provided for us and given us the intention to move to this country? I believe it was our gracious and faithful God who did it, — and you dear brothers and sisters certainly believe the same. Now consider the difference between our situation and the situation of our brethren in Asia! — They are robbed and plundered, live in fear and are in danger of death, — while we can rest quietly on our couch here. Should the cries for help from these poor people go unanswered? I have already found many brothers and sisters in our area who are willing to make sacrifices, — but what do the readers of the dear Rundschau have to say about it?"
"God loves a cheerful giver." [2 Cor. 9:7] Isn't it true, dear reader, that you would like to give something for our brethren in Asia, so that they can be helped over here? What a joy to be able to give. J. F. H.