Wednesday, 20 August 2014 16:39

Swift Current author reflects on Mennonite past and present in new book

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
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Swift Current resident Jacob Fehr's latest book is a reminder of the faith and culture of his ancestors who came to Canada along with thousands of other Mennonites to start a new life.

The 80-page book, titled Another Page in Mennonite History, provides a historical overview of the Mennonite journey over centuries that eventually brought them to Canada in the 1870s, where they initially settled in Manitoba and then found a home in Saskatchewan and the Swift Current area.
For Fehr the essence of the Mennonite journey to Canada is reflected in his poem that he placed prominently at the front of the book.
“At seven O six the sky is mixed with many colours, painted by a Hand so very large, I may not comprehend the total picture, But I believe that God is well in charge.”
He said the poem refers to people’s belief that they will be able to practise their faith in their new country.
“When they got up in the morning, they had this new hope in a new land,” he mentioned. “That’s what they felt, they were in a free country.”
In addition to details about their history, the book includes poems, recipes as well as information and photographs about cultural artifacts that will provide readers with a glimpse into Mennonite culture and lifestyle.
“This book is just another channel where we can look back to have a faith in this life,” he said. “It’s another channel for people to see what we should do in this life to be an example to others because if you’re not, then what are you?”
Many of the photographs and information in the book relate to the Mennonite Heritage Village in Swift Current and funds from the sale of the book will be donated to the village.
“I wrote this book primarily to support the Mennonite Heritage Village because it tells why the people came here and when people buy this book they support the village,” he said. “They could take it home and still see the artifacts we have and share it with their family.”
He has already seen a significant interest in the book since it recently became available in Swift Current.
“It’s in English mostly and it’s local,” he said. “So I’ve sold a couple of hundred just by meeting people. ... It’s for the broad public too, because all books can be read by all people so people understand each other.”
According to Fehr he still feels excited when he has completed a new publication.
“I feel very good about it and then I hope it’s going to do something,” he said. “I’ve printed thousands of books and CDs and tapes, but tapes are out of style. ... That’s the way time goes.”
He has published about a dozen books in both English and Low German. He finds it easier to write in Low German, which was the language he grew up with.
“You can express yourself much better,” he said. “It’s like that in any language.”
He grew up in the village of Chortitz, located about four miles east of Wymark. It used to be a community of about 150 people when he grew up there, but now it only has a population of about 25.
“All the towns have disappeared because of the smaller farms disappearing,” he said. “That’s why the villages disappeared too. You have to have a reason to live there.”
He started to write poetry when he was at school. Writing is an important part of his life, but he did not always have time to do it.
“I’ve written ever since I was in school, but I only started when I was about 50 because I was too busy working for our bread and butter,” he said.
He ran a dairy on his farm while he worked on the railroad for 20 years. He also worked at the Swift Current Comprehensive High School for 20 years as a member of the maintenance staff.
“When I was finished at my job in the school, I sat on the step waiting for my wife and before she came I had already written a story,” he recalled. “I do that all the time.”
He will always have a piece of paper and a pencil with him to write down ideas for a story, which might be sparked by something said during a conversation.
“I make a few notes and that’s all I need,” he said. “It’s like putting gas in your tank and turn on the ignition and away you go. ... One good line, it’s all it takes to take off writing a story. You need that line because people look for it at the end of the story. There has to be a reason for writing it or else people will quit reading.”
He prefers to write about everyday life and he wants to inspire people through his writing.
“We are here in this world as an example of what God wants us to do, to love and to share and to do what we can,” he said. “I have a little poem on my wall that says ‘Do what you can where you are with what you have.’ ... My aim is to do what I can where I am with what I have.”
Fehr’s book is available for sale at the Coles bookstore in Swift Current or at the Mennonite Heritage Village. All proceeds from book sales at the village will be donated for the upkeep of the buildings and grounds at the site.
The Mennonite Heritage Village, which is situated next to Kinetic Exhibition Park, is open from 1 to 6 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays until Sept. 1. A special event to celebrate the centennial of the Sommerfeld Church, which is located on the grounds of the village, took place on Aug. 17.

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