“What do these stones mean?”

   Last weekend I attended the annual gathering of the Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba. Several speakers used stones as images to help illustrate their specific point. One of these speakers referred to an event described in the fourth chapter of the biblical book of Joshua.

   In this narrative we find the migrating Israelites confronted by the Jordan River at flood stage on their trek from Egypt to the “Promised Land.” After miraculously clearing a dry path for them through the river, God instructs one representative of each of the twelve Israelite tribes to take a stone from the middle of the river and together build an altar with them on the other side. The purpose of this altar is “to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them [what happened here]. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” (Joshua 4:6 & 7 NIV)

   A river at flood stage would be a huge barrier to this migrating group of more than 600,000 people, especially with no bridges or ferries in sight. Miraculously the waters were parted, and all the people and their livestock and possessions made it to the other side. The altar was intended to be a reminder to future generations of God’s miraculous provision for the Israelite people - an experience well worth remembering and recounting.

   Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) might similarly be considered a type of “altar.” It is a “memorial” designed and maintained to remind current and future generations of God’s faithfulness to another people group on a very challenging journey. Spending an hour or two at MHV is a great way for younger people to vividly encounter stories about the experiences of their ancestors, including some of the “Jordan Rivers” they had to cross and how they were enabled to do so.

   While this museum primarily tells the story of the Mennonites who came from Russia to Canada as refugees, beginning in 1874, MHV can also be a reminder to people of other ethnicities of their own stories of immigration and “Jordan River” crossings. Many of the pioneer elements in the Mennonite experience which we display through our artifacts and exhibits are also common to other ethnic groups, such as spinning wheels, butter churns, horse-drawn sleighs, and wood-fired cook stoves.

   Refugees arriving in Canada more recently have come from a wide variety of countries and bring memories of all kinds of experiences with them. It is important that they also find ways to preserve these memories, both the difficult ones and the joyful ones.

   Our daughter and son-in-law recently took their two children to Disney World and related venues in Florida. Undoubtedly one of the family’s objectives in this excursion was to have a good time. Perhaps equally important in the minds of the parents was a desire to help their children build wonderful childhood memories, memories that add to their quality of life and can’t be taken away from them.

   Granted, family trips to Disney World have very little in common with refugee migrations. But our grandchildren will now retain great memories of their recent Florida excursion. The ancient Israelites most surely took with them spectacular memories of crossing the Jordan River on dry ground. And our ancestors who migrated from another country in times of distress have left us with numerous artifacts and stories of their own memories. So when our children ask “What do these stones (museum artifacts and exhibits) mean?” let’s ensure that they get answers that preserve the memories of their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents . . . .

Calendar of Events

March 21 – 7:30 PM, Annual General Meeting

March 30 - Closed for Good Friday

April 26 – 7:00 PM, Volunteer Orientation

May 1 - Opening day for the Livery Barn Restaurant and the Outdoor Village

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About the Author

Barry is the Executive Director of the Mennonite Heritage Village. While he does not consider himself to be a historian, he places a high value on the preservation and interpretation of the Mennonite and pioneer stories that help people of all ages understand and appreciate their heritage. Learn more about the MHV.

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