“It is my favourite because of what it symbolizes,” Stoesz says. “It was easily concealed and likely needed to be for fear of persecution and violence.”

Archives a hidden treasure of Mennonite Brethren stories

Those preserving the past struggle to save records on aging formats

WINNIPEG, MB—Nestled between a railroad and a gas station lies a rather innocuous building that is a treasure trove of thousands of faith stories dating back hundreds of years. If one did not know it was there it would be easy to miss.

Conrad Stoesz is an archivist with the Mennonite Brethren Archives and thrives on collecting treasures new and old of the journeys of the Mennonite people. His favourite piece is a hymnal no bigger than the palm of a hand, dating back to 1688 when Mennonites faced heavy persecution for their beliefs.

“It is my favourite because of what it symbolizes,” Stoesz says. “It was easily concealed and likely needed to be for fear of persecution and violence.”

As an archivist Stoesz is in charge of maintaining thousands of records across hundreds of different mediums. However as technology evolves so do the formats on which the technology that is stored as well as the requirements needed to read those formats.

“Paper is easy, you look at it and read it,” Stoesz says. “But with reel-to-reel, wire recordings, cassette tapes, VHS, Beta, you not only need to maintain the record but also the technology required to access those records.”

“It’s very rewarding,” Stoesz says. “I sift through raw testimonies of people of faith and am regularly encouraged as a result.”
“It’s very rewarding,” Stoesz says. “I sift through raw testimonies of people of faith and am regularly encouraged as a result.”

Despite the challenges Stoesz perseveres. The MB Archive team release stories in a publication called Profiles of Mennonite Faith which highlights stories like that of Ann Klassen, and her mission to the people of Paraguay in the 1960s.

Three years before Klassen’s endeavour, a previous missionary in the area had a fatal encounter with a group of Ayoreo (or Moro) tribesman. Klassen, by offering her pearl necklace in exchange for one of the Ayoreo spears, would eventually play a key role to improving relations between Christian missionaries and tribesman in the area.

Aside from managing the repository of Mennonite Brethren artifacts and history, Stoesz’s other duties include everything from helping lawyers or journalists with proper citations to assisting adoptees discover their family history and the environmental circumstances that surrounded their adoption.

“It’s very rewarding,” Stoesz says. “I sift through raw testimonies of people of faith and am regularly encouraged as a result.”

 

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ChristianWeek Western Correspondent