God is working amongst the Hutterites, with many being reached for Christ in various localities. Brother Bergsma and other brethren have been invited into their colonies, giving opportunity to bring the gospel and to teach new believers.
The Hutterites flourish on the prairie plains of North America. Of all family-type “Christian” communal groups, they are today the oldest, largest, and the most successful. Neither persecution and plunder in Europe, nor prosperity and affluence has swept them into the mainstream of modern civilization.
The Hutterites originated over four centuries ago in Austria and Moravia. In 1528, a group of persecuted Anabaptist refugees instituted communal living. Jacob Hutter became their strongest leader and later was burned at the stake. The group, named after him, has survived the ups and downs of over 470 years of hostility and suffering, interspersed with short periods of prosperity.
By 1590 it is believed that there were 80 colonies with a population of 15,000. But such prosperity did not last. In 1770, they moved to settle in the Ukraine with the promise of religious liberty and exemption from military service. When this privilege was revoked in Russia, the entire group of 800 Hutterites migrated to America in 1874-79, settling in South Dakota. During the First World War, harassed for their pacifism, 17 colonies moved to the prairie provinces of Canada. By 1965 there were 120 colonies with a total population of 15,300. To date there are more than 200 colonies on the Prairies, as well as many colonies in the U.S., along the Canadian border.
Community of Goods
All Anabaptist groups share a body of common faith such as baptism by sprinkling, separation from the world, including nonresistance, and many principles of simplicity. Of the three surviving groups – the Hutterites, the Mennonites, and the Amish – only the Hutterites abolished ownership of private property. Persons baptized into the Hutterite Church vow to give up all privately owned property “to the Lord in heaven” and to the earthly Christian gemeinschaft (community). Private ownership, according to the Hutterite, is against the nature and will of God. This principle is applied to all material goods based especially upon the teaching and example of Christ (Lu. 14:33) and the early Christians (Acts. 2:44-45; 4:32,35). Individually owned property becomes geiz, or greed; in gelassenheit (self-surrender) to the will of God there is true freedom. These people live in bruderhofs (common households, or colonies), and all property is owned communally. A member who leaves the colony has no claim on the communal property. The Hutterite economic system is properly termed, “community of goods.”
Description of a colony
The bruderhof is reminiscent of a medieval hamlet. Central in the colony is the communal dining hall. Around it are the long communal houses, divided into family units. In time, the visitor will likely be shown the dining hall, kindergarten, schoolhouse, laundry and bathhouse, welding shop, bakery, granaries, trucks, combines, tractors, long factory-like pigpens, poultry sheds, and livestock.
A large group of curious children quickly surrounds the visitor to a colony. Their hairstyles, caps and polka dot kerchiefs blend with the severe surroundings. Clothing is made in the colony from yard goods purchased wholesale in quantity. The men wear only dark colored trousers and coats, suspenders, and, if married, they are bearded. The women wear very long, although colorfully patterned dresses, and two coverings on the head, the outer being a black and white polka dot kerchief. Woman may not cut their hair, and it must be combed Hutterite style.
Each colony is governed by its own elected officials. Its government is a form of patriarchal democracy, with the basic power residing in the voting of male members. The recognized head is the Preacher, who is responsible for the religious services which are held every weekday evening for 20 minutes and two regular services on Sunday. He is aided by an assistant who is often in charge of the German school, but responsible to the manager for other work. The preacher is aided by a council of five or six elders elected from the group.
No individual may choose his own job. Self-will being ruled out, resignation to the community is held to be the most important value. In recognition of natural skills, he will be assigned to a position that best suits these skills. The individual works for the good of all. No one receives a salary. Needs are supplied from a common storehouse.
Living in such a narrow path is not easy, and gives rise to many rules, many of which are unwritten or are simply customs, while the most important ones are put into writing. That such a path is indeed narrow is proved by the fact that few outsiders join the colony. Some do leave the colony, but, after a time, most return.
Brief History of the Work
In the summer of 1988, I was asked by the Portage assembly to join brother Ross Vanstone for a series of tent meetings in Crystal City, Manitoba.
One Friday night, three Hutterite girls attended the meeting. It was obvious by their typical dress that they were from a Hutterite colony in the area. To our pleasant surprise, they returned to the tent with four others, and we soon learned that one of them was the minister from the Valleyview Colony We were asked by this minister, Jacob Hofer, if we would visit their colony at mealtime. This we did, and this visiting was continued each time we were in the area.
Six years ago we moved as a family from northern B.C. to Manitoba. By a return visit to the colony, we learned that two of the three girls that attended the tent six years earlier were awakened at that time and since then had come to saving faith in Christ.
In the course of our regular visits to encourage these souls, interest has increased, so that now, with the help of other brethren, we are spreading the Word in 17 colonies. Thank God, souls have been saved and new colonies are opening up.
A Call to Prayer
Pray for brethren Jack Gould and Ben Thiessen in Manitoba, Steve Kember in Alberta, and Ross Vanstone in Montana, who have positive contacts amongst the Hutterite colonies in both the Canadian Prairies and in the U.S.A. Peter Smith from England has been organizing the Postal Sunday School in Canada which is opening up new doors for the gospel amongst the Hutterite colonies. Pray that many more will be brought to Christ, learn believers baptism, and what it means to be gathered in assembly capacity.