Missionary work amongst the Hutterites in Manitoba, Canada

Jack Gould, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

The Hutterites take their name from one of their early leaders, Jakob Hutter. This group had its beginnings during the Reformation and were part of the Anabaptists. 1 Both Jakob Hutter, and his wife Katharine, were continually on the move as religious and government authorities searched for them. Finally, on November 29th, 1535, Jakob and Katharine were captured and the two were separated, never to see each other again on earth. Jakob was executed, and two years later his wife was also killed. Yet what they had commenced was going to live on.

Although the Hutterites moved across parts of Western Europe in response to various forms of persecution, it was not until 1873 that the Mennonites and Hutterites sent out members to North America in search of a new place to live. Being pacifists, the main reason for this was to avoid compulsory military service that was being imposed. Thus, on April 14th, 1873, two Hutterite men, Paul and Lorenz Tschetter, with a Mennonite delegation, set out for the USA to search for suitable land.

Once they were in North America, they travelled through many parts of the country including Manitoba, in their search for land. However, the persecution they faced because of their pacifist stance during the First World War, led them to move from the USA to Canada, and six colonies were established in Manitoba, and nine in Alberta.

Jakob Hutter believed in the community of goods, where all the followers of this movement would live and work together. They based this idea on Acts chapter 2 verses 44 and 45, where the early Christians ‘sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need’. This practice continues amongst the Hutterites today.
An individual colony is presided over by a ‘preacher’. A secretary handles the financial side of the colony, while a farm boss is responsible for the agricultural activities. Each colony cultivates thousands of acres. Along with agriculture, most of the colonies also undertake manufacturing work. Colonies vary in size from seventy to 150 people. No one receives a wage for their work but they all labour together for the good of the community. 

Sadly, this movement has deteriorated into a salvation-by-works theology. As adults, they are ‘baptized’, by pouring, and take an oath that they would never leave the Hutterite Church. While some would be believers when ‘baptized’, the majority would not be. 

In the early 1990s, some of the young people on the colonies started to question the practices and desired answers from their preachers. These young people produced a paper called the ‘Thirty Questions’. They wanted answers from the Bible and not from their Hutterite tradition. As one can imagine, this caused a great stir. 

In 1994 Andrew Bergsma, along with my wife and I, commenced visiting these colonies. Hutterites cannot leave their colony unless permission is granted by the preacher. This means that they cannot come out to us to hear the gospel, so we must go to them. Personal visitation was the means of contact. This we did for seven years before the first ones left the colony system and came to meetings.

In visiting the colonies, I have been greatly helped by the material produced by the International Bible House in Delta, British Columbia. They very kindly ship us 8 inch x 10 inch (approximately 200 mm x 250 mm) gospel texts for distribution on these colonies. My approach is very simple. We buy frames for these texts and then drive on to a colony. The first person that we meet is given the framed text. Then I have enough unframed texts to give away and ask this person to take them to the common dining hall, as there is one text for each family. Often we are invited into their homes for coffee and, at times, taken to the common dining hall to have a meal with them. The Hutterites are very hospitable. To some we would be looked upon as bringing a new religion on to the colony, while others are very open and are willing to talk about the scriptures. We introduce ourselves as overseas missionaries – having spent twelve years preaching the gospel on the island of St. Lucia in the West Indies. The Hutterites do not have missionaries and this opens up the way for conversations. 

There are now over 110 colonies in our province of Manitoba, and we visit each colony at least once each year. It has pleased the Lord to work amongst these dear people over the years. These gospel texts we distribute are readily received, and they put them up in their houses. God has used these verses to bring souls to Himself. The work is the Lord’s from beginning to end. We ask for your prayers that this door of opportunity that has been opened to us will continue until the Lord returns.

Endnotes

1 ‘Hutterites share a common ancestry with the Anabaptists, along with the Mennonites and Amish . . . Hutterites differ in one major aspect: they believe in sharing their possessions in common, as demonstrated by Christ and His apostles, and as later further refined and described in the Book of Acts’, taken from http://www.hutterites.org/history.