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Uncertainty in the Community

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By the late 1930s, it was clear that the world was, once again, heading for war. No one welcomed this new horror, but it seemed inevitable. People who fought in or lived through the First World War could scarcely believe that there would be another such war in their lifetime.


     Listen to Henry Gerbrandt was a young man at the time.  He and his father watched and talked about the situation in Europe as Hitler rose to power.

Each nation began to prepare. Canada steeled itself for battle. It ordered more weapons for the army, the air force, and the navy. In southern Manitoba, Mennonites met to discuss another type of preparation.


On 15 May 1939, representatives from nine Mennonite groups gathered in Winkler, Manitoba. They met to discuss their response to the coming war. American Mennonite churches had held a similar meeting a few months earlier. The purpose of both meetings was to discuss the coming war. (See the program and agenda for the meeting.) The churches wished to be united in their response to the government. During the First World War, many problems had arisen because of a lack of unity. Everyone wished to avoid a similar situation now.


Men from the nine church groups discussed how to respond when war came. Looking back at the notes from the meeting, one can see that they anticipated many of the major issues for COs during the war. They discussed alternative service, service in the medical corps, suspicion towards those who spoke German, and the importance of giving a good Christian witness at all times, not only during war.  


The notes from the meeting also show that there was disagreement between the groups. They were unable to come to a common understanding. What were the major stumbling blocks for each of the groups?

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