Letting loose in the archives: An intern’s tale

Photo: Amanda Bartel stands in the Centre for MB Studies in Winnipeg, Man., the final location she visited during her archival internship. (Photo by Ellen Paulley)

It was designed so that “a young person [could] let loose in the archives, explore, and have fun,” says Jon Isaak about the first MB Historical Commission Archival Internship. Intern Amanda Bartel of Iowa City, Iowa has done just that. She’s “done a marvelous job of engaging the material,” says Isaak, Executive Secretary of the MB Historical Commission.

Bartel, a history student at Bluffton University in Ohio, says she’s “always had an interest in history” and initially thought she would like to study archaeology. Her career aspirations changed after a high school class resulted in accepting an opportunity to job shadow an archivist. Bartel says of the opportunity, “It was kind of similar to what I was thinking and maybe this will open a whole other door. Maybe I will actually do this for the rest of my life.”

The goal of the five-week internship is to provide a college student with practical archival experience at each of the four MB archival institutions in North America. Bartel spent time at the Centers for MB Studies in both Hillsboro, Kan., and Fresno, Calif., the Mennonite Historical Society of British Columbia in Abbotsford, B.C., and the Centre for MB Studies in Winnipeg, Man. Bartel restored papers, some covered in mould; sorted and organized donated documents; updated a visual inventory; and inputted data into archival systems.

The work of the archival centres is connected to the mission of the church in a broad sense, explains Isaak. The stories collected are about “gathering [the] people of God, restoring hope, and [God] freeing them from various bondages. Archives is a repository of these congregations and people who have tried to be faithful,” he says.

The research topic for the internship was left flexible, open to the interests of the student. Bartel was interested in missionary stories since members of her family were connected with the Mennonite mission field in China in the mid-twentieth century.

She tracked the stories of missionaries at each of the different archives. One such story is of Paul Wiebe, a fellow church member at First Mennonite in Iowa City, Iowa. In Hillsboro, Bartel found photos of a young Wiebe and his family from the time when they were missionaries in India. She scanned some of these photos and sent them to Wiebe’s daughter, who hadn’t been aware of them.

When asked what she’ll remember most about her internship, Bartel says, “The thing I’m going to take away most is the people I’ve met. It’s just been really fun to meet everyone and figure out what they’re doing and see what their different jobs are.”

The MB Historical Commission will be hosting the internship again next year. The enthusiasm and spirit with which Bartel approached her work has been encouraging to Isaak. “She’s been a bright light ready to go. It’s neat to see the future is in good hands,” he says.

Ellen Paulley is the communications coordinator for the Canadian Conference of MB Churches.

MB Historical Commission Appoints New Executive Secretary

Jon Isaak was appointed as the new Executive Secretary of the MB Historical Commission at its June 8-9 meeting in Fresno. The Commission is a jointly sponsored ministry of the US and Canadian MB conferences.

Jon will add these duties to his role as Director of the Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies, Winnipeg. He replaces Andrew Dyck who will begin work as a full-time faculty member in Ministry Studies with MBBS Canada, in affiliation with the graduate program of Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg.

The Historical Commission is responsible for fostering historical understandings and appreciation within the Mennonite Brethren Church in Canada and the US in order to further the mission of the church.

Ongoing projects of the Commission include Profiles (a monthly bulletin insert and web PDF), publication and digitization of Volumes 1 and 2 of P.M. Friesen’s Mennonite Brotherhood , publication of a series of books titled, Perspectives on Mennonite Life and Thought (e.g., the recently published, Renewing Identity and Mission: Mennonite Brethren Reflections after 150 Years), and soon-to-be-announced grants for undergraduate students to research women’s contributions among the Mennonite Brethren.

Veggie mobile returns: Jon Isaak’s report from the north

A follow up on the mbconf.ca post, CMBS director hits the road in veggie mobile.

By Jon Isaak

We’re back in Winnipeg after our road trip to northern Manitoba. It was a meaningful time of visiting old friends—we lived in Cranberry Portage for three years in the mid 80s—and encouraging fellow believers—Mary Anne led a women’s retreat at Simonhouse Bible Camp and I preached at the Christian Centre in Thompson. I was reminded of the beautiful and rugged spirit of the North, both its geography and its people!

On Friday, I visited with an old friend, Bob, who recently lost his wife to cancer. Our conversation ranged widely; we hardly moved from our chairs the whole evening! Twenty-five years ago we taught together at the same high-school in Cranberry Portage. Much had changed, much remained the same. We talked about the mission of the little Mennonite Brethren church in town, we talked about God’s work in the world, generally, we talked about heaven—the pain of loss, the hope of the future, and the grace to carry on.

Then on Saturday, I drove to Thompson to spend the evening with my good friend, Ted, who pastors the Mennonite Brethren church in Thompson. For some reason, my visit with Ted also stretched long into the evening. There was so much to review, tremendous joys and harrowing sorrows. But through the conversation, the theme of God’s provision and faithfulness came through, even through the disappointments.

On Sunday, after church I drove back toward Flin Flon to pick up Mary Anne. We met at the home of our good friends, Ingi and Cindy, who run a hunting and fishing lodge. When I showed them my VW diesel Rabbit, with four jugs of Kanola oil tucked under the hatchback, by now mostly empty, they laughed. They said my car would be great bear bait! They get used oil from KFC, too, but use it to attract bears for the hunters that fly into their lodge. Good thing I would not be driving in those remote areas!

I continue to marvel at the spirit of the people living in these northern communities. There is an independent streak that runs deep in many of these kind and generous people There is no patience for pretence or show; just straight-up genuine hospitality. We prayed for one another and were transparent about the ways we saw God working and the ways that made no sense to us, at least not yet. I am grateful for my association with these dear friends. We were mutual encouragement to each other, as I think it should be.

Now as I think more about the weekend, I am reminded how Scripture speaks of the “oil of gladness” (Isa 61:3), as that which brings joy to the soul and to the pallet. Our conversations were that way for me this weekend—and my wife reports that the women’s retreat was especially encouraging, too! Oil fuels our bodies, our relationships, and even an old VW Rabbit!

By the way, the road trip totalled 2098km. I used all of 95 litres of Kanola I brought, but had to supplement it with 32 litres of diesel at the end, as I had miscalculated the distance and how much oil I would need. Still, I was pleased with the fuel consumption ratio (6L/100km) and I hope to get a few more ministry trips out of my” veggie” mobile, before I put it away for the winter. For those interested in how the two-tank system works and how the oil is preheated before use in the engine, there is a good website at greascar.com.