H. H. Janzen altered the course of the Mennonite Brethren church in Ontario in the 1930s, and went on to become a much-loved Bible teacher and leader within the denomination. This was unexpected for a man whose teenage years in Russia had been consumed with rebelling against his Mennonite faith.
Heinrich (Henry) H. Janzen was born in 1901 in the Molotschna Colony in South Russia (Ukraine). His father was the teacher in the local one-room school. Along with most of the others in their village of Münsterberg, Henry’s family participated in the Kirchliche Mennonite Church, the least pietistic of the Mennonite groups in Russia. The smaller Mennonite Brethren group were both more pietistic and more evangelical.
While a teenager Henry attended the Ohrloff Zentralschule (high school) where he rejected the faith of his family. When he was drafted into the Red Army in 1921, he was heavily influenced by communist teachings on religion, and considered himself to be an agnostic or atheist since he could not see God at work in the disasters that had happened to the Mennonites during and after the Russian Revolution.
His wife, Tina, whom Henry married in 1923, was a devout Christian however, and did not waver in her convictions. After the death of their first child in 1924, Henry reconsidered his views and later that year was converted at a Mennonite Brethren evangelistic meeting, and was baptized into the Kirchliche church. (In Ontario people from the group became known as United Mennonites.) Henry and Tina, with their second child, came to Canada in 1925 and settled in Kitchener where they participated with a Mennonite Brethren group.
In 1926 Henry was re-baptized by immersion in the Grand River, and became an enthusiastic lay leader in the Kitchener Mennonite Brethren church, soon teaching Sunday school. His communication skills were soon recognized, and he also began to preach on occasion at the invitation of the congregation’s ministers. He was himself ordained as a Mennonite Brethren minister in 1929.
As the leading minister of the largest Mennonite Brethren congregation in Ontario, he initiated formation of the Ontario Mennonite Brethren Conference in 1932, and served as its moderator from 1932-1946. He did much to shape the Ontario Mennonite Brethren conference in those years. This included encouraging regulations that allowed only persons who had been baptized by immersion to be members, in conformity with the position of the General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches. The Ontario MBs had previously been flexible on this issue. This change did cause some members to withdraw.
Henry H. Janzen also wielded influence far beyond the Mennonite Brethren community. He was also sought as a Bible teacher in Russian-language churches and Bible schools, and in the early 1930s he had a great impact in nudging many Old Order Mennonites to a “born-again”conversion experience that is described elsewhere. He also served at Mennonite Brethren Bible College in Winnipeg, Manitoba for 10 years, eight of them as president. Later in life he taught in a variety of settings in Europe.
To learn more about the Ontario Mennonite Brethren and Henry H. Janzen read In Search of Promised Lands.