by Jep Hostetler
For those in the Mennonite tradition who have Pennsylvania
German roots, there are many stories that carry humor to our
hearts. Unfortunately, some of the stories cannot be translated
into English with any equal measure of humor. There are stories,
however, that circulate, grow in magnitude, and are amusing to
select groups of people from varying Mennonite traditions.
Stories comparing the various kinds of Mennonites are funny
only if one understands the differences between them. Ethnic
jokes are funny only if you understand the culture from which
they arise. So it is with Mennonite stories. Some are Mennonite-specific
and others are simply applied to Mennonites. Then there are riddles
and quandaries such as the following.
Q. How many Mennonites does it take to change a light bulb?
A. What? Change!
Q. What's the shortest book in the world?
A. Mennonite War Heroes.
Q. Why do Mennonites refuse to wear short-sleeved shirts?
A. They are not allowed to bare arms.
Q. What is the difference between a Mennonite and a canoe?
A. A canoe tips easily.
Stories abound from our history. J.C. Wenger, theologian,
storyteller, teacher and scholar, was noted for his sense of
humor and the way he could weave a good story into his teaching.
I remember looking forward to each of his classes on Christian
ethics at Goshen College. It was said that even in his later
years he had a sense of humor in the way he invited his visitors
to leave. When he would tire of the visit he would simply ask
his guests, Would you like for me to have a word of prayer
with you before you go?
H.S. Bender, a well-known patriarch of the Mennonite church,
was the person involved in the following story. My wife Joyce
and I courted throughout our four years at Goshen College. To
say the least, we were nearly inseparable. What was important
was to find places that were secluded enough to steal a good-night
kiss or two. On one autumn evening we found ourselves out behind
the Goshen seminary (which was later merged into the AMBS group)
building. We had found a little entryway where we could get away
from the chilly evening. Just as we were saying good night, in
our dark corner, we heard footsteps. It was H.S. Bender returning
to his office, late, to retrieve some of his papers. Hm
ph, he said. It sure is a nice evening, isn't it?
Yes, I blurted out, we think so too as
we moved quickly to escape his stern gaze.
A.J. Metzler, preacher, evangelist and publisher, was familiar
to many in his generation in the Mennonite Church. He was an
excellent preacher and a gifted teacher. He often spent weekends
giving messages and holding evangelistic meetings. His father
had these speaking abilities as well, only more so. Abram Metzler,
A.J.s father, was known to get quite enthused about his
messages, and he could speak quite loudly and vociferously. A.J.
related the following story about his father. At an evening service,
during his enthusiastic and energetic preaching, he had to sneeze.
Those who knew A.J. or any of his children, know that they have
a rather explosive, noisy sneeze. (I think it is genetic.) So
was the case with the elder Abram. When he sneezed, his false
teeth flew out of his mouth and were headed for the floor directly
in front of him. Deft of wit and quick of hand, he caught the
false teeth in midair, stuffed them quickly back into his mouth,
and continued preaching as though nothing had ever happened.
Not even a subdued Amen from the amen corner could
slow him down. He did comment later regarding what folks would
remember about the evening. Unfortunately, he said,
you will most likely remember the teeth and forget the
Then there was a young Amish lad who had a hankering for two
fair Amish maidens. As his interest in each of them grew with
equal intensity, he decided he needed divine intervention. So,
on his way home from a frolic one evening, he decided to allow
God to steer his horse correctly. At the fork in the road he
simply said, If Baalam's ass could speak, my horse can
choose which young lady I should continue to see. He released
the reins and waited to see which fork in the road the horse
would select. If he goes to the left it will be Jonas Sadie,
if he turns to the right it will be Elis Anna. The horse
chose neither and charged right straight ahead into the open
field. Honestly, he pleaded, I was asking for
help from God, not from Paul. It turns out that he married
neither Sadie nor Anna.
Jep Hostetler, Ph.D., Columbus, Ohio, is
a humor consultant and author. He is an associate professor
emeritus at the Ohio State University College of Medicine. He
and his wife Joyce serve as the staff persons for the Mennonite
Mennonite Historical Bulletin, January 2001