When you see Titanic, remember Annie
James Camerons spectacular movie, Titanic, has
been a gigantic success at the box-office, with sales of $500
million. Kate Winslet plays the lead role of Rose DeWitt Bukater,
a 17-year-old, upper class American, unhappily engaged to a stifling
aristocrat. On the ship she falls in love with a free-spirited
steerage passenger, Jack Dawson, played by Leonardo DiCaprio.
Romance turns to action, suspense and tragedy when the Titanic
sinks. But Cameron ignored the dramatic real-life story of Annie
C. Funk, a Mennonite missionary also on board the ill-fated ship.
Annie Funk served as a missionary in the Central Province
of India from 1906 to 1915. Her home congregation, the Hereford
General Conference Mennonite Church in the Butter Valley of eastern
Pennsylvania, had nurtured her interest in missions from the
time she was a child. After several stateside assignments, she
was called to go overseas. Annie gave an unqualified testimony
of her trust in Gods care when she answered a friend who
feared for her safety on her first transatlantic voyage: "Our
heavenly Father is as near to us on sea as on land. My trust
is in Him. I have no fear."
Annies work included the founding and management of
a school for girls in Janjgir, India, which was later renamed
in her memory. Her work there was interrupted one day by a telegram,
which urged her to come home to as soon as possible, and that
her passage was paid. She was not told that her mother was close
to death. Annie quickly made travel plans. In her final letter,
written somewhere Near Suez, she worried about what
the French would charge for her excess baggage on
the overland route from Versailles to London. She estimated it
would take three more weeks to get back home to Butter Valley,
if the weather and strikes do not prevent it. When
she arrived in Southampton, England, she learned that her ship,
the S.S. Havorford, would be delayed by a coal strike.
She was guided to another shipa new one called the Titanic.
Some were saying this was a modern marvel that "God, himself
couldn't sink." Though it cost more, Annie was assured that
passage on the Titanic would get her home in record time.
She boarded as a second-class passenger.
The Titanic was the White Star Lines proudest accomplishment.
No cost had been spared. It was the largest, fastest, most luxurious
ship ever built. This highly acclaimed, maiden voyage would break
all transatlantic speed records. Many luminaries were aboardin
first-class accommodations, of course. The ships captain,
Edward J. Smith was to retire after he docked
in New York Harbor. "So far," he had said, his career
as a ship's captain "had been uneventful." That was
about to change. The Titanic steamed out of Southamptons
dock at noon on April 10, 1912.
Near midnight, four days later the ship struck an iceberg,
in spite of repeated warnings. The "unsinkable" dream
ship began to sink into the icy waters of the North Atlantic
Ocean about 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland. As elaborately
as the ship had been furnished, sadly, it lacked an essential
safety featuresufficient lifeboats for all 2, 207 passengers.
It was immediately evident that many would not be saved. What
about Annie? An unconfirmed report has it that Annie Funk, already
seated in a lifeboat, gave up her seat to another womana
mother with children. Whether true or not, those who knew her
said, "That would be just like Annie." She, along with
1500 others, perished in the greatest catastrophe yet known.
The mighty Titanic was no more. The date was April 15,
James Camerons film made $500 million in box-office
sales. But he neglected to tell the priceless story of a Mennonite
woman who gave herself to the people of Janjgir, Indiaand
perhaps, died in the place of another woman on the Titanic.
Menno Simons and the Nazi Hunters
At the end of WW II the Allied army scoured the German countryside
for Nazi soldiers in hiding. A company of American troops approached
the home of the Christian Landes family, Mennonites who lived
near Lautenbach. The officer asked about German soldiers and
demanded entrance to the house. Father Landes said there were
no soldiers hiding in his house. Not trusting the patriarchs
word, the officer ordered a search.
When the officer stepped into the living room of the Landes
house, a familiar image on the wall caught his eye. It was a
portrait of Menno Simons. So, these were Mennonites. He immediately
called off the search, and gave this explanation to the confused
soldiers: These people are Mennonites. If they say there
are no Nazis here, I believe them. Lets go!
The astounded Landes family asked how he recognized the portrait
of Menno. The officer said he was from Pennsylvania, where he
had lived among Mennonites. He had learned to know them as honest
people, who could be trusted to tell the truth.
Caring for Memory in the Midst of Integration
One day in June 1916 Noah Long, a trustee in the Clinton
Frame Amish Mennonite Church, went to the church house five miles
east of Goshen, Indiana, with a ladder and some white paint.
He climbed above the entrance to the sign, Clinton Frame
Amish Mennonite Church, and expunged the word Amish.
Thats how Paton Yoder tells the story in Tradition and
Transition. But what was the point? Noah Long was helping
integration along. Not the current integration of MCs, GCs and
CMCs, of course, but rather, the integration of Mennonite and
Amish Mennonite conferences early in this century.
Noah Longs conference, the Indiana-Michigan Amish Mennonite
Conference had just voted to integrate with its Mennonite counterpart,
the Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference. Noah wasted no time
in noting the change on his congregations hand-painted
Most of the members approved of their trustees action,
but others grumbled that he was rushing things too much. Nevertheless,
the Clinton Frame congregation was no longer Amish Mennonite.
Other congregations and conferences followed their lead, so that
by 1927, official integration of Amish Mennonite conferences
and Mennonite conferences had been achieved.
What were the results? Paton Yoder makes this observation:
In dropping Amish from their name, the Amish Mennonites
had undoubtedly facilitated the merger, but at a price. Although
constituting more than half of the union, the Amish Mennonites
had unwittingly covered their tracks (Tradition &
Transition [Herald Press, 1991], p. 17).
Four-score and two years later, we are again in the midst
of a major integration. The Mennonite Church, the General Conference
Mennonite Church and the Conference of Mennonites in Canada are
forging a new Mennonite Church. Some of us, like trustee Noah
Long, are ready to get this thing done! Others of us, like some
members of Longs congregation, fear we are moving with
too much haste.
Some are focusing on the joy and hope in this new union, believing
that we are fulfilling Jesus prayer that they become
one. We anticipate new energy, greater clarity of mission
and purpose, and we hope for greater efficiency in our ministries.
But we also experience pain. Were losing something, toothe
familiarity of long affiliation in our own conferences and churchwide
ministries, familiar faces, names, and polity. It will never
be the same.
This is appropriate and to be expected. But what else will
be lost? What will historians, with the benefit of hindsight,
write about us four-score years from now? Will they write that
we, too, have paid a price? Will they say that we, too, have
covered our tracks?
We do not need to repeat the history of Amish Mennonites in
the last mergerto lose the sense of our past identity,
our stories. However the organizational lines are redrawn, and
whatever shape new charts and structures are given, it is essential
that we nurture the memory of our own particular pilgrimageeven
as we hear and embrace the new stories of other pilgrimages.
Organizational structures will not nurture collective memory.
A strong sense of memory, however, can survive most any organizational
Bulletin, January 1999