Harvey K. Plett and Esther Wiebe are doing what they can in a race against time. Working under the EMC Archives Committee, they’re translating letters in German written to Peter B. Kroeker, who was elected to the Steinbach ministerial, first as a deacon and then as a minister, on Jan. 23, 1918.
Family and friends located in Meade, Kansas, and elsewhere wrote Peter B. Kroeker (1873-1955) about 88 letters, some dating back to the 1890s. Lee Toews, Peter’s son-in-law of Winnipeg, Man., later rewrote some of the letters into modern German script. Through the generosity of the Toews family, Henry Fast, EMC historian, recently offered them to the EMC Archives (and provided the outline of Peter B. Kroeker’s history).
Harvey and his sister Esther began using copies of the originals and the work by Lee Toews to render them into current English. In doing so, the past and the present pilgrimages of believers meet in a rich way—and in the middle is Harvey himself. He, though, wants his sister Esther to be mentioned and for God to receive all of the glory.
You see, Harvey has his own stories to tell. Years ago he consented to fill in briefly overseas when there was a need. He ended up serving as a cross-cultural worker in Belize and the Bahamas from 1969 to 2001 with Gospel Missionary Union. His areas of work were as diverse as maintaining buildings, bookkeeping, and coordinating Bible correspondence courses.
Len Barkman, a missionary in the Bahamas and later EMC general secretary, tells of how one of his young sons threw a snake that landed on Harvey, who was nearby. Harvey calmly removed the snake from around his neck and kept on going.
The names of Harvey K. Plett, mostly the missionary, and Harvey G. Plett, mostly the minister and educator, get mixed up at times (at least when I communicate by e-mail). The confusion is perhaps somewhat understandable: one Harvey was out of the country for many years while the other was active in Canada. Besides much of their names, though, they share a faith and a willingness to serve.
Now Harvey and Esther translate the life experiences and faith of Christians of past generations. Because they do so, we can look over the letters for personal and wider benefit. Themes emerge as I do so: health concerns, family connections, farming, and faith. These are not unusual. Health, family, work, and faith remain common concerns.
What is served by reading these letters? Partly, they remind us that life and faith in difficult times are not new to Christians in the 21st century. They have been constant challenges throughout history. The letters remind us of the legacy of faith (Heb. 11) and of our need to persevere as followers of Christ (Heb. 10:32-39).
The preserving of these letters, their translation, and their study are important. Harvey and Esther’s teamwork is unique in the EMC; they are currently the only translators working in the EMC Archives. They serve as volunteers, which means as health, time, and interest allow.
Meanwhile, the EMC Archives has hundreds of German documents, only some of which have been translated. The EMC Archives Committee has for years operated on a pittance and with little more than a handful of volunteers at one time. Does anyone else see a need for more volunteers and more funding?
Meanwhile, Harvey and Esther do what they can, and we are grateful to them for it.