“There was this Mennonite congregation in the town where I grew up, made up of people who came to Canada in the 1920’s. Their people had lived in Russia for generations and had built up prosperous farms. All was going well for them, until 1917. The Revolution took everything they had worked so hard to build, they were persecuted, not so much for their faith as for being German and being so much better off than others.”
I don’t know Pete outside of the coffee shop. Every once in a while we happen in at the same time and sit down and visit for maybe an hour. He is a bachelor, retired, a student of the Bible and of history and he loves to talk and tell stories.
He went on to describe how this congregation was consumed with resentment for the way they had been treated in Russia (really Ukraine, but it was part of Russia in those days). They prospered materially in Canada, but no one from that congregation ever served in a mission; they had no outreach to others.
“One Sunday,” Pete said, “there was a visiting minister. This man had seen greater hardships than the others; he had escaped from Russia by himself, hiding by day and travelling by night. He finally made his way to freedom and then to Canada. He stood behind the pulpit and said ‘Yes, the Russians treated us badly. But we deserved it. We deserved it for the way we treated them when things were going well for us.'”
You see, the Mennonites first came to Russia at the invitation of Empress Catherine. Catherine despised the Russian and Ukrainian peasants, considering them to be hopelessly ignorant and backward. She was German and she believed that the only hope of progress was to populate the Ukrainian and Russian countryside with Germans.
Twenty percent of the Germans who came at her invitation were Mennonites. Being a German in Catherine’s Russia offered many privileges and they quickly adopted Catherine’s attitude toward the Russian and Ukrainian peasants. They hired some of them to work for them in menial positions and treated them with very little respect or consideration. Then the Revolution came and they found themselves on the wrong side of the power structure.
Many of them made it to Canada as refugees. Some carried a burning resentment within them; this was not how things were supposed to turn out. The visiting minister appears to have had a more Christ-like attitude and a clearer grasp of just why things had gone bad.
A sense of entitlement is not a Christian virtue. It is foreign to the Anabaptist heritage that this congregation claimed. A sense of entitlement poisons our outlook on life and makes us unable to be thankful for kind and good things that happen to us. It causes people to keep their distance from us, it makes us unfruitful in sharing the gospel. Because we really don’t have a gospel to share when we have an attitude of entitlement.
If we consider ourselves to be strangers and pilgrims, having no continuing city here on earth, knowing that there is nothing good within us that makes us worthy of being treated with respect and generosity, then life will be full of pleasant surprises. With thankful hearts we will confess that we are treated much better than we deserve. And some people will actually believe what we have to say about the goodness of God.