The year is 1569.
A gaunt man races across the frozen ground, his pursuer hot at his heels.
When he reaches a body of water, he does not hesitate — he races across the thin sheet of ice.
He’s nearly to the other side, almost at solid ground, home free. So close!
That’s when a loud crack pierces the chilled air, followed immediately by a frantic splash and cry of desperation.
He turns back.
He rushes back over the ice to offer help to the very same person who had been chasing him moments earlier.
He is immediately re-arrested, and put to a long, slow, lingering death.
Burned at the stake.
That, my friends, is the story of Dirk Willems, famous Anabaptist martyr.
They say it’s a famous story among Mennonites, though I had not heard it myself until I was an adult. (I guess this isn’t a children’s story?)
This fascinating tale appears in Martyr’s Mirror, accompanied by the iconic image of Willems reaching out to save his captor’s life.
It’s the kind of image I could get lost in. So strange and expressive. An image from another time. Accompanied by behaviour from another… realm?
So in 2018, I was shocked and amazed and thrilled to learn the Mennonite Heritage Village had commissioned a life-size statue depicting this very story. I attended the unveiling, and began to understand this wasn’t just a statue. This was a monument to peace.
This statue is just the beginning. Ultimately, there will be a peace garden built around the statue. A place where you can stop and contemplate the idea of peace, with the statue of Dirk rescuing his jailer in the foreground, and the pond in the back.
There aren’t many spaces you can visit these days, that allow space for you to sit with the idea of peace. I think it’s wonderful that the Mennonite Heritage Village is working to create this space, this monument to peace.
The statue is there already, but the peace garden itself is not. The Peace Exhibit Committee is currently raising money to complete the peace garden.
If you’re interested, or curious, it would be great if you checked out the online fundraiser, here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dirkwillems/the-dirk-willems-peace-garden
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