by Melissa Landis
Junior high students from around Kansas came together for Know Jesus 2019 on February 9 and 10 at Hesston College. For 24 hours, youth explored their Anabaptist heritage and what it means to follow Jesus today. The biennial retreat for Western District and South Central Conference youth included worship through teaching and singing, mini-service projects, and late night activities.
A highlight of Know Jesus was the Anabaptist Game. Michele Hershberger, bible and youth ministry professor at Hesston College, has been instrumental in organizing the game for the past 20 years. Originally created by Chris Kahila, Linda Ewert and Ritch Hochstetler, Hershberger said, “Part of this brilliant idea was to have Anabaptist Safe Houses where players could hear the Anabaptist story from the key leaders from the Radical Reformation and also stories of how Anabaptists are following Jesus today.” As groups travel around campus looking for safe houses, they aim to evade soldiers who will take them before the magistrate. There, the youth are asked questions about their faith–such as why they won’t baptize babies or take up arms. The magistrate then sends groups to the dungeon where they get a taste of what it might have been like for early Anabaptists to be persecuted for their faith. At safe houses, youth hear from historical figures such as Michael Sattler and Dirk Willems, along with modern day Christ followers, like Ron Moyo (pastor at Whitestone Mennonite Church) and Hector Mondragon (Colombian Mennonite Church).
“Our goal is to help each participant decide to follow Jesus with their whole lives, even if that puts them at risk. We do this by helping them experience as many stories as possible about people willing to lose their lives for Jesus,” said Hershberger.
Kristin Kaufman, a sponsor from Eden Mennonite Church, remembers playing the Anabaptist game as a youth. Kaufman says as a Jr. Higher she learned about historical Anabaptist figures, but points out the impact the game can have on that learning. “It was brought to real life as we had to travel around to the safe houses. It’s an active, intense, and impactful way to teach about the early Anabaptists,” said Kaufman. “I think it’s so important for the youth to know about the people who came before them and how they stood so strong in their faith that they were willing to be persecuted.”
Carley Bartel, an 8th grader from Whitestone Mennonite Church (Hesston, KS) agreed that the Anabaptist game was a powerful experience, especially hearing Ron Moyo’s story. She said playing the game made the history more real. “It was really cool how they were able to show us that in an actual game rather than just telling us information,” Bartel said.