Famine Relief

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This article was written in the 1950s and reflects activity to that time.

Famine Relief, as distinct from emergency disaster relief or war sufferers' relief or general relief, has engaged the Mennonite action in three countries: India, China, and Russia.

India. Because of overpopulation and frequent floods and droughts resulting in full or partial crop failures, both India and China had chronic famine conditions for centuries, with occasional extraordinarily extensive famines. The great famine of 1896-1897 led to an extensive relief project by the Mennonite Church (MC) in 1897. The Home and Foreign Relief Commission was organized, with headquarters at Elkhart, Indiana. A shipload (mostly Mennonite) of corn and beans was sent to Calcutta in early 1897, and George Lambert of Elkhart was sent to India to supervise distribution of this food and given approximately $20,000 in cash for further purchases and services on the spot. He did most of his work through local missions along the central line from Calcutta to Bombay. The establishment of the Mennonite (MC) Mission in the Central Provinces in India in 1899 was a direct result of this relief project, and one of the first mission institutions was an orphanage to care for famine orphans.

In 1899 the General Conference Mennonite Church organized the Emergency Relief Committee which in 1900 sent out David Goerz to India on a mission similar to Lambert's, with some 8,000 bushels of corn and several thousand dollars in cash. The General Conference's India Mission was started later in the same year and benefited directly from the Goerz relief project, receiving some of the relief funds for distribution.

Both the above India missions continued famine relief at intervals throughout their history. In 1919-1922 for instance the Mennonite Church mission received over $56,000 for famine relief.

The serious Bengal famines of 1941-1942 and later led to the organization of the Mennonite Relief Committee of India (MRCI) on which all the Mennonite missions in India were represented. This committee had oversight of the relief work carried on by the Mennonite Central Committee in India in the sending of both supplies and workers. The chief famine relief was in 1942-1944. The MRCI was still in existence in 1954.

China. In China the recurring famines were due more to the great floods along the valleys of the main rivers; hence only those Mennonite missions directly in these areas did famine relief work. However, the General Conference Mennonite mission transmitted famine relief money to the China Relief Commission in 1921-1923 and leased two missionaries to this opening for relief work in the Yellow River flood area.

Russia. The great famine of 1919-1923 led to extensive famine relief work (1) by the American Relief Administration (ARA—Herbert Hoover), which received a $40,000,000 appropriation for this purpose from the U.S. Congress, and (2) by North American Mennonites, as well as on a smaller scale (3) by the Dutch Mennonites. M. B. Fast and W. P. Neufeld took food and clothing to the Mennonites in Siberia in 1919, and the Mennonite Central Committee, organized in July 1920 specifically for this purpose, in 1920-1923 administered relief in food, clothing, and medical supplies to the value of about $1,250,000 in addition to 25 tractor-plow outfits. (See American Mennonite Relief, AMR.) Some 60,000 Mennonites (and 15,000 others) received direct famine relief from the AMR. The Dutch Mennonites organized, also specifically for famine relief in Russia, the General Commission for Foreign Needs (Algemene Commissie voor Buitenlandsche Nooden) in November 1920. Their first supplies reached Russia in early 1922. They worked chiefly in the Molotschna and raised a total of about 400,000 guilders ($160,000) and also contributed seed grain and agricultural implements.

For a fuller account of Mennonite relief activities see Relief Work


Fast, M. B. Geschichtlicher Bericht, wie die Mennoniten Nordamerikas ihren armen Glaubensgenos­sen in Russland jetzt und früher geholfen haben. Meine Reise nach Sibirien and zurück. Reedley, 1919.

Fleischer, F. C. "Ons Hulpwerk in Ockraine en de Krim." Doopsgezind Jaarboekje (1923): 43-78.

Hiebert, Peter Cornelius, and Orie O. Miller. Feeding the Hungry; Russia Famine, 1919-1925; American Mennonite Relief Operations Under the Auspices of Mennonite Central Committee. Scottdale, Pa: Mennonite Central Committee, 1929.

Hofer, D. M. Die Hungersnot in Russland ; und, Unsere Reise um die Welt. Chicago, Ill: K.M.B. Pub. House, 1924.

Kaufman, Ed. G. De­velopment of the Missionary and Philanthropic Interest Among the Mennonites of North America. Berne, 1931.

Krehbiel, H. P. History of the General Conference of the Mennonite Church of North America. Newton, 1938: II.

Lambert, George. India, the Horror-Stricken Empire: Containing a Full Account of the Famine, Plague, and Earthquake of 1896-7. Elkhart, 1898.

Lehman, M. C. The History and Principles of Mennonite Relief Work, an Introduction. Akron, Pa.: Mennonite Central Committee, 1945.

Peters, G. A. Die Hungersnot in der mennonitischen Kolonien in Süd-Russland, mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der Molotschna-Kolonie und die Amerikanisch Mennonitische Hilfe (A.M.H.) wie sie ein Mennonit aus Russland gesehen hat. Scottdale, Pa: Mennonite Pub. House, 1924

Unruh, John D. In the Name of Christ, A History of the Mennonite Central Committee and Its Service 1920-1951. Scottdale, Pa., 1952.


Woelinga, D. "Nood van en hulp van de Meimisten van Russland 1920-21." Doopsgezind Jaarboekje (1922): 64-93.

Author(s) Harold S Bender
Date Published 1956

Cite This Article

MLA style

Bender, Harold S. "Famine Relief." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 7 Dec 2021. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Famine_Relief&oldid=132699.

APA style

Bender, Harold S. (1956). Famine Relief. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 7 December 2021, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Famine_Relief&oldid=132699.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 300-301. All rights reserved.

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