Fast, Martin B. (1858-1949)

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Elisabeth and Martin B. Fast, 1909.
Photo courtesy of the author

Martin B. “M. B.” Fast, editor, author, and humanitarian, was born 25 December 1857 (O. S.), 6 January 1858 (N. S.) at Tiegerweide, Molotschna, South Russia, to Peter Fast (20 August 1831-17 December 1916) and Aganetha Barkman Fast (30 December 1837 (O. S.), 11 January 1838 (N. S.)-25 June 1899). Martin was the firstborn of 12 children; only four, Martin, Katharina, Peter, and Aganetha, survived to adulthood.

In 1866, Peter Fast, who was landless, negotiated with Russian authorities on behalf of other Molotschna landless Mennonites. After the death of Aganetha Fast’s father, Martin Barkman, the Fasts purchased a portion of his farmstead in Ruckenau.

M. B. Fast finished his schooling at age 14 and joined the Neukirch Mennonite Church at age 19. That same year, 1877, his father helped lead a large group to North America. On 26 May (O. S.), they left on a special train for Antwerp, boarding the S.S. Vaderland and arriving in Philadelphia on 30 June. Finally, on 3 July, the Fasts arrived in Beatrice, Nebraska, where Cornelius Jansen and his children welcomed them with a handshake, coffee, and zwieback.

Fast helped his father build a sod house near Jansen. In 1879, Fast applied for citizenship, registered to vote, and attended meetings organized by Krimmer Mennonite Brethren from Kansas. He was baptized on 23 May 1880 and joined the new Jansen Krimmer Mennonite Brethren Church. Fast taught in the new Sunday School program.

Fluent in German and Russian, M. B. Fast taught school in the village of Rosenort. In 1881, he became a correspondent for Die Mennonitische Rundschau and the Fairbury Gazette, where he gained writing and speaking English skills.

On 24 February 1884, M. B. Fast married Elisabeth Thiessen, born 25 March 1855 in Neu-Halbstadt to Peter Thiessen (26 May 1832-28 July 1898) and Elisabeth Fast Thiessen (30 August 1827-21 July 1898).

Martin and Elisabeth Fast had five children. Four died in infancy. Agnes (17 January 1885-23 June 1939) married Johann H. Richert, (3 May 1883-6 June 1973) on 9 September 1915 in Chicago, Illinois. Richert later served as minister of Dinuba Mennonite Brethren Church in Dinuba, California.

Die Mennonitische Rundschau hired M. B. Fast on 23 December 1903 and named him editor 27 January 1904. In 1908, he visited several colonies in South Russia, including Molotschna, Chortitza, the nearby daughter colony of Memrik, and Crimea. He sent numerous dispatches back to the Rundschau. On 12 October 1910, Fast retired to Reedley, California. He was a founding member of Zion Krimmer Mennonite Brethren Church, near Dinuba.

In 1915, Fast went to Chicago to help found a Krimmer Mennonite Brethren German-language paper, Der Wahrheitsfreund, in conjunction with a city mission. But, in 1916, after emergency surgery and a prolonged recovery, Fast resigned and returned to Reedley.

Fast contributed to both the Rundschau and the Wahrheitsfreund, informing fellow Mennonites of the plight of Siberian Mennonites during the Russian Civil War. In early 1919, he organized a drive to collect donations and supplies and shipped them to Vladivostok, Russia. He followed via passenger ship and arranged the transport of supplies to Mennonite settlements near Omsk. Wilhelm Neufeld of Reedley traveled with him from Vladivostok to the colonies. Fast sent dispatches to the newspapers and upon his return embarked on a mid-winter speaking tour, pleading with congregations in the Midwest to help their fellow Mennonites.

Mennonite Central Committee Chairman P. C. Hiebert acknowledged Fast’s work in his 1929 book, Feeding the Hungry. He recounted Fasts’ Siberian trip and his “aggressive attitude,” which led to the formation of the “Pacific Branch of the Relief Committee for the Suffering Mennonites in Russia,” one of the forerunners to Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).

On 30 June 1922, Fast organized an auction of donated goods at the John K. Warkentin farm south of Reedley. He sent proceeds of $1750 from the first Mennonite Relief Sale to MCC workers in South Russia.

In the late 1920s, several Mennonite families escaped from Siberia by crossing the frozen Amur River and making their way to Harbin, China. They hoped to enter the United States. However, immigration was extremely limited at the time. Alerted to their cause, Fast worked with Hiebert, who, with assistance from Kansas Congressman Homer Hoch, arranged a meeting with President Herbert Hoover. Hoover responded favorably, and those initial 300 immigrants entered the United States.

Fast died on 15 March 1949 in Reedley, California. Funeral services were held at Zion Krimmer Mennonite Brethren Church. Martin Fast and his wife Elisabeth, who died 8 September 1931, are buried in the church’s cemetery.

Through his writings, travels, and speeches, Fast played a significant role in establishing MCC in 1920 and the first Mennonite Relief Sale in 1922. In addition, he was known for his free-verse poetry, composed for friends and relatives, and read at birthdays, weddings, and funerals. The Mennonite Library & Archives, Fresno Pacific University, holds his archival papers.


Enns-Rempel, Kevin. "The Siberian Journey of M.B. Fast & Wilhelm P. Neufeld." Mennonite Brethren Historical Society of the West Coast Bulletin (April 1990).

Enns-Rempel, Kevin. "The West Coast Mennonite Relief Sale: The 'First' MCC Relief Sale." Mennonite Brethren Historical Society of the West Coast Bulletin (April 1990).

Fast, M. B. Geschichtlicher Bericht wie die Mennoniten Nordamerikas ihren irmen Glaubensgenossen in Russland jetzt und fruher Geholfen haben: Meine Reise nach Sibirien und zuruck, nebst Anhang wann und warum die Mennoniten nach Amerika kamen und die Gliederzahl der verschiedenen Gemeinden M. B. Fast: Reedley, California, 1919. Translated by George Reimer.

Fast, M. B. Mitteilungen von etlichen der Grossen unter den Mennoniten in Russland und in Amerika. Beobachtungen und Erinnerungen von Jefferson Co., Dann noch von meinen vielseitigen Erfahrungen aus der fruhen Jugend bis jetzt. Wahrheitsfreund: Inman, Kansas, 1935. Translated by George Reimer.

Fast, Martin B. Reisebericht und Kurze Geschichte der Mennoniten. Scottdale, Pa., 1909, Translated by George Reimer.

Hiebert, P. C. Feeding the hungry: American Mennonite relief operations under Mennonite Central Committee. Mennonite Central Committee: Scottdale, Pennsylvania, 1929: 33-34.

Original Mennonite Encyclopedia Article

By C. F. Plett. Copied by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 316-317. All rights reserved.

Martin B. Fast, Krimmer Mennonite Brethren author and editor, was born 6 January 1858 at Tiegerweide, South Russia, the son of Peter and Aganetha (Barkmann) Fast. Here Martin attended elementary school. At 19 years of age he joined the Mennonite Church at Rückenau. With his parents he came to America in 1877 and settled near Jansen, Jefferson County, Nebraska, where he was converted, baptized, and received into the fellowship of the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren Church, 23 May 1880. He married Elizabeth Thiessen of Jansen on 24 February 1884. In 1887 he became a United States citizen. He served as editor of Die Mennonitische Rundschau, Elkhart, Indiana (later Scottdale, Pennsylvania), 1903-1910, and as the first editor of Der Wahrheitsfreund, Chicago, Illinois, 1915-1917. In 1908 he made a trip to Russia, visiting relatives and friends in the Molotschna settlement and elsewhere. In June 1919 he made a trip to Siberia with clothing and money for the relief of the poor, and later sent many food drafts for Russian relief. In 1929-1933 he served the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren Conference as chairman of the Board of Foreign Missions; and for some time he was secretary of the Mennonite Aid on the west coast. He died 15 March 1949 at Reedley, California, following a brief illness, at the age of 91 years, and was buried in the Zion Krimmer Mennonite Brethren cemetery, Dinuba, California.

Fast was correspondent to various German papers, and wrote numerous booklets, including Mitteilungen von etlichen der Groszen unter den Mennoniten in Russland und in America (1935); Meine Gedichte vom Jahre 1880 bis jetzt (1943); Reisebericht und Kurz Geschichte der Mennoniten (1909); Geschichtlicher Bericht wie die Mennoniten Nordamerikas ihren armen Glaubensgenossen in Russland jetzt und früher geholfen haben (1919).

Author(s) Katherine Yamada
Date Published July 2021

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Yamada, Katherine. "Fast, Martin B. (1858-1949)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. July 2021. Web. 1 Oct 2022.,_Martin_B._(1858-1949)&oldid=171973.

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Yamada, Katherine. (July 2021). Fast, Martin B. (1858-1949). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 1 October 2022, from,_Martin_B._(1858-1949)&oldid=171973.

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