Jantzen, Hermann (1866-1959)

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Hermann Jantzen was a farmer, civil servant, and self-appointed missionary among the Asiatic ethnic groups in Turkestan, the Caucasus, and Bulgaria—and a gifted lay preacher, musician, mission strategist, and missionary statesman. "I am not a trained theologian and not even an ordained preacher," he would tell the Muslim Kirgsten people who lived on the Russian steppes, adding, "I am only a witness to Jesus Christ."

Born 28 May 1866 in the Am Trakt Mennonite settlement on the Volga in south Russia, as a 12-year-old he accompanied his parents and other Mennonite families on the 1880-1881 migration to Russian-controlled central Asia, including Turkestan, a region between Iran and Siberia. The move was prompted both by the government's repeal (1874, effective 1880) of the Mennonites' exemption from military service and the stirring among some in the Mennonite colonies about the millennial rule of Christ that they expected to originate in the East. Claasz Epp, Jr., Jantzen's uncle, became the emigrants' main prophetic leader.

Enroute on the wagon train journey, Hermann, with a number of other youth, was converted. He had earlier promised minister Johannes Penner—one who did not go along with Epp's ideas but did go along on the trek—to spend a few minutes in prayer each day, asking, "Lord, show me my heart." One night Hermann prayed those words repeatedly. The Lord revealed his heart to him and he jumped from the wagon and ran into the low hills to agonize in prayer until dawn. "At that instant a miracle happened, which I cannot describe. In my heart it was as though a voice spoke: 'Arise, your sins are forgiven; for they have been paid long ago on Calvary by Jesus Christ.'"

Hermann spent eight years in language study, also studying the Qur'an, and the Schariatt, the Muslim statement of faith and the five prayer forms. By 1885, having become fluent in the Uzbek-Turkish language, he was appointed an interpreter by Khan Seit-Muhametsha-Sim Bagadur in the city of Chiwa, located only about seven kilometers (four miles) from the Mennonite villages. New schisms in the church (which included the ouster of Epp and about 10 families including Hermann's parents) and "the glamorous and loose life at the court" injured his spiritual life. As a consequence, he and his young wife and infant son and three other families in 1890 moved to Aulie-Ata near the city of Tashkent where the group had first settled after leaving south Russia. Here, because of his fluency in the country's four languages, Hermann was asked to become a forest ranger; eventually he became chief forester of the area.

The appointment as a state official meant that the congregation "promptly put me off the membership roll." He and his 10 subordinates had to superintend the forests and assign the grazing rights among the nomadic Kirghiz, Kasaken, Kuraminsan, and other tent dwellers in the surrounding hills of the Tjanschen mountains.

Political unrest among the Muslim people, occasioned by the "nationalities question," placed forester Jantzen in a precarious position. Straightforward and truthful toward all, he was falsely accused of conspiracy against the area leader, was arrested, and imprisoned. He was eventually exonerated and made chief forester of the whole Aulie-ata region of Turkestan.

In spite of growing status and wealth he wrestled with the inner knowledge that he was going against the voice of the Holy Spirit. A number of spiritual leaders, including E. G. Broadbent, from England, were influential during this time of search. Finally, the seeming judgment of God shown in the loss through illness of cattle and horses and the illness of one of his sons with typhus brought chief forester Jantzen, acclaimed in various government circles, to his knees before God. He struggled with "all my sins and the injustice that I, in my pride, had committed against many people, especially the Mohammedans of my district." His prayer was answered, and peace replaced hate and bitterness. "Even at that time I could have embraced those Kirghiz that had become so loathsome to me and tell them: 'Come with me to the Lord Jesus; he loves you and wants to save you and give you joy."

After these experiences he said farewell to public service and sought out a spiritual vocation. His first step was to be a witness for Christ among the Muslims with whom he had dealt as government official for 18 years. About 12 years later (1911-1912), he studied at the Alliance Bible School in Berlin (later moved to Wiedenest in the Rhineland of Germany). He thereafter returned to Turkestan and continued missionary work among Muslims and Russians, including evangelistic services among the Mennonites remaining in Ak-Mechet.

Political revolts in 1916 and the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 created new difficulties for Jantzen, as they did for the entire Mennonite community. In the required local elections he was elected, with no right of declining, to be assistant district commissar. As a representative of the people, he was asked to sign the expropriation edict from Moscow. He refused, citing the government's duty to protect as well as provide for the proletariat. He was eventually imprisoned, again escaping death.

Marked as a counterrevolutionary by the Bolshevists in 1923, he and his wife nonetheless miraculously secured permission and passage to leave Turkestan for Germany, where they established a new home in Berghausen, close to the Wiedenest Bible School. They had to leave their children and their families behind. One son was killed in prison and the other three sent to Siberia. His wife died in 1928.

As a Wiedenest Bible School staff member he served as a lay preacher and evangelist in Austria, Switzerland, Germany, and The Netherlands. In 1929 he undertook a missionary journey to Bulgaria at the invitation of young missionaries who had gone out from Wiedenest. Having lived among Muslims for 45 years, he advised new missionaries to "win their confidence, be a Turk to the Turks, learn to feel with them. Once they open up you will find that the Turks also have homesickness of the soul, and one can talk to them." In 1931 Jantzen married Mrs. Abram Janzen, a widow with three children, who had also fled from Turkestan.

Neither prison, nor political, economic, social, and religious adversity could daunt Hermann. His was a simple and confident faith in the sufficiency of God in every circumstance. He said, "God often makes use of political upheaval to open doors for His Word." He saw himself as a "practical missionary," one schooled in the Scriptures and daily communion with God. He seized the moment to witness for Jesus Christ, whether before state officials, Muslims in the tea parlors, university students, pastors and congregations of numerous denominations, or with individuals who sought him out. He was burdened by divisiveness in the church, where dogma and doctrine seemed to stand above the Bible.

His ministry during the 1930s, the Second World War, and following was characterized by his usual full-hearted and capable response of combining word and deed to bring the joy of the gospel to those in every walk of life who were yet without the joy and peace of Christ. Hermann Jantzen, age 93, died 13 November 1959 at his rural home near Hilversum, The Netherlands.


Jantzen, Hermann. Im Wilden Turkestan: Ein Leben unter Moslems. Gießen and Basel: Brunnen, 1988. Transcribed from handwritten German by Ernest Kuhlman and translated into English by Joseph A. Kleinsasser as "Memoirs of Hermann Jantzen. Typescript, n.p., n.d. [ca. 1975].

Author(s) John M Bender
Date Published 1987

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MLA style

Bender, John M. "Jantzen, Hermann (1866-1959)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Web. 19 Apr 2024. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Jantzen,_Hermann_(1866-1959)&oldid=171321.

APA style

Bender, John M. (1987). Jantzen, Hermann (1866-1959). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 April 2024, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Jantzen,_Hermann_(1866-1959)&oldid=171321.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 460-461. All rights reserved.

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