What can my great-grandfather, Gerhard J. Fast, teach us about living out our convictions in the face of opposition?

Gerhard & Katarina Fast on their wedding day.

There has been a lot of talk of late about how people can live out their convictions in the face of government opposition. My great grandfather, Gerhard Johann Fast (1888-1974), lived quite an interesting life and on more than one occasion was confronted with what to do in the face of government opposition. Gerhard was a Mennonite who was born and raised in present-day Ukraine. The Mennonites have a long history of migration due to conflicts with the government. Beginning in the Netherlands, they initially moved to Prussia and then on to the Ukraine partly because as pacifists they refused to join the military. But they came to a mutual understanding with the various governments they interacted with.

For example, when Gerhard was still single he served as an NCO in the Anatol Forestry Camp for three years. The Mennonites developed, managed, and partially funded a series of Forestry Camps throughout the South Russia that served as the compulsory service for Mennonites instead of military service. The trees that Gerhard planted can still be seen today in central Ukraine!

After Gerhard’s marriage to Katharina (1888-1966), WWI began and he went off to serve in the medical corps of the Russian army, another form of alternative compulsory service. After the Russian Revolution, their communities were confronted with lawlessness and economic persecution that ultimately led them to migrate to Canada with their family.

What lessons can we learn?

First of all, convictions are important but it’s also important to know where your boundaries are. Gerhard was opposed to participating in the military but was not opposed to serving his country. So he found two different ways to serve his country.

Secondly, when faced with persecution it’s always best to continue to dialogue — who knows? You might come up with a mutually beneficial solution.

Finally, sometimes a new normal is a big change. Gerhard and Katharina started out as well-to-do farmers who lived on an estate. They ended up living a very different life in a place 7700 km away. But that new life didn’t take away their deep faith in God nor their deep love for one another.

What advice do you have for living out your convictions in the face of opposition? Please leave your story in the comments section below.

Remember, sharing is what friends do.

This post first appeared on my personal Facebook page in 2021.

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