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Book traces Mennonite history - Odessa American: People

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Book traces Mennonite history

Seminole author intertwines family story with history of church

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Posted: Saturday, November 23, 2019 4:00 am

SEMINOLE The story of the Mennonites is a torturous but ultimately triumphant and uniquely American one that one of their daughters, Katharina “Tina” Rempel Siemens, has made into a book about them and her family.

In increasing numbers, the Mennonites began immigrating to Gaines County in 1977 from Ciudad Cuauhtemoc, Chihuahua, Mexico, after they had pursued their dreams of religious freedom and success from Holland to Poland, Germany, Ukraine and Canada.

Founded by former Roman Catholic priest Menno Simons in the Netherlands in the 16th Century, the Mennonite churches, or Anabaptists, were persecuted primarily for their opposition to the baptism of infants.

Siemens’ book, “Seminole: Some People Never Give Up,” opens with the story of Dirk Willems, who was escaping from a death sentence in 1569 when he went back to a frozen river to rescue a policeman who had been chasing him. Willems was nevertheless burned at the stake.

“I just wanted to have a record for my grandchildren to know what their great-grandparents went through to bring them to America and live the American dream,” said Siemens, who was 8 when she and her family arrived here. “Even though we go through hard times, if we persevere and keep moving forward and don’t give up, we can get to our dream. We are not an ethnic group. We are a faith.”

Siemens and her husband John have two sons and four grandchildren.

Noting that “Seminole” in the Creek Indian language means “separatist” or “runaway,” she said the Rempels, among the first of thousands of Mennonites to settle here, but they were about to be deported when Seminole Mayor Bob Clark, U.S. Rep. George Mahon and Sen. Lloyd Bentsen intervened and President Jimmy Carter signed a bill in 1980 to let them stay.

Siemens said Mennonites are somewhat similar in their beliefs and lifestyle to the Amish. Along with farming, they’ve started businesses here and worked in the construction trades. There are six Mennonite villages and about a dozen churches in Gaines County.

“A big group has moved to Dalhart,” the author said.

Her 387-page book is available in paperback on Amazon for $14.97 and Kindle for $3.99. A deluxe hardcover copy with extra photos is $100.

Clark, who was mayor in the mid-1970s, said Siemens “is a highly qualified lady who is active in this community, well thought of and very friendly.

“Tina doesn’t meet strangers,” Clark said.

“I wasn’t surprised that she wrote the book. Mahon and Bentsen worked hard to get the Mennonites special consideration in Congress because they were impressive people. They didn’t come seeking welfare or government programs.”

Siemens does not attend a Mennonite church, but still identifies with that faith. “We believe Jesus died on the cross for our sins and that by God’s grace we are saved,” she told the Hobbs News-Sun in September.

“But I don’t follow some of the teachings related to dress and other customs. I see myself as a bridge between the Mennonite and non-Mennonite communities. My book is a way of giving back to the community that gave so much to us. I love America and I love being an American.”

Odessa, TX

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