The Mennonite Heritage Village is thrilled to be opening a peace garden centred around a historic Mennonite martyr with an inspiring story.
The Dirk Willems Peace Garden officially opened to the public on August 20, 2022.
"The garden is just close to our pond past our woods, close to the windmill," says Gary Dyck, Executive Director at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) in Steinbach.
The story behind the inspiration for the garden dates back to the 1500s.
"It tells the story of an early Mennonite, an Anabaptist named Dirk Willems who was imprisoned for his faith."
Willems lived in Holland at the time.
"He escaped and was able to glide across the ice, the moat, whatever it was. His jailer was chasing after him, yelling, and he fell through the ice. Dirk, while it could have been his God-given chance to say, 'Yes, I'm out of here,' but he turned back. With the compassion of Christ went and saved his jailer out of the ice."
To story takes a turn as Willems got caught after turning back. The guards put him back in jail and he was ultimately burned at the stake for his faith.
"That is one of our heroes and we celebrate his life, his legacy, and his compassion."
In the centre of the garden is a $130,000 sculpture of Willems saving his captor, designed by Peter Sawatsky, an international sculpture.
People's Reaction to the New Garden
People have been enjoying the peace garden already in the short weeks that it's been open.
"My dad, who's Mennonite and 92 years old, didn't know the story. It was my opportunity to tell him and we had a good discussion."
The MHV has roughly 50,000 visitors every year. One of the young visitors was also enthralled with Willems' story.
"There was a 5-year-old boy, his mom had told him the story. The next day he came back and ran to the sculpture. I asked, 'What are you doing?' and he said, 'I'm going to help Dirk save his enemy.'"
Next week MHV will be adding even more to it's peace garden.
"We got a grant to plant $7,500 of trees, which is about 50 trees. I went to Falk Nursery and Sheldon Falk the owner said, 'We love it.' We made a good plan of what to do with the trees and to add some weeping willows by the pond to create a greater environment for reflection."
Falk was so moved, that he decided to double the number of trees as a donation to the garden.
"Not only that, he went to Teen Challenge on his own initiative and said, 'Hey guys, this is a great community project. Do you want to help us plant them?' And they said yes. We see that love coming out towards this project."