The mennonite game

The mennonite game DEFAULT

The Mennonite Game is easy to play, but difficult to master. For years Mennonites have been playing the game, but after all this time, no winner has been determined for the simple reason that there was no clear set of rules. Using the following points system, Mennonites can tally up their scores throughout their lifetimes and have their final total printed on their tombstones for future Mennonites to see. This game is appropriate for all ages, and although younger people will have more time to tally points, older Mennonites certainly have the advantage when it comes to knowledge about aunts and uncles and cousins-once-removed.

  • Any time you are asked, “Who is your father? or “Who is your mother?” – 5 points
  • Any time you ask someone else these same questions – 5 points
  • If you are asked these questions and actually have an answer – 10 points
  • If you can ask and answer in Plautdietsch – 20 points
  • If the asker ruffles up your hair or pinches your cheek while asking – 10 points
  • If you ask someone who they are related to and it turns out they aren’t Mennonite – minus 5 points
  • Any time you are asked by a stranger what church you go to – 10 points
  • If you name some local Mennonite church in reply – 20 points
  • If you’re lying when you say it – minus 5 points
  • If you don’t attend church except for Christmas and Easter – 5 points
  • If you used to attend but don’t anymore – 2 points
  • If you’ve been completely turned off by church because of how you were treated in the past and spend an hour or two ranting to the asker about this – minus 50 points
  • Owning a family history book – 5 points per book
  • Politely smiling and thanking your Uncle Gerhard for the spiral-bound self-published history book – 15 points
  • Actually reading the bloody thing – 50 points
  • Tracing at least one line of ancestors back to Russia, Germany or Prussia – 5 points
  • Tracing at least one line of ancestors back to The Netherlands, Belgium, or Switzerland – 10 points
  • Discovering a non-Mennonite in your family tree – minus 10 points
  • Discovering a famous Mennonite in your family tree (like crazy man Claas Epp or Nebraska senator Peter Jansen) – 20 points
  • Finding a relation to Menno Simons – 100 points
  • Visiting an important Mennonite historic site – 20 points
  • Defacing it – minus 50 points
  • If you can name all your cousins including the really young ones – 10 points
  • If you can name at least one second cousin – 10 points
  • Marrying a first cousin – 50 points
  • Marrying a second cousin – 40 points
  • Marrying a third cousin – 30 points
  • Marrying a fourth cousin or higher – 20 points
  • Marrying a first cousin-once removed – 40 points
  • Marrying a second cousin-once removed – 30 points
  • Marrying a third cousin-once removed – 20 points
  • Marrying anyone else in the Loewen Book – 10 points
  • Divorcing any of the aforementioned people – minus 10 points
  • Having relatives on both sides of the Red River – 5 points
  • Each time you cross the river to visit them – 2 points per trip
  • Having relatives who still live in the old country – 20 points
  • If your middle name is your mother’s maiden name – 20 points
  • If you know what ‘Grandma’s Window’ is without having to Google it – 20 points
  • If you actually have a subscription to it – 40 points
  • Routinely referring to your relatives as “frintschoft” – 20 points
  • If you understand that the Mennonites are a religious denomination, and not actually an ethnicity – 1000 points

(photo credit: John M/CC)

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The Mennonite Game and Whiteness

In the small conservative Mennonite denomination I grew up in, we played a game. It was called the “Mennonite Game,” a version of the Kevin Bacon “six degrees of separation” party game. The goal was to see how quickly two Mennonites, meeting each other for the first time, could establish common family connections and church links.

Once a year 2,000 people would flood a small Midwestern town (it rotated between Arthur, Illinois; Goshen, Indiana; Sugarcreek, Ohio; Kalona, Iowa; Rosedale, Ohio; Hartville, Ohio; and Greenwood, Delaware) for a weekend gathering. Between sermons, basketball, and white bread rolls under a big green tent, we would test the boundaries of our tight network. I was the son, grandson, and great-grandson, and great-great grandson of a dozen prominent ministers and bishops, and so I had lots of material to work with.

The Game would begin like this: What is your mother’s maiden name? [Miller] What was your great-great grandmother’s maiden name? [Yoder] Where do you live? [central Ohio] Did your parents meet at Rosedale Bible Institute? [Yes] Do you have an Aunt Sarah who was a missionary to Costa Rica? [No] Did your Great-Grandpa Ivan J. Miller marry us in 1948? [I have no idea.]

I pretended that the Game was annoying, but I secretly liked it (though not as much as this lady). As a consummate insider, as a privileged son with the right last name and bloodlines in a patriarchal religious group, I felt grounded in history and enjoyed the warm bonds of close community.

As I grew older, I began to sense the limits of the Game. I abruptly stopped playing if one of the few Hispanic Mennonites in our group walked by. I knew they couldn’t play the Game as fully I could, and I didn’t want them to feel excluded. To be sure, connections came through institutional, not just ethnic, forms, but these connections were difficult for new arrivals to cultivate in a group where ethnicity and churchly institutions overlapped so thickly.

Indeed, my close community was largely a closed community. Our relative isolation from society and our tendency to marry other Swiss-German Mennonites meant that last names like Johnson, Gutierrez, or Nguyen did not appear often in our group. More than once I heard (and sometimes thought myself), “That’s not a Mennonite name.” It seemed difficult to integrate first- and second-generation Mennonites into our tight community.

A recent study has born that out. Statistically speaking, I was very unlikely to marry someone who was nonwhite. Not long ago, several scholars used Census Bureau data to analyze the surnames of 270 million Americans to determine those most likely to be held by certain races or ethnicities. Check out their findings:


Yoder 98.1

Krueger 97.1

Muller 97.0

Koch 96.9

Schwartz 96.8

Schmitt 96.8

Novak 96.8

Schneider 96.7

Schroeder 96.7

Haas 96.7


A person with the surname of Yoder, one held by many of my ancestors, has a 98.1 percent chance of being white. A person with the last name of Muller, which is a variant of my mother’s maiden name, has a 97.0 percent chance of being white. A person with the last name of Schwartz, a variant of my own surname, has a 96.8 percent chance of being white. Put it all together, and I may have been the least likely white person to marry someone of a different race. As it turned out, I married a Russian-German Mennonite, but even the Russian part was really German. Her ancestors were actually German farmers invited by Catherine the Great to modernize Russian agriculture and farm the rich steppes of Ukraine.

To be sure, other religious groups cultivate close ethnic communities. As the following charts show, the percentages of certain Asian and Hispanic surnames rival those of “whites.”


Barajas 96.0

Orozco 95.1

Zavala 95.1

Velazquez 94.9

Ibarra 94.7

Juarez 94.7



Washington 89.9

Jefferson 75.2

Booker 65.6

Banks 54.2

Jackson 53.0

Mosley 52.8

Dorsey 51.8

Gaines 50.3

Rivers 50.2

Joseph 48.8



Zhang 98.2

Huang 96.5

Choi 96.5

Li 96.4

Huynh 96.2

Yu 96.2

Nguyen 95.9

Pham 95.9

Wu 95.9

Tran 95.6


So “white” German Mennonites aren’t the only ones with tight ethnic connections, but they do suffer from a particularly sordid history. In Chosen Nation: Mennonites and Germany in a Global Era, Ben Goossen shows how Mennonites in World War II willingly submitted to Nazi “racial biologists,” who wanted their extensive genealogical records and lauded them as “ideal specimens of humanity.” On the Eastern Front, Mennonites who had remained in genetically pure communities were delighted when Nazis liberated them from Bolshevik rule. They happily underwent racial testing in order to return to the West and resettle farms taken from Poles and Jews. SS documents cited Mennonites as “the outstanding example” of avoiding integration with their impure surroundings. Goossen found one ancestor list with an image of a swastika rising from the sea, illuminating a brighter dawn. It turned out, writes Goossen, that these Russian Mennonites, who continued to speak German and marry only other German Mennonites, were “more Aryan than the average German.” Some of these Mennonites left Germany after the war and carried this very strong German identity to Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

Though streaks of ethnonationalism remain in some sectors of American Mennonitism, times are changing. People of color now comprise the majority of the nearly 1.2 million members of the global Mennonite family. According to The Mennonite, the largest and fastest-growing Mennonite church in the U.S. is an African-American congregation in Hampton, Virginia, Calvary Community Church. Nearly 20 percent of Mennonites in the United States are Hispanic, African-American, Native American, or Asian. The growth of Anabaptism across the globe has implications for Mennonites and Anabaptists whose fading numbers in North America are bolstered by the rise of the Congolese and Ethiopian churches.

All this is beginning to militate against the kind of ethnic exclusivity that the Mennonite Game sometimes engenders. Which is a good thing for a couple of reasons. Biologically, more genetic diversity may prevent the proliferation of bipolar disorder within populations that share a lot of common ancestors. Anabaptist victims of persecution and resettlement have been especially vulnerable to population bottlenecks that perpetuate a particular genetic code. Theologically, the broadening of Anabaptist ethnicity honors its Reformational past, when faith in Jesus Christ, not loyalty to an ethnicity or a state, qualified a person to be a disciple in good standing with the church.

So does the Mennonite Game, which recently became the subject of an academic article, a hit four-part harmony Youtube song, and an actual card game, inevitably turn belonging into exclusion? Does it implicate Mennonite systems of white privilege? Does celebrating ethnic relationships, as Goossen suggests, “mean having something in common with Nazi race scientists”? Like German-Russian Mennonites who took land from murdered Jews, German Mennonites in the Americas “settled” the land of many indigenous peoples. In northern Indiana and southern Michigan, Mennonites displaced the Potawatamie. In Iowa, Mennonites displaced the Sauk and Mesquakie. In Kansas Mennonites displaced the Kanza. In Mississippi, efforts at “evangelization by colonization” in the 1950s displaced jobs and land held by African Americans.

I don’t exactly know how to reckon with these historical examples of exclusion. Part of me thinks that we could play a version of the Mennonite Game that emphasizes institutional connections and theological resonances over family relations. Indeed, I’ve been grafted into and extended my own networks at Asbury University where I teach and where I regularly meet people affiliated with United Methodism, Free Methodism, and the Salvation Army who seem more Anabaptist than my hundreds of second cousins who go by Yoder, Weaver, Beachy, and Hochstetler. That said, history and family matter. In the end, can institutional ties bind as tightly as those from childhood? Can water be thicker than blood? Is it helpful to be cosmopolitan if you’re not rooted in anything?

What does seem clear is that the Mennonite Game reveals an inherent tension between belonging and exclusion. It’s a tension that should be considered deeply as we seek to stave off isolation in this age of loneliness.

  1. Gifs for discord
  2. Tiki torch pack
  3. Frida kahlo poncho
  4. Darren wang

By Abby King

While plenty of Mennonites have played the “Mennonite game” – the Anabaptist version of six degrees of separation – only a select few have played Mark Eash Hershberger’s version. But that’s about to change.

Hershberger, a 2010 Goshen College graduate, created “The Mennonite Game” card game where players strategically “discover that they are connected in various ways” through drawing cards and using their various ties and experiences, such as realizing that someone is your “brother’s roommate’s sister’s ex-boyfriend’s high school teacher,” according to a Hershberger’s description of the game. While Hershberger originally began creating the card game three years ago, he only recently shared the side project with the broader community after he finalized the design and logistics of the game and felt as if it were ready to be shared.

With the creation of a Kickstarter campaign and a quick post on Facebook, Hershberger’s card game was soon being shared among dozens of interested patrons. His initial goal was to raise $3,750 – just enough to fund the production of the cards. However, within 48 hours of sharing the campaign, Hershberger’s goal was met and funds kept rolling in. So much so that “stretch goals” such as thicker cards, more character and event cards, and shipping to Canada became a possibility.

“It was huge to get that support from everyone,” Hershberger said. “That really spread the word fast… A lot of people I don’t know have shared [the Facebook] post. It’s been really helpful.”

The Kickstarter campaign will end on Friday, Nov. 3.

Hershberger began creating “The Mennonite Game” card game after he decided to push himself to create a product that implemented his love for design and illustration, which he said grew a lot during his time at Goshen College while he took a handful of figure classes.

“I wasn’t sure if I was going to sell it,” Hershberger said. “I just wanted to have it to just challenge myself. I like having side projects.”

When it came time to figure out what his side project would be, Hershberger said he stuck with what he knows best: Mennonites and card games.

“I thought it would be interesting to have a card game where your objective is to put characters together in a way that is basic, but also challenging and strategic,” he said.

It’s clear that the three years Hershberger spent perfecting “The Mennonite Game” card game was worth it. He began designing the game writing on index cards to work out the mechanics after the game. From there, Hershberger began illustrating the cards. Each card in the deck has meticulously detailed illustrations and designs of of characters and events, many of which have Mennonite characteristics. In fact, there’s even a card with an illustrated Menno Simons on it. After the illustrations were completed, Hershberger play-tested the card game with his friends and family.

For those wondering whether you have to be a Mennonite to play the card game, Hershberger said that while the title may seem like only Anabaptists can play, the game is for everyone – no matter their faith identity.

“There are some event cards that are specific to Mennonites, like Menno Simons and Mennonite Conference. But there are a lot of aspects that people who are not Mennonite can relate to and appreciate,” Hershberger said.

The goal of the game is to create the most connections, and to do that, players must collect 10 character cards. Character cards are gained through collecting connection cards. With the right amount of connection cards, players can draw a character card, such as “girlfriend” or “dentist.” Event cards are used to affect the play of the game, causing players to draw more cards, skip a turn and more. The game combines simple connections with strategy to create a fun card game for everyone.

The fall after Hershberger graduated from Goshen College with a degree in art and a concentration in graphic design, he married Lauren Eash, also a 2010 graduate. He, a Harrisonburg, Virginia, native, and she, a Goshen local, moved to Oregon to work as service leaders for Mennonite Mission Network’s Service Adventure program. Within a year, they became pregnant with their first child, and relocated back to Goshen after two years in Oregon. Hershberger is currently the media arts designer at River Oaks Community Church. His family also grew, and he is now the proud father of three little boys: Jonah (4), Charlie (2) and Leo (one month).

For those interested in purchasing “The Mennonite Game” card game, Hershberger suggested purchasing the game through the Kickstarter campaign, located online at Hershberger is unsure as to whether the game will be available for purchase elsewhere after Nov. 3, when the campaign ends. However, Hershberger is inquiring about getting the card game in bookstores at the various Mennonite-affiliated institutions, as well as bookstores in heavily populated Mennonite areas across the United States.

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This blog began when I was a single missionary trying to keep in touch with people back home. As I transitioned to being a married homemaker, and then to being a mother, the content and major themes have changed, but in general, it is as the title says–The Days of My Life, and the joys, struggles, humour, and tears that those days bring.


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Realizing one version of “the good life,” one day at a time. I believe, like James wrote, that “every Good & Perfect thing is from the Father above”. So I’m filling my little corner of the internet with record of the good things He’s showing + giving me.


They Were StrangersThey Were Strangers

During the Protestant Reformation, the Anabaptists were considered radicals for taking Scripture –specifically Jesus’ teachings– literally. While most of the Protestant church fought over their theological differences and even took up arms, the Anabaptists stood in persistent, confrontational peace. My blog’s intent is to do the same.

#church#christianliving#culture #depression #theology

Think TruthThink Truth

We are a group of young people with an intention of encouraging our people to think more and better about their beliefs.

#church#christianliving#culture #holiness #theology

this-extraordinary-lifeThis Extraordinary Life

a blog about the ordinary and extraordinary things of life. . . making every moment beautiful


thrifty-frugal-momThrifty Frugal Mom– where food, family & finances meet

I love sharing simple, from-scratch recipes, inspiration for successful homemaking and lots of great money saving ideas. Come join me!

#family#homemaking #recipes

Tis a Gift to Receive‘Tis a Gift to Receive

Thoughts about living well and walking toward wholeness on this side of Eden. A globe-trotter’s guide to simplicity, beauty, and serendipity in normal life.

#christianliving#reviews#singleness #spirituality #travel


I seek to speak words of truth and grace into the lives of my readers, mostly through essays, poetry, and telling the stories of ordinary life.

#christianliving#culture #faith #poetry#teaching

Ultimate Metaphor 2

Ultimate Metaphor – when earth mimics heaven

As a middle school English teacher who often notices metaphors, I love seeing how God uses mundane life to show who He is and who He is not. Richard Foster says “The material world is created, in part, so as to make visible…the realm of the invisible.”

 #depression #reviews#singleness#teaching#theology

Urbanite MusingsUrbanite Musings

I live in the city, I’m an Anabaptist educator, and I love Jesus. I like to share about the things I observe both about my culture, and my students.

#christianliving#culture #humor #missions#teaching

Written Down BigWrittenDownBig– a canvas for wonderings, thinkings and discoveries

I write about literature, subjects I care about, and the stuff of daily life.


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