Red Cross

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The International Red Cross, a humanitarian agency with national affiliates, was established in 1864 to care for war victims. Later it was broadened to relieve other forms of human suffering.

During World War I in Russia more than 6,000 young Mennonite conscientious objectors served in hospital service in lieu of military service. They served with the All-Russian Union of Zemstvos which was a civilian organization, parallel to but associated with the Russian Red Cross. Some North American Mennonites also served in Red Cross ambulance units during World War I.

In 1921 the young Mennonite Central Committee organization was seeking ways of opening relief programs in the Soviet Union; MCC workers conferred with and were aided by the Red Cross affiliated agency of Fridtof Nansen, the International Russian Relief Executive. In World War II (1946-47) the Dutch Red Cross provided the MCC with a supply line for food supplies for the 1,200 Russian Mennonite refugees isolated in West Berlin.

The American (U.S.) Red Cross Disaster Services Division and Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) have cooperated and supported each other in responding to natural disasters since the 1950s. The liaison was a somewhat spontaneous process.

American Red Cross often provided food service and lodging for the Mennonite Disaster Service workers. Survey and damage assessment personnel, canteen and fixed food service cooks and workers, shelter managers, caseworkers, staff secretarial and record keeping, and building advisors were often provided by MDS to augment American Red Cross disaster response teams. In the 1960s, American Red Cross frequently supplied the building materials and MDS supplied the skills and voluntary labor to rebuild many homes.

After declared government programs of benefits and funding were introduced in the 1970s, the two agencies continued to work together. American Red Cross caseworkers referred at an earlier stage in the recovery process the most needy families to Mennonite Disaster Service for cleanup and temporary repairs. The two agencies also supported each other in permanent repairs and reconstruction for families in the non-declared areas.

Because the various national Red Cross (Red Crescent in Muslim countries) are often funded by and linked to national governments, Mennonites have often been cautious in their collaboration with the Red Cross.


Wiebe, Katie Funk. Day of Disaster. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1976.

Toews, John B. Czars, Soviets, and Mennonites. Newton, KS: Faith and Life, 1983: 63ff.

Reimer, Al. My Harp is Turned to Mourning. Winnipeg: Hyperion, 1985, e.g. 209ff.

Klippenstein, Lawrence. "Mennonite Pacifism and State Service in Russia, ... 1789-1936." Ph.D. diss., U. of Minnesota, 1984: 131, 160-66, 198.

Additional Information

American Red Cross

Canadian Red Cross

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

Mennonite Disaster Service

Author(s) C. Nelson Hostetter
Date Published 1989

Cite This Article

MLA style

Hostetter, C. Nelson. "Red Cross." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 23 Feb 2020.

APA style

Hostetter, C. Nelson. (1989). Red Cross. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 23 February 2020, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 748-749. All rights reserved.

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