‘What a great way to give back’

The Canadian Foodgrains Bank remembers long-time benefactor who donated 190 acres of farmland to the organization

Hard working, devout, determined and beholden.

Those are a few of the words that could be used to describe the late Werner Zacharias, who farmed, preached the gospel and raised a family of five children near Fiske, Sask., along with his wife, Elsie.

Generous is another, said Rick Block.

“In late 2017, I was made aware that a fellow by the name of Werner Zacharias had passed away,” said Block, Saskatchewan’s regional representative for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

“I never met him. But I learned that Werner had gifted 190 acres of farmland to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. That’s quite a gift.”

Zacharias was born in 1924 near Hague, Sask., a predominantly Mennonite community north of Saskatoon.

His parents moved to Canada in the early 1920s from the Molotschna region of south Russia, today Ukraine, to escape religious, political and economic persecution during Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution.

Within a few years of arriving in Saskatchewan, the Zacharias family relocated to Fiske, where Werner grew up.

A modest and hard-working man, Werner was known for his deep religious convictions and for his compassion toward those who were less fortunate.

The 190 acres that were gifted to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank today serve as the focal point of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank’s Fiske Community Growing Project.

The project involves a number of local families and CFB supporters who invest time, energy, crop inputs and in-kind donations to raise money for a cause that was close to Werner’s and Elsie’s hearts.

This year, the Fiske Community Growing Project planted lentils, which will be used to support families facing hunger in developing countries.

“People in the Fiske area were genuinely excited that they would have an opportunity to rally together to support the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, a cause that is near and dear to many people in the area, and perhaps most prominently Werner,” said Block.

“People in the community speak very lovingly of Werner, but he wasn’t without his idiosyncrasies.…

“In some ways he was boldly generous, and sometimes it was almost illogical … but his steadfast commitment to being generous and thinking of those who didn’t have enough endeared him to the people in his community.

“He had a real profile for service to the community, for giving back. He was never shy to encourage farmers in and around Fiske and Rosetown … that as an individual farmer, you could donate grain, over and above your quota to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank … and that donation would be matched, up to four-to-one, by the federal government.”

Block said Werner’s constant energy and unwavering dedication to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank was the key to the organization’s growth and popularity in west-central Saskatchewan.

Peter Janzen, who farms near Buffalo Head Prairie in northern Alberta, offered a similar view of his father-in-law’s generosity and religious conviction.

Werner was also a pastor and Bible school teacher in his earlier years, and when he followed what he understood the New Testament to be teaching, he followed it to the letter, Janzen said.

Consistent with the gospel in Matthew 25, Werner took seriously his obligation to feed the hungry, offer relief to the thirsty, clothe the naked and tend to the sick and needy.

As a farmer, he was often the first grower in the Fiske area to begin working the land in the spring, Janzen said.

When others would see Werner tilling the land, they knew it was time to pull out their machinery and get ready for the coming season.

“Werner and his parents came out of Soviet Russia with nothing, even losing his grandparents who were killed in the conflict there,” said Janzen.

“He felt he had been blessed by coming to Canada and felt accountable for how he managed his blessing.

“(His) heart was very in-tune with helping those in need and serving the local communities….

“He never wanted compensation for his time dedicated to Christian ministry, and when neighbours wanted to pay him for helping them, he would usually say, ‘just send it to the foodgrains bank.’ ”

In 2019, the Fiske Community Growing Project planted wheat on Werner’s donated land.

Members of the Fiske Community Growing Project gather for harvest day last October on land that Werner Zacharias donated to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. | Rick Block photo

It was a challenging year, but the land still produced a yield of nearly 45 bushels per acre and generated $20,000 — money was donated to Mennonite Central Committee Canada’s account at the foodgrains bank to provide families with emergency food assistance.

“This project is an extension of our community’s spirit of giving,” said Carolyn Siemens, the Fiske growing project’s treasurer.

“This gifted parcel of land is a reminder of our responsibility to our global community. It’s an opportunity to help by doing what we already do — grow food. What a great way to give back.”

When people like Werner and Elsie Zacharias dedicate themselves so wholly to helping others, both in their own community and around the world, they are not soon forgotten, added Janzen.

The Zacharias family is happy to see the legacy of Werner and Elsie live on in such a special and tangible way, he said.

The Canadian Foodgrains Bank is a partnership of 15 churches and church agencies working together to ease world hunger.

In the 2019-20 budget year, it provided $42 million of assistance for 866,000 people in 34 countries.

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