ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
Pastor Elmer Reimer planned to retire when he moved with wife Tina to Newton in 1991. But for the past 12 years, his life has been far removed from retirement.
During that time, he has managed to pastor First Mennonite Church of Burns, tune pianos for a living, perform and record gospel songs and hymns on musical glasses, and translate and complete the new testament in Low German.
“We moved here to be with my son, Dave, because my health was giving out,” said Reimer, 80. “I was under so much pain, I couldn’t carry on anymore.”
But after successful surgery for hip and shoulder problems, Reimer said he felt like a new man. Any forced-retirement plans were put up on a high shelf and out of the way.
Growing up in Saskatchewan, Canada, Reimer was the third of seven boys who had one younger sister.
When the young Mennonite entered school, he didn’t speak English. His family spoke Low German at home, and church services were conducted in High German.
“High German is the basic language of Germany-a full language in every sense of the word,” Reimer said.
“Low German does not have a grammar. It hasn’t had any written texts as such until quite recently. It was simply a language that basically the Mennonites spoke.”
When a second language was required in school, Reimer learned High German. And in college, he studied the Greek language.
The Reimers, who have three grandchildren, will celebrate 60 years of marriage in September.
“When we were married, all of our siblings on both sides spoke the same Low German we do,” Reimer said.
“Most of our siblings didn’t keep up the Low German in their home. But for some reason, in our home, we kept up the Low German. The Lord had his hand in that.”
Reimer’s first church in the early 1950s was a Low German-speaking congregation, but his other churches did not speak the language.
“Now, where we’re pastoring, they have a Mennonite background, and about three or four (members) speak Low German,” he said.
As a pastor in small communities, Reimer has always needed to have jobs to provide a family income. Those jobs have included an auto-body repairman, a car mechanic and a carpenter.
“For about 27 years, in South Dakota, I built houses along with pastoring work,” he said.
Through son Dave, a pastor in Newton, Reimer heard of a missionary opportunity in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, in 1997.
“The Christians east of Santa Cruz, at a local church there, desperately needed somebody to come down to do some solid Bible teaching and instruction,” Reimer said.
Reimer accepted the assignment and spent five weeks in Bolivia with people who had originally migrated to that country from Canada.
“Low German was really all they knew,” he said.
“Here were these people in a church of about 50 to 60 people. Most of them couldn’t read anything, so how could they read scripture?”
At a meeting with other missionaries, he learned there was a need for an accurate translation of the new testament into Low German.
Reimer realized he had the background to complete the task.
But as he began to work on the translation, he discovered some road blocks.
“I had to really struggle at times because over the centuries, the Low German people had made a very distinct separation between what was spoken at home and what was used at church,” he said.
“We don’t have religious terms in the Low German like you would in High German or English, so sometimes, you have to use a sentence to explain one word.”
His initial task included translating one book of the Bible at a time-from High German and Greek into Low German.
“What I would do is, I would translate the book and when it was finished, I would record it,” he said. “I would put in on cassette tape, send it down there and that way, they could listen to it.”
About a year ago, the missionaries built a radio station in Bolivia and began broadcasting in Low German-including some of Reimer’s translations.
“The Low German broadcasting became a very, very effective thing,” Reimer.
At this time, he began authoring four-and five-minute meditations in Low German on compact disc and sending them to Bolivia.
Reimer copyrighted his Low German New Testament translations. “This translation is in the national archives in the Congregational Library on compact disc,” Reimer said.
But in the fall, he was warned that he needed to produce a hard copy of his translations, because it’s too easy for unethical people to pirate and alter cassettes and compact discs.
“Because of all of that, we were about forced to have it printed,” Reimer said.
After approaching Print Source Direct in Hillsboro, Reimer chose to have 324 copies printed of “Daut Niehe Tastament Plautdietsch,” which translates “The New Testament Low German.” Plautdietsch is literally translated “flat German.”
He picked up his books the first of March, and they sell for $19.95, including tax. Those interested in purchasing a book can reach Reimer at 316-284-0817.
“I’ve sent out about a dozen and sold that many now,” Reimer said at the end of March.
“I haven’t done any advertising on it yet, which I still want to do. And I plan to contact the Provident Bookstores here in Newton and Thee Bookstore in Hillsboro.”
The profits from the book will be used as a down payment for any future printings and to help pay for distribution in missions where needed.
“The reaction around here has been enthusiastic-especially for certain people,” Reimer said, pointing out that people who still speak Low German are excited about his book.
“But most of the enthusiasm has come from the mission workers in Bolivia,” Reimer said.
“They say they can hardly wait to get it, because they feel it will be a tremendous tool for them. They’re acquainted with this translation because they’ve had it out there on compact disc and cassette.”
In addition to the time he’s spent with his bible translations and meditations, Reimer tunes about 15 to 20 pianos a month.
“I don’t do any advertising because I have about as much work as I can handle,” he said.
And he also performs gospel songs and hymns on musical glasses.
He began playing these in 1954, after hearing a man perform on glasses at Reimer’s first congregation.
He discovered the best glasses to play are imported from Europe, because of the lead content used there.
Self taught on the musical glasses, he drew from the music he heard as a youngster at home, and he perfected the art of playing on crystal.
Reimer arranges 26 crystal wine and whiskey glasses of various sizes in front of him and fills them with water. He tunes each glass with a strobe tuner.
“You’re fingers have to be very, very clean,” Reimer said. “And then you dip them in the water and lightly rub the rim to create vibration, friction.”
In general, the larger the glass, the lower the pitch and the smaller the glass, the higher the pitch.
The sweet flute-like sound Reimer creates has a continual flow from one note to the next and transports anyone familiar with Germany back to that country.
“I don’t do it much anymore,” he said. “But I have done it quite often in special musical programs and in church.”
About 25 years ago, he recorded 12 pieces on a long-playing album.
And he and daughter-in-law Marilyn Reimer have recorded a duet of piano and crystal glasses on compact disc-to preserve his unique talent and share it with others.
But retiring-Reimer said he won’t take that off the shelf unless he can’t get up out of a chair.
“I would like to continue doing what I’m doing,” he said.
“I don’t think I’ll ever get to the place where I’ll just sit and twiddle my thumbs. I think I’ll just keep going and going. And all of a sudden, that will be the end.”