Already there were cases where Mennonites had found a way to cross the Amur to seek asylum in Harbin, a sizable city in northern China. Secretly, Nicholai and Elizabeth with her husband made plans. They would wait until the coldest part of the winter when the Amur was frozen and cross with everything loaded on a few wagons. It was even possible to send a message to recruit Chinese men to lend assistance should the need arise.
But Russian guards patrolled the Amur even in winter on the ice. The first attempt failed when the Janzen clan tried to cross. They heard the patrol coming and had to turn back. The second attempt was successful but in selecting a more unlikely spot the bank was steep and Helena Janzen, the aging mother, fell off the wagon in the rush to get across. She protested that she had experienced no injury, but later Helena died of unknown causes. Grandmother Helena (Reimer) Janzen, (1869-1931) is buried in Harbin, China.
Harbin already had a sizable Mennonite community because of immigration from Russia. The Janzen boys soon found work in the area and came home with enough cash to get along. In the meantime, Nicholai studied possibilities for finding a way to move out of China. Both Americas were desirable but Canada and the USA had filled their quota and were closed to further immigration for the time being. Paraguay, however, was offering glamorous invitations for anyone who wanted to settle the inner regions of the country. Nicholai considered these offers and thought them quite good. Indeed, the paperwork was progressing well towards such a goal. The whole family would immigrate to Paraguay. Already other Mennonite families were organizing themselves and arrangements were being made for the long cross-ocean trip to South America. Admittedly, Canada and the United States would have been much better locations because Mennonites had already established themselves in these countries, but what choice was there? Nicholai certainly did not want to stay in China.