Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A 1742 Journey On The "Francis and Elizabeth"

This ship is likely similar to the one that carried my ancestors.
I spent some time at EMU's Historical Library yesterday to see if I could find the name of the ship that brought Christian Yoder and family (including his sixteen-year-old-son Christian, my direct ancestor) across the Atlantic. Turns out it was the "Francis and Elizabeth", which left Rotterdam sometime in midsummer of 1742, stopped briefly in London and finally landed in the port of Philadelphia on September 21, 1742. 

The three-volume work I found at EMU contained photocopies of signatures of a total of 149 men, not counting the ship's crew, who survived the perilous crossing on the F & E and who then officially signed away their past citizenship and pledged their loyalty to the Crown. There are no names listed of the women and children, but their total number was listed as 74 1/2 (The "1/2" apparently comes from adding an uneven number of children who under a certain age were counted as half a passenger, since they didn't take up as much space). 

It was amazing to see a copy of the actual signature of one of my paternal ancestors. But I was at first puzzled as to why there was only one Christian Yoder on the list, though I did find a Christian Yotter. Was he someone completely unrelated, and were 16-year-olds simply counted as children? Or could the younger Christian have chosen to use the more English-sounding spelling of the name "Joder" (pronounced Yoder, or Yetter in German), while the elder may have used a Swiss or German spelling, Yotter?

Not sure.

I also looked up Christian Nisly, one of my maternal ancestors who came to the new world in 1804 at age 17. Unfortunately, I was unable to find anyone listed by that name or by other variations of it, like Nusli, Neusley, or Nissli. Family stories passed on through the generations have it that his vessel nearly capsized in a storm and that the ship was attacked by pirates on the way, a common occurrence. And like virtually all cross-Atlantic voyages of that era, there would certainly have been a lot of sickness on board, some of which resulted in the tragic deaths of passengers who had to be buried at sea.

So many questions, so much trauma, so much courage, so many untold stories! 

"Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours."      
Hebrews 11:39-40 (the Message)

Here's a link to a later story on my ancestor Christian Yoder. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

FLRC Will Offer A Free Marriage Class As Part Of Its 30th Anniversary Observance

My book will be free to the first five couples who sign up.
After nearly three decades of counseling and offering classes at the Family Life Resource Center, I plan to lead one more four-session Marriage Maintenance Class at the Center starting 7-8:30 pm Monday, April 3.

FLRC is offering the series on a donation basis as a part of its 30th Anniversary observance. All contributions are tax deductible, and will go toward our scholarship fund to assist clients without health coverage and who otherwise may not be able to afford counseling.

I have always loved leading this class, meant for those of us whose relationships are not necessarily in crisis, but who see value in working at better managing our problems and adding to our blessings.

The focus of the first session is on investing more time, energy and creativity in the "Problem Free Area" of our relationship, much as we do when we are dating each other and concentrating on what we truly appreciate and enjoy about being together. Many of us find this part of our relationship depleted over time and in need of fresh attention. In this area it takes two people working together to create positive change.

The second session focuses on our "Personal Problem Area", based on the premise that not all problems in a marriage are actually marriage problems, but are individual problems that can cause serious stress in a relationship. In this area each of us must take 100% responsibility for our own growth and change, with whatever help we needs to become the healthy and happy half of the marital pair. These problems are ones we tend to bring with us, and if, God forbid, the marriage were over, we would take with them us.

The focus for the third evening is on how to do more listening and less lecturing regarding issues that are in the "Spouse's Problem Area", where we have the least power to bring about change, but where we can provide important support and encouragement as the other person deals with their personal issues. Not surprisingly, this is the area in which most of us invest an excessive amount of time and attention, a big mistake and generally a huge waste of time.

The last session involves our setting aside times when we temporarily leave the "Problem Free Area" and work with our partner to address issues we "filed" for the purpose of addressing in our "Mutual Problem Area", in the same kind of rational and objective way we might deal with issues that come up in any business or other partnership. In the class we learn the value of having regular couples meeting solely for this purpose, where we become skilled at attacking whatever problems we put on the table, and strictly avoid attacking or blaming each other.

This is a fun class limited to about 12 couples. We welcome your taking part!

Register by calling 540-434-8450 or emailing

Note: A later special event marking FLRC's 30th birthday will be a fund raising dinner and celebration at 5:30 pm Saturday, May 6, 2017, at the Park View Mennonite Church. The Board has asked me to be the main speaker for that event, and the Cantore Men's A Cappella Ensemble  will provide special music. Please register in advance!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Does The New Proposed Budget Make US Safer?

There is far less waste and duplication in these departments than in the nation's military spending.

Joseph Nye popularized the principle of how a nation's "soft power" adds much more to its security than the "hard power" of military might. Soft power has to do with the influence a country like the US has when it demonstrates how much a free society can offer its citizens, and when it collaborates with developing countries to help them become more prosperous and the world more peaceful. China understands this principle, and continues to make major investments in emerging economies all over the world.

Much has been made of the fact that a nation's security depends not only on defense, but equally on diplomacy and on development. Unfortunately, the new budget slashes money for the State Department and limits the future influence the US will have in both its diplomacy and through promoting international aid and development.

Meanwhile, billions spent on ever more efficient means of killing, maiming and destroying will make a nation less safe, not more so. We've already wasted more of the world's limited resources in so-called "defense spending" than the combined military budgets of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, France, India and Germany, the next largest spenders.

Could it be that multiple development and relief agencies like CARE, World Vision and even our own Mennonite Central Committee, small as they are, are the ones spreading goodwill and good influence all around the world in ways that really do help make everyone safer?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Join In Some Serious Relief Sale Brainstorming!

A new "S.O.S." (Sharing Our Surplus) Drive will help alleviate war refugee suffering.
When I met with the Virginia Relief Sale Committee recently they encouraged me to enlist whatever help I could to promote something new for this year's September 29-30 Mennonite Central Committee Relief Sale. We will be encouraging this year's attendees to not only support all of the usual auction and food sales efforts as never before, but to also make generous credit card or check contributions at the annual event held at the Rockingham Fairgrounds.

This is to be an extraordinary response to an extraordinary world tragedy, a widespread (and growing) refugee crisis of unimaginable proportions. The dream is to more than double our total income at this event, which last year raised a near record $341,000.

Thus I am inviting interested persons to a 7 pm Wednesday, March 29, meeting at Village Hall at VMRC (just off Shank Drive) to help generate as many ideas as possible to help promote this initiative. We might want to solicit matching money from area businesses, for example, as well as work together at creative ways of drumming up a ton of support for the idea. 

Your attendance will not obligate you to any further involvement in this project. Just bring your ideas and help promote some massive giving to Mennonite Central Committee, both now and at the Relief Sale.

Here's a link to an earlier post on this idea.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Small Signs And Great Wonders

It all started with this hand printed sign placed in front of a church in our home town
In the midst of all the anti-immigrant rhetoric associated with the recent primary campaign my fellow Harrisonburg pastor Matthew Bucher came up with the idea of putting a welcoming sign in front of his church. Immanuel Mennonite is located in a very diverse Hispanic, Arabic and African American community.

Upon receiving numerous affirmations for the sign's message, members of the Harrisonburg District Mission Advisory Commission, Jennifer Davis-Sensenig, Ben Risser, Nick Meyer, and Bucher, collaborated to get 300 yard signs printed for interested individuals and congregations in the area. When they sold out of these, at $10 each, Immanuel Mennonite Church decided to produce an additional 1000 of them.

The rest, as they say, is history. An estimated 20,000 signs can now be found all over the US and in Canada. Many are downloading their own from a website which offers numerous language options, including one with the Canadian and British spelling of "neighbour".

The Huffington Post, National Public Radio, the Washington Post, and numerous local and national media outlets have picked up on the story, and the Facebook page dedicated to this project has resulted in nearly 10,000 "Likes'.

For some really inspirational reading, check out the photos and comments on the project's Facebook page and on the Immanuel Mennonite Church website. I think you'll enjoy having some truly good signs and wonders to celebrate.

Signs are available locally at the Roberta Webb Child Care Center located at the Immanuel Mennonite Church on Kelley Street, which benefits from the profits from the project, or you can order a sign and have it shipped to you. 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Waking Up Is Hard To Do

The kind of engineering we can always rely on
"But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work he began when we first believed. We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute."  
Among the few books we had in our family library at home was one on the April 14, 1912, sinking of the Titanic, billed as the finest and most reliable ocean liner ever. I remember how horrified I was reading about the fate of all the people who wined and dined together in high style on that voyage, oblivious to the disaster that awaited them.

In a similar way we may find ourselves lulled into believing that our ship of state, the now aging republic known as the United States of America, will endure forever. We are promised it will not only manage to avoid any future decline or disaster (of the kind that all empires of the past have experienced) but will gain ever increasing greatness.

Thus in spite of the fact that both scripture and history tell us differently, we continue to trust in our broken economic and political system as though there were no tomorrow, or that our every tomorrow will be just like the present.

In his book "Rewilding the Way", Todd Wynward quotes from the Dark Mountain Project, a group of artists and writers who take a contrasting view of where things are headed: 

"Human civilization... is built on little more than belief: belief in the rightness of its values; belief in the strength of its system of law and order; belief in its currency; above all, perhaps, belief in its future. We live in an age in which familiar restraints are being kicked away, and foundations snatched from under us... A similar human story is being played out. It is the story of empire eroding from within us. It is the story of a people who believed, for a long time, that their actions did not have consequences. It is the story of how that people will cope with the crumbling of their own myths. It is our story."

Friday, March 10, 2017

Give Us This Day Our Daily Share

Instead of praying as Jesus taught, an American version of the Lord's Prayer might use a phrase like "Give us each day our daily feast", or a daily banquet or buffet. Clearly most of us would not be satisfied with an equal portion of what the world's seven billion have to live on in a typical day.

Should we not be content with just our fair share? Or do we somehow have the right to expect far more than others, and more than simply enough?

Jesus' prayer is, we should note, clearly not just for any one individual or family, but the pronouns are in the plural. The us and the our represent all believers worldwide, not just a favored few.

As author Todd Wyward points out in his book Rewilding The Way, Jesus clearly has the Exodus story in mind when he speaks of "daily bread". During their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. God's people were provided with a special food, manna, but only in sufficient quantity for each day, except on Friday when they were allowed to gather enough for the upcoming Sabbath as well.

Enough. Simply enough. That's a concept we have a hard time with, given our lifelong addiction to the accumulation of more, much more and still more. And sadly, when it comes to our health, we suffer from obesity and greatly increased risks for diabetes and other medical problems while millions are malnourished.

Yes, Jesus did enjoy a good feast every now and then, but instructed us to invite the normally uninvited and needy when we do plan one, and warns those who feel entitled to "fare sumptuously every day".