Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Church That Survived Only Four Decades Nevertheless Left A Lasting Legacy

This 1950's photo is from historian Harry Brunk's collection.
This past weekend several hundred people met to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Stuarts Draft Amish Mennonite Church, which closed its doors in 1986, 44 years after its founding.

This congregation, which my parents joined when we moved to Virginia from Kansas in 1946 (when I was six), and in which I was baptized in 1954, made a huge impact on my life and on the lives of literally thousands of people who claim it as their "alma mater" (nurturing mother).

The congregation was founded in 1942 by some former members of the Kempsville (Virginia) Amish Mennonite Church when that Tidewater congregation chose to affiliate with the "Beachy Amish" group. Beachy-affiliated churches, originating in 1920 under Bishop Moses Beachy in the Somerset County (Pennsylvania) area, allow their members to own motor vehicles, which were seen by many in the Norfolk area as necessary, since traffic during the WW II boom became increasingly congested and less safe for horse drawn carriages.

Dissenting ministers Eli M. Yoder (not our relative) and Simon A. Schrock, who did not support the move to join the Beachy Amish group, were the first to move to Augusta County with their families, but soon many others joined them. Some came from Kempsville, but dozens of other families moved in from Amish communities in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Delaware and as far away as Kansas and Oklahoma.

Preacher's table and bench from the original church on display
at the anniversary celebration.
Thus the congregation grew rapidly in its first decade and became an important anchor in my early life as my spiritual extended family. This was a caring faith community that helped each other in times of harvest, invited other members into their homes on a regular basis, and readily came to each others' aid in times of need. I felt very loved and secure there as I was growing up among these good people.

Unfortunately, in 1954, just months after my baptism, history repeated itself as a group of Stuarts Draft members, including my parents, chose to become a Beachy Amish congregation just as the Kempsville community had done over a decade before. While there was remarkably little animosity shown by members involved on both sides, this resulted in a decline in membership in the original church as more and more people joined the newly formed Mt. Zion Amish Mennonite (Beachy) congregation.

Another factor in the decline was a number of the more conservative Amish in the community moving away to establish new Amish churches in Kentucky, Tennessee and elsewhere. New congregations were also formed as members began to leave the Mt. Zion church and establish more progressive and evangelistic-minded Beachy Amish groups in Madison and Cumberland Counties and in other locations in adjoining states.

In all, there are now more than 30 existing Anabaptist-related congregations who claim a direct link to this mother church in Stuarts Draft. Many of the 26 couples who were married there (including five of my older siblings) and many of the individuals who were baptized at the church, were present.

For me it was a most memorable and bittersweet time of reflecting and celebrating.

Monday, September 18, 2017

How I Became Dependent on Welfare

Years ago I came to a startling realization. It happened one Sunday morning as I led the offertory prayer at Zion Mennonite Church, in my half-time position there as the church's first salaried pastor.

As folks were putting their gifts into the offering plate it struck me that a significant percentage of those funds would be disbursed directly to me as their minister. In other words, I was at the receiving end of the church’s charity, a direct recipient of God’s offering money.

That troubled me at first. But, I rationalized, I did earn the other half of our family's income like everyone else in the congregation, by being employed as a half time teacher at Eastern Mennonite High School.

However, as I reviewed our church's budget, I realized that my half-time EMHS income matched almost exactly what our congregation was contributing to the high school through its budget for student tuition other financial assistance. That made me feel even more like I was just some kind of working welfare recipient.

Then a further epiphany. Maybe at some level we’re all pretty much in the same boat, in that we are all gift receivers more than we are earners or givers. What my fellow church members were giving to the church was also in some way first a gift to them. 

So could it be that all of humanity is on God’s welfare roll, and have been since the beginning of time?

For a start, none of us has ever earned the priceless gift of life itself. And the privilege of being born to parents who loved us and took good care of us (at no charge), and of being born in a land of abundance instead of in some poverty-ridden country, were also things we could have never negotiated, bought or paid for. Besides, many of us received a free public school education, one paid for by others' involuntary gifts--in the form of taxes. 
Later some of us got to enroll in institutions of higher learning we could have never been able to create or ever afford to attend without the generous gifts of hundreds of unnamed donors. Add to that the gift of our good health, our relatively sound minds, and whatever talents or gifts we've inherited--all of which helped us get whatever positions we’ve had, and are all examples of amazing, unmerited grace. 

When I was six, my parents were able to buy a farm with the help of a generous uncle who helped us with the financing. Here we grew and produced food for a living, but we could have never done that without the unearned blessings of God’s soil, sunshine and all of the other natural resources that makes a farm productive. In return for whatever we invested in money and labor for the harvests on our farm, we usually got sufficient payment to cover our costs, with some extra in the form of a gift known as profit. In the same way, whenever any of us buys or sells anything, this kind of gift-swapping takes place, grace for grace, blessing for blessing. 

So that’s how I’ve come to believe that all of life is just one big gift exchange, a re-gifting, and that we are all major welfare recipients.

Not that that’s a bad thing. It’s a good thing. We gratefully celebrate our dependence on others, and our interdependence with all creation.

I’ll never forget one of our sons, at around 9 or so, deciding to take his entire piggy bank full of gift money he’d accumulated to give as a Bible School offering one summer for Heifer International. We didn’t realize how much he had gotten caught up in the enthusiasm to help raise as much as possible to send a heifer or some goats, rabbits, or other animals to some needy families abroad.
What he was doing wasn’t motivated by guilt. He saw it as an investment, a re-gifting for something he really believed in. He did it because it made him happy.
Once we realize how much we’ve been given, it no longer seems like a burden to freely pass on what are, after all, undeserved gifts. 

I once read the story of a medieval landowner who came across a vagabond wandering across his estate. 

 “Get off my property,” he ordered. 

“What right do you have to keep me off this part of God’s good earth?” the man asked. 

“I own the land. It’s as simple as that,” the landowner replied.

“And how did you come to own it?” he asked.

“I inherited it from my father.”

“And how did he get it?”
“He inherited it from his father, a general in the king’s army. He fought for it, and was given the estate as a reward.”
“Then let’s you and I fight for it,” the man replied, “and whoever wins will own the land.”
Point of the story? If you look back far enough and hard enough, you realize that everything is first a gift. We welfare recipients need to acknowledge that amazing grace with humble gratitude.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Please Support the 2017 Mennonite Relief Sale!

Some 10,000 people gather each year at the Rockingham Fairgrounds for this amazing event. Hope you and your friends can be among them this year.

Here's the link to learn all the ways you can help:

And here's a link about the new SOS campaign being launched this year:

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Whitewashing The Darkness At Charlottesville

On August 11, Charlottesville experienced an invasion of
torch carrying anti-Semitic neo-Nazis and white supremacists,
mostly from surrounding states, here protesting the proposed
removal of at a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee
In the aftermath of the recent violence on Charlottesville's streets there have been many attempts to fix equal blame on "both sides". 

But in light of the blatant fascist ideology in evidence on that tragic weekend, should there be any talk of changing the subject to "another side"?

I deplore and denounce violence of any kind, by any group and for any reason. But I am equally distressed by any attempt at downplaying the seriousness of increasing anti-semitic and racist influences in our nation.

Here are five ways I see such evils being rationalized and minimized in some peoples's responses to what happened August 12:

1. By comparing the core ideology and behaviors represented by the (invading) protestors to the violent behaviors and ideology of a fringe minority of counter protestors. 
The initial organizers of the resistance to armed hate groups coming to demonstrate in Charlottesville were not members of Black Lives Matter, antifah or of alleged Marxists groups, but members of faith communities in the city and surrounding areas who prayed for, and consistently advocated for, a peaceful and non-violent response. These good folks far, far outnumbered any other single protesting group, yet have gotten little notice from the press compared to those who acted inappropriately.

2. By focusing primarily on the question of who committed the first act of violence.  
While there is legitimate debate over who actually started the first fight on the street, there can be no debate over which group initiated the actual hate filled, anti-semitic and racist event itself. Without these armed groups there would have been no violence and no tragic loss of life on that weekend.

3. By labeling all of the event's counter protestors as "leftists".
There was no collaboration or coordination between the majority of peaceful and faith-based counter protestors and their violent counterparts. The former in fact have completely and consistently disavowed the latter, but were nevertheless lumped together, without differentiation, as discredited members of a despised "left".

4. By not differentiating members of the so-called "left" from each other. 
Not nearly all members of "Black Lives Matter", for example, are prone to violence, and by far the majority of those (BLM) folks would also champion the cause of "Jewish Lives Matter" if their lives and their dignity were perceived as being under similar threat.

5. By overlooking the tragic lessons of anti-semitic history. 
I am distressed by the lack of outrage over the coordinated and intentional racism and anti-semitism represented by the invading outsiders, by their shouting in unison things like "Jews will not replace us" and the Nazi slogan "Blood and Soil".  Too many seem to forget how much blood was shed on European soil just a generation ago due to this intolerable ideology, a threat judged as being so severe that the US was willing to even collaborate with Marxists to defeat it.

In short, I reject the charge made by some that the hundreds of good people who met to pray and prepare prior to the demonstrations were largely un-American "leftists". Nothing should be seen as more urgent, more patriotic, or even more Christian, than to counter Nazism, racism and anti-semitism in any form, wherever and whenever it manifests itself.

And yes, to always do so non-violently.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Passover: God's Mandatory Evacuation Order

Get ready to make a run for your liberation.
Our first lectionary reading today, Exodus 12:1-14,  tells the story of the original Passover, when thousands of enslaved Hebrews celebrated their divine emancipation proclamation and prepared for their evacuation.

It's message is clear: Get ready to leave Egypt's tyranny now. Don't wait or hesitate. Prepare your last supper--in your house, or the house of a neighbor--a meal of roast lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs, and be ready to make a run for your freedom at midnight.

Some twelve centuries later Jesus announced another regime change, this time from oppression of an even greater magnitude. As a new Moses, he is leading a worldwide, heaven-based rule based on a non-violent, grace-offering, blood-outpouring love for all, fellow-citizens and hated foreigners alike. Under God's universal new covenant, the lost are to be redeemed, the oppressed are to be freed, former enemies are to be reconciled, and the poor and oppressed are to experience God's special favor.

In this new era, marked by Jesus choosing crucifixion instead of vengeance, he is both our Passover Lamb, ensuring our deliverance from all evil, and our heaven-sent Liberator. He leads the procession of all who lay down their arms and take up his cross, and who who are willing to demonstrate his dramatic regime-changing vision for heaven-based living, starting right here on earth. The very body and life blood representing his Passover presence become nourishment and empowerment for our massive worldwide exodus toward freedom and shalom.

That is the forever vision of Pesach, our "passing over" into new life.

We celebrated that vision in our house church today by partaking of the bread and cup of the Lord's Supper as a part of an actual evening meal celebrating our evacuation journey. Each of us had a generous portion of bread and a whole cup of grape juice as a sign of Christ's life-giving body and blood offered for the world's redemption and healing. An assortment of cheese and fresh fruit were an additional part of our Love Feast meal.

This was the order of service:

Theme: Liberated by Grace, Governed by Agape"

Opening choruses

Prayer and sharing time
Your will be done on earth, O Lord

Anticipating regime change
Psalm 149, Exodus 12:1-14
Come, we that love the Lord Hymnal 14

Maintaining love and order in the new regime
Matthew 18:15-20
Peace before us, peace behind us, peace the path for our feet, 
Peace within us, peace over us, Let all around us be peace.
(Christ… Love… Grace… Praise… etc.)

Governed by Agape
Romans 13:8-14
I am the bread of life Hymnal 472
Let us break bread together
Be present at our table, Lord 457

Celebrating the Feast of Deliverance
Readings, partaking of bread and cup, followed by an agape meal
Sent forth by God's blessing Hymnal 478

May the Lord give you bread for the journey to come
May God’s Spirit sustain you with light from above
May the good Lord bless and keep you
May his face shine upon you
Go in faith, go in hope, go in love.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Does Human Activity Create Super Hurricanes?

Have we contributed to the strength and frequency of monster storms like Harvey and Irma?

As I watched, I saw a solitary eagle flying though the heavens crying loudly, "Woe, woe, woe to the people of earth because of the terrible things that will soon happen."
- Revelation 8:13a (Living Bible)

The common consensus of U.S. organizations like the Audubon Society, the National Geographic Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, the American Medical Association, the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society, the American Physical Society, the Geological Society of America, and the Union of Concerned Scientists is something like the following: 

1. Our use of massive amounts of carbon fuels is constantly adding megatons of extra carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
2. That creates a greenhouse effect that adds to global warming of our land and oceans.
3. This warming results in the loss of massive chunks of arctic ice and adds to sea level rise.
4. Warmer oceans provide the extra fuel needed for more tropical storms and an increase in their velocity.

Here is an additional sample of scientific groups worldwide that support these findings:

United Nations IPCC
U.S. National Academy of Sciences
American Geophysical Union
National Center for Atmospheric Research
Royal Society of the United Kingdom
Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
Science Council of Japan
Russian Academy of Science
Brazilian Academy of Sciences
Royal Society of Canada
Chinese Academy of Sciences
French Academy of Sciences
German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina
Indian National Science Academy
Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei (Italy)
Royal Society (UK) 
Australian Academy of Sciences
Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Sciences and the Arts
Brazilian Academy of Sciences
Royal Society of Canada
Caribbean Academy of Sciences
Chinese Academy of Sciences
French Academy of Sciences
German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina
Indian National Science Academy
Indonesian Academy of Sciences
Royal Irish Academy
Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei (Italy)
Academy of Sciences Malaysia
Academy Council of the Royal Society of New Zealand
Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, etc., etc.

Are all these just a part of a vast, worldwide conspiracy designed to deceive us into allocating more money for science? Or do we begin to seriously change our ways?

Monday, September 4, 2017

A September Reunion To Savor

Saturday, September 2, was a day of remembering.
It was September 6, 1925, when my father, Ben Yoder, at 20 1/2, married his sweetheart, Mary Nisly, who had just turned 22 the week before.

Ninety-two years later, over 200 of their 606 descendants (1) gathered at the Bethel Mennonite Church activity center in Campbell County for two days of story telling and celebration. The four of us remaining siblings of Ben and Mary's nine offspring were all present, included my ailing 87-year-old brother Sanford and his wife Martha from Costa Rica, along with scores of cousins, nieces, nephews and in-laws representing four generations.

They came from Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Manitoba. They gathered from Montana, Kansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Ohio, as well as from at least five different counties in Virginia. Due to the significant number of people who had either lived or grew up in a Spanish speaking country, or who had served in a Latino culture, some of the singing we enjoyed was in Spanish as well as in English.

Some art and craft displays
Displays of old letters, poems, articles and other artifacts of our family history were on tables around the meeting area, along with pencil and ink drawings (by sister Maggie), oil paintings (by sister-in-law Martha), and other art work, poetry and published writing by various family members.

For example, my 59-year-old nephew Pablo from Nicaragua has had numerous books published that have sold by the thousands, including some narratives of his life story and that of his parents, Sanford and Martha, both before and after their move to Costa Rica a half century ago. He, along with his photographer son Jacinto, have also produced two beautifully illustrated coffee table books on natural life in Central America.

Then there's my 58-year-old niece, Judy Yoder, who has also written a series of widely sold books, most recently about her father Eli's life in rural Oklahoma and later in Kansas, and who is the author of a hard cover biography, Vera's Journey, that has sold over 6000 copies, and is still available at Christian Light Publishing's book store in Harrisonburg (at a discount price, by the way). A resident of Floyd County, Judy was unable to attend the reunion due to a painful and debilitating back condition that has her doing most of her writing in a horizontal position. An amazing person.

Brother Sanford also continues to do some writing for one of the publications produced by La Merced Publishing which he and some of his sons and a son-in-law founded in Costa Rica years ago. According to Mennonite historian John Roth, their Bible study and other material, including the bimonthly La Entorche de la Verdad, with a vast readership all over Central and South America, is among the most widely circulated and read Anabaptist/Mennonite literature anywhere in the world. Sanford has also contributed numerous daily devotional readings to the bi-monthly publication Beside the Still Waters, with a circulation of 280,000.

My parents would certainly not want any of us to elevate them or any members of their family, but I am grateful every day for my mom and dad, my siblings, and their many descendants who have used whatever gifts they had to serve God and others to the best of their ability. I think especially of my sister who served as a nurse/midwife in Belize and in Paraguay for many years, the brother who has been a self supporting missionary in Costa Rica most of his adult life, and the scores of other family members who have done volunteer church-related work at home and abroad. One of my nephews could not be present because he was representing Christian Aid Ministries assessment of rebuilding needs in Houston.

We are far from perfect. And lest you think we are only about dedication and hard work, I leave you with one of the humorous poems that my other ordained brother, Eli, let me read during my last visit with him before he died of cancer in February. Eli, a great preacher and a fine furniture craftsman, was so modest I had never known he had even written any poetry. Many of his pieces are inspirational and serious, but one I read at the reunion, on a lighter note, he once wrote for his beloved Ruth:

If kissing could make money
It sure would suit me fine,
Because I'd just switch jobs
And ask for overtime!

Now that's some some truly good work even a Yoder can appreciate.

(1) The above number, 606 by my count, from the updated family directory done by niece Mary Sue Zehr, includes spouses, adopted children, step children and 26 deceased family members.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

A September Tragedy To Remember

This still deeply moves me.
This month marks thirty years since my cousin Paul Nisly received an urgent phone call from his wife Laura while finishing up some work at his office at Messiah College in south central Pennsylvania.

"Come home right away,” she said, with a terrible desperation in her voice,. “Pastor Sam is here, and he says Janelle has had a bad accident." Janelle was their oldest and only daughter, who had graduated near the top of her class with a degree in nursing just four months earlier, and had landed her first job as an RN in nearby Harrisburg.

All the way to the hospital they prayed as they had never prayed before, “Please, please, have her be OK,” unable to even consider the possibility that she wouldn’t survive. But they were soon to learn that Janelle had suffered fatal injuries in a collision with a tractor trailer that careened out of control and crossed a median strip and into her lane on a busy highway not far from their home.

In the book Nisly wrote about his loss some five years later, “Sweeping up the Heart: A Father’s Lament for his Daughter,” he describes the walk to the grave site after her memorial service: “Boots of lead weighted our feet as we moved to the grim hole which was only partially masked by the phony green outdoor carpet. In burying my child, I was burying myself.”

In a later chapter he anguishes, “Not only were my questions about God troubling--and unanswered--but I confronted formidable questions about the nature and purpose of prayer. Does God hear prayer? ...To the most urgent prayer in my life I had received a blank.”

In such a time, it is a double tragedy to lose not only a loved one but to fear the loss of one’s confidence in a loving and protecting God. My cousin sometimes found himself wrestling with the kind of desolation expressed in Psalm 88, “I am counted as those who go down to the pit; I am like a man without strength. I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave... Why, O Lord, do you reject me...? You have taken my companions and my loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend.”

When another cousin and I went to see Paul and Laura we, like Job’s friends, found ourselves unable to offer much besides the gift of our presence and care, which they received graciously. I felt humbled by my own difficulty in knowing anything to say that I felt could be of the remotest help.

In times like these, our only help is that of the Shepherd who walks with us, suffers with us, weeps with us, along with the presence of others who are often as speechless and clueless as we are.

On the last page of Nisly’s book he includes with some words from the poet John Leax’s “The Geography of Love.”

We have crawled like cicadas
from the years of darkness,
split our backs by will,
and left the old nature fastened to the tree.

Yet we will fall into the ground.
The grave, too, is Christ’s.
It is his place.

Eternity is now,
What we are is here.
In the geography of love
the only place is Christ.
We dwell in him, the presence of the Father.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Southeast Asia Flooding Far Worse Than Texas

Where will all these people find help?
While all eyes are on the terrible effects of Hurricane Harvey, other parts of the world are experiencing even more unimaginable flooding as a result of monster monsoon rains and other severe weather events.

In impoverished parts of Nepal, India and Bangladesh there are already over 1,200 known casualties from recent downpours, following the deaths of over 1,000 from floods and mudslides in Sierra Leone. In contrast, droughts in places like Somalia and Ethiopia threaten the lives of millions. Yet one hears very little in our media about these disasters.

For example, there was not one word in today's Daily News-Record about any of these events, but according to a piece in yesterday's Washington Post, they are happening more frequently and with a greater loss of life than ever before. Part of this is due to oceans becoming warmer, generating more energy to fuel these earth-drenching storms. Another factor is the effect of more and more deforestation which affects climate change and increases the likelihood of mudslides on hillsides where millions of the world's poorest live.

Then there is this from today's Wall Street Journal:
“Twenty storms causing a billion dollars or more in damage have taken place since 2010, not including Hurricane Harvey, compared with nine billion-dollar floods in the full decade of the 1980s, according to inflation-adjusted estimates from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Seven have hit just since 2016..."

Those of us who have contributed more than our share of the megatons of carbon dioxide being spewed into the atmosphere in past decades need to feel the greater responsibility to change our ways and to reach out to those who are affected, both here and abroad.

May God have mercy on us all.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

An Urgent Case For Some 'Hilarious' Giving

II Corinthians 9:7
All of us are shocked by the terrible effects of Hurricane Harvey on Houston and surrounding areas. And this represents only a fraction of the ongoing suffering experienced by millions in northern Africa and the Middle East due to relentless wars and famines.

In the wake of a devastating first century famine, Jewish missionary Paul urged Gentile believers in Corinth to take up a generous offering to aid believers in Judea, some 1000 miles away.

In the original Greek text Paul describes God as delighting in "cheerful" giving, and chooses the adjective "ilaron", the root of our English word hilarious, to make his point. This doesn't mean that Paul is implying the kind of levity that our word hilarity suggests in today's English, but rather that believers are to give joyfully, generously, and without hesitation.

Today we are faced with the reality of millions of refugees of flooding, war and famine whose lives are in similar peril. Unless our hearts are, as in the case of Dr. Suess's Grinch, several sizes too small, we will respond to today's extraordinary needs in extraordinary ways, if not with hilarity, then at least with unprecedented abandonment.

At this year's Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale, we will have the opportunity to make generous cash, check and credit card contributions to its SOS ("Sharing Our Surplus") Fund for refugee relief in addition to our liberally supporting My Coins Count, the auction and food and other sales.

There is no justifiable reason why a well-to-do community like ours shouldn't be able to double or triple the annual amounts (over $340,000 last year) the Sale raises for Mennonite Central Committee.

But we don't have to wait for September 29 or 30 to do this. We can make an online donation right now on the Relief Sale website, designating our gift for the SOS Fund, or directly to MCC.

Meanwhile, please share this word with others, and urge them to consider doing some truly 'ilaron' giving to help make a positive difference.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Some Down Sides To Being Named 'Harvey'

(Hurricane Harvey)
"A good name is to be chosen over great riches."
- Proverbs 22:1

I've never been crazy about my name, though I'm sure my parents could have chosen worse. I could have been named after my dad's only full brother, George, an ultra conservative who distanced himself from most of the rest of his family. As it turned out, my parents chose to name me after my uncle Harv, one of Dad's many half brothers. And since I was their eighth child, maybe they felt the best names were already taken.

Sadly, Harv never became my favorite uncle, either. He lived in a distant state and was someone I never got to know well.

But I'm OK with my name. And we later had a great (unrelated) neighbor named Harvey Yoder, and my older sister at times stayed with a wonderful Harvey Yoder family in Newport News while she was in nurses training.

In later life I did get some occasionally ribbing about the imaginary 6 foot, 3 1/2 inch rabbit in Mary Chase's well known play "Harvey". But that's OK, too.

More recently I've sometimes been confused with a Harvey who shares my last name and who is the author of numerous books widely read in some Mennonite circles. It so happens that we have almost identical church backgrounds, that neither of has a middle name, and that if one googles Harvey Yoder on the internet, it may be hard to tell which is which. But that's not a big problem, either, though I've frequently had to explain that I'm not that better known Mennonite author.

But now, horrors, I'm being associated with a hurricane with characteristics that are everything I don't want ascribed to me--violent, destructive, terrorizing and life threatening (On the slightly positive side, I've learned there have been many babies born in the past few days who were named Harvey).

Meanwhile I've found a website that lists 100 famous people with Harvey as their first name, ranging from comedian Harvey Corman to psychologist Harvey Karman. I've even learned there is a revered (and blind) sixth century Breton saint by the name of Harvey Herveous Houarniaule.

So I guess I need to take the bad with the good, and make sure I add some good to the reputation to the name if possible.

I would also like to nominate the legendary St. Herve to be the patron saint of all who live in the path of terrifying storms.

Friday, August 25, 2017

How 'Mom Rachel' So Loved The World

You can find the following in the Fall 2017 edition of Valley Living:
Rachel's warm heart welcomed scores of international neighbors into her home.
At age 85 Rachel Stoltzfus, a member of our house church, got to see the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. She had grown up in the Midwest and eventually moved with her husband Robert to Harrisonburg, but never got to travel far from her roots.

As a youth she had dreamed of someday going abroad in some kind of mission work. But when she and her husband volunteered to the Mennonite Board of Missions soon after their marriage, they were assigned to plant an experimental integrated church in Louisiana instead. They were later transferred to Breathitt County, Kentucky, where they opened up their home to foster children and pastored a small Appalachian congregation.

Rachel Stoltzfus 1925-2017
When they moved to the Valley, they settled into a modest three-bedroom house near EMU with their two children and befriended and housed scores of international students, something Rachel continued to do alone for over a decade after Robert’s death in 1995.

In her final years Rachel went to live with her daughter Debbie and husband Gonzalo in Bethesda, Maryland, and about six years ago they rented a beach house and took Rachel with them to see the ocean. She marveled at being able to see so much of the horizon and taste the ocean salt water for the first time.

Rachel died in May of this year while on a visit here with her son David and wife Twila, and on Independence Day members of her family, friends, and of our house church congregation celebrated her life in a memorial service held in her honor. 

Notably present were some of the individuals from other parts of the world whom Rachel and Robert had befriended, many of whom expressed their deep gratitude for all she had done for them as their second mom.

So while Rachel never got to cross the Atlantic or Pacific, she had the kind of warm heart that welcomed the world into her own home, offering hospitality and room and board to new friends from places like the Congo, Kenya, Palestine, China, and elsewhere around the globe. Scores of these individuals have gone on to careers in business, law and the medical field and see their time with ‘Mom Rachel’ as an invaluable part of their journey to success.

Rachel did all this out of sheer love for God and neighbor, without support of a board of directors or a charitable organization, and without any salary or retirement benefits.

If everyone lived and loved like this, it would truly save the world.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Pat Buchanan Reveals White Supremacy's Roots

Landing of Columbus, painting by John Vanderlyn
In an intriguing column on the editorial page of our August 17, 2017, Daily News-Record, Patrick Buchanan raises the question, 'If We Erase Our History, Who Are We?'

I find myself disagreeing with much of what Mr. Buchanan writes, but here he is surprisingly candid and insightful about the deep roots of American attitudes about race. He clearly makes the case that white supremacy is a centuries old mindset that is a core part of our nation's history, and Buchanan actually defends that history. 

Here's an excerpt from the column:

Looking back over the history of a Western Civilization, which we call great, were not the explorers who came out of Spain, Portugal, France, Holland and England all white supremacists?

They conquered in the name of the mother countries all the lands they discovered, imposed their rule upon the indigenous peoples, and vanquished and eradicated the native-born who stood in their way.

Who, during the centuries-long discovery and conquest of the New World, really believed that the lives of the indigenous peoples were of equal worth with those of the colonizers?

They believed European Man had the right to rule the world.

Beginning in the 16th century, Western imperialists ruled much of what was called the civilized world. Was not the British Empire, one of the great civilizing forces in human history, a manifestation of British racial superiority?
So there you have it, not from some left-leaning source, but from an avid conservative nationalist, here stating that the founders were the product of long held convictions about western European supremacy. Thus our sometimes unconscious but deep seated  racial biases certainly precede our post-Civil War Jim Crow laws and the  emergence of neo-Nazi fringe groups. Rather, white supremacy may be deeply embedded in our historical DNA.
Is Buchanan right?

Monday, August 21, 2017

What If Seeing The Stars Was As Rare As Witnessing An Eclipse?

Like many amazing phenomena in nature, we take our sun pretty much for granted as a highly predictable source of our light and sustainer of our life. Only when it becomes partially or completely hidden do we give it much attention.

Today's eclipse certainly proves the point. Millions of us will be giving this wonderful star our rare full attention.

But what if we only rarely got to see the billions of suns in the heavens that put on a celestial light show for us every night?

EMU's late professor M. T. Brackbill, a legend in his own time, had an infectious love of astronomy, and wrote the following piece a number of years prior to my being a student at what was then EMC.

Here’s a slightly condensed version of his essay:

"If The Stars Shone Only One Night Every Thousand Years"
M.T. Brackbill

Occasionally a nova flashes up in the sky, and newspaper headlines proclaim a new star! People go out in the night to find the newcomer, expecting to see something wonderful--and they do! But instead of finding one new star, they find thousands of the them, that is, stars new to them; and they find the nova, if they find it all, no different from the other stars. So they go back to their homes disappointed. It is about as good as hearing that a new dandelion has opened on the lawn, adding another bloom to the dozens that are already there!

If there had never been any stars in the sky, and a star should appear, that would really be news. Everybody would be out to see it. But if several thousand stars would suddenly appear, that would be astounding news indeed! Some would say, “The world is coming to an end!”

Now let us suppose that the stars regularly shone only one night every thousand years. Let us say that today’s paper announced that, according to reliable predictions, the stars are to appear in exactly ten weeks from tonight. Everyone would be talking stars.

Meteorologists would study their cycles in earnest in order to predict the probable state of the weather on this night. The season would mark an all time high for tourists to those countries boasting sunny skies. Dirigibles, blimps and airplanes would be in readiness to take people above the weather if necessary.

Those working at night would plan to relieve each other in relays so that each would have a glance at the heavens on the night of the stars. Hospitals would arrange to wheel the sick out onto porches or balconies or to roll their beds close to windows. Prisoners in solitary confinement would be allowed at least a few minutes under guard in an open open courtyard. And those in death chambers doomed to die just a few days before the stars would be given a stay of sentence.

The night of the stars draws nearer. Expectancy becomes almost unbearable. The prospect is as entrancing as a hundred solar eclipses. Scientists make every preparation to study these strange and transient heavenly lights. Men and women die hoping against fate that they could have lived a few days longer to see the stars. People watch the empty sky each night for a possible premature appearance.

“Tonight the stars will come!” The exodus from the cities begins. The roads are rapidly lined with cars, mountains and hilltops are dotted with people. Housetops and roofs of skyscrapers are crowded with spectators. Excitement is intense. Anxious eyes watch the sun sink slowly to the horizon. “Will the stars come? Will they come?”

The west begins to glow. As twilight deepens, expectancy becomes almost overwhelming.

A shout! Someone catches the sight of Venus! All eyes strain to find the bright light in the west. Shout after shout arises as other eyes find it. And as the twilight edge creeps westward around the earth, new waves of shouts arise in other countries and in other tongues: “The stars!” “THE STARS!”

Another shout! Jupiter breaks though, then Saturn! And amid the “Ah’s” and Oh’s” and other exclamations from millions of throats along a pole-pole front, presently, in the east. Sirius shines out, palely at first, and then Rigel and Capella. Star after star after star breaks through, singly, then, by twos, by threes, soon by dozens, by fifties, by hundreds, bespangling the heavens in the deepening night. Oh, what a sight! What a ravishing vision of loveliness!

And now the Milky Way belts the starry dome, a hush comes over the earth, a gradual westward-bound subsiding of the exulting shouts of astonishment and praise. The sublime glory of the jewel studded skies slowly wheeling in quiet splendor brings a few hour of awe and universal peace to earth.

By and by the moon in its accustomed round lifts her face in the east, still the “Queen of the Night,” but now with six thousand subjects, the stars, heavenly subjects, and never so watched and adored by earth’s inhabitants.

What a night! The millennial pageant of the heavens!

Could we but see it every night!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

HARD TIME VIRGINIA Volume II, Number 3 (an occasional newsletter for Virginia inmates)

Blind inmate poet Minor Smith, age 73
DOJ Criticizes Solitary Confinement for Mentally Ill

Joe Davidson, in a July 12, 2017, Washington Post column, reports concerns expressed by a watchdog group of the U.S. Justice Department about the use of solitary confinement for long periods of time in federal prisons. He also cites a general lack of mental health treatment for US inmates.

Some mentally ill persons are housed in solitary-confinement conditions for years, according to the report, with limited human contact or opportunities for physical or mental stimulation. This creates the kind of stress that can contribute to psychosis in anyone, but especially people who already have diagnosable emotional and mental problems.

Local Spouse Responds to Harvspot Blog on "The High (and Hidden) Costs Of Incarceration"

My husband committed credit card fraud in 2011 and gave a false name when confronted by police. He got two years probation and did weekend jail for two months. In 2015 he got off probation and thought he was a free man. Then he and I got pulled over in on June 28, 2017, for a seat belt violation. The Sheriff ran both our licenses and my husband was informed there had been a capias out on him.We were in shock.

He was arrested, taken to Sheriff's Department where they gave him a court date and let him go. He had a fine that was past due that he had made small payments on, and he went to court and was assigned a public defender. The next time he came to court to make payment arrangements he got locked up for a year!

The Circuit Court Judge asked why he had never seen a probation officer. He had already completed probation in the County where we live and was not aware that he had to complete probation in ________ County as well.

It makes me sick to think our tax dollars are paying for a man who has already done 2 years probation to sit in jail, who could be out repaying his fines and paying his debt to society. This is an injustice and a true disgrace to our justice system! 

My husband had never been in trouble or incarcerated before. He is 45 yrs old, is diabetic and has a bad case of arthritis along with his nerve problems, and he is not doing well at the Middle River Jail. He's been waiting patiently to see a medical doctor there, but has been there for a week and a half and no one has even taken his blood sugar level yet.

There are hardened criminals who get less time then my husband got for this one bad judgement he made in 2011.

Questionable Jail Deaths to get Closer Scrutiny

The following is by Bill Bartel in the 7/25/17 Virginian-Pilot:

Any future questionable deaths in Hampton Roads Regional Jail and other Virginia jails will require closer state scrutiny under a new law that took effect this month. The legislation also puts more law enforcement and health care professionals on the State Board of Corrections.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who pressed for tighter oversight of regional jails, has announced the appointment of six new members to the nine-member corrections board, including Virginia Beach Police Deputy Chief Bill Dean, two former sheriffs, a physician, a health care executive and a minister. Their appointments were guided by the new requirement that the board have members with specific backgrounds, including health care or law enforcement, as well as “a citizen member who represents community interests.”

The statute, unanimously approved by the General Assembly earlier this year, expanded the board’s responsibilities to include reviewing the questionable death of an inmate in local or regional correctional facilities. The panel has the power to conduct hearings, issue subpoenas and take sworn testimony. Its probe can lead to proposed policy changes, but any criminal investigation would have to be conducted by state or local law enforcement officials.  

Virginia Parole Board Grants 32 July Releases

Of 242 cases reviewed by the current four-member Parole Board now chaired by Adrianne Bennett, 32 inmates were granted parole in July. Only four of these were geriatric releases, at a time when ever more inmates are needing to be transferred to the Deerfield Correctional Center, a virtual nursing home offering care to aging and ill inmates.

Mr. Algie Howell, a long time member of the Parole Board who I have been told has often cast deciding nay votes in inmate cases, is rumored to have been relieved of his assignment by the Governor, and according to the VPB website, no one has yet been appointed to replace him.

Another Poem by Legally Blind Inmate Minor Smith, Recently Moved to Deerfield Correctional Center


Shopping became a pleasure, and we each preferred colors that were not dim.
New clothes looked so nice, only we could not afford to purchase many of them.
Jennifer bought two western style outfits and other items she had selected.
Although my new sport coat matched her fashion, boots and hats were neglected.

That evening, we lugged our suitcases into a restaurant for a light meal.
By and by, in a supermarket, a package of cookies was included in our next deal.
Life was still looking up, while we boarded the Trailway bus in single file.
Our smiling driver simply told my wife she was really traveling in style.

We exited Roanoke County, then travelled through Montgomery, Pulaski, and Whythe.
Jennifer had progressed poorly in the fourth grade and never entered the fifth.
At VSDB (1), she had been the one girl who had skated among us boys on the court.
Together, she and I had rarely attended the school's activities of some sort.

In Sunday school at Staunton, I would have been willing to marry Mary Beth.
Above my TV. chair at dads, a crucifix still hung to reveal his "Good Mans" death.
In characterization, I have given his favorite Grandson the name Peter.
That one had been privileged by parents as though he would become a great leader.

His father, Sam, had lumbered for Dad and had labored as our Blacksmith.
Then Sam bought property in Williamsburg for Gordon, whom he had hauled logs with.
Among Dad's four sons in law, Sam had been the one whom I had admired the most.
He had provided well for his family,and usually carried out each boast.

Jennifer and I hurried off the bus in Bristol to find some food that was good.
We hadn't eaten my cookies assuming that they were probably as hard as wood.
It appeared to us that we had ridden 200 more miles as we rolled into Knoxville.
In all my future travels, I would never tour the cities I desired to see:Nashville. 

Jennifer favored songs by Patsy Cline, Roy Acuff; she too liked Minny Pearl.
I wondered what all had gone amiss in the life of the slain little Knoxville girl.
Daddy had revealed anger to some people down his hard working hands.
Although compelled by spite, Mom had been strict about some of Gods commands.

To retaliate for having been abused by Mom, children, robbers, and rookies.
Upon reentering Chattanooga, I opened the package and gave Jennifer the cookies.
Momentarily, I considered the convicts at Silverdale and their various pains.
I imagined that former prison mines there were still asleep in chains.

Jennifer had verbal control of my actions like a mean Cowgirl with a whip.
A boil about Little Rock, we acted like two runaways during the entire trip.
Granny Johnson lived beyond her eightieth birthday before she had been found dead.
To give some people information, she did not need to hit the nail right on the head.

At the Memphis depot, a display case revealed a little silver cross and chain.
Fulfilling Jennifer's desire, I bought it, unaware that it would match her cane.
What we rode across next made us proud, yet I shrugged off a meager shiver.
Our driver announced that we were crossing the wide and still muddy Mississippi River. 

(1) Virginia School For The Deaf And Blind

Friday, August 18, 2017

Let's Support This Amazing Project!

Image may contain: 5 people, text
Wynonah, at 17, has done an impressive documentary, and deserves our support for the cause to which she is so devoted. Please share this and encourage others to attend this event. And on Monday evening she and I will be co-leading a new initiative, Aging People in Prison - Human Rights Campaign (APP-HRC), which holds its second public meeting on August 21st, at 7:00 pm, at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 660 S. Main St. in Harrisonburg. Thanks for your help!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Oldest Brother Writes About Race 60 Years Ago

Sanford Yoder, at 87
At the height of the racial conflicts following the 1954 Brown v. the Board of Education decision, my brother Sanford had the following piece published in the English section of the October 15, 1957, Amish Mennonite publication, Herald der Wahrheit (Herald of Truth). For someone who grew up in a deeply segregated state (Virginia), he was clearly ahead of his time, and what he says is very relevant for the racial animosity that rears its ugly head today. 

Sanford was 27 when he wrote this piece, which I have edited slightly for brevity.

Segregation or Integration?
Sanford Yoder 10/15/57

The national and possibly the international spotlight is on the desegregation contention in Little Rock (Arkansas), Nashville (Tennessee), and other hotspots in the South. In Little Rock, Governor Orval Faubus set National Guard troops around Central High School, a school of 2000, to keep Negro pupils, who had been told by the school board to enroll there, from entering, and thus has gone directly against the Federal Court order, which creates a serious national problem. In Nashville a large elementary school was dynamited by segregationists because one colored child was enrolled in the first grade.

Feelings seem to be mounting, creating mobs bent on violence, manifested in throwing rocks, jeering, mocking and spitting on passing Negroes. This is a sad state of affairs. One thing commendable in this whole situation is the spirit of humility which the Negroes as a rule have manifested in the face of these harassments, and in some cases, cruelty.

Who is right, Governor Faubus or Judge Davies of the Federal Court? those who want integration or the segregationists? the North or the South? the white or the colored? On which side are we?

We as Christians should not be involved in civil conflicts... It is up to the powers ordained of God for the purpose of maintaining law and order in the world to settle this, and not the church (Romans 13:1-4).

But some of us may have allowed this unregenerate world to influence us into believing that the colored race is inferior to the white and therefore should not be permitted an equal fellowship with us.

And while the Word of God very emphatically teaches that Christians are to have "no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness..." it does not mention the race of people. We should have no more to do with the evil deeds of a white man than a colored man, and should have as much to do with, and be as concerned about, an unregenerate colored man as if he were white, Indian or Chinese.

Separation of the church and the world must always be maintained... But the Bible certainly does not teach segregation of the races in God's family. Christians of all races are one in Christ, who has bought us all with the same price, his own precious blood... "Wherefore there is neither Greek or Jew, circumcision or uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free; but Christ is all, and in all." (Colossians 3:11)

Our Anabaptist forefathers believed this, as we can see by our 1632 Confession of Faith, which was written in the face of persecution and hardships. We still accept it because it is based on the inspired Word of God. Article V. states, "...he has caused this Testament be proclaimed in his name, through his beloved apostles, messengers and servants... to all nations people and tongues... that all men without distinction, if they are obedient, by faith... are his children and rightful heirs."

We are so thankful for the all-inclusiveness of the Gospel of Christ, because, were it not so, we too would no doubt be excluded.

We do not hold to this belief just because the United States Supreme Court in 1954 ruled that segregation of the races is unconstitutional and made integration the law of the land (although we do believe in respecting the laws of the land), but we believe it because it is the message of the gospel of Christ. The apostle Peter, in his experience on the housetop of Simon the tanner, was shown this truth in a vision, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common." (Acts 10:15)

Some are afraid of what this attitude will do to our witness to the world. Beloved, this love for everyone, white, black, red, yellow, and even those who don't believe this, is our witness to a world filled with hatred and prejudice.
Woodberry Forest, Virginia
For the past five decades Sanford and his wife Martha have been self-supporting church planters in Costa Rica. At 87, Sanford still writes an occasional piece for the La Antorcha de la Verdad (The Torch of Truth), distributed widely over Central and South America, and for a book of daily devotional readings published here in the states, Beside the Still Waters.