Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Add Some Names To Your Christmas Card List

John Bennie Williams, second from left, is 88 and is blind.

"Remember those in prison as if you were also in bonds, and those who suffer as though you were suffering with them."  

Hebrews 13:3

This year I'm again encouraging individuals and groups to send holiday cards to people behind bars. Below are the names of some folks with whom I have had some correspondence, and who I know would appreciate some good tidings from the outside.

Unfortunately, I only have addresses here for men. There are also two state prisons for women in Virginia, and the number of women behind bars in our prisons and jails is growing.

When you send your card(s) you can include an article, a copy of an inspirational piece, or your family's annual newsletter. Regrettably, the Department of Corrections now makes photocopies of the envelope and its contents to be given to the prisoner, but getting any kind of mail is always appreciated. 

Note: What you send may weigh no more than one ounce, and include no more than a total of three items. Do not include cash, checks, postage stamps or prepaid envelopes. 

Mr James Bender, 1010837      

Lunenburg Correctional Center 

690 Falls Rd, Victoria, VA. 23974-2213


Mr. Brian E. Brubaker 1315055 B-414       

Deerfield Correctional Center

21360 Deerfield Drive, Capron, VA 23829


Mr. Brian Cable 1198947    

River North Correctional Center

329 Dell Brook Lane, Independence, VA 24348


Mr. Lawrence Davis, 1443841      

Haynesville Correctional Center

421 Barnfield Road. Haynesville, VA 22472


Mr. Stephano Colosi 1037581     

Buckingham Correctional Center

P. O. Box 430, Dillwyn, VA 23936-0430


Mr. Branson Fink, 1011319 3 S. Bunk #51     

Bland Correctional Center   

256 Bland Farm Rd, Bland, VA. 24315


Mr. Robert Davis Fitchett 1035660       

Buckingham Correctional Center

P. O. Box 430, Dillwyn, VA 23936-0430


Mr. Henry Goham 1158927     

Wallens Ridge Prison

272 Dogwood Drive, Big Stone Gap, VA 24219


Mr. M. Steven W. Goodman 1028377     

Green Rock Correctional Center  

475 Green Rock Lane, Chatham, VA 24531


Mr. A. Jefferson Grissette 1143033       

St. Brides Correctional Facility

P.O. Box 16482, Chesapeake, VA 23328


Mr. Robert Vernon Hostetter 1054419       

Augusta Correctional Center

1821 Estaline Valley Road, Craigsville, VA 24430


Mr. Pernell Jefferson 1016207      

Buckingham Correctional Center BI-412-B 

P. O. Box 430, Dillwyn, VA 23936


Mr. Daniel Leneave 1084415 H4C238   

Greensville Correctional Center

901 Corrections Way, Jarratt, VA 23870-6914


Mr. John Livesay 1108120       

Greensville Correctional Center

901 Corrections Way, Jarratt, VA 23870-6914


Mr. Thomas Melnyczyn 1007916       

Deerfield Correctional Center

21360 Deerfield Drive, Capron, VA 23829


Mr. Ahoto Mulazim 1049783      

Lawrenceville Correctional Center 

607 Planters Road, Lawrenceville, VA 23868


Mr. Ronald Miles 1067348    

State Farm Correctional Center

3500 Woods Way, State Farm, VA 23160


Mr. John Nissley 1148222      

Buckingham Correctional Center

P.O. Box 430, Dillwyn, VA 23936


Mr. Kenneth R. Pack 1063808     

Buckingham Correctional Center 

P. O. Box 430, Dillwyn, VA 23936


Mr. Timothy Rankin 1208262     

Augusta Correctional Center

1821 Estaline Valley Road, Craigsville VA 24430


Mr. Minor Junior Smith 1158588 (blind)    

Deerfield Correctional Center

21360 Deerfield Drive, Capron, VA 23829


Mr. Thomas Stover 1437803 5B  9B      

Dillwyn Correctional Center

P.O. Box 670, Dillwyn, VA 23936


William Thorpe #2261982 

Wainwright Unit, H-1_17

2665 Prison Road #1, Love Lady, Texas 75851


Mr. Jerry Treadway 1021558 cell B-617 (deaf)      

River North Correctional Center

329 Dellbrook Lane, Independence, VA 24348


Mr. Jonathan D. Turner 1941213      

Lunenburg Correctional Center 

690 Falls Rd, Victoria, VA. 23974-2213


Mr. Richard Webb 1174188       

Augusta Correctional Center

1821 Estaline Valley Road, Craigsville VA 24430


Mr. John Bennie Williams 1091323 (blind)     

Deerfield Correctional Center

21360 Deerfield Drive, Capron, VA 23829


Mr. Charles E. Zellers, Sr. 1036758      

Buckingham Correctional Center 

P.O. Box 430, Dillwyn, VA 23936

NOTE: If for whatever reason you prefer not to include your return address with your letter, and don't have a post office box, you can have the person respond to me and I'll relay their message to you (assuming I have your contact information). In my many years of corresponding with incarcerated individuals I have never had any problems resulting from disclosing my address, but some do recommend against it.

Friday, November 26, 2021

The Burning--Could This Kind Of Devastation Ever Happen Again?

Used copies of Heatwole's book are
selling for more than their cover price.
What made this such a riveting read was that most of the two weeks of devastation and destruction it describes happened right here in our part of the Valley. Sheridan's burning of barns, mills and selected homes, along with the the slaughter of livestock and destruction of food supplies, all took place up and down roads and along rivers and rail lines very familiar to me.

At one point the entire town of nearby Dayton was about to be burned in revenge for the slaying of a Union officer by some Confederate scouts accused of being "bushwhackers," (groups of armed vigilantes taking potshots at Union troops). The town's citizens were in anguish. 

One Ohio soldier wrote, "such mourning, such lamentations, such crying and pleading for mercy I never saw or want to see again, some were wild, crazy, mad, some Cry(ing) for help while others would throw their arms around yankee soldiers and implore mercy." (p.94)

Fortunately, Union officer LT. Col. Thomas F. Wildes sent an urgent appeal for reconsideration to Sheridan, who reluctantly spared the town itself at Wilde's request, while continuing to demand that surrounding homes and properties of local citizens be destroyed.

One cannot imagine the terror inflicted if armies on both sides would have had modern weapons of destruction like today's drones, missiles and fighter planes. Here there were at least times when human beings, personally witnessing the terrible suffering they were inflicting, could occasionally be moved to some acts of compassion in defiance of their orders.

Interestingly, there were occasions when the property of local members were spared  because someone in command noted they were members of the Order of Masons, and so were deemed to be brothers. But there is no mention of people being spared because they belonged to the same denomination or faith community. Sad.

From the Burning, "With his arrival at Strasburg Sheridan considered the systematic destruction of the Valley to be concluded. Along the Valley Pike, Middle Road, and Broadway Road Merritt's regiments had destroyed 630 barns, 47 flouring mills, 4 sawmills, 1 woolen mill, 3,982 tons of hay straw and fodder, more than 400,000 bushels of wheat, 3 furnaces, 515 acres of corn, 750 bushels of oats, 3,000 head of livestock, 560 barrels of flour, 2 tanneries, 1 railroad depot, 1 locomotive and 3 boxcars."

Recently, in light of increased signs of polarization and hatred among those who hold different religious or political beliefs, or who are members of different racial or ethnic groups, I have wondered whether this kind of callous destruction and killing could happen today. I wish I could believe that human nature has changed since these events of just over 150 years ago, but I'm not sure that's the case. The right kind of demagogue could, I'm afraid, incite similar kinds of organized plunder, civil wars and acts of revenge.

The last line in the book is a quote by a Captain Opie, who in seeking to rationale all this devastation asks, "Which is the worst in war, to burn a barn, or to kill a fellow-man?"

Kyrie Elieson. Lord have mercy,

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

"My Body Is The Boat That Carries Me"

We thank God for our Pittsburgh-based son, whose birthday is November 26!

For all of us who are aging (and who of us isn't?), the following words of one of Brad's latest songs will certainly resonate.

about my body, it’s like my wallet,

I don’t notice how worn out it is,

I guess I just got used to it,

it’s carried me for half a century,

my body is a kayak on the sea..

about my body, sometimes I wonder:

how much of me from yesterday

has fallen off or been replaced?

am I even half the man I used to be?

my body is a tree that sheds its leaves

            seems to me that this is all we’re given,

            so I guess it must be all we need,

            still it’s strange, the way we do our livin’,

            in this bag of bones we have to feed..

about my body, it’s a wonder,

the way it carries every care, holds my longing and despair,

soldiers through this brokenhearted world,

my body is a rusty battle sword..

            seems to me that this is all we’re given,

            so I guess it must be all we need,

            still it’s strange, how every day we’re livin’,

            in this bag of bones that needs to breathe..

about my body, check out these sneakers,

I used to wear them every day, till all the tread had worn away,

now I’ve got new sneakers, but the same old feet,

my body is a tree that sheds its leaves,

my body is a kayak on the sea,

my body is the boat that carries me

Friday, November 19, 2021

A Memorable Memoir

This would make a great Christmas gift.
I've had the privilege of knowing Dan Bowman for most of my adult life, first as a fellow student at Eastern Mennonite College (now EMU) and more recently as our neighbor at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community's Park Village. 

Blind since age 12, Dan is not someone you remember for his disability but rather for his extraordinary abilities as a musician, wood worker, rehab counselor, piano tuner, family man, engaging thinker and good friend. 

Since reading his memorable memoir my wife and I would definitely add "a great writer and story teller" to his list of accomplishments.

Note: If you are local, don't have an Amazon Prime account and want to purchase a copy without having to pay for shipping, contact Dan at Or you can order copies from Amazon or directly from the publisher, Masthof Press

Here's a link to a 2016 documentary of Dan's life produced by two James Madison University professors: 

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Counting The Right Blessings

This 16th century work by Jacopo Bassano portrays a well to do
family ignoring the plight of a desperately poor Lazarus.
At Thanksgiving we are often encouraged to list all of the blessings we enjoy, including such material blessings as plentiful food, comfortable homes, expansive wardrobes and all the many conveniences we take for granted. 

I totally agree that we're to be grateful for every good gift “that comes from above,” granted us by an incredibly gracious God. But it’s hard to find any examples of lists of material things to thank God for in the Bible. In other words, there’s no mention of Jacob thanking God for all the sheep and cattle he’d gained while in the employ of his relative Laban, or of Joseph thanking God for his many colored coat, or of Solomon gratefully listing such “blessings” as his having a lavish palace (twice the size of the temple he built), and for his 700 wives and 300 concubines. 

Nor can we imagine Jesus telling a story about a rich man thanking God for being able to “fare sumptuously every day,” unlike the desperately poor Lazarus who lived on whatever table scraps the privileged man had left over.

Bottom line, none of our things are really ours. We’re just tenants placed on God’s earth with the responsibility of taking care of and distributing them in the way God intended. “The earth is the Lord’s,” we are told. We are simply to till, take care of, enjoy and share the fruits of the earth as God’s tenant farmers and caretakers. 

We also need to remember that most of what we have on our tables is the result of oppressed farm workers all over the world harvesting, processing, packaging and transporting our food for a fraction of the pay to which we have come to feel entitled.

So let’s be careful about thanking God that we’re not like the millions of people who are underpaid to make it possible for us to enjoy the wealth what we do, or who go to bed hungry every night while we indulge in the kinds of daily feasts that are contributing to obesity and other health problems. 

There is precedent in the Bible for having occasional celebratory feasts, but when we do have them, let’s be sure to also invite Jesus, Lazarus and some of their needy friends to join us at one table that reaches around the world.

Here's an expanded version of the above that I shared at VMRC's worship service this past Sunday, in which I also share my father's gratitude story

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Singing What God Requires

This new hymnal offers both songs of lament and of
praise, of both personal blessing and of God's
compassion for the poor and oppressed.
Michael Rhodes, Old Testament lecturer at Carey Baptist College, in a recent article in Christianity Today's website, asks the question, "Why Don't We Sing Justice Songs In Worship?" 

He notes that in the list of top 25 worship songs sung by Christian congregations there is only one passing mention of the word justice, whereas in the ancient hymnal we call the Psalms, the Hebrew word for justice (Mishpat) is used 65 times in 36 different psalms, and that many of the praise psalms are about shouting for joy to the "Mighty King, lover of justice," who has "established equity" and enacted "justice and righteousness" (Ps. 99:4). 

Rhodes also laments the fact that none of the top 25 hymns we sing make any reference to the poor, or to widows, refugees or the oppressed. whereas the psalms makes mention of them on virtually every page.

I'm reminded, too, of the insistent and clear words of the ancient prophets and of Jesus himself, all of whom make justice a central part of their message, and how Miriam, sister of Moses, led the Israelites in a song about God's deliverance from their oppressors. Likewise Hannah, mother of the prophet Samuel,  praises the God who "raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap, and seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor," Then there is Mary, the mother of Jesus," who glorifies the One who "has brought down rulers from their thrones and has lifted up the humble, has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty." 

Why aren't we following their example? Why are so many of our hymns and gospel songs in praise of a God portrayed as being all about 'just us' rather than a God of justice for all?

I am heartened to note that our newest Mennonite hymnal not only contains a wealth of hymns that have long been a part of our worship tradition, but includes far more hymns and worship resources rooted in justice themes in the Psalms, the Prophets and in the life and teachings of Jesus. For the first time there is a 'Telling God's Story' section that includes a series of five songs related to the Prophets, and in the 'Living God's Story' section a series of Peace and Justice songs, along with others on Mission, Service and Expanding Our Circle (Evangelism). Of course there are many others that make reference to these themes in other parts of the hymnal.

There may always be a danger in over emphasizing certain Biblical truths and neglecting other equally important ones, but as Michael Rhodes points out, our failure to pay attention to, and sing about, a theme so pervasive in scripture as that of God's compassion for the poor--and God's judgment against those who neglect and oppress them--is glaring.

So let's sing, fortissimo, that which God requires of us all, "to do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God," and let's all turn to hymn #208 in Voices Together, and sing together Jeanette Lindholm's "With Mary Sing Magnificat" this Advent.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

A Sad Day For Our Extended Family

Darell Paul Yoder 1973-2021
We all mourn the untimely loss of this good man, who died Saturday after a valiant fight with Covid. Darell, the son of my late first cousin, was a faithful husband and father and a genuinely good man who will be missed by everyone who knew him. His obituary follows:

Darell Paul Yoder, 48 of Riner, passed away on Saturday, November 6, 2021. He is preceded in death by his father, Alvin D. Yoder.

He is survived by his wife, Audrey Mast Yoder; mother, Irene Miller Yoder; sons & daughter-in-law, Dylan Paul & Chassidy Elizabeth Yoder, Jamin Scott Yoder, and Quinton Darell Yoder; daughters & son-in-law, Danetta Sue Yoder, Jacinda Faye & Daniel Richard Mast, and Jennica Kathleen Yoder; two precious granddaughters, Emmie Louise Yoder and Kinslee Faye Mast; brothers & sisters-in-law, Daniel & Eunice Yoder, Darvin & Grace Yoder, and David Lee & Joy Yoder; sisters & brothers-in-law, Mary & Paul Lehman and Melissa & Michael Burke; father & mother-in-law, James & Eunice Mast; brothers-in-law & sisters-in-law, Timothy & Donna Mast, Mahlon & Twila Mast, Lloyd & Carol Mast, Brenda & Joe Miller, Lois & Tim Reinford, Charles & Sandra Mast, Andrew & Marcella Mast, Dori & Ray Miller, Jacob & Marcia Mast, Earl & Hazel Mast, Wilmer & Judith Mast, and Myrna & Kevin Miller; and numerous nieces and nephews.

Funeral services will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, November 11, 2021 at the Beaver Creek Church of the Brethren with Steve Yoder, Brian Yoder, Michael Yoder, and Darvin Yoder officiating. Interment will follow in the Wills Ridge Mennonite Cemetery. The family will receive friends from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. on Wednesday, November 10, 2021 in the Wills Ridge Mennonite Church.

Here is the livestream link for the funeral on Thursday 11/11//21 at 10:00 am.