Monday, January 16, 2017

My Brother Eli--Retiring After 55 Years Of Ministry

My brother Eli and his beloved Ruthie (photo by son Steve)
My older brother Eli officially declared himself retired this weekend on the 55th anniversary of his ordination as pastor. At 82, he has been going through a series of stressful treatments for multiple myeloma and he and his good wife Ruthie are devoting most of their time dealing with his medical issues and being with their children and grandchildren.

A founding pastor of the Wills Ridge Mennonite Church in Floyd County, Eli has always had a dual career, providing most of his family's needs by building custom kitchen cabinets and making handcrafted furniture. He was a master at his trade, but always saw his primary mission as being a servant of the heaven-sent Galilean carpenter to whom he devoted his entire life.

Eli has been a special mentor and esteemed big brother to me. After having been mostly healthy all of his life, it's hard to see him having to endure the series of medical problems he's had in the past two years.

His grown daughter Judy is the author of "Vera's Journey", the story of Vera Heatwole, a legendary local Mennonite matriarch who became deaf as an adult and lived to be over a hundred (the hardcover edition of her story has sold over 6000 copies). Judy is now completing a series of three books about my brother Eli's story, the first two of which are available at the local Christian Light Publishing's bookstore on Chicago Avenue. To me, they are a priceless treasure of information about our family's hard times and blessed times in drought-prone northeastern Oklahoma near the end of the Great Depression, followed by our family's move to eastern Kansas and then, in 1946, to the Shenandoah Valley.

I love my brother dearly. On my last visit Eli showed me a journal book full of wonderful poetry he'd written over his lifetime, something I had never seen or known about before, though he had recently shared the following sample in a family letter we circulate among us remaining five siblings:

Where Is The Gold In Those Golden Years?

My mind turns back to when we first met,
Though long ago, I remember it yet.
Your gentle spirit, your lovely smile,
That scene went with me mile after mile.

Our friendship developed, and with time it grew,
With our times together we eventually knew
The day would come when we'd be together always
Regardless of what life brought, clouds or sunny days.

Though life shared together brought pressures to provide gold,
Since God had blessed us with children five-fold,
We were told that someday there would be "golden years",
So be faithful, be steadfast and have no fears.

Now times have come with pain and some distress,
Along with many good times to give courage, I guess,
But where were the golden years we were assured would come?
Did we miss something, leave something undone?

Then we sat at the table, ready to pray,
We paused and contemplated what we should say.
I reached for her familiar hand to hold,
Oh, then I realized I had found the gold!

You can send my brother your well-wishes at Eli Yoder, 740 Starbuck Road SE, Floyd, VA 24091, or email a message to his son at
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