An Amish Man’s Journey in Forgiveness
By Benjamin Girod
My name is Benjamin Girod and I am Swiss Amish.
I grew up in a deeply segregated Amish community near Bowling Green, Missouri during the decade of the 1950’s. I became a horse and dairy farmer in this isolated community of roughly 100 families. As a child, my father Peter served as bishop of two church districts in the northern part of our community, while Jacob J. Miller was bishop of the two southern districts. We lived in a world completely our own, largely set apart and removed from our English neighbors, or any other culture for that matter. Even our business was performed among our community, isolated from others, whether in town, the market place, construction site or in the local sawmills. This environment created the culture, in which I was raised, eventually got married and lived for many years in relative obscurity.
My life was filled with caring for handicapped siblings, working on the farm and tending to the immediate needs of my family. I never dreamed there was any other life than the one I was living in my Amish culture.
Typical for an Amish man, I possessed no credentials or degrees, which are standards of measure in normal American life. I absorbed little more than a 6th grade education and that from a remote Amish parochial school. As a rule, I have long admired the learned and educated, something which I have always longed to achieve. I have marveled at those who, with great poise, have conducted themselves so gracefully in the midst of large gatherings. This posture, to me, seemed an impossible, personal goal—that I could one day take my place among the learned and educated.
Unknown to me at the time, it was in the isolation of Amish anonymity and responsibility of family care that the Lord taught me many lessons of spiritual significance, which would later serve His plan and purposes. I knew nothing of this at the time but had a real hunger to know Christ and gain spiritual understanding. Often while plowing in the fields with a draft of horses, or milking cows by hand in the barn, the Lord was calling me, even before I was aware of it.
God used my spiritual hunger, Anabaptist culture and a desire to study our history to shape my future. I read the Martyrs Mirror, the writings of Menno Simons, with many other books relative to our history. I pondered the plight of our forefathers, who were tortured and killed for their faith; mothers who were drowned in a river while the children looked on. Others incarcerated, living on scant portions of stale bread and contaminated water, while many were left in abject poverty by the State authorities stealing and confiscating their homes and livelihoods.
At home, and in our churches, we sang these sad melodies that spoke of their sufferings, mournful songs from the “Ausbund Hymnal” (perhaps the oldest hymn book in the world, still in use). Each stanza spoke of deep suffering. For this reason, the Amish people are draped in a martyr’s spirit—one of deep sadness and melancholy. This pain puzzled me because I did not understand our history or how it manifested such brokenness after hundreds of years among the Anabaptists.
The isolation of Amish communities has a trickle down affect upon families and members. Although each Amish community appears secure and strong to outside observers, in reality there was very little concern for any other Amish communities.
We are a divided people and I often wondered how we would all meet the Lord in this fragmented condition. Initially, I naively believed each movement would be found right in God’s eyes in the end, and that somehow we would all become one in heaven.
Not until the Lord opened my eyes to the stark reality of my own deplorable condition, did I began to understand that our traditions as Anabaptist people, fell far short of a growing, personal relationship with Jesus. It was so alarming, that Barbara and I began constantly calling on the Lord to save us, even to the point of wondering whether we would ever experience God’s mercy. We felt all alone because we were alone; we had no one, family or friend to turn to for advice, counsel, or comfort for several years.
I rejoice now, because it was in these years God revealed Himself to us with great care and compassion and He called us even though we had no idea of the global ministry that would touch so many people. Now, I understand that His call was shaped and forged as I read, studied and learned our Anabaptist history. The cry of our martyred forefathers became the springboard upon which, we were prepared and sent in His love to our generation of Anabaptist people. We began to understand with deep conviction, that the spilled blood of our forefathers was calling-out to us to join others in completing the original Anabaptist mission. The Lord called us in November 1981, not because of our ecclesiastical qualifications or apparent righteousness, it was rather God’s great and sovereign plan—wholly removed from anything we could have pulled off on our own.
This mysterious power is testament to the reality that the Kingdom of God is at-hand, and the Kingdom is growing most pointedly by way of the Holy Spirit’s working and expansion within the hearts of God’s people. Authentic faith leads us to experience a brand of sweet fellowship, which is priceless. How wonderfully this must have sustained our Anabaptist forefathers. As I read Anabaptist history flowing from the reformation, I began to realize the kind of relationship with God and each other that gave them strength, day to day. This is the very stuff, the glue that held the early believers together as recorded in Acts (2:42-46). It was this strength, rooted in the bonds of deep fellowship, which enabled them to rejoice on their way to being burned at the stake in 1600 Europe.
These elements of the “living waters” come to us through life in Christ, a moment-by-moment intimacy, which I believe the first Anabaptists experienced, nurtured and sustained in the most horrific circumstances. It even lifted and seated them in heavenly places next to Christ. These truths begin to open up to me and I longed for my brothers and sisters in the Anabaptist nation to become one in Christ. That they may be free to walk out the Lord’s mandate, such as found in Hebrews 10:25 “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the day approaching”.
Or Hebrews 12:14, “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.”
The following chapters are about our journey. They reveal how my life and that of my wife Barbara, with our family of 9 children unfolded as we sought to restore these relationships, together with identificational repentance throughout the Anabaptist world and beyond as modeled by the prophet Daniel, (Ch. 9), and Moses when he stood in the gap for his people. Numbers 14:11-20.
Yes, this journey has taken us through dark valleys, yet we have experienced many joys of unspeakable dimensions as we grew in Christ, met others who God had called among the Amish and Mennonite people and made friends for eternity.
As you follow our lives through the chapters of this book, you will see a God of the miraculous and the Lord of impossibilities. I have detailed only the main events that shaped our lives. Each chapter will take you through the unfolding events to the final goal of our mission and calling; “That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.”
Beginnings on Sam Hill
My wife, Barbara grew up in the 1950’s among the beautiful hills and valleys of east central Pennsylvania, in Snyder County, where the wide, rock strewn Susquehanna River meanders nearby. Raised in a family of 11 children, five boys and six girls, Barbara was the fifth child born into a deeply, religious Amish culture.
Their farm was nestled on top of a high plateau where five roads from all directions led to the top of the hill with valleys round about. This hill, given the name “Sam Hill”, provided Barbara’s family with a grand vantage point of the farm fields, which bordered the dense forest. Wildlife such as deer, occasional bear, raccoons, woodchucks, rabbits, quail, pheasants and squirrels were in abundance. The region was filled with an endless variety of birds and wild flowers, which filled the air with their songs and the fields with brilliant color.
The old country school she attended was two and one half miles to the east, set in a green valley. Since the Amish attend school for eight years, Barbara and her siblings walked up and down this 2.5 mile trail from her home to the school house for eight years. Every day they carried with them old-fashioned 1-gallon pails containing their lunches, which generally consisted of apple butter sandwiches, an egg sandwich and a jar of milk, or perhaps chocolate milk.
During her school years, Barbara had an extremely shy and fragile personality, at times being misunderstood by fellow students and the teachers. Her quiet unassuming ways often set her apart from others as they played and interacted on the playground. Her thin frame gave her the appearance of being taller than she really was. She was keenly in tune of nature as she walked with her siblings back and forth to school. During these long walks, she developed the ability to identify the various songbirds so abundant in her region—an unspoiled part of Pennsylvania at the time. Early in her life, she discovered a God given artistic gift and talent as she enjoyed and observed nature at its finest. She would walk in the sanctuary of the woods enjoying the serene atmosphere of the quiet solitude it afforded. Here she would find a vantage point, sit down on a tree stump and begin sketching the scenes that appeared close by; birds, wild flowers, squirrels, or some other animal. Sometimes, she would sketch the distant valleys and mountains that were within view. Because she was such a friend of God’s creation, the wild animals seemed to have no fear in her presence.
At the age of fourteen, Barbara’s tranquil life was shaken by the death of her mother. The trauma of her loss was indescribable and she quietly endured the pain. Her mother’s death left her with responsibilities that a girl her age generally knew nothing about. Most of her older, siblings had left home, which left her to care for the younger children. This included cooking meals, doing laundry, mending and tailoring of clothes, washing dishes and many other things inherent with raising a family. Every night for some time, because of the loss of her mother, she would cry herself to sleep. One night Barbara heard her mother calling her name. As she continued to call her she woke up, sat bolt upright as she heard her mother’s voice. In an amazing way, the dream was accompanied by a deep healing and peace, which filled Barbara with a comforting acceptance of the loss of her mother. From that day forth, Barbara was able to press on and shoulder the weight of her responsibility with supernatural grace. Unknown to her at the time, this trauma equipped her for her future life’s journey.
During the time she was growing up, many farmers in central Pennsylvania raised tomatoes for commercial sale. The brisk, autumn air meant it was tomato-picking time. Along with other Amish youngsters, Barbara would pick for neighboring farmers. She did this for many years and it was backbreaking work. Often on their hands and knees, picking from morning ‘till night, the young people harvested the endless rows of tomatoes, filling hampers, one after another. Many became expert pickers, often picking over 200 hampers a day. Even so, there was much jesting and tomato throwing within the group, breaking the monotony with some fun.
Later in the fall, apple picking started in the orchards that were in abundance in and around Snyder County. Amish and Mennonite young boys and girls from all over the country came to pick apples in this famous apple-growing region. Then there was the nationally known cantaloupe. The rare Snyder County shale soil helped produce a quality and sweetness of these melons, which was unsurpassed. They were grown, packed and sold by Titus Hoover Enterprises, sent to stores all over the eastern seaboard. There were also the numerous sawmills, and pallet shops all over the county. Work was to be had, for those who wanted it. The work ethic is strong in the Amish culture. Barbara, with her siblings, grew up with much toil and hard work, yet they never so much as took thought of it–this was Amish life.
By age eighteen, Barbara had grown and blossomed into an extraordinarily attractive young woman. She continued her habit of going out on her solitary walks down the wooded trails, being drawn to the beauty of the woods with its mountain laurels and various flowers. Always, there was the challenge to identify some rare bird. Her spirit grew in the presence of God within the isolated beauty of this unspoiled region of Pennsylvania. She could dream, and dream she did, of a greater purpose for her life, something that would someday reach beyond the sphere of her immediate surroundings. She dreamed of becoming a nurse, or some other field where she could help others with God’s compassion. Often she dreamed about her future, never comprehending what the Lord was preparing ahead for her. One day she would sail into uncharted waters, yet discover God’s purpose for her life. As she continued to dream, the Lord would gently guide her forward, and into the unknown.
The Risk Of reaching Out
The Amish community in which Barbara lived was small, largely isolated from the greater region of Amish districts. Due to the fact that her church had at one time reached out to help a smaller church in the area, which was not a part of the Old Order, they also experienced rejection. Because of the collective isolation of her small district, a genuine bond developed within the youth of her community. The absence of automobiles, electricity, and all other modern conveniences did not hinder them in creating meaningful times of recreation. Often on weekends they would camp in some cabin they had built far in the woods. Groups of boys and girls could be seen walking the roads together on Sunday afternoons, while jesting and playing. Sunday’s would typically close with a worship service.
The big highlight of the year was the fall hunting season for big game such as deer or bear, as well as smaller game such as turkey, pheasants, rabbits and squirrels. Not only did this provide a much-needed high value protein, there was a spirited and energized competition among the tightly knit group. Each member, using their hunting and woods savvy and shrewdness to harvest the largest deer or bear for the winter’s store.
As winter set in, the land became blanketed with deep snow, which launched the sledding season. What delight this brought to the children and young people in the community. The long roads leading into the valley were often heavily laden with ice and snow during the winter. And often, with reckless abandon, they competed with each other, flying along the twisting, icy tracks, cheeks red from the frosty cold. Rarely did the sledding season end without some serious accident and injury. Yet, there was the unrelenting pursuit to possess the fastest sled with the shiniest, most glazed runners. It was the thrill of a lifetime to lead and win a sled race on Sam’s Hill.
In the fall of 1969, when Barbara was nineteen, along with brothers and sisters, she traveled west to visit friends and relatives in some distant Amish communities. For the first time in her life, she ventured beyond the borders of her familiar world.
But I am glad she did. It was on this excursion that Barbara and I met for the first time.
Because of her quiet and delicate nature, she was very hesitant of connecting with someone of the opposite sex. She felt more at home in the Pennsylvania woods near Sam’s Hill. Many other young men pursued her attention, and with little success, including me. Try as I might, Barbara would not be rushed into any premature relationship and I often felt hopeless of ever gaining the trust and love of her heart. Even so, I felt God was guiding our lives together. Though I could not see it in the moment, there was a stirring, an indefinable hope, that our lives were linked by God’s design. Touched by her gentle spirit, I was left totally undone by her exquisite beauty.
Barbara, on the other hand was content to wait upon the Lord until she arrived at a place of peace in the matter. Not until she received an unmistakable word of divine confirmation, would she give her word and move ahead in any kind of courtship.
For me, the waiting was excruciating and intolerable. She had captured my heart and when the day arrived that she responded with a “yes”, it was as if heaven had invaded earth and a torrent of joy and peace enveloped me.
Our four-year courtship was a long-distance romance, nurtured through a weekly exchange of letters. I lived in Missouri, which was a great distance from Pennsylvania, for a young Amish couple courting. Every September, after the crops were in, I would go visit her, which was for me, a heavenly experience. Our courtship forged a strong bond of trust and love as we sat and shared our hearts and dreamed of the future.
We had one big problem though. Barbara made it known that she would never leave her beautiful Sam Hill. At the same time, I was constrained by family obligations, which made it impossible for me to have the freedom to move to Pennsylvania. This was the first of many tests of our commitment to one another.
Amish communities do not institutionalize their elderly or relatives in poor health. For generations, it has been the kinship duty of the immediate family to provide and give them care. I shared in the daily responsibility of taking care of four of my siblings who were wheelchair bound. This was a huge, demanding task, not one I despised but faced as a challenging impasse. Barbara and I agreed to continue our long distance courtship but I knew that was not the permanent solution. One day as I was despairing over the situation, I received news that she would be willing to come join me, if I would promise to take her back to Pennsylvania at the first opportunity. As you can imagine, I made her this promise with pure delight and joy!
Living Out My Name
Given names in Amish culture have great meaning and bearing on our lives. My given name is Benjamin. You can read in the book of Genesis how the name Benjamin is connected with the anguish of Rachel, when she gave birth to her son Benoni. But like most names, the name Benjamin contains more color and definition than merely “anguish”, it also means; “the son of my right hand”. This is the name Jacob gave his son and it has a deep significance and meaning for me personally. Yes, my birth was hard and painful for my mother, yet, she knew, I was destined by the Father for His greater purposes.
My beginnings were typical for a Swiss Amish boy, completely foreign to the people and the surrounding towns near my community in Berne, Indiana. My parents had ten children, and I was number eight, as we Amish are given to large families.
The Swiss Amish communities of Adams, and Allen county Indiana were tight-knit and isolated even among the greater Amish cultures nationwide. At age seven, I began first grade, where I attended the first newly built Amish school on my father’s farm.
My father was a bishop in the church and became a forerunner in developing the first parochial schools in the Swiss Amish community. I completed my first two grades in the School building built by my father and my oldest brother David was my teacher. The State of Indiana had strict academic standards and David was required to go to Indianapolis with a scholar for each grade to test their learning skills. Each grade passed above average. Within two years however, my father received such bitter opposition, both from within the church, and from local authorities, that he had to shut the school down. This was a very troubling time when the persecution finally came to a head after some local thugs burned the School building to the ground during the night.
This was my world, the only world I knew until I grew to the age of ten, when my parents moved our family to Bowling Green, Missouri in the spring of 1954. We quickly settled on a 160-acre farm nestled in the center of another traditional Amish community.
Unknown to me, or any of us for that matter, the way we lived and I grew up was deeply isolated and primitive. The outside world was outside and that is the way we kept it and the way we thought it should be. We were happy, carefree, and full of life nonetheless.
From my birth, I had developed ear problems with chronic severe earaches and infections. This problem plagued me throughout my growing years and I had no idea it was developing into a serious and fatal condition. My misery and illness became worse by a serious depression from age 12 and continued for 4 years. My dad not knowing, nor understanding my problem at times threatened to take me to an institution.
One day, I was gathering eggs for my mother. While busy searching each hen’s nest, I somehow came to the faulty and fearful conclusion that the twenty-one eggs, I gathered, represented the number of years I was to live. Twenty-one! Suddenly, I was stricken with an overwhelming, dark, foreboding, and oppressing terror. The gloom that overshadowed me took me to the pits of hell as I was holding on to those eggs. I even thought I heard a voice confirming this terrible personal prophecy. I now look back on this horrifying episode and realize that evil forces were working to halt God’s plan for my life, but the Lord is greater and now I look back and thank Him for His grace in my mother.
Mother was the only person I dared share the fears and torment I was experiencing during these four years of private pain. She was always present with kind and encouraging words. Never once did she forsake me. My life long remembrance of her–was that of her gentle, giving spirit, constantly sharing and spreading sunshine in my painful world. Being born of Swiss parents, she was an expert singer, with a wonderful talent for yodeling, which I inherited. To this day, the bond of love I have for her is a strong and steady blessing.
By my twenty-first birthday, I was admitted to our local hospital, near death. My ear infection had become so dire it had penetrated into my brain causing a perpetual dizziness. (Vertigo). For two weeks, I went through the most excruciating hell imaginable, I could not live, and I could not die, nor did my family expect me to survive this ordeal. Even my doctor later told me that he doubted I would survive because all the statistics were against me. Thank God, He had another plan for my life. Although, I have endured numerous surgeries on both ears since that day, I rejoice for the calling God has given me. His purposes always prevail for those who will follow Him.
Growing up on our farm, I learned agriculture the old fashioned way, using real horsepower. We did all the farming with horses. We used the horses to help us sow wheat and oats. The horses enabled us to thrash the grain, haul the hay from field to the barn, and plant and harvest corn. There was no modern machinery to be found on the Girod farm. Everything was accomplished by hand, using our horses and a big help they were.
We also milked twelve cows by hand, as well as raising and selling feeder pigs. All this hard work was but the normal course of life for us. We never once thought it out of the ordinary because this was all we knew in Amish life.
There were also wonderful times of recreation, where our family joined other Amish families for outings and gatherings. It was strictly unthinkable and entirely off-limits to seek or pursue any interactions with people outside the Amish community. This greatly reduced the sphere of our world and confined us to a very limited understanding what lay beyond our community. Yet, it never dawned on us that we were being deprived of anything, or missing life in the outside world. We were generally content with our shielded life as Amish children. It was later, as we grew that we began to understand the Amish way of life contains both positive and negative aspects.
My father, who was born November 11, 1906 was a nationally known Amish bishop. To me, however and most importantly, he was the hero of my life. He was a strong man with great leadership qualities; his influence reached many Amish communities throughout the land. His preaching was always practical and to the point. He shunned the singsong tone in his preaching that many are noted for among the Amish. His foremost love was for his family, but he also deeply cared for those under his care.
On February 13 1970, he and mom spent the day cooking homemade laundry soap in an outside iron kettle as is common in the Amish culture. It was a typical chilly February day. That evening, I recall how they had finished their day’s work and came up to the porch to sit down and rest for a few minutes. It was than, that we noticed dad was not feeling well. In a few minutes, he gently let himself down on the porch where I caught him in my arms. And that is where is died, quietly and peacefully crossing the threshold of this life to the next, where his reward waited. Dad finished his earthly race, leaving my arms to reach the arms of his Savior, whom he loved and served all his life.
My Brother’s Keeper
I believe God uses life experiences to help shape us for His plan and purposes. One significant way He shaped my life was through four older siblings who developed a condition medically termed, muscular dystrophy, a genetic condition where the muscles atrophy and lose their tone. Their condition was first noticed at about the age of six and very slowly yet, persistently their conditions worsened. David, Josephine, Samuel and Peter suffered greatly.
In the spring of 1954 dad took my oldest brother David to a chiropractic Sanitarium in Denver Colorado where after six months received excellent results. Because of the success, we hoped to take all four of them to the Denver for the same treatment. Because Dad had invested large sums of money for their care, he did not have the financial resources to send the other three. Our hopes were delayed but not denied.
In 1966 I was twenty-two, the dream to take my siblings to Denver was revived. Somehow God sparked a vision in me and it became my mission to engage the rest of the family to help make this dream become a reality. All that summer we planned the various aspects of this monumental undertaking, especially discussing the financial difficulties involved. Most of the family saw this mission as an unattainable dream. But I didn’t and I couldn’t let it go because of glowing reports David brought back from his first visit.
Incredibly, on October 29, 1966, along with my youngest brother Jake and youngest sister Emmy we drove all four of my siblings to Denver. This was not without the help of our drivers, Beryl and Elisabeth McConnell.
Now I look back on that season of my life and had I known what lay ahead in the following five months, I would never have attempted it, yet, it all ended in a most glorious way for all of us, and in a way that only God could bring it about.
After I paid the drivers their fees, the examination fees and the first week of treatments, I was out of money, which left me in a sudden shock. A pall of gloom shrouded my mind as our situation became utterly desperate. I was shook up and depressed out of measure. I had vastly underestimated the monumental costs of hospitalizing four siblings. Even though the hospital gave each of them a sizable discount, provided me with free room and board for helping out at the hospital, the costs were nevertheless prohibitive. I could not possibly absorb such cost, even with help from the rest of the family. Every night in the privacy of my dormitory room, I began crying out to the Lord in desperation.
After a number of weeks, our debt had climbed into thousands of dollars, an exorbitant sum in the mid 1960’s. I struggled with the decision to stay, which looked foolish, or leave, which was also an appalling thought.
My brothers and sister needed the treatment but I had no money and no way I knew of to raise such funds. One evening after the work at the hospital was finished, I lay on the floor of my room praying. I admit it was an agonizing moment, where I desperately cried out for God to help us, to deliver us from this impossible dilemma. I can only relate to you what happened as I prayed. Suddenly, it seemed the floor under me began shaking, not a little, but a violently. I jumped up to my feet surprised and a bit frightened but instantly I was filled with the peace of God. I somehow knew His presence was there. As I lay down to rest after this and before long, I was sound a sleep. Sometime during the night, I had an unusual dream, like a vision. In the dream, I saw a sudden supply of money coming to our family. It came in large amounts and did not diminish until I saw myself paying off all of our debts to the hospital. Amazingly, the money still kept coming in throughout the dream and when I woke up, the sun was out and it was morning, and I thought all this had already taken place, to my disappointment, it had not.
However, in the following month, the dream became a reality precisely as I had seen it. God laid it on the hearts of hundreds of Amish people across the nation to send in donations in our behalf. Individual people sent us financial gifts. Churches, communities and, even businesses sent money to us. The support kept coming and coming for many weeks. I shall forever thank God and be grateful to my beloved people for their generosity. In our time of desperate need, they responded to God’s prompting and helped us through a humanly impossible situation.
Even the owners of the Hospital gave us two weeks free of charge. Our relationship with this hospital continued for the next twenty-five years, as we would return for more treatments. I will always remember their generosity with great fondness.
We remained in Denver another five months, where my brothers and sister made great strides in physical healing and spiritual growth. We met and befriended other patients from all over the country; even many of the doctors and nurses became our good friends, friendships that lasted for many years.
By the grace of God, the treatments they received at Spears hospital enabled all four of my siblings to live approximately 20 years beyond their life expectancy and I watched them all live to a ripe age.
Thousands of miles from home and all alone, I am amazed at how God helped us. Many people under these circumstances would never have taken such responsibility without fortifying themselves with some sort of financial security.
I innocently, but blindly, stepped into the unknown not having the capacity to comprehend the magnitude of such an undertaking, in a large city. Is this what one would perhaps call, blind faith? I do not know, but I do know how God sovereignly helped us through this painful but ultimately rewarding school of faith.
The sufficiency of heaven met us in the very moment we were sinking into financial ruin. I shall never forget God’s saving power in that critical time of need, how He reached down and saved us right on time.
Forgiveness is a Tandem Quest
On September 6, 1973, Barbara and I became husband and wife. Our wedding, typical for our Amish culture, took place on Sam’s Hill, the site of her childhood home. It was a joyous day for which I waited four years, but seemed an eternity. The day dawned bright and clear, with just a hint of autumn in the air. It was ideal and when I saw Barbara’s unsurpassed beauty, resplendent even in her plain Amish dress, I was filled with joy. Thankfully, occasions of joy are absent of what the years hold in store and this is a gift of God. What lay before us was both promising and painful. We had no idea of how our new life together would be one of shared burdens and blessings, lovely dreams and bitter disappointments. Yet, God was with us and His grace was more than enough to grow us through each trial and test we would face. We were together!
After our marriage, we remained at her father’s home, where I worked in his pallet shop. All that winter I nailed pallets by hand, earning a good sum of money to begin our new life together. Then, in early March we loaded her furniture and personal belongings on a truck and left Sam Hill for our new home in Missouri.
Sometimes the most difficult decisions in life that produce the greatest rewards. When Barbara made the decision to leave her family farm on Sam Hill and marry me, she helped set into motion a series of steps, which God would use for our future ministry together.
We discovered little by little, that to obey the Lord’s leading, even if we did not understand it, invariably brings divine favor, protection, and untold blessings.
The following summer, with my brother Jake’s help, we started building a small but sturdy house near my parents. The house was completed November 1, 1974, a month before our first child, Esther was born. It was here on this 160-acre farm that we lived and farmed with my brother Jake for the next ten years. All the fieldwork was done by “horse” power. We had increased our milking herd to fifteen cows, which we continued to milk by hand every morning and evening.
My four older siblings, incapacitated in wheelchairs, remained under our care and their needs had to be met day and night. With all the daily chores on the farm, this became exhausting and very time consuming. But we loved them and their care was a labor of love. I rarely chaffed under its burden. Nevertheless, because of the perpetual care required for them, there never was much time for recreation and rest. This was a real adjustment for Barbara at times. She was living in new surroundings, new marriage and community, plus the new environment of our local Amish church. At times, it was quite a trial for her delicate nature. She often sought the refuge and safety of her little house rather than that to socialize with those in the community. The community at times misunderstood her quiet, yet unassuming ways.
Barbara often dreamed about, and at times wistfully spoke to me about someday going back to beautiful hills of Pennsylvania. On rare occasion, and when time permitted, we would take an outing, which required long drives with our horse and buggy. Our buggy rides would often take us to a nearby lake, where we could be still and quiet, which was a wonderful way to remove the stress from our demanding lives. Numerous times during our first ten years in Missouri, we would drive all the way to the waters of the mighty Mississippi river and have a picnic on its banks. This was some 20 miles from our home, a rather long ‘round-trip with horse and buggy in the course of one day. These were our special times to share and be alone together. We immensely treasured these times, for they were rare indeed. Much of our ten years in Missouri was lived quietly raising our family and working our farm.
Revival and Resistance
From the beginning of our marriage, Barbara and I hungered for the deeper things of God—a passion to press past mere tradition, not that all tradition is harmful or unnecessary. We identified with the Apostle Paul, when he wrote, “that I may know Him”, (Phil. 3:10) and we were not quite sure how to travel the path of knowing God, because many of our Amish customs and traditions are healthy and good for the family and community. Although Jesus was indeed preached throughout Amish culture, He was an abstract figure, held at a distance and apart from the center of our faith. Jesus was not preached or pictured as a present, living Savior and such messages always left a void in our hearts, which we did not know how to fill.
But the hunger for God and a spiritual fire continued to burn causing us to reach out to other Christians beyond our Amish church community. This was deeply frowned upon, so, we learned to do our searching quietly and discreetly. In time, we discovered other Amish, who were seeking Jesus as the “Living Water” to satisfy our spiritual thirst. Unable to resist our desire to know Him, we began to meet with others to secretly study the bible. This sparked a fire within the group, causing others to quietly join in. The hunger was so intense that these bible studies often went right through the night, ‘till 4 and 5 o’clock in the morning. Revival fire began to break out with such intensity that it was reminiscent of the very early Anabaptists as the movement was initially birthed in Switzerland in1525. Because the church forbade bible study, the secret gatherings continued to meet usually in complete darkness, so we would not be detected.
Because our gatherings were growing and we met often, we understood that the Church leaders would eventually discover our Bible study. We could not gather in hiding like this forever. And as we suspected, we learned that spies had been planted in our midst.
Soon after, the persecution broke out in full force. Although we were committed to follow Jesus, fear and anxiety were unrelentingly pursuing our peace. Some of the leadership and community became hostile and vengeful, intent to quench this newfound life out of us. Here is where Amish tradition has veered off the path of a living, growing relationship with God in Christ. The very air over the whole community became charged and electrified by false accusations and gossip to the point that many considered us to be heretics. Our crime? Studying the Bible and seeking God outside the control of those who feared losing what religious tradition covets most, control.
Very quickly, an avalanche of false charges came pouring in; It reminded me of the condemnation and cruelty I had read about of our early Anabaptist forefathers as they often hid in the night from the authorities.
The resistance to our desire to seek the Lord, gained momentum within the community and tactics are predictable. First, we were individually forced into isolation; being terrorized and often disgraced. Then, we were brought before church councils to be interrogated, being made an open spectacle before the entire Church. Finally and under threat, they implied that we are being sanctimonious, violating the sanctity of the Amish church and their traditions.
Within year’s time there developed a deep relationship between those who continued to gather. In trustful abandon, we stood together under this intense pressure. Persecution has a way of knitting hearts together and we were no exception. We became intensely loyal to each other under this heavily charged atmosphere. However, since there was no escape, and as the pressures mounted, the group finally disbanded and went in different directions.
These two years of seeking the Lord and studying the bible with this tightly knit group was perhaps the most colorful in our life’s entire journey since it was the early beginnings of finding the Lord in a personal way.
Glen Yoder, with his wife Ida, who was the undisputed leader, had a way of rallying the group and guiding them towards the shining light of the Gospel. Joe Schrock with his wife Rachel, who were also our close neighbors, were rising stars within the Amish Church, who, when they began embracing the true Gospel, they quickly became outcasts sending shock waves throughout the Amish world. It was staggering to many, that one of their hero’s is now embracing what they termed a, fremda glauben, heretical faith. Then there were Ervin and Lissie Borntrager, and Enos and Bertha Yoder. Enos and Bertha would later move together with us to Snyder County PA.
Some members of the groups eventually left the Amish community joining other Churches, who had opened their arms to them. By this time, a safe haven for us could not be found among any of the Amish communities nationwide. Instead, there was the threat of ban and excommunication, which loomed like an ominous cloud over our heads.
Even some of our own family members turned against us, creating an extreme and painful situation. Since we lived and worked together everyday, our day to day, lives were fraught with severe tension. Among my brothers and sisters, it severely tested the closely knit and trusting relationship, we had experienced since childhood. A dark gloom hung over us as we tried to cope with this awkward situation. I perfectly understood their dilemma, in their present situation, they could hardly do otherwise, and I certainly would not leave them in spite of it, my conscience did not allow me that liberty to forsake my vast obligations with them.
However, this internal family tension, coupled with the external pressures coming from the church, felt as if I were being crushed between solid rock. I could not move forward or backward. Church tradition would no longer tolerate the group or me Bible studies. They saw this and considered it to be a deviation of the faith, rooted in my insistence that we have the freedom of informal bible study in groups. Since this was outside and beyond the control of typical and standard church meetings, we were refused and condemned. In this season of pain, we called out to the Lord and He answered us. Although we felt hedged in, we were soon to learn that when the way appears impossible, God makes a way.
The Crucible of Hope
Little by little, God gave us a plan, which in turn filled us with hope that we would eventually experience the full freedom in Christ we were reading about in the Bible. The reality for me, however, was a day-to-day struggle in my own faith of reaching a place of total freedom in my relationship with the Lord. For Barbara, trusting God in this situation was a matter of child-like faith, which came simply for her. We continued to seek the Lord for understanding and guidance and He answered in a most unusual manner.
What I am about to share, I have no way of explaining because we do not fully understand it ourselves. I can only relate what happened one night in the midst of our dilemma. One night Barbara got up for a drink of water, about two o’clock in the morning. As she walked to the kitchen, a bright light surrounded her. It was so sudden and overwhelming that she bowed down in what she could only perceive as a holy moment. You must understand how unusual this is for anyone, especially we Amish who do not have electricity in our houses. To say, she was overwhelmed is understating the awe she felt. Completely shaken by the encounter, she hurriedly returned to our bedroom, waking me from a sound sleep.
At first, I unable to grasp what had happened, as she tried to explain what had happened. For the rest of the night we quietly discussed her unusual encounter and what it could possibly mean. As the days unfolded, it became clear that the Lord’s remarkable visitation released great joy in our hearts. This was significant because of the growing and severe tension around us. The contrast was incredible. Our entire family, brothers and sisters were embroiled in a severe family shakeup. Nerves were on edge and ready to snap, misunderstandings and relationship upheavals became constants. It seemed there was no avenue available to for healing or reconciliation, yet the joy of the Lord was our strength!
For years following, we did not understand how the ancient strongholds of strife and divisions being manifested in our confined Swiss Amish Culture, worked to destroy us.
Looking back on that painful time of distrust, I now realize, God was preparing us for the ministry of reconciliation and forgiveness. (2 Cor, 5:81-21) Before we left the community, I was prompted by the Lord to go to each of my siblings and ask for their forgiveness. At the time, this was a unfamiliar step for me, for I did not feel that I was at fault, perhaps even the opposite, even so, I was required to go and do it, which I did–out of obedience–not because I understood it at the time. From this point in life, I began learning the art of obedience, often at the expense of logic or intellectually formed opinions and understanding.
Beside our small house stood a giant oak tree, which stood as a sentinel and guardian over our home. I purposely had built our small house under this magnificent tree. The huge Oak canopy and branches were a haven for many types of birds that came to nest and sing their songs. We heard the warbled and varied shrills of Blue jays, Wrens, Mocking birds, Woodpeckers and many other species throughout the year.
One day, a flaming red cardinal decided he wanted to come inside our house. So, he began fluttering against the glass of the living room window. He did this day after day, and the days turned into weeks, and the weeks into months. It was such an odd occurrence. Every morning he fluttered next to the window to get in. Finally, the day came when we took pity on him. We carefully captured the beautiful, red bird and took some distance away from the house in order to convince him that his mission was elsewhere.
Immediately however, another one took its place, and again, there it was day after day, wanting to come in.
The Bible tells us in the book of Job, Chapter 12:7-8 that there are times God uses, even birds to teach us His ways. It says, “Just ask the animals, and they will teach you. Ask the birds of the sky, and they will tell you.”
Finally, it dawned on us, that the Lord Jesus was using these birds to speak to us. In essence, His message to us was:
“Let Me come into your hearts and in your home, and I will wash you clean with My blood. You shall be pure, and white as snow.”
He was asking us for access and entrance, to more deeply inhabit our hearts. It wasn’t because we did not know Him; it was so He could prepare us for what was ahead of us. And we agreed, “come, Lord Jesus!” He began to speak measures of peace and renewal that empowered us by His grace to endure our present trials and face our future with hope.
For the first time, in both of our lives, we were fully confident and filled with blessed assurance of our salvation. We began to trust Him completely, in all things. We finally realized and got it, the Lord was not out to get us, and He was growing us into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.
The Amish continually stressed a doctrine of hope, partially founded upon Romans 8:24-25 (i.e., “…if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance”). This doctrine had, over many generations, been deeply implanted throughout Amish culture. Since the Amish do not believe in a present salvation, they always stressed the word Hoffnung, meaning hope– hope to be saved when we die. For this reason I meditated upon, searched, and studied at length, this word “hope” for many, many years, in hopes of finding peace within its context.
I had grappled with this elusive hope for so long, that I had long felt there was hidden within its concept, something that would one day reveal a deeper meaning and in turn fill the void deep within my heart. In the end, after all those years of searching I was not disappointed. God in His mercy met us beyond our greatest expectations.
Shaped for Gods Purposes
One must understand the how deeply Amish tradition is ingrained into the soul, from birth to death. This must be why the Lord shaped us with radical encounters, so we would know without any doubt that it was He, who was leading us. Now, I understand how the Biblical record re-enforces this tactic. God used a radical plan in Joseph by way of a Bedouin slave route to Egypt, Moses, through the burning bush and I cannot leave out Saul of Tarsus, knocked from his donkey in a brilliant light. There are many others and I certainly am not saying, I am a Moses or Saul, but I do know and appreciate that God had to use some radical tactics to get our attention and shape us for His purposes.
It was perhaps a week after Barbara encountered the Lord that as usual, I was busy working on the farm when the passage in Romans 8, again came to mind. At the same time, and in this instant, I was suddenly immersed by the Holy Spirit so deeply that it felt as if my natural faculties had completely left me. The Holy Spirit continued to surge through my heart and throughout my body. With this holy presence came the warm sensation of an unutterable peace in my heart—peace of unspeakable dimensions. The presence of God surrounded me; at the same time the heart of Romans 8:24-25 was illuminated and magnified a hundred fold within my heart, giving me clarity and deep understanding of its true meaning. As I slowly emerged from this holy presence, I knew I had instantly been transformed in my mind and heart. The ecstasy of the moment knew no bounds; no earthly vocabulary could describe it, or compare with it. My wildest dreams, my deepest longings, my greatest hopes, or all that I ever desired on earth overwhelmingly flooded my soul at that moment, my finite mind could not grasp it, and it was beyond human reasoning. The joy of the moment followed me for a week.
Being naive and ignorant, I had no words to describe what I had experienced, while working on the farm. There was nothing else in my Amish life and upbringing that I could compare it to. But one thing I did know, the sacredness of the moment was of such magnitude I was not going to recklessly share this with anyone, which we never did in the following three years. In my ignorance, for years, I thought this experience would be the norm for every Christian who comes to know the Lord. Only later, to my disappointment, I would find out differently.
In fact, I now know most Christians come to know Him, in a far less dramatic way. However, our shared encounters with the Lord, there came a responsibility far beyond our ability to fulfill, in ultimately reaching out in global proportions to Anabaptist peoples, with a message of healing and forgiveness. This was no choice of ours, but Gods sovereign design for our lives.
It would take me many weeks to fully grasp and define what took place within this holy encounter here on our isolated farm nestled in northeast Missouri, in November of 1981. 1981.AsAs time unfolded, a steady stream of revelations came into view in connection with the initial encounter. As I had no mentor to help me navigate these revelations, and because of the opposing spiritual climate within the Amish community, Barbara and I kept these things locked securely within our hearts. We also knew internally that we had jointly stumbled upon the first step of what would become a colorful journey into the unknown. With a new hope—a hope within the safety and presence of God—we stepped forward.
Just a day or two after this encounter, I was splitting firewood one evening from a woodpile we had close by the house. Some of the children were standing close by, ready to carry in the wood as I split it. Suddenly unexpectedly, a hawk shot past my face and my swinging ax directly at the woodpile, but before hitting it, turned, and shot straight upward. This happened so fast that it momentarily disoriented me, not knowing what had happened. What I discovered was the hawk had attempted to catch a dove, which I found in the woodpile, frightened but alive. I gently pulled it out and held it in my open hand. As I was holding it, the hawk was watching from a tree 200 yards away. Barbara and the children all excitedly gathered around me looking at, and petting the dove.
In this moment we heard the Lord speak in our hearts a most sobering message saying; As narrowly as this dove escaped the clutches of the hawk, that is how you escaped the enemy when I encountered you and delivered you from your dark pit of fear and isolation, even from within your ancient culture and traditions. It was a seriously sober and hushed moment as I continued to hold the dove with the family surrounding me.
Then the dove flew away.
As Barbara and I, pressed on forward in our spiritual journey, the Word of God became vibrantly alive as we studied it and took on new dimensions. With this ongoing discovery came the filling of the deep void, which had for so long dominated our hearts. We had now discovered the true rivers of living waters for which we had been seeking for many years. With growing hunger we studied, searched, and absorbed the Word day and night, discovering truths and revelation upon revelation, and we simply could not get enough. There were times as we were studying, that I would have five or six different bible translations with several commentaries scattered all over the dining room table, searching out to the fullest meaning in each passage as we read and studied it. We did this in the secret privacy of our home, no one ever knew, or found out. Looking back now, I marveled how the Holy Spirits presence was always there, enlightening and unveiling the mysteries of God during those moments. Even in our hostile surroundings, God filled us with His peace.
I also studied more deeply our Anabaptist roots and how our Anabaptist forefathers, whom we had so deeply eulogized and revered for entire generations, knew a genuine and growing intimacy with Christ Jesus. This troubled me because I saw how far we had drifted from this kind of communion with Christ. I love my Amish people and thank God for the rich heritage I have but it appeared to me that we had now perpetuated a lifeless religion, devoid of a personal relationship with Christ as Savior.
This revelation came with such shocking proportions that it left us asking deep and penetrating questions.
Had our Amish and Anabaptist traditions replaced a living, growing relationship with Christ?
Had our rules and rituals led us down a path full of dead men’s bones?
Are the words of Jesus, as recorded in the seven woes of Matthew 23 applicable to our current spiritual condition?
Was God’s judgment staring us in the face?
Like a flood, these questions and revelations filled our hearts and minds. In no way, did we feel or believe ourselves superior or apart from these questions, in fact, just the opposite, because we are Amish. These are our people, whom we love and thank God for even though they were treating us with great hostility and rejection. We continued to pray and study the Bible, not fully realizing that God in His mercy was divinely knitting within our hearts the burden of intercession for our people globally—the entire Amish Nation. Though we had no one within the community or beyond with whom we could turn to for answers or for comfort, the Lord was with us and we simply placed the growing burden before Him. We knew He would reveal His way of redemption for our people and He did!
The Suffering of Separation
After these encounters in the early 80`s new spiritual horizons came into view. With this also came the children that were added to Barbara and I, two boys and three girls. As the oldest, Esther, began her schooling in one of the parochial schools maintained in our community, a daily walk of one mile from their home, she stepped-into the generational joys of communing with nature, much in the same way her mother did. It was however; during this time that spiritual unrest mounted in our churches, a desire for deeper things in Christ continued to increase. Ultimately, birth pangs of revival continued to stir. But Barbara and I sought refuge in the solitude of our home, for due to the tensions inherent with revival there continued much strife and misunderstanding.
As the tensions increased some of the siblings sought refuge in other homes where some of them would live out the rest of their lives. Our hearts were torn and bleeding as the pain of this internal struggle seemed beyond the limits of our endurance. Yet, somehow grace was provided to endure these dark days of harsh realities and painful struggles until such time as God would release us from them. As the mounting pressure of opposition drove us in a corner and utter desperation, it gave cause to consider leaving the community and to retreat to the hills of Pennsylvania where Barbara was raised. This notion we pondered for a longtime, becoming weary of the long struggles within the family and our immediate community. This notion entailed much waiting, and when a decision was ultimately made, planning ensued over many weeks.
My youngest brother Jake would take over the farm following the negotiation of an agreeable price, inclusive of a dairy herd and farm machinery. The transaction was completed in March of 1983. I and Barbara remained another four months following the sale of our share of the farm, allowing me the opportunity to more closely care for my four siblings, despite their decisions to staying in homes elsewhere. Every day I would leave home and walk from home to home, to apply massages and body manipulation I had learned during the times I spent at Spears Hospital. The Doctors taught me much in the line of chiropractic care. Consequently, I now put this learning into practice, as I had already been doing for a number of years caring for each of them. To do so now, entailed a five-mile run every day. I deeply cherished and enjoyed this treasured time yet with them before we would leave them and the haunts of my youth with its childhood joys, together with the bitter memories of the recent past.
The thought of finally leaving and escaping the harsh realities of our present circumstances left in me a joy unspeakable, on the other hand, the sense of loss in leaving my siblings and the rest of the family, perhaps for all time, was heart wrenching to the core, I could not bear the thought. From the beginning of our lives, we had known no other life than the one we shared in our father’s house. This may not make sense to those outside the Amish-Mennonite culture, but in spite of the bitter strife that often takes place behind the scenes; the soul-ties within family members are nevertheless extremely binding. In light of this, the closer the time came for us to leave the greater the tension grew between us, the atmosphere became charged, mainly there was mute silence between us, no jesting or idle talk, only waiting in dread for the inevitable. In the interim however, one of my siblings decided to go along with us and make his home with us in the hills of Pennsylvania, which was a deep consolation to my heart, and it lessoned the blow of separation.
Meanwhile, I helped my brother Jake on the farm that summer, which included replacing the roof on their large horse and dairy barn. In this way, the summer days passed swiftly towards the long anticipated day of escape to the solitude of the Pennsylvania hills—a homecoming for Barbara. We had recently bought a sixty-acre farm neatly nestled upon the crest of “Sam Hill,” within a mile from where she had grown up. Our hopes ran high, we could dream once again. We were excited about our beautiful farm we had acquired and looked forward to make that an empire for our growing family for the rest of our lives, plus the sweet fellowship we knew we would find there among many of the brotherhood in that church. Once there, we anticipated our troubles to be over, little did we know however, what awaited us. God graciously kept these things from our knowledge. ….Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew Math, 6:34.6:34.
Guilty As Charged
Before our move to Barbara’s home community, many within the church had been communicating with us concerning this newfound faith we were experiencing in Missouri. Therefore, it was with great anticipation they waited for our coming and to discover the deeper things of God found in His Word. Even so, by some, there was still a measure of doubt and mistrust. There is an inherent spirit of fear in we Amish in things we cannot understand, especially so, when it concerned the things of the Spirit. Within a years time however, by far the greater part of the church would come to the knowledge of salvation.
The day for moving finally came on August 15, 1983. This was the big day we were to load our belongings, together with Enos and Bertha Yoder on a semi trailer to leave for our new Pennsylvania home. The atmosphere was pregnant with tense forebodings, mingled with the dreaded knowledge that my extended family structure would forever be changed on this day. Many people came by to help us with loading the truck, after which time came the saddening final embraces with those we were leaving behind. It made for a very intense and sobering moment. That evening, I, Barbara, five children with Peter, one of my siblings left the home of my childhood, never to return. It was our goal to settle down in our new home in the hills of Pennsylvania, and to quietly live out the rest of our lives in solitude, having no clue that our much-anticipated joy in Pennsylvania would eventually become a fleeting shadow…..
We would get to enjoy our beautiful new home and the new surroundings for not more than three years, before we once again would have to flee persecution—our crime; delving deeper into intimacy with the Lord together with a group of recently born again believers. The leader, Dannie D. Troyer, a young deacon, whom I developed a close connection with in the past year, was a great inspiration to us in moving into this community. But for now, we would enjoy the newly found fellowship of many within our new church—many who, through initial encounters with me found new life in Christ, which I so ardently lived and taught. It would not be long until many in the church could no longer refrain from gathering together many times throughout the week for fellowship, and delving into the scriptures as layers of revelation opened up to them. In the following year many in the church joined-in and found this previously unknown peace, joy and freedom that is only found through intimacy with Christ.
Some of these early contenders for the faith were, besides Dannie, a number of his brothers joined in, George and Lydia Yoder, my brother-in-law, Amos and Rhoda Schwartz together with his brother Samuel and his wife Lydia, and eventually many others.
But it was not long until the leadership in the church, who took a dim view of such activities, found this out. As this newfound life could no longer be ignored or stopped within the swelling number of new Believers, the pressures mounted, ending up in strife between the new Believers and the leadership. Once again, the life of the quiet woman and her family was shattered. Their peaceful home in the hills proved not to be immune to the vicious attacks of those opposed to the evidence of authentic birth-pangs of revival in their midst.
This time the conflict could not be contained within the local church, as it spilled out over all the Amish churches throughout the eastern states. It became so severe that within a short time the believers within the church began scattering in many directions. Within the Amish system, there is no safe place for escape for those who come to this level of intimacy in Christ as all these have, consequently, they end up leaving for other parts, seeking out fellowshipping various Christian movements. But for my family, and me leaving the Amish church at this time was not an option even as desperate as the situation was. Even so, we had no clue how we would survive within the church if we remained. Why we were not allowed to leave the Amish at this time remained a mystery, we only knew we could not. Both Barbara and I had this undeniable revelation, it seemed the Lord sealed this deep within us. Had we left, all the pressures we were under would have disappeared, yet, we could not leave, even when the majority of those who came to the faith did.
For many years, while still living in Missouri, we dreamed big dreams of returning to Barbara’s home stomping grounds, together with a new vision for revival. Now in a matter of three years all our hopes and dreams were dashed and shattered, our hearts were deeply crushed and forsaken not only by the home church, but also by those whom we so carefully had nurtured to the faith where Christ was formed in them. Had we been able to follow them it would greatly have lessoned the blow. It took us a long time to overcome our shattered dreams we so ardently held on to for our Pennsylvania empire. Healing was a long time in coming, even so, little did we know, this was only the beginning.
One of those who with his family left at this time–after many years, has come back to me with a word of apology, for making such a hasty retreat from the community at the time when the pressures mounted, and in forsaking us. Today, this brother, Amos Schwartz with his wife Rhoda, and their whole family carry a powerful testimony for Christ. Their tender and broken hearts speak volumes. The pain, and rejection they have experienced in their lives has worked wonders in them. Their shining testimony is reaching distant lands.
After all these people left, Barbara and I again sought the Lord out of desperation, somehow, seeking deliverance from our dilemma. For we again, were in a very tight spot, with not only our local church, but also many other Amish communities around the eastern seaboard as well, which in a short time expanded on a national scale. With the exception of but one additional family, we again found ourselves alone. Being alone, and singled-out, we were vulnerable to attacks now from throughout the Amish system. Many wanted to see us expelled and banned. Leaders of various communities throughout the land came together, holding secret meetings, and dialoging as to how they should best deal with us.
This tension and turmoil spanned the duration of seven years, the combined years we spent in two different communities in Pennsylvania. Throughout all this time, I was never given a voice in my defense nor was I ever given any opportunity to testify of my faith to anyone, or to refute the false charges that were continually coming against me. The inflated charges multiplied with time, coming from every direction, and from Amish communities everywhere. I could not understand what was happening, I was hurting no one, nor was I resisting authority; I was not even in the ministry or officially preaching the Gospel. My crime seemed to rest on the evidence that men and women were coming to the knowledge of salvation.
In agonizing suspense we waited for the dreaded verdict to fall, which would ultimately come: “Guilty as charged!” Which, when it would come, would forever separate us from any further communication among our beloved people, denying any future relationship with them, including with my own siblings. The pain of such a scenario would crush our lives seemingly beyond hope of ever fulfilling our call in life. Yet the mandate and the mantle the Lord placed on us remained, we simply could not avoid it, as often as we attempted to–we could not escape.
The Blessing of Open Arms
While we were walking under these dark clouds, we were unable to fully comprehend that God had us safely in His hand, and would not allow anyone to touch us beyond what He would allow. I would discover years later, that I, and not the people, was often Gods greatest problem. He was allowing extreme tests, but He also wanted me to find his peace even when in the midst of these fiery trials, lest I would be found untrustworthy of the mandate He placed upon me, already back in Missouri.1 Cor. 9:27.
While such dark impenetrable clouds roll over you, one does not have the capacity to observe and discern clearly. One gets caught up and focused on the situation at hand while missing the whole picture of what God is accomplishing in our lives. It is only when the clouds clear away and the Sun breaks through that we realize that God was indeed in control through it all revealing His grand purpose for our lives.
It than so happened that God had an avenue of escape prepared for us at this time. Quite unsuspectingly, a small Amish community surfaced close by and opened their arms to us. They invited Barbara and I to come and live in their community. The embrace we received from this new community served as a haven, and an escape from the torrent of persecution abroad. It was with extreme joy that God opened up for us this window through these dear brothers and sisters who opened their arms to us, especially the senior elder Emery Weaver, he not only opened his arms to us but immediately supplied us with a job at one of his pallet mills in the midst of their community.
It was then on a beautiful spring day in 1986, that we moved most of our household goods with team and wagon, and moved on a place we rented from one of the local farmers there. This community was like 20 miles from where we lived, and was also in Snyder county. With sad broken hearts, we left our beautiful home on the crest of Sam Hill. The home we had built our dreams upon, where Barbara had spent most of her girlhood years–never to return. Another shattered dream and another move that violently wrenched us out of our comfort zone into parts unknown.
Thankfully, however, we found solace and a retreat as we entered this new community nestled between two mountain ranges–Shade and Jacks Mountains. Even though we did not know these people very well, they will never know, what it meant to us to meet such friendly faces and unfeigned acceptance, our hearts were overflowing even if these were somewhat strange surroundings for us. These dear brothers reached out to us at the peril and cost to their own connections and relationships with the churches from where the came from.
Emery Weaver, who was the spiritual father of the community, remained a constant inspiration to us. If there were men in my life that mentored or shielded me, he was one of them. To my dying day, I shall be grateful for his fatherly blessing and protection. But even as we settled in here the storm of slander about the region was still raging around us, as the surrounding leaders were still threatening us.
It was during this time that I began appealing to a widely known bishop Jacob Stoltzfus from Brush Valley, PA, for assistance against all the vicious slander, and false reports. For two years, I worked with him with seeming good results, for he well knew that these false charges would never hold up in a court of law. But even so, in the end, he forsook me as well, for he was unable to cope with the pressures that came in connection with me. Many different meetings took place at this time among the various Amish communities concerning my situation and how they could best deal with it.
In one of these meetings, which was a large one, and represented by many communities in the East—though I was not invited, I was to be represented by three bishops that I did not know—who were to speak in my behalf. Yet, these bishops, never came and talked with me, or investigated my situation, nor asked for my testimony–yet, they were called upon to represent me in my defense. They were quickly overruled however, by the opposition during the course of this meeting. As I thought over my discouraging dilemma, I was reminded of our civil court system–here I would have received a fair trial, as it was, it was a losing proposition. Consequently, in the end, I was condemned without trial.
It was at this time that Emery Weaver with his wife Maryann asked me to accompany them to a mid-western community, in Middlebury Indiana to which I complied. It was here that we consulted several Amish bishops to consider coming out and helping us in our dilemma. It was also during this time that I was ordained into the ministry in this small community.
It was with the deepest joy and with great honor to officially preach the gospel to my beloved people. My messages stirred the hearts of the people with a new hope, a hope that had substance, versus the empty religious jargon that had for centuries defiled the original Anabaptist message of redemption through the Blood of Christ. So, it happened that the fires of revival burned once again in this small community, whereby many came to a saving knowledge of Christ as Savior and Lord.
This in turn again stoked the fires of severe persecution. I knew because of this, that anathema was about to come upon my head from all directions. It was at this time that I became extremely weary of these battles that I began reasoning with Barbara about the possibility of backing off a little, and perhaps accept and acknowledge some of their accusations, as outrageous and unreasonable as they were. I reasoned with her that perhaps we could concede and confess to such charges, while at the same time avoiding denial the ways and means of the Lord working in and through us. Perhaps this act would relieve the pressures. In this way, I hoped to diffuse the wrath of the leaders spearheading my ouster within the church, and the ultimate ban and excommunication.
Barbara however, the quiet and reserved woman that she was, was nevertheless a woman of unshakable faith. She quietly but firmly stated her position: if I wanted to acknowledge these accusations at the cost of our Redeemer, than I may do so, but never with her consent. I was shocked and truly amazed at her gumption and boldness in standing firm in the face of such vicious opposition as gentle and quiet as she otherwise was. Once again, she had encouraged me to refuse to relent under the pressures to conform to their religious system—and their religious attacks. Even so, I had become extremely weary of it all.
Many years afterward, I would forever be thankful beyond expression for my wife’s quiet but firm resolve within one of our darkest hours of testing. Her resolution carried us through, at a time when I had considered compromise yielding to the pressures placed upon me by the adversary. Barbara keenly understood the extreme pressure I was under to conform. Her discernment and quiet resolve won out in the end, and paved the way for true light to be shed upon the true path of life, never once concerned about the cost of such a decision. This again paved the way to the next phase of our lives, which seemed to go from crisis to crisis. We no longer knew what a normal life was like, we just existed from day too day, preparing ourselves for the next blow that would surely come, yet not knowing which way it would come from.
Forgiveness is Tested
One day a group of young Nebraska Amish families, who lived nearby invited me to join them for an evening of fellowship. They hoped I could answer their growing questions concerning the faith. At first, I hedged on this because of the extreme pressures I was already under, due to the fact that Church leadership was monitoring my every move. They were zealously trying to catch me evangelizing again.
In this regard, I was a marked man and to be avoided by the community. For a long time following, whenever I passed people during a day’s routine, they often reacted with a jolt and a start–their eyes would pop open in shock, upon which they would turn abruptly, quickly fleeing the opposite direction. Others, out of curiosity would slink about, venture a question or two and then just as quickly exit from my presence. I had no idea what I was doing to cause such reactions; yet, I would repeatedly see these reactions wherever I went. It was both funny, yet, saddening, for I was neither a criminal nor a lawbreaker, even within the Amish system.
But these young Nebraska couples were seeking the true living waters. They assured me that our gatherings would remain confidential and safe for me to visit with them, so I relented and went. About 11:00 PM, that night the parents of these three young couples suddenly charged into the house and immediately began raging against me. Someone had betrayed us. The young men–surprised as they were at this sudden interruption, stepped between us, attempting to take full responsibility for my presence. They told their parents that they had issued the invitation for me to visit them and that I had nothing to do with it. Yet, their parents never took notice or heard a word they had spoken. They were going to make an example out of me by reporting this meeting all over the area. The air quickly became charged as the rumor mill steadily kept grinding out and flashing the latest reports–this deceiver–Ben Girod is now deceiving the Nebraska Amish as well.
It was not long after this, that the gavel sounded, and the verdict was out: “guilty as charged.” a community ban was placed on our family and, excommunication was final. Perhaps half of all the Amish churches in the U.S. honored that ban, and declared me a heretic. The stigma and shame attached to this label was overwhelming, for by now, I was a nationally known heretic. The inevitable had happened–we would now join the ranks of hundreds of other Amish outcasts before us, whose lives were shattered under a stigma of shame and suspicion never to be accepted among Amish society again–ever!
People might present a friendly face after that, but the stigma of shame, and the looming wall of separation would remain forever. But somehow, for Barbara and I, due to the vast uproar throughout the Amish system, the disgrace was magnified, it shook the whole Amish system from its very foundations–from coast to coast, many were reeling in doubt, no longer sure what to believe. All those who had been near and dear to us in life, including most of our close relatives, even my brothers and sisters, now shunned us.
Yes, the Lord was with us, but it felt like the path became darker and we battled feelings of loneliness, rejection and uncertainty. This season of life continually drove us into the bosom of our Creator–living one day at a time, never knowing what the next turn of events would be.
In the meantime, evil reports kept circulating. Our mailbox was inundated with letters containing accusation and false reports. Somehow, we received the Grace to continue to stand firm in the face of widespread rejection. There was one bright spot in this ruling, however It sent tremors and shock waves throughout the Amish system. For many, its historical traditions were now in question, causing people to consciously check for cracks in its walls or in its stability to continue to stand. It would be much later that we realized, that for the first time in generations, the Amish church was compelled to do some soul searching, and to begin questioning if their faith was founded on the sure Word of God.
Meanwhile, it was no secret, that some in the church community were living a rather carnal lifestyle. Consequently, their sudden transformation in Christ set off another firestorm that had a tremendous impact on numerous young families in a nearby conservative Amish community.
Once again, revival was swept in by God’s grace. This revival was reminiscent of the ones we experienced in both, Bowling Green Missouri, and Snyder County Pennsylvania. These three consecutive revivals broke all former records of influencing the Amish people on a national scale. Many Amish bishops were in a frenzy lest their ancient and invincible system of rules and regulations begin to crumble and the foundations of tradition shaken. Due to these shakings, it would be but a matter of time when many of their members would not only question the validity of their system, but also begin to search out the truth on their own.
To this day 25 years later, there is a revival sweeping through many of these communities throughout the nation, having its roots in this small community near Beaver Springs PA. This was unprecedented among the Amish people. Many came into the community to see the sights of this newly transformed church, Sadly however, because of the extreme pressure that was exerted on this small isolated church, they soon were scattered to other parts, some now live as far away as Montana. Again, what happened here and continues to happen among the Amish, the bishops are now faced with the reality that changes are coming to their churches, and they can no longer stop it as in former times. To this day, the effect of the ban is now losing its terror and power; people no longer fear its dark forebodings as in years past.
Three years previous to these happenings in Beaver Springs, PA, while still living on our beautiful farm on Sam hill, I had received a very personal word from the Lord. Through this, I understood that a mandate of the Lord was placed upon us to continue bringing the message of hope and redemption to our people even though they would despise me for it (Ez. 2:3-8). This word was given with such undeniable clarity that it was impossible for me to avoid it as much as I would have wanted to.
One night, we had a very rare and unusual experience. Now, as I look back in retrospect, I believe the word the Lord gave me was confirmed later that night. At a very late hour an outside door to our house opened and closed repeatedly, over the course of several minutes. We believe that God sent an angel to open and close the door, signaling us to move on. Whether an angel or not, it was the hand of God showing us that the harvest field was waiting for us, far beyond our scope or capacity to understand. Our destiny was waiting.
The shock of being cast-out and rejected by the people we loved and respected was huge. Seeking the Lord, we wondered what to do next. I began looking to other sectors of the Amish church that had no association with my former churches to see if I could possibly have some kind of dialogue with them in my present situation. Even among them, my situation was now common knowledge, which, by this time, had extended the shaking in their coasts. It was at this time that six senior bishops from the Midwest agreed to come and investigate the matter. When they came, they not only interviewed me, but numerous other sources as well who were involved in this ruling, including bishop Jacob Stoltzfus. For days, they deliberated the trauma that so deeply scandalized my growing family before coming to a final decision. In the end, they found no scriptural basis for this ban; Consequently they lifted it, setting us free from this painful stigma.
There is a reward waiting for these six bishops some of whom traveled many hundreds of miles to come to our aid, spending time, money, and much prayer in our behalf. Four of these have at this time, gone on to their eternal reward.
Even after their findings, the former opposing churches nevertheless refused to lift the ban, yet, leaving them in perplexity as to the choices they must make in the situation. But it nevertheless, was a welcome reprieve for Barbara and I as we could freely breathe once again, even if former relationships remained shattered, it was simply something we had to live with. For the next three years, we remained in the community during which time we developed new friendships. Hope was ultimately renewed and we once again began to believe we would one day find a quiet and peaceful place among our people, where the Gospel of the Kingdom would freely abound. We desperately longed for peace and uninterrupted fellowship. This appeared to be an unattainable goal, yet we could always hope for something better. Every time we became discouraged, we found that hope in the Lord. Man simply cannot exist without hope, and when it is gone, there is nothing to live for. Hopelessness is a dark abyss–a terrorizing gulf–a bottomless pit. Insanity originates from the devils domain….Christ was our refuge, in Him we kept our sanity!
Christ Our Refuge
It was a beautiful autumn day in late September,1989. The Mid-West was full of fall color as the maple trees took into their leaves the beautiful hues of red and yellow. For me this was always a special time of year, especially when living on a farm as we were now doing. I also felt a degree of melancholy, having by now been far removed from my roots and everything that had been dear to me.
Once again, we were in a new environment, and in a new State. The sadness of losing old friends and associates was difficult, but we now had high hopes of associating with fellow believers with the various communities scattered over central Michigan.
While still living in Pennsylvania we had become aware of numerous scattered Amish communities in the State of Michigan where the doctrine of the new birth was not only an accepted fact, but also they preached and required it for baptism. When we heard about this, we were so overjoyed at the news that I with others made a special trip to Mio, Michigan to investigate these exciting reports. To my utter amazement, I found these reports to be true.
It was not often in my life that I felt such exaltation of joy and peace, with the holy presence of the Lord, as I did on this visit to Mio. The impression and the aroma of this visit still remains with me to this day.
These dear people accepted us with open arms, which instilled within me a new hope. Time, testing and trials had caused me to wonder if God had forsaken the Amish. I battled this fear often and it was in Mio, Michigan that I regained new hope for my people.
A seeming peaceful atmosphere reigned over this community wherever I went among them. Truly, this was for us, a new day of hopes revived. I remembered the words of David, “I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living”. Ps, 27:13. NKJV.
After this, we searched out a community in Michigan to become part of this new move among the Amish. Thus, we ended up within the small fledgling group in Elsie, MI. Once we settled in our new farm of 40 acres, we felt such joy, it was tangible, even indescribable.
We had forgotten what it meant to be free, to hold our heads up and look around, to smell the flowers, and to know the freedom like the warbling meadowlark. We had not experienced such joy since the day the Lord met us back in Missouri. It was with great anticipation that we looked forward to the sweet fellowship with the small group, together with the various communities round about. Rarely, did I ever bubble over with such joy. The prospect of this newfound fellowship among fellow believers overflowed in jubilation.
Having no supplemental income, which was needed at the time, I went into our local town to seek such. I began working at the town’s only lumberyard, and was soon yard foreman. I greatly enjoyed the work, and loved interacting with customers and was soon well known in the local community. It was a great opportunity to interact and testify of the Lord to the many customers I waited on, on a daily basis. It was here where I worked for the next three years, using my bicycle for transportation–a five mile ride each day. In addition to the job in the lumberyard, I also managed a small hog operation on our farm. These undertakings in addition to home-schooling our children, made for a very busy schedule for the whole family during those first years in this new community.
A few families started this community two years previous. As time progressed other, families moved in who were also seeking a deeper discovery of the Word of God and a personal relationship with the Lord.
Again, my joy was unlimited when I saw the many inquiring and seeking hearts, hearts that were burning for the undiscovered realms in Gods Word. I now envisioned a growing community where we would experience unhindered fellowship–freely worshipping to our hearts desire. These were unknown dimensions of fellowship within the bounds of Amish traditions, they were revolutionary–breaking through the barriers of accepted orthodoxy. Consequently, a major reaction from the surrounding communities was in the waiting.
Slowly, this fledgling community began to explore the vast possibilities of the Kingdom. We knew, there was much more out there. We also knew, much of what we were seeking was off-limits to even some believing elements of the Amish. In fact, we soon began to realize that we were treading on some very sensitive biblical issues that went beyond the accepted orthodoxy, even among these surrounding churches. The doctrine of the “New Birth” was the limits these churches generally tolerated, anything beyond that was looked upon with suspicion.
When it came to issues such as; being filled with the Spirit, physical healing, midweek bible studies, speaking in tongues, or prophecy, were not only off-limits, but also generally unacceptable. In regard to these issues, this little community would in due time come under severe scrutiny, together with the fires of persecution for embracing these biblical doctrines.
In spite of this, we slowly and carefully, kept moving forward to new and undiscovered spiritual realms never desiring to flaunt or advertise our faith. But as of now, our community was still in it’s developing stages, both in the natural and spiritual, where eventually, it would break through the barriers of legalism and the prevailing orthodoxy beyond anything seen in recent Amish history.
Self verses The Savior
Little did I know, it was this new community where God had prepared a man with his wife, Roy and Mary Yoder to become life long friends and partners in ministry. Over time, I saw how he proved to be a friend closer than a brother (Prov. 18:24). Before long, our connections began to develop into a trusting relationship, a relationship that in the following twenty years would be severely tested again, and again, especially for them being connected with this Amish outcast, Ben Girod.
But from this point on, we fought in the trenches of spiritual and religious warfare together, where we stood under all manner of attacks, both from within and without. Roy and Mary never faltered because God had sovereignly prepared them by His grace for what lie ahead. They had repeatedly experienced the Lord’s mighty ways of sustaining them through many fiery trials.
God’s mercy over this couple cannot be overstated. Many years later, Roy was close to death from a long-term affliction, which caused him great suffering. Mary was alone during this ordeal and desperately held an all night vigil before the lord for Roy.
Suddenly at 3:00 AM, heaven invaded their home. Roy didn’t expect to see another day, all of a sudden got up wondering what had happened–his pain and sickness were gone. Roy’s time on earth was not over–God had a great deal more in store for them to accomplish for His kingdom.
The powers of darkness and evil are unrelenting and it is always their intention to discourage, divide and de-rail, God’s plans and purpose.
And such was the case now. The velocity of spiritual attacks through all manner of accusations and evil reports was rampant. However, we continued trusting the Lord and working together, resulting in this small community becoming consumed with finding the undiscovered joys of the Lord in fresh and personal dimensions. We began looking beyond the sphere of the Amish traditions which had traditionally been the religious glue holding them together. To my amazement, and despair, it would be among the believing churches herein Michigan that the legalistic spirit raised its fearful dark features in a way that surpassed even that of my own Swiss environment, and the churches I originally came from.
History bears out that the Anabaptists started their movement under the leadership of Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz and George Blaurock. They experienced perhaps the greatest insurgence of Holy Spirit power since the time of the Apostles. This movement flourished under the fires of severe persecution for two hundred years. Because of the powerful anointing following these early leaders, this revival spread over most of Europe, Russia, and eventually to North and South America. However, in the past one hundred years we have become known as “the quiet people in the land.” This phrase has its roots in our history in Europe and Russia, wherein we made an agreement with their governments to lay aside our fire for evangelism in exchange for our freedom to live peaceably in the land.
This was the beginning of the end of our former shining example of evangelism—perpetuated by fire, water, and the sword. It was now my goal, to re-dig those wells of salvation and lead others to these same living waters, from which my ancestors drank in Christ. Attaining it, I would soon discover would come at a high price.
A price I was not be prepared for at the time. Nor could I understand that living waters of this dimension can be attained only through a living-sacrifice and exposure of self in a depth I had not yet reached. Unknowingly, there were still issues locked in my heart that needed exposure. These obstacles of “self” would be removed through the next several years. God had a way of removing them–a time worn method–He would use others around me to bring that about.
My heart aches when I think that we Amish and Mennonites could completely lose our first love for Jesus. Even more troubling is what would follow; our the candlestick, representing the light of Christ being removed.
Without feeling, thinking or believing I have any self righteous legs to stand on, I tremble when I consider that the fire and the power of God, we once possessed has long since given way to a legalistic and religious system with a strong emphasis on performance. Rev, 2:4-5.
Somewhere along the way, the familiar confines of form and tradition, along with a deep-seated fear of the Holy Spirit, has taken control of many Anabaptist hearts.
This was continually in evidence, in both we Amish, as well as the Mennonites. We began avoiding anything that appeared mystic, or having any resemblance of an unknown spiritual level. Such superstition has gripped our minds for many generations. What couldn’t be explained or defined with the natural mind, we generally rejected. God did not show me these errors quickly, but revealed them as time passed. It was staggering at times to discern the depth we had fallen from our true inheritance. Oh God, I pray, restore the burning first love for Jesus, of our forefathers. Untold numbers who died for that love.
So here, we found ourselves among a scattering of Amish churches that looked at themselves as now possessing a revolutionary faith in Christ—a faith that went beyond Amish orthodoxy but not consistent Biblical Truth. They believed in a personal salvation through Christ as a prelude to baptism. Beyond this however, one came under suspicion. These churches also developed a bond of outward unity wherein they could work together in harmony. They agreed upon certain codes and doctrines wherein they could flow in unhindered fellowship. At the beginning, when we first entered into fellowship with these churches, I felt sure our troubles were finally over as we surveyed this new spiritual landscape.
Learning to Stand in the Gap of Forgiveness
It would be years before I began to understand how God was using the trials of excommunication to prepare me for His purposes. Standing in the gap, is the phrase used by the KJV of the Bible, when describing the Prophet Ezekiel’s call to pray for his people Israel, for protection, healing and deliverance.
Similarly, this mandate of standing in gap for the Anabaptist nation, slowly unfolded in my soul and spirit, as God’s design for me. (Ezekiel 22:30). Had I understood what God was doing at the time, the trials and sufferings may have been more tolerable. It seems that God often withholds revelation of His ultimate design for our lives for the purposes of refining, purifying, and preparing us for these callings. So in essence, these fiery trials were for my refining, and God always means it for good, even if others do not.
Time passed, and others began to move into our new community. The freedom of worship was particularly attractive to the newcomers. We slowly but persistently moved beyond the accepted Amish orthodoxy in our worship services–not much, but little by little. We also began a midweek prayer service every Tuesday evening. It was in these meetings where the Holy Spirit began moving in mighty ways, setting people free, sick people were healed, and the power of God fell, sweeping the congregation, repeatedly.
At the onset of these happenings, news of our spiritual renewal began slowly sifting out to the other Amish communities. Without hesitation, we anticipated a joyful reaction, supposing people would celebrate freedom in Christ. Our expectations were mistaken and we were not prepared for the outcome. Even though these churches preached the Gospel and the “New Birth”, we soon discovered, some of the people firmly gripped the old” Amish traditions” which continued to be their foremost concern. The Cross-, if it was preached at all, was a secondary matter. It seemed at times, there was competition among the various churches to overshadow each other in streamlining their church regulations and performances.
All that was happening in our community seemingly became a focus and threat, plus we became the target of subtle innuendo and unfounded speculation. In my innocence, I refused to believe that this was happening or that it was coming from those we trust, love, and respect–I just would not believe it… yet, as time went on, it was undeniable. I suddenly became aware of the rumor-mill that is so prevalent in other Amish communities was no different here, except it was more elusive. Ominous clouds were gathering, suspicion was heavy in the air, wagging tongues and slanderous reports that were making its circles were superfluous, without merit, or even given any consideration.
To my dismay, it became a repeated nightmare of our previous experiences.
It would take me years to digest the reality that such insults would come from those you trusted–from fellow believers. It all felt surreal and strange. As the situation unraveled, it became clear that this set of circumstances went beyond what we had encountered in any other church or community in the past.
Apart from the loving presence of God, my wife and family, plus our new and good friends, Roy and Mary Yoder, we found ourselves isolated and misunderstood.
The one bright spot and consolation during those years in Michigan was the window of opportunity God provided in bringing the Gospel message to Amish people in various communities in Indiana, Ohio and other States. I, Together with Roy, who stood like solid rock through it all, preached the gospel to multitudes in the Midwest over a period of 10 years, where literally hundreds if not thousands of desperate Amish seekers who soaked in the good news of the free gift of Salvation through Christ.
This fire was being spread in the midst of continual and severe opposition from many points. Even so, it was with utmost joy to see so many being touched of the Lord wherever we went. To see souls saved and inspired in the Spirit was my deep passion for our struggling people who were seeking for something that had substance.
Throughout these long weary years I longed for a loving father’s heart that would accept me–someone who would be willing to shield me. I deeply desired for equal opportunities and acceptance from others to dialogue with, without fear or suspicion. I gladly would have shared my heart and my testimony openly. But such opportunity was never granted. I was kept at arm’s-length through fear and suspicion, never given an opportunity to clear myself from those shameful reports throughout those ten years. These darts always came from a safe distance–fear and control carefully concealed under a cloak of being concerned for us.
Unknown to me, God was preparing a special spiritual father elsewhere, when once we come to the next phase of our lives. In due time it would be revealed. Without flinching, Barbara and my family, consistently stood with me, as a deep source of consolation during those 10 years of firestorms. Indeed, our children also felt the pain their parents carried through those years of anguish. Yet, the Lord continued to give us signs along the way that He was with us. One night, one of our sons rode his bike home from prayer meeting. Suddenly he noticed the large maple trees by the house softly glowing with the appearance of being illuminated. Others reported seeing the same thing on their way to school. At other times, angels were seen by different ones at different times, miraculous healings would repeatedly take place among them. Such miracles consistently followed us from the time of our initial encounter in Missouri to this day. This truly was the Lords mercy and provision for our comfort during the times of being alone and forsaken by the only people, family and community we had ever known.
Because of the turmoil, the youth from the surrounding communities kept their distance from our youth and community. It was a rare thing if they did visit our children, but our children never became bitter. Barbara and I are eternally grateful for each of our children who demonstrated godly patience and perseverance during those dark stormy years. To this day, they have honorably served the Lord, and with due respect continued to honor their parents. Each according to their age are as follows; Esther, Mary, Cornelius, Benjamin B, Priscilla, Emily, Stephan, J Marcus, and Josephine Eileen, whom we call Jolene. All these, though they carry a mark of suffering are nevertheless a joyful and happy group, each walking in their unique calling and vocation.
All are now married except J Marcus, and Jolene and we are overwhelmingly blessed with 17 grandchildren at this time.
Forgiveness is Way in the Wilderness
God’s ways are certainly not our ways and learning to trust Him when it makes no sense is part of growing in Christ. It wasn’t long, before we were directed in a completely astounding direction. In what I can only refer to as a prophetic revelation, we knew that our next home would be in the Western State of Idaho.
This astonished and somewhat stunned me, for it made no sense. I could see no benefit or reason for moving to Idaho. But to stay where I was had no meaning either. Even so, I struggled and fiercely resisted such a untested move, thinking it foolishness and folly. What would other people think?
When God moves, He often moves with rapid suddenness. And this was certainly the case in our move from Michigan to Idaho.
Barbara and I not only had the distinct revelation that we must go, it was a surprise to me that she wanted to go.
So, we began to prepare for a move West. Aside from that, I had always been impressed with the rugged beauty of the western states, especially since the time I was in Colorado with my siblings.
Yet, I had not even remotely thought I would someday be living in this vast, unspoiled region of mountains, valleys, beautiful lakes, rivers, and clear sparkling streams.
We made all the preparations and finally the day arrived for our move, once again into an unknown horizon. On September 7, 2000, we arrived at the house we had purchased, in some of the most strikingly beautiful country I had ever seen. Once settled in our new home, the beauty was indescribable but so was the deep pain and unspoken sorrow in my soul. As I looked back, it dawned on me that I had left the people of my fathers, and the land of my youth. Everything familiar was left behind. In the deepest sense of the word, we were now displaced, forsaken and removed from all that was near to our hearts, in a strange land, in the back woods of North Idaho. My heart was torn and bleeding, often in the night, out of the deep recesses of my soul I could not withhold my groaning. Such was the pain and anguish I felt for the unspeakable loss.
We were in a strange land, among a strange people, isolated from friends and neighbors. I really was experiencing cultural shock. Barbara however, and the family loved it. They loved the vast and wild landscape with all its deer, elk, moose, and bears. All of our children immediately began exploring the many trails, mountains, canyons, and lakes, for them this was the adventure of a lifetime, this is a dream come true–for them this was home. But of me, our first year in this new land was difficult. It seemed my feelings of isolation increased as I tried to make a rhyme or reason of our lives, which seemed to have lost its purpose. A large part of my dilemma was I had no other human to turn to, no one to welcome us; not a word of encouragement anywhere. Even though I wasn’t, I felt alone.
The family was happy and exploring the countryside, but I had lost my identity, all my relatives and friends have become strangers to me and my soul was numbed.
Exploring our property even became a challenge. There were both, deep valleys and high hills and I frequently feared I would get lost in this far out-of-the-way wilderness.
Now, I understand it all to be part of God’s plan in preparing us, especially me for His purposes and not my own. Sometimes, God lovingly pry’s our fingers off of emotional attachments so He can fill our hearts with the work of eternity. In my human soul, I was learning that He not only makes a way in the wilderness but He provides everything we needed to make the journey in wholeness and health.
Our move West was His plan. Now I understand that but those early days, weeks and months challenged the very core of this Amish man’s soul.
Life in the way we had known it before was over, God was now moving us into a far greater purpose of His—grand and eternal plan of redemption, and that for all men, including the whole body of fractured, wounded, and divided Anabaptist people world-wide.
It is true, Jesus redeemed mankind via the Cross-and His resurrection, yet redemption is an ongoing continuing work, as God seeks to heal, restore, and reconcile men to Himself, teaching His people how to partner with Him in this great exercise of salvation.
He captured my heart, little by little, resurrecting my spirit and gripping my soul with Paul’s message of reconciliation and ambassadorship (2 Cor. 5:18-21).I began to understand that we truly are the voice of Christ on earth, being His ambassadors of redemption, healing and reconciliation (1 Cor. 1:30)
Shortly before we left Michigan an Elderly Mennonite pastor, Albert Zehr, came to visit me, he had heard of us and he came for the express purpose to encourage us. He was originally from Ontario, Canada, but was now living in Vancouver, Canada. Albert was connected with the “Watchmen For the Nations Ministry”. After we came to Idaho, we continued and developed our relationship, not realizing that this was my introduction in reaching beyond our Amish church culture and connections. We were ultimately invited to visit them and their church–the church of Zion, in Vancouver, which we did. The kind reception we received from the Chinese pastor Gideon Chui, was such that it defied all else I known before within the context of the body of Christ.
I saw in this church fellowship that the ebb and flow of Christ’s body is not controlled by nor hindered by cultural barriers but flowed freely because of them. This was the lesson I learned from Gideon, which began to open my eyes, and broaden my view of the church. They received we Amish without hesitation or question.
We were received just as we were–Amish people.
This was new to us! Up until now, we had never been exposed to this aspect or facet of the body of Christ. Suddenly, we saw a picture, a model if you will of how the Church should look and flow–coming out of every culture, being pure and spotless, holy, without fear, and with unsurpassed beauty, overriding cultural barriers, becoming one, and flowing in unhindered fellowship, with Christ being the center–a fulfillment of, John 17:21. This was something I have for years dreamed about, but now my eyes had seen it here in this multi–cultural church of Zion in Vancouver, Canada. New expectations began stirring in my heart once again.
The Power of Blessing
Our time in Canada contained more direction and revelation than realized. During our visit some of us were invited to join a delegation of Five hundred Canadians on a repentance mission to Israel headed by the Watchmen Team lead by David Damian. As we pondered and considered this invitation. We were stirred in our hearts, this was something new, it was going beyond our Anabaptist culture, and our hearts were being enlarged. This was our first introduction to the body of Christ at large. The realms of Gods kingdom suddenly began expanding. The undercurrent of excitement from deep within me could hardly be contained.
I, together with another Amish brother From Libby, MT joined this unprecedented journey to Israel. We left on an EL-AL flight 747 out of Toronto Canada. For ten days, we joined hands with this Canadian group in repentance towards the Jewish people.
For me, this was a very fulfilling mission, for I was keenly aware of the general anti- Semitic view by the greater portion of the Anabaptist world. Although I was unsure what to do about it, this weighed on my heart for years. Consequently, this repentance mission filled a void deep and prepared me for even further steps in this direction of supporting and blessing Israel.
Beyond this, a deeper relationship was being developed between us and the body of Christ as we connected with this Canadian delegation comprised of English and French Canadian believers. We shall always be indebted to the “Watchmen Leadership” for introducing us into the broader realms of the church and Gods kingdom. With great anticipation and excitement, we were now being introduced to an unexplored facet of the Kingdom, something that far exceeded that of the narrow confines of the Anabaptist world itself.
It was while on this mission of repentance and reconciliation to Israel that God prophetically spoke to me through a prophet who was present with this group. In this prophetic word, the lord firmly assured me, that in response to my obedience in the past, the ministry of reconciliation for the Anabaptist people is now moving to a new level in and through my life. At the moment, I was unable to comprehend its meaning, since I was now shut out by most of them. I could not at this point grasp how this was all going to come about–it was rather mind-boggling.
Yet I knew and understood, that man’s impossibilities are in fact Gods greatest opportunities to demonstrate His power and majesty. So, in faith, I waited for the unfolding of Gods grand plan of things, as impossible as it seemed. Quickly, I discovered, that God would again prove Himself faithful, as the promises within this prophetic word were rapidly revealed.
It was during this period of time where Jesus again encountered me in the night, wherein I was told that if I will trust Him with every petition I bring before Him, He would in turn move heaven and earth to answer it—nothing would stop Him from bringing it about. This took place in the confines of our bedroom as I was praying. I was briefly out of this realm as He spoke to me–an indescribable moment! By this, I finally knew and understood, that we were, in spite of all that had formerly taken place–still in Gods perfect plan. In light of these revelations my soul and spirit caught on fire once again, I became alive with hope, being gripped with a passion and resolve, to once again take up the baton and move forward. I could breath again, smell the flowers, take notice of my surroundings, and begin enjoying life.
Even then, I had little understanding where all this was going to lead, but I knew and understood that something beyond my comprehension was in the wings. Something that would lift us to a higher plain of fruitfulness for the Lord’s glory. In great suspense and expectancy, I waited on the Lord not knowing what was about to develop.
In a relatively short time we were made aware that we were about to embark on a historic moment, which only the Lord could accomplish.
The historical gulf of tradition, surrounding the Anabaptist people globally would be shaken. God was remembering the martyr’s blood that was spilled over European soil, its cry was reaching the Throne. God must answer it–redeem it–giving us another opportunity for repentance. The opportunity was given, not because we deserve it–far from it, but God extended His Grace to us in plan to liberate the Anabaptist people. His redeeming work included each one, who was broken, felt hopeless, lived fractured, and divided lives. This would touch Anabaptists on global scale. While my heart was ablaze for this fresh vision of the Lord, it honestly left me breathless as I began watching this unprecedented vision unfolding, the moment of our redemption has come–it is rising over the distant horizon.
The long held fear of judgment for the moment was removed from over us, we were granted this reprieve. We are given one more opportunity to recover those living waters that our fathers drank from, spiritual waters that will invade the nations once again with its soothing and healing powers. This is grace! And that grace is seen in the extended hand of Jesus, reaching down to Peter, as he sank in the stormy waves of Galilee.
For years, I had felt like an ominous dark cloud had loomed over us, as we walked through one trial and tribulation after another. Now, suddenly the cloud lifted off like a scroll–rolled away, exposing the clear blue skies of God’s love. Before us, lay a beautiful spiritual landscape, a land flowing with milk and honey, it was a rapturous moment to behold! It seemed I was being restored to my youth, the joy of the Lord swept over me in waves. How can I describe being free? I could sing, I could dance as the bitterness of the dark past dissipated and disappeared–never to return–I was a new man.
Even so, I still could not fully understand all that had happened, or what yet was about to happen, but I knew, and understood, we were walking in Gods perfect will, and HE was pleased! This was all that mattered! Equipped with this undeniable assurance, I was ready to move forward in what God now had in store for us.
Roots Give Wings
It was but a short time after this, that I was made aware through the Vancouver ministry that a State Reformed Pastor from Switzerland was inquiring about the Anabaptist people in America. It was during a colorful chapter of his own spiritual journey and reflection therein, that he began discovering how they, the State Reformed Church of Switzerland, had persecuted the Anabaptist people in the past. He began to understand that they had formerly put the men in prison, confiscated their properties; burned them at the stake, and chased them out of their country. This of course, resulted in their own hurt and loss of God’s blessings in their churches. For many years, this Swiss pastor carried this burden, not knowing how he and the State Church might make amends for these atrocities.
Yet, through many years he relentlessly carried this burden, never knowing how, or when to approach this situation with the Anabaptists, since it was still a very sensitive issue in Switzerland. Many still believed the Anabaptists to be heretics, having received their proper dues. In light of this, he, for many years waited quietly on the Lord for the moment to proceed on this mission.
While at the same time unbeknown to both him and me, God was forging a time of preparation for us to meet and ignite a global network of healing and reconciliation that would in due time span many cultures, peoples, and nations. It is not readily revealed, how the effects of this reconciliation process would transform the hearts of many people, and in many nations.
It was here where Barbara and I would embark on our greatest mission of all, a mission of unfathomable proportions and consequences, not only for our people but many others also.
Our mission preparation that spanned a lifetime, was about to unfold. Now, I was beginning to have a bit more of the meaning of my life. All the times of crisis upon crisis throughout the years began to make sense in my human understanding. Without these experiences of pain and loss, I would neither be prepared for this, nor qualified, even as it was, it went beyond the scope of my imagination. The reality of it all was like dream, I was trying to fit the pieces together, yet was unable to do so. The scope of it remained out of my reach.
It was a beautiful evening in August 2002, at an international gathering near Charlottown, on Prince Edward Island. The ‘Watchman Team” were having a reconciliation gathering for the French and English Canadians, and for the “First Nations” people. But the highlight of this whole gathering was the fact that they had also brought together a delegation of Amish, with a delegation from the Reformed Church of Switzerland. This was coordinated by the Watchmen Team to bring these two teams together for a historic new beginning of healing between the Anabaptists and State Reformed Church. It was a hushed moment throughout the auditorium when Barbara and I first met with Geri and Lilo Keller.
As Geri began to speak about the atrocities that were committed by Swiss Sate Church, against the Anabaptists, wave upon wave of the Holy Spirit swept over the congregation, hardly a dry eye anywhere. For three days, we had a heavenly time of fellowship with them and others from Switzerland including their son Andreas and his wife Stephanie. In our first encounter with Geri, my heart melted as he embraced us with such deep compassion.
Out of his heart flowed a loving Fathers heart–something that was foreign to me, yet, what I had so deeply longed for, for so many years. These new beginnings with Geri and Lilo were rapturous and healing. Only God could make this happen on far-off island, just off the eastern Canadian shore where the distant potato fields were blooming in every hue of the rainbow. These were three incomparable days of serene peace and tranquility. The ecstasy Barbara and I were experiencing here on this beautiful island, of flowers, trees, the beautiful blue skies, with its rapturous joy was incomparable.
In recent years, God had opened a door for Geri and Lilo through their ministry outreach called “Siftung Schleife” to reach the Swiss people who had up until then, largely remained independent and resistant to the Gospel. This ministry was a forerunner, and has had a vast impact in their country and over Europe, especially to the German speaking nations and beyond.
Their influence was also instrumental in causing the Swiss government with its vast banking system to restore to the Jews, the money taken from them during world war two. Through their ministry, the face of Christianity in Switzerland and beyond, is slowly changing, multitudes are being transformed into the life of Christ.
In November 2002, their ministry provided the means to bring three of us Amish couples over to Switzerland for 10 days. This would be a preliminary time of connecting and fellowship. This was also in preparation for a much greater gathering of healing and forgiveness between the State Reformed church and the Anabaptists, which would than take place the following May 1st 2003. in Winterthur. While there, Geri, and others took us to Zurich showing us many of the Anabaptist sites in the city as well many other places over Switzerland. He also took us to the ‘Gross Munster” church where our history all started, showing us the original room where Zwingly gathered with Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz and others where they debated and studied scriptures and where ultimately their division took place after some years of discussions.
The day we visited the Trachselwald castle where Hans Haslibacher was kept in prison for his faith, I stepped into the tower and immediately saw a plague on the wall about his incarceration, underneath it, to my utter surprise was the first stanza of the Haslibacher hymn, Ausbund, song #140. Quietly, in a low tone I stood there and sang that stanza all to myself. It was as if time stood still.
Suddenly I turned around, and there stood in hushed silence behind me, some 15-20 Reformed pastors who were with us on the tour. They seemed to be struck and in awe that an Amish man from America could sing that hymn. Not knowing the actual history of Haslibacher, they implored me to relate to them the historical account of him. So in my ancestral Swiss tongue I related to them the account of Haslibacher, the story they had never fully heard before.
When we were ready to leave, Walter Wieland, one of the local pastors asked me to come into the courthouse that was on the same grounds. Here the canton official, Martin Grossenbacher came forth, looked at me with tears in his eyes and said;
“I am a believer, and I know how we persecuted your people, whereupon he took a hold of me–embracing me saying; will you please forgive us?”
For a brief moment the atmosphere was electrified–hardly believing what I was hearing from this Swiss official—“yes, of course, I forgive you”. I was seriously struck with this gesture coming from a civil official right here under the shadow of this forbidding castle where our forefathers were being tortured and martyred–here, this official was making amends–I must be dreaming. These were amazing unfolding events that were taking place here in the land of my forefathers in the beautiful Ementhal valley.
Later, the descendants of Haslibacher presented me with an old brass ancestral cowbell that belonged to the house of Haslibacher. I also received from John Gerber and his wife, also from the Ementhal, an old hammered out solid copper dipper, which was used for baptizing purposes found in the basement of the first Anabaptist gathering house in the Ementhal, perhaps from the very early 1800’s.
Leaving a Legacy of Forgiveness
In my ancestral history is the account of Johannes Schwartz, my great grandfather, native of the Ementhal. It is said of him, that he saw the clothes worn by Haslibacher, and also drank water from the well in Bern whose waters turned to blood as prophesied by Haslibacher that would take place at the time of his death. My ancestral homeland and history of Switzerland, was kept alive, as a young Amish boy, for I repeatedly heard my parents, uncles, grandparents and others relate accounts of our forebears early days in Switzerland and the Alsass.
Not in my wildest aspirations could I know, that someday I would stand in these places–the land of my Swiss fathers, and be touched by the historical events of the past. It is not possible for me to verbalize or express the deep impressions and emotions that stirred in my heart. At one point, as I was standing on a wall that surrounded the court yard of the castle, overlooking the beautiful hills and valleys of Ementhal I yelled forth an ancestral yodel that had been a hallmark of my ancestors coming out of this valley.
In Like manner, I also knew my ancestral forefather Oliver Girod, who grew up in the Reformed Church was born and came from high up in the Jura mountains, which is in the French speaking part of Switzerland.
Sometime ago, as I was visiting the Swiss Mennonite congregation near Tavannes Switzerland up in the Jura mountains, where many Girod surnames are still found. One of the Mennonites brothers, his name was Daniel, offered to go look for my ancestor Oliver Girod’s home place. Doubtfully, I went with him on this mission to find it, Oliver, having already left there since 1853.We began circling higher and higher up in the winding Jura landscape coming to a little village called (Champos) nestled in these beautiful pristine mountains. It was indeed exhilarating and breathtaking as we continued the search in the pure rarefied Swiss mountain air.
Amazingly, we not only found the place, but it was still being inhabited by the Girod family who were well aware of my ancestor Oliver, who was born and grew up on this place. It has been my great privilege in the midst of our mission work to stumble on the history of some of my ancestors in this beautiful and majestic homeland of my fathers. These opportunities I deeply treasure and hold them in my heart. There would be much more I could relate, but history, is not really what this book is about, as much as I love it.
Heal Our Land!
January 21 2003 dawned dark and cold, as I, together with Andreas Keller had spent the night in Dr. Doe’s house in Lancaster County Pennsylvania. Andreas had asked me to meet him in Lancaster County to meet with a delegation of Mennonite leaders, in the prospect of assembling a group of them together with an Amish delegation to attend the “Heal Our Land Conference” to be held in Winterthur Switzerland, on May 1, 2003. The Swiss people wanted to make an open declaration together with an apology for their severe persecution against the Anabaptists in the past, to both the Amish and Mennonites, and in the process restore their own blessings in their ministry.
So, it was on January 21, 2003,the very day the Anabaptists first met in 1525 to usher in the Anabaptist movement–where perhaps a dozen people met in the Petra Fellowship church near New Holland, PA.
The Amish, Mennonites, and Reformed were once again sitting together to possibly forge a new beginning of healing the wounds and divisions of the ancient past. This was indeed a historic day in our history as we gathered. At first, the gathering felt stiff and awkward and it took a while for the tense air to clear as we met each other. One could sense we were treading in unknown and untried territory, not fully knowing nor understanding what to expect. Looking back, this was indeed a history-altering meeting as small as it was.
As we discussed the possibility of reconciliation I kept wondering–could it be, that we will quit repeating history with its dark and shadowy past? Was this gathering for real? Is it possible to forge a new way of trust, and acceptance? To look each other in the eye with out suspicion? Is God truly the author of all that is happening here? These questions, and many more kept swirling through my mind as we warily faced each other in this meeting. I was in a state of amazement. The Mennonites generously accepted us in their midst with hushed and smiling faces. Like a man feeling his way along a wall in the night, I pressed on, fearing lest I should foul up somehow. It took both faith and fortitude to keep moving forward, for one never knew if there would be a dangerous cliff ahead of us somewhere.
Somehow we were able to dialogue even if we were on shaky ground. As the day wore on, things moved along more smoothly. We may have been a small motley group of Anabaptists, yet we dared to step out on uncharted waters and the ice was finally broken. The first seeds of healing sprang out of this seeming insignificant Anabaptist gathering–small beginnings indeed, to forge healing of our ancient wounds and divisions. “Though your beginning was small, Yet your latter end would increase abundantly” Job, 8:7.
This meeting held the key to unlocking our most precious and vital inheritance. See; “Unlocking Our Inheritance” By Janet Richards, Masthoff Press, Morgantown PA. Those present in this meeting were; Lloyd and Elaine Hoover, Enos Martin with his wife Ruth Dr. Doe, Keith Yoder, Keith Weaver, Rusty and Janet Richards, Andreas Keller, and myself, together with another Amish brother, perhaps a few others.
We were navigating untried paths and we could not afford to miss Gods leading and protection, lest we move prematurely. Even so, Gods favor followed us as His wisdom and Spiritual vision was given in each step we were taking forward. These were heady days; days of great expectations, never fully comprehending all that was going on, even while being in the midst of it.
It at times dawned on me; how did I get ever into the middle this–when considering coming from a primitive if not ignorant Amish background? I did not know! This would have been entirely beyond the scope of my imagination while riding on a plow behind a raft of plodding horses years before back in Missouri!
One thing was certain, this small group coming from diverse cultures and backgrounds, on this day dared to face the giant of our historical curse of divisions, and to forge a new path of forgiveness, acceptance, honor, and blessing that we have not seen in many generations. The importance of this small historic gathering can hardly be overstated, since it was a history altering point in the chapter of our Anabaptist history. An enlarged version of this meeting is found at the end of this book. This was written at the time and submitted by; Elaine Hoover.
Let it be understood here; corporate healing, forgiveness, and reconciling severed relationships on this level, has little to do with coming into agreement with all the varied doctrines found within all these movements. When we bring Christ in the center of it, He Himself will resolve the differences, and beyond that, lead us to an undiscovered realm in His Kingdom.
Christ never received any promises from me that I would serve Him when He paid the ultimate sacrifice on the Cross, He did it anyways. It takes faith, to step out and make ourselves vulnerable to others without having assurance that we will be accepted. This small group on this day, broke the historical curse of isolation, and hiding, to one of healing and acceptance on the altar of self-sacrifice.
The great day in Switzerland finally arrived. There were perhaps a few thousand people in attendance during the three-day, “Heal Our Land Conference” in Winterthur, just outside of Zurich some twenty miles. Switzerland being a small landlocked country with its scraggly borderlines, looks like a keyhole within the scope of the European continent. It has been said that Switzerland holds the key to bring back revival in Europe. I believe this prophecy to be true, both through the dedication and efforts of the “Siftung Schleife” and through the various Mennonite efforts dedicated to bring healing, restoration, and revival in the area. While at the three-day conference, Mennonite leaders, and bishops Together with leaders of the Bienen Berg seminar both spoke, which has forged a new and unprecedented path towards healing the ancient divisions between them and the Reformed church. It was remarkable what the Holy Spirit has brought forth.
The Freedom of Forgiveness
At some point during the conference, when Geri Keller was speaking, he declared to the audience this most sobering and unsurpassed statement that was heard over the vast conference hall–referring to the atrocities committed against the Anabaptists in former times, he stated;
“You Anabaptists were right and we, the State Reformed were wrong.”
This statement created a spiritual shaking throughout the land, the church at large, even we Anabaptists. Understandably, there were those who questioned the validity or authority of that statement. Even so, who, but a spiritual father such a Geri would be authorized to make such a statement? History as we knew it with its dark past was changing. A glimmer of hope was rekindled in our hearts, a new day was dawning, and perhaps we may dream again? The people in this great hall were gripped in the reality of the moment as Geri spoke. God truly was moving our hearts to a new level of faith, hope and intimacy with Him. Yes, it was for real!
One day during the conference, Geri brought the Amish group with many others to the “Gross Munster” church where Rudy Reich, leader of the Reformed State Church in the Canton of Zurich received us. The large church was filled to capacity. Here the whole group of Amish stood in the sanctuary and sang some old traditional Amish church hymns in the very place where Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz first began their journey. This was a time of reflections, I could hardly grasp the moment–it was beyond me–it was surreal.
Toward the end of the service I was then asked to speak. As I did so, I stood behind the pulpit of the reformer, Ulrich Zwingly. From this pulpit, I preached and delivered a message of healing between us–the Anabaptists and Reformed through the sufficiency of the Blood. The moment was fraught with tension that was tangible throughout the large building. It was a moment that reached all the way back to the early fathers of the faith. My heart could not contain all that was taking place, I was overwhelmed. It seemed, the past and the present were somehow merging and harmonizing, bringing unity out of the discordant past. But as everything was swirling around me it was impossible to clearly digest all that was happening, my mind was in a fog by the magnitude of it. It would be much later, that the full impact of all that took place here would hit me, even then I could not fully digest it.
This conference in Winterthur broke down the wall that separated and divided the body of Christ for so many years–historical divisions that separated people, churches and cultures. It was here, where seeds of healing were birthed, a vision and mantle Geri carried from many years. Because of it, multitudes in Switzerland are now turning to the Lord. It sprouted healing and reconciliation between the Amish and Mennonites.
It birthed a global awareness in the body of Christ, to shed their animosities against each other and to be reconciled. It is changing hearts and attitudes throughout the globe. We are in a season of change, coordinated by the Holy Spirit preparing the army of Christ for this time of Harvest. I believe the harvest fields will not only bring in lost souls but will forge healing and unity throughout its landscape, breaking through cultural barriers at all levels.
In the years since, I have continued to connect with both, the Swiss Mennonites and with leaders of the State church in continuing efforts of healing and reconciliation. We continue to make steady progress, which has spilled over–here in the States as well, where the reconciliation continues between the Amish and Mennonites. We have developed an Amish team together with a Mennonite team headed by Lloyd and Elaine Hoover, bishop in the Lancaster Mennonite Conference. We corporately have been pulling together to bring about an awareness that the bride of Christ is not divided, but one in Him. This has not been without setbacks or disappointments, nor is there any quick solutions to these historic divisions and animosities, but dedication and perseverance is beginning to pay off.
Advancing the Kingdom of God
As the progress of reconciliation moved forward, we suddenly were confronted with a rigid roadblock. Unknown to anyone, the issue of what took place in Muenster Germany by a band of renegade Anabaptists in 1534-1535 was still a matter of contention. It was given to us through prophetic words that this issue still stands against us, God will not give full blessings on our healing efforts until this issue is addressed. This word was confirmed by Lloyd Hoover’s team as well. So, what were we to do? We were at a loss in how to proceed, some said what happened in the past does not effect us today, but we knew, this was something that has historically affected so many people, could not be ignored.
In the process however, we discovered we are dealing with a situation that has broad consequences, even beyond our scope of understanding. It has affected a negative mindset over the Anabaptists globally, to this day. It did not take us long to realize that progress was halted until we dealt with the with this looming matter.
We have traveled to Muenster on several different occasions, to investigate the matter, but we have yet to reach a collective solution. There are however, efforts being made to gather representatives together from Switzerland, Germany, and Holland and from the USA. Here again, human logic will not suffice, it will take the revelation of the Holy Spirit together with complete trust in one another to produce a breakthrough. Reconciliation touches the past, and the present, and while in the process, scales cultural barriers in forging people towards one mind and one spirit. There is never an easy way to accomplish this.
In November 2007, Micah Smith who founded and leads, ” Global Gateway Network Ministry” asked me to join his team on a mission trip to Israel and Egypt. On this journey, I personally met Micah’s Jewish tour guide, Amir Orly, who is also a highly educated and accomplished university speaker. Amir travels widely and has been to our house a few times over the past few years. When he leads his groups across the land of Israel, he expounds on the biblical accounts in all the places he takes them. I have never heard anyone bring the bible alive as he does. However, because Christians in history have so severely persecuted the Jews, he remains suspicious of them.
For the past 15 years, Micah and Amir have frequently and deeply discussed Jesus and the truth of the Gospel. They have forged unbreakable ties with each other. In the meantime, Amir appealed to me for our Anabaptist support for the Jewish people in Israel. He is acquainted with, and has led thousands of Christians, touring the land of Israel. Amir quickly understood that the Jewish people and the Anabaptists shared similarities in our pursuit of the Lord. He appealed to me to bring a group over to Israel. However, knowing the general anti Semitic attitude of both the Amish and Mennonites I personally had my doubts of accomplishing such a thing. Even so, I became increasingly aware that we Anabaptists do indeed hold a key for the Jewish people, and rightly owe them an apology or our attitudes towards them. In light of this, I began asking the Lord, “what must I do?”.
One night the Lord spoke to me about it. As I continued through the night to seek his face, suddenly I saw an open door. I was given in a vision and saw the steps of the whole mission we were to take–showing concisely every step of the way. It was with trepidation and much trembling that I stepped through that door. From the beginning of this mission to the end, the Lord proved Himself faithful to see us through every step of the way as the vision indicated. In November 2010 A delegation of 45 Amish and Mennonites, from five States and Switzerland, invested 7 intense days sharing a message of repentance. With God’s help, we extended our blessings to leading Rabbi’s throughout Israel, which included the Chief Rabbi of the Western Wall, Yad Vashem, (the holocaust museum) and the deputy mayor of Jerusalem.
Israeli news Channel 2 television crews followed us to many of the venues throughout the week. Jacob Smith on behalf of Global Gateway Network also filmed the entire week and produced a video of the mission. It was Amir and Micah who opened the doors and paved the way for this entire undertaking. David Davenports vision and prophetic word confirmed it. Lloyd Hoover put himself on the line, as he encouraged other Mennonites to join us. Al and Ada, Longenecker whom I had not met before brought hope and inspiration to the whole mission. Ernest Geiser with Christian Sollberger from Switzerland added to the overall Anabaptist landscape for this mission.
While Steve Lapp and the whole Lancaster Amish group brought confirmation to the people of Israel of the authenticity of our repentance toward the Jewish people. The flow, the dedication, the humility, and the unity of the whole group were marvelous to behold. For us all, the mission was an expression of our love, acceptance, and repentance toward Israel and the Jewish people. The whole journey to Israel with its unfolding revelations was a heart changing experience, expanding our visions of Gods heart for both the Jew and the Gentile.
Perhaps one of the great highlights of the mission was to hear the Bible come alive under Amir’s teaching. By God’s sovereign plan, each one contributed to this most historic mission, not only a mission of hope and peace for the Jewish nation, a nation who is surrounded by a hostile environment, but also in restoring the blessing of Abraham, (Gen. 12:1-3)–a blessing we have lost through our rejection of Gods first born.
The full harvest of all the seeds sown by each team member is still growing. Their participation in this history-altering mission released blessings to Israel but also displeasure for many team members when they returned home to their Amish and Mennonite communities. I also know for some, the cost was great, financially, emotionally and otherwise…. in this, God will surely reward them.
2010 proved to be a spiritual landmark year in other ways too. The Lord also asked me to make a journey back in time, i.e. Go to all the former communities where we had lived and meet with key leaders with whom we had to deal with, and especially those who have banned and shunned us in the past. Not all of these are still alive; yet I was to go to such as were a part of the original decision to excommunicate us. In each case, beginning in Bowling Green Missouri, I was to release a blessing and honor their leadership. When 2011 arrived almost a year had passed and I still hesitated to go on this mission, I was fearful, for such a mission had never been done before in our history, it was unprecedented. However, as I waited on the Lord He seemed to press it ever deeper into my heart to go. I finally approached my team with this proposal to which I was instantly met with approval to go on this mission.
Most of the team including my wife Barbara strongly advocated that I take along another person, something that seemed practical and most sensible. Yet, I had no release to take someone with me, at least not in the beginning. (Towards the end of this mission, Lloyd Miller did join up with me). But as it was, I left alone, traveling through many States and some 20 communities where I met with key leaders, leaders who for 30 years past I had not seen, whom I was able to meet face to face and bless them and honor them.
As I was going from community to community meeting key people, I knew and understood, the key issue-taking place now was breaking the stronghold of dissension and divisions so prevalent among the Amish nation. As I was traveling from State to State, and from community to community, I felt Gods peace and liberty being released wherever I went. Often as I seemingly made a wrong turn, I would suddenly find myself on the right road after all. The whole journey of some seven thousand miles was one of perpetual blessings with Gods favor within every mile of the way. As I concluded this mission with Lloyd Miller, I was deeply impressed with Gods favor and blessing throughout the whole mission, and I knew the Kingdom of God has been advanced among our people and beyond.
The high water mark of Gods calling on my life culminated on this mission of restoring healing, forgiveness, and blessings upon those who sought my disgrace, my demise, and destruction. God meant it all for good even if others did not. The fullness of Gods Kingdom comes through much travail, disappointments, and severe testing. It never comes through intellectual understanding, or great mental capacities. I count it great joy to suffer in part with our lord Jesus Christ in fulfilling the great commission, not only to my people, but to the nations as well. Fulfilling the Great Commission is maximized when we grasp the reality of suffering on their behalf, is included in reaching them with the Gospel. Mathew 28:18-20. Colossians 1:24.
The Peace in God’s Purposes
After having lived in Bonners Ferry Idaho for 10 years, the Lord began speaking into my heart concerning our life’s journey from the beginning up to this day. He has proved Himself faithful in leading us through seeming impossibilities, and always making a way where seeming there was none, and ultimately, leading us in assurance and to victory. As I ponder this, I am in awe. It is a time of reflections, and as we do, we have a deep sense of thanksgiving to the Lord and towards all those whom we met on our way. God has given back our lives in ways we have never known before and far beyond.
It was during our life’s journey where Psalms 119 became the hallmark of our lives. It was a model in not only finding, but also living out the precepts and statutes of God, fulfilling His commandments. Verses 33-40. Choosing the way of truth, together with His judgments, V-30. Always hiding His Word in my heart lest I sin against Him, v, 11. Loving His commandments over and above the glitter of gold, v 127. Allowing Him to direct my steps and shunning iniquity, v,133. Praising Him daily for His righteous judgments on my life, v,164. Often crying for His help, and meditating on His word in the night watches, verses 147-148. His Word was not only the lamp for my feet, but also the light for my path. V, 105. It was the entirety of His Word that I trusted, for His judgments remain forever true. V, 60.
The first thirty years of my life before our marriage was dedicated to my siblings, which, in retrospect were a prelude and a preparation to our life’s journey. Following our marriage and encounter with the Lord, our lives were no longer ours, but were used of the Lord for redemptive purposes. The quiet peaceful life, the average family takes for granted, was not ours to have, even so, we found the capacity in our hearts to fully submit to, and accept the Divine purposes for our lives. We are only now beginning to experience what it means to be free, free from all these pressures life has given us. Yet, we also know, God knew all along what was in store for us. With a bit more understanding, we now see that He used even the bad things, the evil insults and false information in forging His plan for our lives. All the things we met in life, including all the people we encountered was His Divine purpose–it was no mistake! He used it all for His glory and our good!
We therefore are indebted to each of you, whom we met in our life’s pathway, in fact we are honored and privileged to have met you no matter what the circumstances may have been–it was Gods redemptive plan. In light of this, both Barbara and I salute each and all of you, for we know, Gods undeserved favor and blessings are resting upon you. If such would not be the case, than our lives would have been lived in vain.
We therefore rejoice, knowing the power of redemption. This is what time-and-eternity is all about, to heal, restore, reconcile, and to redeem men from out of life’s worst and most extreme conditions imaginable, the sufficiency of the Cross stands as an eternal witness to this! Beyond this, we have this final and most glorious hope of meeting each and all of you in some future day, on those magnificent shores of Glory!
The Anabaptist Vision
The Apostle Paul asked the Church in Galatia some penetrating questions in Galatians 3:3-4 (NLT):
“How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? 4 Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in vain, was it?”
Paul’s probing compels me to probe my own Anabaptist roots, honestly and with humility, as I journey in God’s forgiveness.
What is the original spiritual vision of our Anabaptist forefathers?
If anything, what did these early forefathers possess that we lack today? Is there anything we can learn from their humility, eagerness to serve Christ at all costs and ability to rapidly spread their influence to villages, cantons, and on into the whole European continent in a very few short years?
Where did this empowerment and energy come from? Simply said, I believe it flowed from the grace of God, the same grace that has led me on this journey of forgiveness and personal growth.
Amish and Mennonites over the generations have longed to recapture the Anabaptist vision. Much time in study has been invested in this area. There is a growing awareness throughout the Anabaptist nation that we must return to the Living Waters of Christ, which our forefathers drank from so freely.
History bears out that the first Anabaptists were much like the young church of Acts in the Bible.
If we look at them closely, you will see that their success was in–being–not in–doing. Several things mark the kingdom success of these people.
First, they were unconditionally obedient to the Word of God, as the Spirit led them from day to day. Discipleship was a natural part of their DNA as they studied the Scriptures, fellowshipped with one another and worshiped the Lord on a regular basis.
On the other hand, neither our Anabaptist forefathers nor the Acts Church possessed great credentials of formal education or training. In modern terms they were simple people, who lived simple lives, which seemed to be the very ingredient God used to spread the Gospel.
Because the early Anabaptist movement had no formal status or name, they were able to penetrate the hearts and minds of the people throughout Europe with the simple message of the Gospel. The power of God that enabled them to accomplish this under great difficulty was basis of their success, it was who they were–not their ability to argue and win a theological debate that propelled them forward with mighty influence.
I long for and pray that we as a people will turn the tide and reverse what I see as a minimum of global outreach flowing from our communities. Our codes will never be sufficient to empower us to fulfill the Great Commission. We must have the power of the Spirit of Christ, for human strength and ingenuity can never accomplish nor finish the task our forefathers began. (Zech 4:6)
The first Anabaptists believed so purely and confidently in the power of the blood of Christ to save the nations, that thousands of them willingly died for their faith, shedding their blood over Europe, to see the nations saved.
Their cry is a clarion call for us to impact nations as they did, following the example of Christ. (Hebrews 5:8)
Discipleship as a word and practice is a biblical mandate and part of the Great Commission. (Matthew 28:18-20) Yet, if one looks closely, the word is not generally found in our Anabaptist vocabulary, for it often gets in the way of our codes and conditions. Yet, it is authentic biblical discipleship that will equip us for fulfilling the call of Christ.
The nations are waiting for us to fulfill the Anabaptist Vision. The path of forgiveness is before us and the Spirit is calling us to new dimensions of surrender and obedience to Christ. The nations wait for us to walk the highway of the kingdom, following Jesus, even if it leads us to some out-of-the-way place.
This is our call, our inheritance, and the true Anabaptist vision!
Having been part of the old order Amish culture all my life, it is somewhat amusing to see how the media continually glamorizes the Amish people as a quiet and peaceful people, industriously tending their farms together with all their various craftsmanship qualities. This, in a large way is true from the viewpoint of one from the outside looking in. However, within Amish culture itself, they live a world all of its own, a world totally off-limits to outsiders, even their drivers, whom they often use for transportation are generally kept at a distance from their inner workings. In their religious culture, they are a people totally set apart in their own, old world order largely remains a mystery to the average American.
In light of this, and contrast to what they have to offer to the church at large, is a tragedy. Hidden behind their walls and facade, is an inheritance they possess and jealously hoard. It is a wealth and a spiritual treasure that would greatly benefit the body of Christ globally.
They possess an inheritance that was meant to be released on all people to bless them and to advance the Kingdom of God. We have selfishly withheld this blessing from you!
It is here where I want to offer to you the reader, no matter what culture or religion, my sincere apologies for having withheld this hidden treasure from you. In spite of our culture, we are no different than you are, we need Gods grace in the same way you do. We do not possess a trump card over any person or people. What we do have to offer I release to you, together with our rich spiritual inheritance, our industrious work ethic, our reliance on Gods sufficiency over and beyond unreliable government support, the simple joys of life which has all but vanished in this age of technology, working with nature, planting and nurturing our own gardens, and last of all, working and helping each other–bearing each others burdens.
All these and more, is inherent within our culture and needs to be released to you for your benefit and blessings.
It has been prophesied, and I do believe this to be true, the day is coming when the Amish will open up” centers” within their communities where they will teach the masses for survival. To survive is deep within our culture, borne out of severe suffering, torture, persecution–often having their home and goods confiscated, all because of their undying love and faith in Christ during the reformation. In light of these atrocities and severe persecution over many years, a survival instinct has been developed deep within our culture.
After many years, and because of this severe persecution they finally made a pact with civil authorities to annul their evangelism in favor for their freedom to live peacefully in the land. It is for this reason we do no longer evangelize, and are now known as the quiet in the land–a drastic departure from our former and shining example of the fires of evangelism. In spite of this, the Great Commission is deep within our reformation roots.
Within Anabaptist circles of today, whether Mennonite, Amish, or Hutterite, the flaming torch we formerly carried is now hidden and concealed within a beautiful package of religion, good works, and performance, we have all but lost what rightfully belongs to us–carrying the torch of the Gospel to the nations.
Deeply hidden within us is a deadly but sleeping monster–dark and sinister. It is what I refer to as the legalistic system. It replaced the torch and the fire of the Holy Spirit, causing us to lose our lamp stand as well. Rev, 2:5.
This religious spirit can be found within all forms of Anabaptism, some more, and some less, but it is always there. The driving force behind this system is, fear and control. It binds and brings into captivity its victims, subjecting them to the constraints of their laws and ordinances, it is the glue that holds the system together. Fear tactics are often utilized to hold members in check within the system. In this way, the system seemingly works wonders throughout its systems and structures. People on the outside see peace and harmony, while within, many are often caught up in fear and trepidation lest they violate any of the set rules or regulations. Discipline can at times be severe to those who step beyond the required regulations, many are those who have been traumatized in this way.
In the past 60 years there have been many movements coming out of the Amish traditions attempting to establish a more lenient system where men could again think for themselves. However, all of these movements up until this present day, were unable to launch their churches without the supporting arm of the legal system in some form, however refined it may appear–resulting once again, in some hidden form of bondage. To compensate, many have attempted to emulate the early Anabaptists with the ritual of rebaptism, trusting this to be the path to true freedom in Christ–very often to their dismay and disappointment.
This ritual of itself, as needful as it may be, cannot lead us to the peace and freedom in Christ we so dearly seek. We must first discover the depth of our fallen state before we can experience full redemption from our sin and unbelief. There are no short cuts when coming under the skilled hand of our Masters cleansing fire on our lives, His thrashing floor leaves behind no chaff. Only He, and not some religious form can truly cleanse and purify us. Matt. 3:10-12.
While the legal system has its benefits of security, (which is why few venture to go beyond it), it nevertheless keeps one in bondage. As long as we embrace these systems in any form,(no matter how refined it may be)we severely limit Gods presence and power within our personal lives. He will never share His glory with another.
Any attempt by a system to replace a personal, growing relationship with Christ, is in total opposition to the sovereignty of God. Only Christ, and Christ alone can set us free. Freedom is not found in some refined set of rules or in any other source. John, 8:30-32, Gal 5:1-4. In my opinion, there is very little faith involved within Anabaptist church systems. Because none is required. Often is the case, we merely need to follow the rules and we will live in peace with those around us. To the contrary, there are always certain risks to be taken for any Anabaptist to venture beyond their security and controlled environments, which means shunning the supporting arm of flesh. (Jeremiah 17:5)
In fact, such a step cannot be taken apart from faith in Christ–faith is the safety net found in Christ alone. Until we are willing to unconditionally denounce this legal system in favor of Gods sovereignty over our lives, we shall always be held in some form of bondage. By this, I am in no wise referring to embrace the lawless spirit that is driving many to perdition. That is the other ditch–and a worse one, which many have suffered serious error and ruin.
In chapter 8, I relate my encounter with the Lord, which took place in November 1981. What I did not know nor understand at the time, was the deliverance from the legalistic spirit under which I had grown up and had been controlled by, up until that time.
Neither was I prepared to meet the rage of the religious spirit that instantly rose up in retaliation. The sleeping giant of religion is never aroused until violated. Then, it was instantly alive and threatening–determined to bowl me over with its initial attack, I stood no chance against its raging onslaughts. This is the spirit Job encountered as he beheld Leviathan in all his power; see Job, chapter 41, which culminates at verses 33-34 “On earth there is nothing like him, which is made without fear. He beholds every high thing; he is king over all the children of pride”
Within three months, we were universally shunned by the whole church. I was devastated, bewildered, and traumatized, I did not understand these reactions, seeing we never mentioned these encounters to anyone for three years, nor lived in disobedience to the church.
How we survived is still a mystery to us. In retrospect, I now know, that the mystery of the true liberty in Christ was opened up to us at that moment–a mystery that has been withheld from among us, since the days of our early Anabaptist forefathers because of unbelief. In the following 20 years we would experience this religious rage coming through friends and foes alike–the battle being fought between the bondage of the religious spirit, or the freedom found in the Holy Spirit. God always left us the choice to walk it out, or simply walk away. We chose to stay and to follow through in whatever He allowed in our lives. Little by little, I understood whatever was in front of us, He would still be in full control–He would shield us, even against overwhelming odds.
The question may be asked, why did we stay when we had opportunity to leave? For years we asked that question ourselves, we only knew—we could not—it would have destroyed our personal lives if we had. It would be years later that Gods redemption plan for us and our people would be revealed to us in a whole new level. I came to the stark realization that the deplorable Anabaptist landscapes of religion with its multiple divisions whether Amish or Mennonite, lay heavily on our hearts. Our personal salvation seemed to be intimately connected with theirs—God do not save us, if you cannot save them! Numbers14:11-21, Romans 9:1-3.
Our whole life’s journey was by Gods design, but it was also up to us to choose. In fact our whole life was made up of choices—we always were left with the opportunity to leave. By His Grace alone, we continued to choose the way of obedience which leads to the cross and suffering. When I discovered that Jesus Himself learned obedience through suffering, I than also understood, I cannot expect anything less. Hebrews 5:8. There are two things that intimately connect us with Jesus—obedience and suffering–to unconditionally obey, will always bring suffering, it is inescapable, but in this way we share in the sufferings of Christ. Colossians 1:24
The offence of the Cross of Christ proves the hearts of what we are made of, it exposes all the flaws and dirty laundry. But it is on this foundation of exposure, where true friendships are developed, or, where they dissolve in betrayal—in this context, there is no middle ground.
To feel the stigma of shame He suffered is never pleasant, but I deem it an honor to suffer in part with Him. The apostle Peter writes repeatedly–perhaps in every one of his chapters, about the grace to suffer with Christ. If we choose to go the way of the Cross-, it will be painful because it requires dying to self, and that my friends, cannot be avoided–unless we choose to walk away from it. There is no middle ground, even though the masses are continually seeking one. God being a Gentleman–always leaves us the choice, He compels no one to follow Him against our choices.
When I view the landscape of the contemporary church at large, I see much activity, but the Cross of Christ seems to be obscured within all of its flourish and activities. On the other hand, within the Anabaptist church globally, there is also much activity. There is a perpetual struggle to come up with what each movement deems to be correct doctrine, and to out maneuver each other in performance, and proving oneself right in the eyes of others. But the Cross is generally not the motivation of all this activity, rather, ambition and self imposed righteousness.
Until we turn back to the Cross our work will largely be in vain. Our exploits for Christ and His Kingdom are built on this foundation–embracing the Cross!
In 1961, I was baptized into the faith with a group of seven other applicants for baptism by my father, bishop Peter S. Girod in Missouri. In 1973 Barbara and I were given in marriage by bishop Tobe Petersheim At Miserville, Pennsyvania. In 1987, I was ordained in the ministry in the Amish church near Beaver Springs Pennsylvania By bishop John Henry Byler from Guys Mills PA. Ten years later, I was ordained bishop in the Amish church near Ovid Michigan by bishop Joe K. Yoder from Mio, MI. These were men of nobility and honor among the Amish churches, They upheld a high standard of integrity, preaching the Gospel in its purity. To them and many others I am greatly indebted, I shall forever be grateful for their blessing and understanding, knowing God will be their great reward. Amish life has been my livelihood, I knew of no other, and never desired any other. They gave me life and sustenance, they nurtured and fed me, both in the natural and the spiritual–I shall forever be honored to have been born and lived among them–you owe me nothing and by God’s grace, I owe it all to you!
May the true Anabaptist vision with its flaming torch once again emerge, and touch nations with its transforming power!
January 21, 2003
Anabaptist/Reformed Church Reconciliation Journey
By Elaine Hoover
January 21, 1525 is an extraordinary historical date of remembrance in the life of the Mennonite and Amish churches when Felix Manz, Conrad Graybill and George Blaurock rebaptized each other against the teaching of the State sanctioned Reformed Church.
January 21, 2003 will again be a key historical date in the life of the Mennonite, Amish, and Reformed churches when a group of Lancaster Mennonite conference bishops, church leaders, Amish bishops, and a State Reformed leader from Switzerland met, at Petra Christian Fellowship, New Holland Pennsylvania, to begin a process of healing from the hurts afflicted on each other when the infamous split occurred many years ago.
This seemed to be in answer to the intercession of a small group of people representing Anabaptist churches of eastern Pennsylvania. These have been meeting since November 2001. They met monthly for most of the year at Petra Christian Fellowship and prayed specifically that the strongholds (a limited pattern of thinking) would be loosened and broken over the Anabaptist Church so that they could serve the Lord free from the effects of the negative experiences of the past.
The Lord brought about divine connections between Janet and Rusty Richards, leaders of the prayer group, together with Dr. Robert Doe, head of the church at Lancaster and leaders of the State Reformed and Amish churches, who have a heart for reconciliation and healing from past offences.
Andreas Keller from the Reformed church in Switzerland, Amish bishop Ben Girod from Idaho enthusiastically agreed to meet with Janet Richards and Dr. Doe. The Holy Spirit brought these hearts together. The Lord placed it on their hearts to include other leaders in the Anabaptist churches who also had a heart for the church to walk in freedom. A meeting was called. The date happened to be on the 478th anniversary of the Anabaptist church’s birth, January 21, 1525. It was a moment in eternity, an historical event—a moment in time!
Upon wakening on Tuesday morning Andreas received a timely phone call from his father, who heads the noted ministry, “Stiftung Schleife” from Switzerland and having ministered in the Reformed Church for thirty years. He reminded Andreas of the significance of this date—January 21. The birth of the Anabaptists—once again, a time of renewal.
With great humility and emotion, Andreas shared of the spiritual veil over the Reformed church since their participation in persecuting the Anabaptists founders. He testified that we all drank from the same well; we all came from the same place, yet we have hurt each other. It brought much pain to both the Reformed Church and the Anabaptists.
He described the effect on the Reformed Church as if they had cut off the hand of practical Christianity when they rejected and persecuted the Anabaptists, who had brought within the church a “living out” of practical Christianity that was now no longer a part of them. However, God wants that to be restored. “It is time”. The Lord is reattaching the hand of practical Christianity back to the Reformed Church by bringing reconciliation between the Anabaptist and Reformed churches.
Amish bishop Ben Girod shared his heart for the Amish people. With grief and passion he acknowledged that his people are living in darkness. A veil has been over them for many generations keeping them in blindness.
We watched a video clip from Canada where Andreas and his parents along with bishop Ben Girod participated in an identificational repentance and reconciliation meeting hosted by the “Watchmen For The Nations”. God moved in this August 2002 meeting with great power and healing.
As the Lord worked in our hearts many tears were shed. It strengthened our resolve that reconciliation is the key to bring about release to the Body of Christ no matter what denomination. We gathered in a circle for prayer holding hands symbolizing our desire for oneness and unity. There was revelation shared that both the Amish and Mennonite churches had sinned through pride, and arrogance. We prayed against these curses, on both the Reformed and Anabaptist churches.
Prior to this time of prayer, Andreas was sitting at the table with four bishops representing Lancaster Conference Mennonite churches, which were as follows; Richard Buckwalter, Paradise district, Enos Martin, Elizabethtown district, Keith Weaver, moderator of Lancaster conference; Lloyd Hoover, Groffdale district, and secretary of Lancaster conference
Andreas offered them a book from his ministry in Switzerland. Upon receiving it Keith flipped through it and recognized there a section of the book about his ancestors. Andreas had brought four books with him and there were four bishops in attendance—two more divine connections the Lord brought forth at this gathering—a proof of His faithfulness.
Following the 1:00 p.m. Meeting we traveled to the ”Long Barn” east of the city of Lancaster, where a revival had broke out many years before, which had at that time also involved the Reformed and the Mennonites. This took place in 1767. This revival was stalled however, as many Mennonites were unable to participate with the “Reformed” element. It was our prayer that the Lord would reopen those former wells of revival again in this community. Melvin Landis, the farm owner, than proceeded to share some history of the former revival on this property.
We gathered together on this very cold January afternoon with a since that God was doing a mighty work in the spiritual realm. Rusty and Janet led us in worship. Dr. Enos Martin shared that he believes that God wants to release the church from the effects of a spiritual post-traumatic syndrome that has stunted it as a result of severe persecution and social rejection.
Andreas then asked for forgiveness in persecuting the Anabaptists. He confessed that they had become jealous of the Anabaptist movement when they flourished in practical Christianity. In agreement with the other Anabaptist brethren, Amish bishop Ben Girod led in expressing forgiveness to him for the sin of the Reformed Church. Ben, in turn, asked forgiveness for the pride of the Anabaptists who seemingly had no need for the Reformed Church.
Standing in place of our Anabaptist forefathers, Lloyd Hoover in return, asked the Reformed Church for forgiveness, for holding them at arms length and cutting them off. For this, Andreas offered forgiveness. It was understood, that through the power of the shed Blood, we were able to walk through the stages of healing and reconciliation. Many tears were shed, with many firm embraces. Since there had previously been a vision of a dry skeleton within the confines of the “Long Barn” It became our prayer that the dry bones would be brought back to life through this corporate healing process throughout the Anabaptist landscape, as well as with the State Reformed Church of Switzerland.
It was bitter cold inside the barn, but it did not dampen the spirit nor hinder the fulfillment of new freedom, joy, hope, and a completeness of the moment. The fires of revival were again rekindled, having smoldered by our pride and religiosity.
January 21, 2003 an historical date of remembrance for both, the Anabaptist and Reformed churches. “It is time”!