Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

The scandal of divided Christianity

For years I have been reading statements that go something like this:

“The greatest stumbling block to Christian missions is the confused message coming from the divisions among those who call themselves Christians.”

I would like to propose a radical solution. Jesus said “I will build my church.” Why don’t we just let Him do it?

That would mean that we would all need to have an experience like Paul had on the road to Damascus. We would need to abandon all of our own ideas about how to build the kingdom of God and ask “Lord, what would thou have me to do?”

Some years later, Paul wrote to the church at Corinth: “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers [servants] by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?  I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:5-7).

Let’s stop giving honour to people as builders of the church, become mere servants taking all our direction from God, and giving all the honour to Him.

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Thoughts on growing old

  1. Winter isn’t much fun anymore.
  2. Neither are the really hot days of summer.
  3. Everything takes longer – even getting out of bed in the morning.
  4. It’s no longer a mystery how my Dad could take a nap after dinner.
  5. I’m more concerned that my shoes be comfortable than that they be fashionable.
  6. Some of the hair that used to grow on top of my head now grows out my ears and nostrils.
  7. I’ve lived long enough to see my daughter doing things that were ridiculous when her mother did them.
  8. I’ve had time to make enough mistakes that I no longer get so riled up about other people’s mistakes.
  9. My messy desk no longer seems cool.
  10. I don’t look forward to birthdays as much as I used to.

(Thoughts prompted by another birthday coming up in a few days and this post by Jnana Hodson )

Memories of a Bridge Builder

My mother was born to a family that spoke Plautdietsch at home and German in church. Those languages, sometimes called Low German and High German, were meant to be a protective wall, preventing folks of that heritage from feeling at home with the people around them. They also served to exclude the people around them from their churches and hopefully from their families.

Mom spoke only Plautdietsch until she started school; there she learned German and English. As she neared adulthood, she memorized the German catechism and was baptized, becoming a member of the Sommerfelder Mennonite Church.

Schools stopped teaching German; the church held German classes for the children one winter and stopped. Mom’s eight younger siblings never learned German, thus understood nothing of the Bible reading, preaching or hymns in church. Many of them didn’t bother to attend. Mom began to ponder how the language in which the Christian message was preached could be more important than the Christian message itself.

She listened to Christian messages in English on the radio and learned many English hymns. In 1935 her sister Katherine married Art Goodnough and Mom began to get acquainted with the Goodnough family. In 1940 she married Walter, Art’s older brother. I was born in 1942, the only child of Walter and Agnes.

When I was a very small child Mom would occasionally use a Plautdietsch word or two. But she had cast her lot with the mainstream English-speaking Canadian society and she was a determined woman. She studied her dictionary and built an English vocabulary that was more extensive than most people around her. She completely lost her Low German accent.

When we moved to Craik she joined the Anglican Church Women’s group and the Hospital Auxiliary and built relationships with the other ladies of the community. Despite having had only six years of schooling, she was my first and best teacher. She was interested in my school work and always wanted to get to know my teachers.

She had no prejudices that I ever discerned. Colour of skin and ethnic background were not barriers to her. She occasionally expressed a wish that she could have learned French when she was younger. She never forgot Plautdietsch and German, but they were of no value to her any more, except in visiting with some of her family.

Since I was her only child, Mom determined that she would accept and love whoever I would decide to marry. She carried through on that and she and Chris became very close. She loved her only granddaughter and that love was returned. Mom was already past 90 when Michelle was expecting her first child; Michelle told her Grandma before she told her parents.

Mom was a bridge builder, not a builder of walls. That is the legacy that she has left for us to cherish and continue.

Flee temptation

Why do evangelical Christian leaders get ensnared in sex scandals? It’s because they so easily forget that they are still flesh and blood and that the tendencies of the flesh are contrary to their high spiritual ideals.

I wouldn’t call it hypocrisy; at least not deliberate hypocrisy. It is a tragedy when a man with high moral ideals come to believe that the power of the Holy Spirit has made him immune to the baser desires of his humanity.

We dare not forget that we never stop being sinners by nature. Yes, we cn have victory over those base desires. Yes, we can live without fear of being ensnared at any moment by some horrible sin. But we need to live every day with the reality of what we are made of and what we could do, but for the grace of God.

Some may boast of all the great works the Lord has done by them; others may abase themselves and say that they are nothing. Such voluntary, self-made humility is just as boastful as the first. It’s all pride, leading to the thought that I can do it by myself. We do need to acknowledge our failings. If we can be specific in admitting small failings, we have a better chance to avoid falling into the great temptations.

Most of all, we just need to walk with the Lord. When He is close beside us we will know when to go boldly forth into the unknown, and when to flee from temptation.

Spiritual drought

About this time every year farmers here on the dry Canadian prairies can be heard worrying about whether there will be enough moisture to produce a crop. This year we a are midway through the fourth month of winter with no end in sight according to the long range forecast. There is not a lot of snow on the ground and that causes stress in the farming community.

I suppose I would be stressed, too, if I was a farmer with the level of investment that is required by modern grain farming.

I will be 76 before the snow is gone and have seen that the rolling of the seasons plays out in a different fashion every year. I have seen springs with abundant moisture and ideal seeding conditions where the rains stopped in early summer. The grain grew tall and thick, but the kernels were few and shrivelled.

I have seen dry springs with barely enough moisture a few inches down to germinate the seeds. Yet rains came at the right time and there was an abundant crop. There have been years of drought and years of excessive moisture where some crops were flooded out. Even an overly long winter can be a boon to agriculture because it prevents the soil from drying out.

Anything is possible in Saskatchewan. Farmers have no control over moisture conditions. What about Christians? Many of us seem to go throught the same kind of cycles of scarcity and abundance of spiritual power. Some seem to live in a perpetual drought, trying to conserve the little bit of grace that they have.

Is that how Christian life is supposed to be? I think there are two possible problems when we are experiencing a spiritual drought.

One happens when Jesus fills our cup and we are so fearful of losing the precious spiritual water that we dare not share it with anyone else. And the water in our cup just evaporates. Jesus wants us to let that water flow, and as it flows out more will flow in.

The other possibility could be a misunderstanding of “never thirst again.” When the Holy Spirit comes into our heart, He becomes an inexhaustible source of living water and we never again need to seek desperately for that refreshment.

Yet it seems that we still need to feel a thirst, a longing for that refreshing water. It is too easy to slip into a pattern that seems Christian and spiritual, yet lacks the power that is readily available to us.

Elisha Hoffman describe that thirst like this:

Lord, I am fondly, earnestly longing,
Into thy holy likeness to grow;
Thirsting for more and deeper communion,
Yearning thy love more fully to know.

-from Open the wells of salvation by Elisha Hoffman.

Revival becomes possible when we have that kind of thirst. If we feel dry and parched, it is not that the Lord is withholding the showers from us. It just might be that we are not thirsty enough.

No longer alone

It was a small wedding, just a few of our family and friends. I remember that we barely made it to the church on time and I remember when we signed our marriage certificate. My meory doesn’t seem to have recorded anything else, but that’s the important stuff anyway – we were there and we got married. Later that afternoon we left to spend our honeymoon at Lake Waskesiu in Prince Albert National Park. In the middle of our first night together Chris woke up, startled and a little disoriented, saying, “I just dreamed that we were married!.”

We’ve been living that dream for almost 48 years now. Like most dreams, it has had twists and turns when we wondered how it would turn out. Now we’re old folks and still together.

They tell you that two become one when you marry. They don’t tell you (or maybe I just wasn’t listening when it was told) how hard it will be to change the old habits of singlehood. As a bachelor, I had washed dishes when I had nothing left to cook with or eat from. Socks and shirts stayed where they dropped when I took them off. Every couple weeks I would go round the house, gather my dirty clothes and take them to the laundromat. I kind of knew my bride wouldn’t be charmed by those old habits,  but they died hard.

I wanted a Christian home, but had little idea what that might involve. The first night after we settled into our home in Sperling, Chris told me she wanted us to read the Bible and pray together. That is, she wanted me to take the lead in doing it. I resisted, she insisted. Once begun it became a practice that has continued to this day.

Chris had finished Grade 11 when living at Kelliher with her uncle. Now she enrolled in Grade 12 in Carman, the second town west of Sperling and caught the school bus early each morning.  That didn’t last long. Being a newcomer and the only married person in the class left her out of the social whirl of school. She decided that she had more important things to do at home.

Before we were married, I tried teaching her to drive my pickup truck. It had a standard transmission with the shift lever on the steering column. We drove out of Belle Plaine onto Highway Number One, the Trans-Canada, and I sat close beside her to coach. This was easier back in the days before seat belts and bucket seats. An RCMP officer stopped us and asked what was happening. Chris showed her learner’s permit and I my driver’s license and explained that I was trying to coach a driver who was unfamiliar with manual transmissions. He was a nice guy, he didn’t snicker or give us a ticket, just suggested that Chris might manage better if I didn’t sit so close.

Now that we were settled down, she enrolled in Driver’s Ed in Carman. I had traded the pickup for a car with automatic transmission and soon she was able to do the grocery shopping while I was at work.

Chris had never heard of Mennonites before she met me, but decided that if I wanted to be a Mennonite she did too. There were Mennonite churches of various kinds within a 15 or 20 minute drive from Sperling. I didn’t know much about any of them and stalled at trying to find out. One day I came home from work and my young bride informed me that she had talked to a minister at Lowe Farm, a town straight south of us, and we had an invitation to go and visit him and his wife.

Two keys

I have two keys that, to my eyes at least, appear to be identical. One was made with a state of the art key cutting machine; the other was made by an elderly gentleman using a grinding wheel. Guess which one works?

The machine-made key goes into the keyhole just a little bit roughly and will not turn. The man-made key slides in smooth as silk and turns to open the lock. This guy obviously knows about keys.

Years ago an acquaintance of mine decided to visit Québec. He didn’t know French but he was filled with confidence and enthusiasm because he had this marvelous hand held phrase translator. All he would have to do was find the phrase or question he wanted, press a button and the little electronic marvel would speak it in French. Then he was supposed to hand the device to the French-speaking person who would find the right phrase in French, press the button and it would be spoken aloud in English.

I probably don’t have to tell you that my friend’s enthusiasm took a severe hit when he tried to actually use the marvelous little gizmo. I believe it remained in the bottom of his suitcase after the first day.

I have used computer translation programs off and on over the years. I figured the first ones were about 40% accurate. Google translate has doubled that figure; it puts out readable text, but still doesn’t quite get it. Words in every language have a range of nuances and shades of meaning and to expect a machine to pick a matching word in another language with exactly the same shade of meaning is not realistic. Sometimes such a word does not exist in the other language. People don’t think the same in one language as they do in another. You are not fully bilingual until you understand the way of thinking and expressing oneself of both languages.

Some folks think about Chrisianity as a matter of learning to conform to an outward pattern. The pattern can range from dour conservatism in life and attitude all the way to pertetual joyous enthusiasm. Neither of those keys will unlock the door to heaven, unless they are accompanied by a genuine personal knowledge of Jesus Christ.

A new course in life

If you’ve followed me this far you have no doubt gathered that I wasn’t a romantic kind of guy. I had strong emotional feelings, but I woud have been horribly embarrassed if anyone got a glimpse of them. Circumstances told to me that now I needed to do something to let my bride-to-be know how I felt about her.

So I sat down and wrote my very first love letter. I quoted some lines from a song by the Bee Gees that was popular at the time: “It’s only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away,” and tried to put my feelings into words. I don’t remember writing any more letters, mostly we talked. That meant collect phone calls from Chris to me. I didn’t call her, since her uncle would have answered the phone and that wasn’t what I wanted.

As for the suspicions that some farmers may have harboured, it seemed best to me to just carry on without saying anything more. I had done nothing wrong and I had been careful not to accuse the former manager of wrongdoing. That proved to be the right course of action, as everything went well from then on.

It took several months for it to dawn on me that something had changed in my life. I was no longer turned off by Christian radio broadcasts, there were a couple that I began to listen to regularly. I bought some Christian books. I read more about Mennonite history.

I had always considered the “born again” thing to be a sham. The people I had known who claimed to be born again were no more honest than anyone else. They boasted of a elationship with God, but their attitude of superiority towards other people was not attractive. Now my life had taken a turn, and it had happened at the time I prayed for forgiveness. Was that change what Jesus meant by being born again? I concluded it was.

At that time grain elevators often shut down for the first two weeks of August. The managers would take their vacation and return refreshed to start receiving deliveries for the new crop that would be harvested after mid-August. Chris and I set Saturday, August 1, 1970 for our wedding date and began planning.

Where were we going to get married? What minister would we ask? Neither of us had any church affiliation, I was a lapsed Anglican. Chris’s family was one that said, “If anyone asks, say we belong to the United Church,” but they never actually attended that or any other church.

It happened that Reverend Ken Vickers was now the minister at Saint Barnabas Anglican church in Moose Jaw where my parents attended. Mom asked him and he said he would be happy to do the honours. I was happy to see him again.  We had a counselling session or two with him to help us grasp the importance of the step we were about to take.

Chris has an older brother and four younger sisters, they all lived with their parents. Chris had been with her aunt and uncle ever since a health scare in early childhood caused by neglect. By this time I had met her brother and two of her sisters, but not her parents. Since Chris was only 17, her real father was going to have to give his permission for her to marry. Chris approached him with some trepidation, but he signed.

I asked Joe Zagozeski to be my best man and Chris asked her friend Sandy Carson to be bridesmaid. We were all set, all we needed to do now was get to the church on time.

Life takes some unexpected turns

Alcohol had once enabled me to admit my interest in some day becoming a Mennonite, but the three other people who heard that statement didn’t take it seriously and never again mentioned it. My two trips into Regina to attend a Mennonite church had gone completely unnoticed by those who knew me. I was quite content to leave it that way as I still at a stage where I had no desire to be identified as someone with any interest in Christianity.

Nevertheless, I wanted to have a Bible when I left for Manitoba. There was no way I was going to openly show that desire by going out and buying one. There was another way. My parents had a stack of worn out Bibles in a cupboard; they never threw one out. They would have gladly given me one if I had asked, but that would have been too embarrassing. Before I left, I went to that cupboard, found one that hadn’t quite fallen apart yet, and stashed it in my luggage.

The elevator at Sperling was much bigger and much busier than the one at Belle Plaine. The office was much bigger too. To start with I was provided with a roll away bed in the office for night and got my meals in the home of the former manager.

I settled into a routine, started to get to know the farmers and the people in town. The people in the community were of English, French, Danish, German and other backgrounds. Among the farmers there were members of four different Mennonite denominations. One was a group I had never heard of before, the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. The men of this group wore beards.

I made monthly trips back to Saskatchewan to see my parents and Chris. Chris and I would often visit until midnight Sunday and then I would drive the 400 miles back to Sperling, open the elevator at eight o’clock in the morning. In the summer of 1969 Chris’s Uncle moved to Kelliher, Saskatchewan to run his sister’s café and Chris went with him. Her aunt stayed in Belle Plaine to run the café there. My once a month trips became more complicated.

After several months the former manager retired for health reasons. I was given the job and UGG rented a house in town and paid to move my belongings. The former manager and his family were given time to find a new home and then the UGG carpenter crew went to work on the house.

I had left all my drinking buddies behind in Saskatchewan and didn’t make any new ones in Manitoba. I often had beer in the refrigerator but no incentive for serious drinking by myself.

There was lots of time to read the Bible and I started randomly reading here and there. I began with the belief that the Bible was a man-made book that might contain parts that were inspired by a God that I didn’t know and hardly knew if I believed in. But I was convinced that most of the book was not to be believed or trusted. As I read, a different picture began to impress itself on me. This appeared to be one book, with every part of it connected to every other part. Many things that I didn’t want to believe were quoted by Jesus. It began to sink in to me that I could not choose to believe some parts and reject the rest; it was either all true, or all false.

Now that I was officially the elevator manager, I began looking through the records and found that a number of farmers had bills outstanding for farm supplies, so I sent out reminders. I soon had irate farmers showing up in my office with receipts showing that they had paid those bills. I accepted that, but UGG had never seen those payments. Those farmers seemed to suspect me of trying to pull a fast one and get paid twice, but the people in town understood the situation. The former manage had always seemed to be in need of more money for his family and different episodes were told me of how he had gotten into a bind and money had disappeared. No doubt he had intentions of making it all right, perhaps the stress of it all led to his heart attack.

Some of my farming customers were members of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, from the congregation at Rosenort, about 15 minutes away. They were friendly and often stayed to visit. One day, one of them came into my office to apologize for something he had said a few days earlier. He was afraid I might have misunderstood his remarks and taken offence at them. I was completely caught off guard. There had been no misunderstanding, no offence taken, but now I was almost offended at him for making a special effort to come and clear up such an insignificant thing. They way I looked at my life, I was leading as decent and upright a life as was possible under the circumstances and this guy had come along and kicked that support out from under me.

Early in 1970 Chris told me that she was getting cold feet and wasn’t sure that she wanted to get married. Life looked bleak, many of the farmers were looking at me with suspicion, I hadn’t made any close friends in this community and now my fiancée wanted to back out of our marriage plans.

By the spring of 1970 I had moved into the renovated house. The wall between the kitchen and dining room had been replaced by a counter and new cabinets installed. Flooding was happening around Carman to the west of us, with the threat of it coming our way. One Saturday I took a drive around to look at the situation, but my mind was churning with troubled thoughts. I wanted to just give up and disappear, but I had tried that once and it hadn’t turned out well.

I returned home and opened my Bible at random. My eyes fell on Revelation 3:16: “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” The picture was vivid and shocking – could it be that my life was so distasteful to God that He just had to get that taste out of His mouth? I had never thought of myself as a sinner, but now the weight of sin bore down on me.

I knelt down and admitted to God: “All this trouble I’m in, I did it all by myself, nobody helped me get into this mess.” I asked Him to forgive me and promised that if He would help me now I would serve Him the rest of my life. When I got up from that prayer I had a determination to do whatever I could to work my way through my problems.

Black Threads in Our Tapestry

This is Black History Month, so I decided to tell about some little-known aspects of Saskatchewan’s history.

The first people in Saskatchewan were those we now refer to as Indigenous: The Dené, Cree, Saulteaux (pronounced So-toe), Dakota, Lakota and Nakota. Then came the French and Scottish fur traders and explorers. Some of them stayed, took wives of the people who were already here, and their descendants are known as Métis.

Then the land was opened up for homesteading and landless people from Eastern Canada, the USA and Europe were invited to come and settle this “new” land. Well, it was new to most white people anyway, and it was white people who were wanted as settlers.

The homesteaders came from many countries, languages and cultures and of necessity learned to live and work together to survive and prosper. They faced challenges of breaking the land, learning what crops to grow, getting those crops to market, surviving harsh winters and summer insect plagues. A few gave up and left, most couldn’t afford to leave so they stuck it out through all the hardships of the early years and eventually prospered.

The first black person to arrive in Saskatchewan was Alfred Shadd, from a prominent family in the Buxton settlement south of Chatham, Ontario. This was a settlement of people who had escaped slavery and travelled north on the underground railway to Canada. Alfred Shadd saw an ad for a teacher at Kinistino, Saskatchewan and came out in 1896 to fill that position. After a year he returned to Ontario to complete his studies to be a doctor, then came back and settled in Melfort as a doctor. Eventually he also operated a drug store, a newspaper and a farm where he raised Shorthorn cattle. He served on the town council and came very close to being elected to the provincial legislature. He died suddenly of appendicitis in 1915.

Lewis and Lillie LaFayette of Oskaloosa, Iowa arrived in Saskatchewan in 1906. Lewis first worked on a farm near Regina. At times during their first winter the temperature dropped to 60° below zero (Fahrenheit). In 1909 Lewis took up a homestead at Fiske, west of Rosetown and there he raised a family of ten. He farmed with horses at first, then purchased a Waterloo steam engine in 1913. Two of his brothers joined him at Fiske and for a number of years they ran an all-black threshing crew of 22 men, bringing workers from the USA and helping their neighbours throughout the district get their grain in the bin.

Lewis helped organize the first country school in his area, named Oskaloosa school. He helped organize the first telephone service and served on the telephone board. He was also involved in establishing a co-operative grain elevator. Descendants of Lewis and Lillie are now scattered over Saskatchewan and Alberta.

After the Civil War thousands of former slaves fled to the Oklahoma Territory where they could vote, go to school and live in relative freedom. Oklahoma became a state in 1907 and quickly introduced segregation and denied blacks the right to vote. Dozens of families decided to head north, lured by the promise of obtaining land by homesteading. Twelve families took up homesteads north of Maidstone, Saskatchewan, the others continued on to Amber Valley, Alberta.

About this time the Canadian government panicked at the idea of the Canadian West filling up with black settlers, and instructed immigration officials to refuse entry to blacks on health grounds, claiming the climate of the country was much too harsh for them to survive.

In 1912 the families north of Maidstone built the Shiloh Baptist Church. Joseph and Mattie Mayes were the best known members of the community; Mattie served as a midwife for many in the surrounding area. The descendants of the original settlers have all moved on by now, but the church and cemetery are maintained as heritage properties, a memorial to this group of black homesteaders.

A grandson of Joseph and Mattie Mayes relocated to North Battleford with his wife and raised a family of seven. They were the only black family in the city and experienced no prejudice. One daughter is now a nurse in Saskatoon, another is a veterinarian and their brother Reuben played pro football in the NFL from 1986 to 1993.

These were the pioneers, the first black threads in Saskatchewan’s tapestry. Many more have followed, at first mostly from Eastern Canada and the USA but in more recent years many have come from the Caribbean and Africa.

About fifteen years ago it was said that most of the workers at the broiler processing plant in Wynyard were people who had come here from Sudan as refugees. For a few years, our family doctor was a man who received his education in Kinshasa, D. R. Congo. He speaks French, English and five African languages. Now he is the main doctor at a walk-in clinic in Saskatoon. I have met two people of African origin who have written and published Christian books after settling in Saskatoon, one is from Zambia and the other from Nigeria.

The tapestry of our province is still being enriched by the addition of these black threads.

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