Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Pennsylvania

The brief career of a fervent preacher

Levi Young was born in Eastern Pennsylvania in 1841. The date of his conversion is not known, but he became a member of a small Mennonite denomination at the age of 21. Not long after, he became an itinerant minister and evangelist in that group. He never married.

He was on fire for the Lord, striving to do His will in all things and always ready to speak a word for the Lord. By the summer of 1865 he became troubled about the church to which he belonged and came to the conclusion that he needed to separate himself. In June he travelled to Wooster, Ohio to visit John Holdeman, the leader of another small Mennonite church. He spent several days visiting with Holdeman and other members of his church, then returned home.

Over the following months Levi Young exchanged letters with John Holdeman and received a visit from him. In December he returned to Wooster, Ohio and was baptized by John Holdeman.

From there he travelled with John Holdeman to Wakarusa, Indiana where there was a congregation of Holdeman’s church. They returned to Ohio and on the last day of the year left for Ontario.

It appears that this was at least the second visit of John Holdeman to the Baden, Ontario area as Levi Young identifies several people as brethren in his diary: Jacob Litwiller and wife, bro. Yutzy and bro. Schott. Meetings were held most evenings, often in homes, at least twice in a school house and once in Hamacher’s meeting house of the Evangelical Association. Several times Levi Young mentions that “I preached and brother Holdeman exhorted.”

Levi Young then returned home to Pennsylvania and continued preaching in homes when that opportunity would arise. It is evident from his diary that he was a sick man and growing weaker. He makes plans for the disposition of his goods after his death and the last entry in his diary is from July 13, 1868, breaking off in mid sentence. He died August 14 at the age of 26 and was buried near Coopersburg. It appears likely the cause of death was consumption, now known as tuberculosis.

It is interesting to me that John Holdeman encouraged a newly baptized brother to preach in his evangelical outreach in Ontario. That kind of does away with any picture I may have had of John Holdeman as a stern, authoritarian person. John Holdeman returned to Ontario another 25 times. The members in Ontario mostly moved to various locations in the USA in later years and have numerous descendants in the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite.

Another point of interest is that during the last two years of Levi Young’s life the two families he had the most to do with were Minningers and Stauffers. Thirty years later, in 1898, John Holdeman and another minister visited near Souderton, Pennsylvania and Hiram and Lottie Mininger were baptized, as well as Lottie’s parents, Isaiah and Lavina Stover. Stover is a spelling variant of Stauffer, and Souderton is not far south of the area where Levi Young lived. There were more baptisms in that area in later years; Hiram Mininger became a very active and well-known minister in the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite.

I owe the Lord a morning song

Amos Herr (1816-1897) lived on a Lancaster county, Pennsylvania farm that had been in the Herr family since 1710 when his ancestors fist arrived from Europe. In addition to being a farmer, he was a minister of the local Mennonite congregation.

One wintry Sunday morning about 150 years ago, he awoke to a raging blizzard that had left snowdrifts so deep that he knew he could not get to church, even on horseback. He made his way out to the barn to care for his livestock, then came back to the house where his wife and four children were waiting.

The weather outside was unpleasant, but his mind turned to the many things for which he was thankful. He wrote out those thoughts in poetic form, then wrote music to go with the words.

We sang that hymn at the beginning of our worship service yesterday morning and I thought of it through the day. It seems that gratitude is not part of the emotional vocabulary of our modern society.

Dissatisfaction is the life spring of our economy, we always need more and we work to get it. We don’t know why we need it, but everything we see and hear, even the air we breathe, reinforces that feeling that we really need it.

And we have all been mistreated. Do we ever stop to wonder how it can be that everyone is a victim? Everyone is discontented, and with good reason; or so it seems.

Perhaps we all need a good helping of Amos Herr’s medicine of gratitude.

I owe the Lord a morning song
Of gratitude and praise,
For the kind mercy He has shown
In length’ning out my days.

He kept me safe another night;
I see another day;
Now may His Spirit, as the light,
Direct me in His way.

Keep me from danger and from sin;
Help me Thy will to do.
So that my heart be pure within,
And I Thy goodness know.

Keep me till Thou wilt call me hence,
Where never night can be;
And save me, Lord, for Jesus’ sake,
He shed His blood for me.

A light shining in the darkness

In 1671 there arose a severe persecution of the Mennonites in Switzerland, causing many to flee the country.  Brethren in the Netherlands came to their aid and gave them refuge.  In all, about 700 persons, among them some very aged, fled Switzerland.  They were destitute, their lands and properties having been seized by the Swiss authorities.

Some of the leaders, however, delayed leaving Switzerland for a period of time.  When asked the reason, this was their reply:

“They say that the churches greatly waxed and increased, so that though under the cross, they nevertheless flourished as a rose among thorns, and that further increase could daily be expected, because many persons manifested themselves, who saw the light shine out of darkness, and began to love the same and seek after it; that the ministers considering this in their heart, found themselves loath to leave the country, fearing that thereby this promising harvest may be lost, and thus many fall back from their good purpose; and hence they chose rather to suffer a little than to leave, in order that they might yet rescue some souls from perdition, and bring them to Christ.”*

About twenty years later, many of these Swiss Mennonite refugees and their children left the Netherlands to cross the ocean and settle in Pennsylvania, thus beginning the history of the Mennonites in North America.

*This paragraph comes from material added to the second edition of the Martyrs Mirror.

Who was Benjamin Eby?

Benjamin Eby was a great-great-grandson of Jacob Eby, who was ordained bishop of the Mennonites at Zurich, Switzerland in 1663.  Jacob’s son, Theodor us Eby, left Switzerland in 1704 to escape the persecution of the Mennonites that was going on there.  This Eby family settled in Lancaster County Pennsylvania in 1715.  Benjamin Eby’s older brother, Peter, served as bishop of the Mennonites in Lancaster County from 1800 ro 1843.

There is a family tradition that the Ebys, and many other Swiss Mennonite families, had originally been Waldensians Christians from the area of the Po valley in Italy and were of Celtic origin.  They came to Switzerland in the 13th century to escape the persecution of the Waldenses.

On February 25, 1807, Benjamin Eby married Mary Brubacher and that same year they left Pennsylvania to make their home in Waterloo County, Ontario where some other Lancaster County Mennonites had begun settling around 1800.  Benjamin was ordained minister of the Waterloo county Mennonites in 1809 and bishop in 1812.  In both instances, his brother Peter came to perform the ordination.

Besides being a spiritual leader, Benjamin Eby was a farmer, school teacher, writer and historian. Whatever it would take to establish the families of his congregation and to serve their neighbours, he undertook to do.  A town soon grew up around his farm, known at first as Ebytown.  In 1833 it was renamed Berlin and in 1914 it became Kitchener.

He organized the first school in Waterloo county and taught in that school for many years.  He compiled two German schoolbooks, combination grammar and readers.  He compiled a German hymnal.  He was also concerned that his English-speaking neighbours should have a clear explanation of the history and faith of the Mennonites, so his booklet entitled Origin and Doctrine of the Mennonites was made available in both German and English.

Benjamin Eby has been described as an effective preacher, having a profound knowledge of the Bible, an equally profound grasp of the spiritual needs of ordinarily people and the ability to bring the two together in a manner that touched the hearts of those who heard him.  He was a meek and gentle man, a friend to all, yet a staunch defender of the faith.

He was sometimes called upon to help resolve difficulties and disputes in other Mennonite congregations in Ontario, in the Markham and Niagara areas.  He always worked to establish and maintain peace among the brethren, yet never at the cost of compromising the faith that he loved and had promised to uphold.

Benjamin Eby, like Menno Simons, did not like the term Anabaptist, as it means re-baptisers.  The Mennonite faith recognizes only one baptism, a baptism performed upon the confession of faith of one who has truly been born again.  Benjamin Eby was not referring to the denominations now known as Baptist when he used that name, as those churches were virtually unknown in Ontario in his day.

Today, most of us accept the designation of Anabaptist to avoid confusion and because of the long history of the use of that name to describe people of our faith.

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