Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: walls

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.

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Why is the door locked?

Karen Mains, in her book Open Heart, Open Home, included a chapter entitled The Nicest House in Town. It describes a beautiful home, in a beautiful yard, and through the windows people can be seen happily visiting together and feasting on sumptuous food. Sounds of beautiful singing can be heard coming from those inside. Huddled around the hedge outside there are shivering, hungry people longing to be inside where it is warm and cheery, where there appears to be food and love in abundance. But the doors are locked; they are not wanted in that house.

This is an meant as an allegory of many supposedly evangelical churches. I’m afraid it hits pretty close to home. Why do people have that idea about us? What can we do to change the way people look at us?

A tract that I once read told a similar story. On a cold winter evening someone met a starving, shabbily dressed man, gave him a key and a piece of paper with an address written on it, told the man to go to that address, use the key, and all his needs would be met. He found the house, much like the one that Karen Mains described, saw the warm, happy people inside, saw the table loaded with food. But he could not believe that what was inside could be for him. He couldn’t believe that the key would work for him; he never even tried it. He sadly walked away and was found frozen to death the next morning, the key still clutched in his hand.

This story seems to put the blame on the man who walked away. His problem was unbelief. But why was the door locked?

The prophets foretold a time when the gates of Jerusalem would be open continually for the strangers and Gentiles to come in (Isaiah 60:10-11); of a land of unwalled villages, having neither bars nor gates (Ezekiel 38:11 and Zechariah 2:4). Surely God is not pleased when we put up walls. We may try to defend ourselves and say there are no walls, we would never do such a thing. Why then do other people see walls?

In the parable that Jesus told of the wedding feast, the king asked his servant “Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind,” and a second time: ” Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” (Luke 14:21-23). We claim to be servants of God, don’t we? Are we doing anything like this? Of course, the parallel account in Matthew 22 mentions the man who came to the wedding feast without a wedding garment.  It is part of our responsibility when we call people to come in to explain about the wedding garment and how to obtain it.

What is holding us back from flinging open the doors and going out to invite those shivering, hungry folks huddled in the hedges to come in? Notice that I say “us” — I cannot claim to have done better than others, perhaps much worse than many. And there were people who invited me to come in many years ago. Yet it is becoming more clear to me than ever before that there really are folks around us who are spiritually cold and hungry and it looks to them like we have closed and locked our doors.

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