The Story of an Old Order Mennonite Girl

Circle Letters: The Story of an Old Order Mennonite Girl - A Memoir by Aleta M. Schrock

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Castle Dungeon continued

… continued from March 23, 2012…
My feet clinked across the rough wooden floor as I left the cool, musty, dampness of the dungeon below me and entered the freedom of the sunny world outside.
All I know for sure about the end of Grossdaudy Andrew Martin’s story is that in 1745, about eighteen years later, he docked in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. And in an old graveyard in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a grave stone is inscribed “A.M. 80 1759.”
How did he get free? Is there some harrowing escape story that he never told? Did he recant in desperation to gain his freedom? Where did that idea come from? I had never considered that possibility before. I shook that uncomfortable thought from my head. The most likely possibility is that the states of Germany had once more changed kings and religious freedom had returned.
Once released, how did Andrew manage to find his wife and children? Was he imprisoned the entire eighteen years or did he spend some of those years tracking down his family? Did he have the finances to come to America? Did a friend pay his way or did he indenture himself out for a passage fare? As an indentured servant he might have spent the first five years in America working for his freedom rather than finding his family. I do not even know what his wife’s name was? I do not know why it has not been recorded. Perhaps it was Amanda.
“Have you heard any news of my wife, Amanda Martin, or perhaps one of my son’s, Jacob, Henry or David?” Did that same faith that carried him through those years of imprisonment and possible torture also give him the assurance that he would eventually be reunited with his family again?
He survived with the help of caring Mennonite families, working here and there for his keep, until one day while walking down a hot dusty road in Weaverland, Pennsylvania, a farm in the distance his destination, he saw the familiar shape of a woman draping laundry across the bushes. Could it be? Was she still alive? His heart beat faster at the thought of once more seeing his beloved. His feet quickened their pace as he saw her turn to watch this stranger bearing a familiar shape making his way up the road. As he neared the farm he stopped and called out, “Amanda? Is it you?”
She stood frozen for a moment then dropped the shirt she had been ready to toss across the next bush and ran into his arms. Eighteen years had been a long time, but for this brief moment it was forgotten.
I sit in my house in Elkhart, Indiana holding a book titled The Family History of John W. Martin 1852 – 1975 imagining how the ending of Andrew’s story might have played out.
According to the book Andrew had a son David. David’s first wife, Barbara, and their three sons sailed with the family to America in 1727. Barbara died on the ship during the journey to America. Was she buried at sea? What heartache did they experience watching her body sink. The book doesn’t give any details.
Later David was remarried to Anna Groff. George was the second of David and Anna’s children, born in 1742. George had a son Abraham who had a son John. The book in my hands lists the family tree of the thousands of descendants of John and Susanna Eberly Martin. John had a son Elias who had a son Phares who had a daughter Irene who had a daughter Aleta. That’s me. I sit here two hundred fifty years later marveling at the faith of my forefathers.
Because my Grossdaudy Andrew Martin and his family of ten generations ago had the strength to live what they believed, endure the persecution for their faith and courageously venture into the unknown to give hope to their future generations, I live in peace and freedom in Elkhart, Indiana. But that strength does not just come from Andrew Martin. Every branch of my family tree that has been traced reaches back to these same roots of Anabaptists willing to risk their lives for the God they loved. 

Know therefore that the LORD thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations; Deuteronomy 7:9

The blessings go for a thousand generations and mine have been handed down through only ten. I have inherited a tower of strength.
I get up each morning and go to bed each night in comfort, ease and safety. I do not feel guilty for this luxury. It is a gift from God. But there is a responsibility that accompanies this gift. During this time of peace and safety I need to learn to live by faith, to put on the full armor of God. I cannot rely on the faith of my forefathers. It is this armor that provides me with the confidence I need, the confidence to live like my forefathers- fully in faith, fully in Christ.

 10Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. 11Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. 13Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Ephesians 6:13

I put on Christ by reading his Word. He becomes my armor. In him I am strong. In him I stand.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

1000 Gifts #267-291 Nature's First Green

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

This is one of my favorite poems by Robert Frost. I was initially drawn to this poem because nature’s first green is one of my favorite colors and each year as the world turns green; I find its words springing from my tongue. But at the same time I hesitate because it’s also rather morbid with its focus on how life sinks towards death on decay.
It’s as if the poem contains polar opposite concepts. But then, I think about what my husband said the last time I referred to two concepts as being polar opposites. “They are more like two sides of the same coin. Rather than contradicting each other, they express two sides of the same idea.”
That makes me rethink my feelings on the poem being about death and decay and I come to the realization that it is more about the cycles of life. Every beautiful season of life dies and rebirths itself into a new beautiful season. With God each season carries its own beautiful colors.
I smile. Glad that my heart can still wholly embrace the beauty and rhythm of this wonderful poem.

My List:

267. The brilliant green of spring leaves.
268. The storytelling committee.
269. Storytellers.
270. Most of my students with green behavior cards at the end of the day.
271. Flowering trees.
272.The scent of freshly mown grass.
273. The anticipation of lilacs blooming.

274. The brilliant green river reflection of a tree leafing in spring.
275. The unexpected floral scent that causes me to look around to find it.
276. Celebrating my husband’s birthday with friends.
277. Knowing his word is true and he will perform it.
278. The wispy tresses of a cirrus cloud.
279. The brilliant shades of spring green.
280. The first scent of lilacs.
281. Attempting to capture the shapes of trees.
282. The thickly red-blossomed branches of a crabapple tree.
283. The park across the river.

284. The pink reflection of a crabapple tree in the river.
285. A blue and white bespeckled cumulonimbus sky.

286. The moon and the stars adorning the night.
287. The first shoots of rhubarb making their way up out of the soil.
288.  The first-year blossoms of our Honeycrisp apple tree.
289. The splash of a fish in the river.
290. Perfectly seasoned Chile Soup.
291. Foods sweetened with honey and molasses.
292.   . . .

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday 2 Peter 1:16-19

2 Peter 1:16-19

19We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:

16For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
17For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
18And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.
19We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Castle Dungeon

Andrew Martin lay in a pile of straw in the musty darkness of the castle dungeon. The cold rocks that formed the tower wall felt damp against his back. Rats squeaked as they ran over his chained foot in their scramble for the bread crumbs that fell from his shaking hands. Bread and water. That was all he had eaten since his imprisonment several months earlier. The lukewarm water from the dented tin cup felt almost cool against his cracked lips.
The man I saw sprawled on the floor of this castle dungeon in Thun, Switzerland, was merely a model, but peering in at this scraggly representation of a man stirred emotions from deep within. Was this how my great-grandfather of ten generations ago, Andrew Martin, was imprisoned for his faith. It was during his imprisonment that he advised his family to sail to America without him. Only sparse details of the story have been handed down verbally through the generations. I know the beginning and the ending, but none of the in between. As I stood in the electrically lit castle of today, I thought of all the stories of persecution  I had grown up hearing from the book Martyr’s Mirror and I began to imagine how my ten-greats grossdaudy’s, grandfather’s, life might have played out almost three hundred years earlier.
Was my grossdaudy tormented by thoughts of fear, of how his family was surviving? Thankfully his children were grown and could take care of their mother in his absence, but what if they were captured?
Or did the time allotted with God there in that prison cell bring about the peace that passes all understanding? Was he able to praise God without the dark thoughts of fear interrupting or did he use the songs and the Word to drown out torment?
As my imagination continued a flaming torch moved down the dank hallway accompanied by heavy footsteps. “Recant, and you can go home to be with your family,” a rough voice swore through the barred windows in the tower door.
Grossdaudy ignored the comment as he prayed, “God, forgive him, he does not know what he is saying.”
Of this one thing I am confident. The persecutors were forgiven. I grew up reading the book entitled Martyr’s Mirror. It is a voluminous book filled with stories of Anabaptists following Jesus’ example in forgiving those who persecuted them. That was and is one of the foundations of the faith that persists even into today.
When I was in my twenties a teenage cousin was killed by a drunk driver who drove away from the scene and left him lying in the ditch. I never heard an angry word spoken against the driver. Only concern about the guilt he would have to live with. More recently my second cousin’s husband, a beloved Bishop of the Old Order Mennonite Church, was riding to work on his bicycle and was killed by a careless driver trying to find his cell phone. All around me I heard concern about the driver expressed, prayers that he would be able to forgive himself. Their unshakable faith in God as a supreme, loving being who is ultimately in control of every aspect of their lives gives them the peace and strength to forgive. I thank God for this heritage and pray that love and forgiveness would continue to rule in my life also.
Since my visit to Thun, Switzerland, I have discovered that Andrew Martin was not imprisoned in Switzerland, but rather somewhere in Germany, but at the time I was touring the castle in Thun I was not yet aware of that. He and his family had all been born in Switzerland but moved to Rhenish Palatinate, Germany, to escape religious persecution. Freedom did not last and Andrew was imprisoned in Germany. A castle would have been a likely place of imprisonment during those days and my thoughts continued.
Andrew dozed off fitfully on the hard wooden floor of the dungeon until he was awakened by a quiet voice, “Father, is that you?”
Yes, Father, how are you?”
“I am fine, son. God is with me. It is dangerous for you to come see me here.”
“I know, Father. I just had to make sure you were still alive. The church is praying for you.”
“Switzerland and Germany are no longer safe for us. Take your mother and your brothers and your families to America. I hear there is freedom there. If I am ever released I will join you.”
“Father, we cannot leave you here alone!” David’s voice broke.
“Save yourselves. Take care of your mother and God be with you.”
“God be with you too, Father.” David said as he slipped away.
All I know for sure is that Andrew advised his family, including his married son, David, to go to America. He told them if he ever got free he would join them. The family traveled to Rotterdam, Netherlands, and sailed to freedom on a ship called Molly, not knowing if they would ever see their grandfather, father or husband again, not knowing what tortures he might have to endure. On September 30, 1727, they docked at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
What if that would have been my husband left behind? I shivered at the thought and glanced over to where he was examining a piece of equipment across the castle room and then returned to the possibilities of what Andrew might have experienced.
“Aaaaahhh! Gott! Gott! Aaaaahhh, Gott, hilf mich! Help me, God!” Andrew heard the screams echoing off the castle’s stone walls. Another body was being stretched out on the racks.
“Recant from your heresy!” the words reverberated throughout the dungeon. All they had to do was recant their Anabaptist faith and they would have been released. But that would have meant going against what they believed the Bible taught and returning to baptizing their babies, rather than allowing them to grow up and make the choice of faith for themselves. Recanting would have meant taking up arms and fighting in war.
When we were children, my brothers and I played “cowboys and Indians.” We slung around homemade guns and bows and arrows and aimed them towards animals both real and imaginary, but never at each other. We captured the opposing party and pretended to tie them up, but never would we lift as much as a finger in pretense of shooting our play-enemies. Human life was sacred. Even the lifted finger would have wrought punishment.
Andrew sighed as he remembered with sadness the words he had heard a man shout the previous day. “I recant. Lasz mich lose. Let me loose.”
I chose to allow the torture to happen to someone other than my ten generations ago Grossdaudy. My mind entertained the possibilities, but my pen refused to write them. The Martyr’s Mirror contains stories about how the Anabaptists were tortured for their faith, but my direct ancestors’, outside of the brief information of this one incident, never recorded their own personal stories of capture, not even orally.
I think of all the stories of my own life that I have not recorded. They may not contain anything as dramatic as my Grossdauddy Andrew’s story, but generations to come might be encouraged and strengthened by my life. I am newly inspired to journal my life experiences more consistently, not only the experiences, but also the emotional process that life took me through. How might Grossdauddy Andrew have felt hearing his cell mates’ torture?
“Lord, give me strength,” Andrew murmured. He felt discouragement creeping over his mind and body and in a hoarse whisper began to sing, “Gott ist der Liebe, ließ mich ihn loben… God is love. Let me praise Him…” The musty dampness surrounded him and in the darkness he heard the rats squeak as their paws scratched and skittered across the wooden floor. Their stench filled his mouth as he took a deep breath to continue, “Gott ist der Liebe…” The words calmed his fear and a deep peace filled the little tower dungeon room as he relaxed back against the cold damp wall.
I too leaned against the cold stone of the castle dungeon wall humming softly “Gott ist der Liebe…” What if these were the very same rough wooden planks that my ancestor’s feet had stumbled along? I had grown up hearing stories about my ancestors in Switzerland and Germany. How they had been tortured for their faith and now, here I was, standing in the dungeon of a Swiss castle, conflicting emotions surging through my being.
I feel blessed to have come from such a rich heritage. A heritage of strength and integrity. People who were willing to endure horrendous tortures for the principals they believed in. That same blood runs in my veins, but I have not had need to draw on that level of strength. But I am aware of the direction our country has been going. Many of our rights and freedoms as Christians are being taken away. 
As the return of Christ draws nearer, I feel a need for a new level of faith in God and his provision. The faith that merely hopes that God will come through would falter during the situations my forefathers experienced. Two synonyms for faith are confidence and trust. I believe the end times will call for a faith, a confidence, an unshakable knowing that Christ will provide every need. Trust like a little child falling into her daddy’s arms.

 6But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. 7For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. James 1:6-7

That kind of trust and confidence only comes through relationship. Relationship takes time. And so I turn to the Word more and more. The Word was God… the Word is God. And soon I begin to realize that this deep level of confidence type of living is not only required during hard times. It is the only way to live daily. Always.
…to be continued…

Monday, March 19, 2012

1000 Gifts List #246-266, Curious Squirrels

My body lay across the wooden glider on our deck. My feet, propped up on the side arm, moved in a slow rocking motion. In places above me the deep green of the Sugar Maple Tree mingled with the lighter almost translucent shade of the Silver Maple. In between I watched the ever shifting spaces of bright blue sky and fluffy white clouds.
My one arm lay across my forehead shading my eyes from the sun as the other lifted a piece of licorice to my mouth. My eyes moved appreciatively across the expanse of green above me and caught a glimpse of something that caused them to stop and retrace their way back through the leaves.
A squirrel lay in the v of a branch almost directly above me to my left. I relaxed there on the bench watching it for a moment, slowly putting another piece of licorice in my mouth and eventually another while the squirrel just continued to lay there. He’s watching me! I thought. He’s probably thinking.  Oh, look, there’s a human down there. She’s eating something. Wonder what it is? She’s putting another one in her mouth. Wonder how long she’ll keep that up?
It was an odd sensation being watched by a squirrel. Naw. I thought. He’s not watching me. I’m just paranoid. So I waved. He moved slightly then ran up to another branch. He was watching!
Suddenly he ran down the side of the tree, perched on the edge of the deck and began to chatter excitedly, his body lurching towards me. My mind wavered between the delight of being talked to by a squirrel and the terror of being attacked by a possibly rabid creature. I sat rigidly, saying nothing, and eventually he left. My body relaxed as I laughed, wondering what would have occurred if I had talked back to him.

          This squirrel adventure occurred back in May of 2009 and I was reminded of it when I encountered a curious squirrel on a joy walk last week. I was within ten feet of the squirrel and he ran around the tree a few times, peeking out at me, then he posed for a moment, wiggling his nose at me while I took his picture.
1000 Gifts List:

246. A squirrel staring at me.

247.The serious expression on the face of a child who just realized that the words she had spoken would not have pleased Martin Luther King, Jr.
248. The promises of God's Word being true.
249. CD of hymns played on the piano. 
250. That when a teenage sister of a student drops off twelve mini-cupcakes for her little sister’s birthday surprise and the students all say that it isn’t enough for a class of twenty-six, another student who remembers the fractions they are being taught says, “Oh yeah, just cut them in half.” and since two students are absent twenty-four halves are exactly enough.
251. Purple crocuses.
252. The green-shoots-beginning of tulips.

253. Children inspired to write under the magic kente cloth.
254. The student authors at our school corporations Student Authors’ Conference.
255. That one of my student’s stories is chosen to be performed by The Brain Stormers.
256. Running into an old friend that I haven’t seen in years and she suggests meeting for tea again.
257. Awesome summer weather in March.
258. Toes digging barefoot into warm March dirt.
259. Working outside with my husband.
260. My husband installing the new back porch light.
261. Recognizing how blessed I am to have a Godly husband.

262. Beautiful red budding branches.
263. Geese returning north.
264. The Word of God.
265. Reading my cousin’s childhood diaries.
266. Strong legs that walk.
267.   . . .

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Sunday Psalm 113

Psalm 113
 3From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same the LORD's name is to be praised.

 1Praise ye the LORD. Praise, O ye servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD.
 2Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time forth and for evermore.
 3From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same the LORD's name is to be praised.
 4The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens.
 5Who is like unto the LORD our God, who dwelleth on high,
 6Who humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven, and in the earth!
 7He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill;
 8That he may set him with princes, even with the princes of his people.
 9He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children. Praise ye the LORD.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

1000 Gifts List #218-245, The Lorax

          Sunday afternoon on the drive home from a birthday dinner with my sister-in-law I commented, “A nap sure sounds good.”
          “I was hoping I could interest you in a movie.” My husband replied.
          “Which movie?”
          It’s an action movie.”
          “Is there an actual story line or is it just pure action?” He knows I can endure his action movies when there is a good story accompanying it.
          “I’m not sure,” was his reply. “I just saw some previews, but I don’t know too much more about it.”
          “Can I have a nap first?”
          I was not in the mood for another action movie. The last couple movies we had seen together had been “his” action movies. They had ended up having good story lines and I’d actually enjoyed them, but it was my turn for a chick flick… I was too tired to think of what I would want to see or whether there was even anything playing that I’d like. (There usually isn’t.) And I had to admit that normally he saw more of my chick flicks with me than I saw action movies with him so… I would just hope for another good story line…
          After about an hour of sleeping I heard him stirring downstairs. “Whatcha doin?” I called.
          “Looking up movie times. There’s a 5:30 and an 8:30 showing. Which one do you want?
          “I glanced at the alarm clock: 5:15. How about the 5:30 one?”
          “Sounds good to me.”
          I jumped up and got dressed.
          We arrived just as the previews were starting. “Two tickets for… (my husband named some action sounding name) or…” then he turned and looked at me with a grin, “Would you like to see The Lorax?” He knows I’m a Dr. Seuss fan.
          My eyes lit up as he paid for the tickets.
          After The Lorax was over and we were leaving the theater, my husband glanced at his watch and commented, “We could go see that action movie now. It’s just starting.”
          “Did you want to?” I asked.
          “Not really. I have a few things I need to get ready for work tomorrow.”
          I stopped walking and looked at him. “So you had planned all along to see The Lorax?”
          He just laughed.
          I love feeling loved.

218. My husband surprising me and watching The Lorax with me.
219. Seeing a scene in nature that causes you to want to stop and take a picture.
220. Waking up next to my husband.
221. The peaceful flow of the river.
222. First grade students encouraging third grade ISTEP test takers with daily treats.
223. Tea with a friend you haven’t seen for awhile.
224. Dinner at home across the table from my husband.
225. The peace of God in my heart.
226. Sushi with lots of wasabi and soy sauce.
227. Pickled ginger.
228. Choosing a gift for my sister-in-law’s birthday.
229. Soaking in hot Epsom Salts water.
230. Time to relax on the deck next to my husband in the warm spring sunshine.
231. Promises of spring.

232. The first robin.
233. Hearing the twittering of birds outside.

234. Tree people with one arm crooked.

235. Seeing blue skies and white clouds floating by through the tree branches.
236. The hill on my joy walk route.
237. The ability to run up and down a hill.
238. Vitamin D fresh from the sun while I’m walking.

239. Gorgeous storm clouds.

240. Baked salmon with lemon juice.
241. The recycling triangle on containers.
242. Forty year old memories of riding to the neighborhood, country dump on the back of the trash-barrel filled wagon.
243. A new student who fits in without changing the dynamics of the classroom. (meaning he can sit beside or work with anyone and get along)
244. Milk tapioca pudding with real whip cream fresh from the cow.
245. Memories of eating Grossmommy’s milk tapioca pudding and listening to her explain exactly how she made it, what else was happening while she was making it and how it turned out (in her opinion).
246.   . . .