Where We Would Have Gone if We Had More Time

We went to a lot of places on this pilgrimage. But there were more places, many tantalizingly close, I wish we could have visited. Here are just a few:

  • Lausanne, Switzerland: To the Palais de Beaulieu conference center, where the 1974 Lausanne Congress took place. I wrote an entire chapter on this place in Facing West. For a conference where a lot of men sat around talking, it was pretty riveting material. A group of mostly non-Western delegates calling themselves the “radical discipleship caucus” met to plot their resistance to Western dominance of the Congress.
  • Schleitheim, Switzerland: To the place where the Schleitheim Confession of 1527 was drafted. It included statements on baptism (believer’s baptism, not infant), the ban (excommunication of those who refuse to repent), breaking of bread (communion is a remembrance, not the physical body and blood of Christ), separation from evil (no fellowship with the wickedness of the earthly world), pastors (men of good repute who teach, publicly read Scripture, apply the ban, pray, and administer the sacraments), the sword (don’t use one; love your enemies), the oath (your yes should be your yes). This confession still guides some Anabaptist groups.
  • Strasbourg, France: We got within a few dozen kilometers of Strasbourg, which is where Ron Sider, one of the main characters in Moral Minority, gave the most important speech of his life. It’s called “God’s People Reconciling” and launched Christian Peacemaker Teams. Money quotes: “Do we have the courage as a united reconciling people to show the poor of the earth our peace witness is not a subtle support for an unjust status quo, but rather a commitment to risk danger and death so that justice and peace may embrace?” “What would happen if we in the Christian church developed a new nonviolent peacekeeping force of 100,000 persons ready to move into violent conflicts and stand peacefully between warring parties in Central America, Northern Ireland, Poland, Southern Africa, the Middle East, and Afghanistan? Frequently we would get killed by the thousands. But everyone assumes that for the sake of peace it is moral and just for soldiers to get killed by the hundreds of thousands, even millions. Do we not have as much courage and faith as soldiers?”
  • Eastern France/Alsace: Where a lot of Swiss Anabaptists, including the Mullers, went after being expelled from Switzerland. Some of the villages where my ancestors lived were Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Jura Mountains, Monbéliard, Couthenans, Dampierre, Tagsdorf, Saint-Amarin, and Colmar. Despite many local princes wanting to keep their Anabaptist farmers, King Louis XIV began making laws forbidding residents in France from practicing any religion except Catholicism. So most of my ancestors didn’t stay terribly long, which is why this area was not a high priority to visit on this trip.
  • Witmarsum, Netherlands: The birthplace of Menno Simons, a Catholic priest who became an influential Anabaptist leader. He was rebaptized and left the priesthood in 1536.
  • Asperen, Netherlands: From Mennonite Quarterly Review: No story of an Anabaptist martyr has captured the imagination more than the tale of Dirk Willems. Dirk was caught, tried and convicted as an Anabaptist in those later years of harsh Spanish rule under the Duke of Alva in The Netherlands. He escaped from a residential palace turned into a prison by letting himself out of a window with a rope made of knotted rags, dropping onto the ice that covered the castle moat. Seeing him escape, a palace guard pursued him as he fled. Dirk crossed the thin ice of a pond, the “Hondegat,” safely. His own weight had been reduced by short prison rations, but the heavier pursuer broke through. Hearing the guard’s cries for help, Dirk turned back and rescued him. The less-than-grateful guard then seized Dirk and led him back to captivity. This time the authorities threw him into a more secure prison, a small, heavily barred room at the top of a very tall church tower, above the bell, where he was probably locked into the wooden leg stocks that remain in place today. Soon he was led out to be burned to death. Some inhabitants of present-day Asperen, none of them Mennonite, regard Dirk as a folk hero. A Christian, so compassionate that he risked recapture in order to save the life of his drowning pursuer, stimulates respect and memory. Recently Asperen named a street in Dirk’s honor.
  • Lviv, Ukraine: Remember the Ewys from Switzerland’s Emmental Valley? This side of Lisa’s family had distinguished themselves as pioneers in progressive agriculture—crop rotation, selective breeding, and the use of minerals as fertilizers. Because of their successes, they were invited by Catherine the Great to agriculturally invigorate the steppes of Ukraine (936).They added cabbage, borscht, beets, potatoes, mushrooms, and verenike to their diet. They stayed until the early 1880s, when the military draft threatened them. On July 10, 1882, Peter Ewy, a mason by trade, went overland from the rural areas around Lviv to Hamburg, Germany, where he boarded a ship called the Cimbria. He landed in New York harbor and made their way to Moundridge, Kansas. The entire cost of the journey was $88. All of their possessions were crammed into one big trunk. For obvious reasons, we didn’t make it to Lviv, but it’s on our bucket list!
Lviv, Ukraine
  • Moscow, Russia: According to Peter Dyck, my great-great-uncle Alvin Miller, who would become a professor of education at Kent State University, arrived in the Moscow Central Railway Station in his underwear. The year was 1920, soon after the Great War, the Russian Revolution, and the Russian civil war were over. The New York Times was reporting that people in Russia “are dying like flies.” The 120,000 Mennonites in Ukraine and Russia were not exempt.

A delegation of three men had been dispatched to America to tell the sad story. A small group of Americans, including Alvin Miller, traveled to Russia to begin relief work. He left Paris by train expecting to arrive in Moscow the next day. When night came, he undressed down to his long one-piece white underwear, hung his clothing on a hook, and went to sleep. When the conductor called out “Next Station Moscow,” Alvin awoke with a start, reached for his clothing, and discovered that it was gone. Everything, including his shoes, had been stolen. It was cold outside, and there was snow on the ground.

Meanwhile a delegation of Mennonites had come from Ukraine to meet the first American relief worker and was waiting for him in the central station. There was no Alvin Miller. Finally, they thought he might have taken a “droshke,” a horse-drawn taxi, to the hotel. They went outside. What they saw in the first dawn of the early morning was an incredibly strange sight, something like a snowman or a ghost, darting this way and that between the carriages. They investigated this unusual phenomenon, introduced themselves to Alvin Miller, got some clothing for the poor American professor.

This trip helped galvanize the birth of Mennonite Central Committee.


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