Category Archive: Freedom

Set Free … by Music

Georg Friedrich Händel was born in 1685 in Brandenburg-Prussia.

At the tender age of nine years, Handel began composing church services for voice and instruments every week for three years. As he grew and his talent developed, he worked as a composer in Italy and then England, becoming a German-British Baroque composer well known for his operas, oratorios, anthems, and organ concertos. 

Handel became a very successful composer of big, bold musical arias and operas for London society. At that time, going to an opera was not the semi-formal, reverent event it is today. Instead, listeners walked about, eating and drinking, spitting, booing, and sometimes rioting if they didn’t like the song. Handel even started three commercial opera companies to supply Italian opera to the English nobility.

in 1737, exhausted by stress, Handel suffered what appears to have been a mild stroke which impaired the movement of his right hand. Fans thought he might never compose again. However, after a six-week course of treatment in Germany he returned to London to continue composing. Six years later he suffered another stroke. Again, Handel’s audience thought he would no longer write but, once again, he stunned them with a quick recovery.

Handel did quite well with his big, bold music until that style went out of favor. He lost everything and went bankrupt. He is said to have suffered from anxiety and depression. One of his friends, Charles Jennens, sent him a letter filled with Bible references about the Messiah, the Chosen One God would send to redeem His people. Not being a religious man, he set these aside for a time. But when he picked them up and read of the promised Messiah in Isaiah, the coming of the King in Revelation, he locked himself in his study for twenty-four days straight, hardly eating or drinking, to complete this oratorio.

After twenty-four days Handel’s servant heard weeping behind the door. Forcing it open, he found Handel inside, tears streaming down his face. “I think I did see all heaven open before me, and the great God Himself,” he said. He determined to conduct the premier performance of THE MESSIAH in Dublin around Easter of 1742, with the goal of freeing many locked in prison for debts they could not pay. The oratorio received rave reviews and exceeded expectations, raising 400 pounds and paying the debts of between 142 and 157 prisoners.

Imagine those 150-ish men and women bending over, leaving their cells, bodies likely stiff from lack of exercise, as they walked through a low-arched stone passageway into the outside air. Glimpse their joy as their debts were pardoned and they returned to their families to start anew.

This is what Jesus Christ came to give us–new life, hope, peace, love, and purpose.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

John 10:10, ESV

What a picture of the redemption Christ offers us. For a sin debt we cannot pay, the penalty of which is death, He came to earth, born and placed in a lowly manger, and grew up to show us God’s character. He, the one person born without sin, then gave His life as a ransom for all who would receive this free gift.

So whoever has God’s Son has life; whoever does not have his Son, does not have life.

I John 5:12, TLB

Handel continued to share this oratorio, donating significantly to the London Foundling Hospital for abandoned children and infants.

Throughout his life he was known as a generous man. Never married, his will divided his assets among his servants and several charities, including the Foundling Hospital. And to prevent his loved ones from bearing the cost of burying him, Handel donated the money to pay for his own funeral. He was buried in Westminster Abbey a week after his death. 

It is said that when England’s King George first heard THE MESSIAH, and its closing Chorus, he stood in awe of the King of Kings. That began the tradition of standing during the singing of the Hallelujah Chorus.

In 2010 the Philadelphia Opera Company gathered 650 vocalists (in guise as shoppers) at the heart of a three-story Macy’s which had a large pipe organ installed in the center of the store. As the organ began the introduction to THE MESSIAH, the singers joined in for a fabulous flash mob. I hope you’ll take the six minutes to watch this, look at the faces of those who stop to listen, the hands raised in praise, the cameras taking in the sight and sound of this “Random Act of Culture”. I found it extremely uplifting, and hope you will too.

May you rejoice in the coming of Messiah, once as we celebrate Christmas and the babe born in a manger; and with the promise of His return in the future.

And He shall reign forever and ever. Hallelujah!

Yes? No? Wait?

Most of us have seen the news: seventeen missionaries, serving Christ in Haiti, abducted. Among them are two teenagers and children aged eight months, three and six years. The missionaries had been brought back to the US and Canada after the assassination of Haiti’s President, but were recently sent back to the country.

In a letter, the families of those abducted said “God has given our loved ones the unique opportunity to live out our Lord’s command to love your enemies.”

The group invited people to join them in prayer for the kidnappers as well as those kidnapped. They expressed gratitude for help from “people that are knowledgeable and experienced in dealing with” such situations.

I grieve for these men and women, for mothers trying to care for an infant and two small children in captivity. These missionaries are from Amish, Mennonite, and other Anabaptist groups, while Don’s and my roots are of Mennonite origin. And I pray for their protection, for grace in their captivity, for their release.

And God cares!

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

I Peter 5:6-8

He also brings hope.

Hope when discouragement seems to reign over the world and our hearts.

Hope when we feel lost inside, fearful.

Hope that comes from his Word, which is still so very relevant today; and from his Spirit within us that speaks truth to us.

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Romans 10:17, ESV

In spite of abduction, war, death, fire, flood, as well as personal challenges, God promises us hope which comes from faith if we will spend time listening to, and reading or hearing his message to us. Faith that what we see is not all there is.

The Bible is God’s love letter to you and me. Who else sent His Son, the eternal Son of God and part of the Triune God, to live among us, to show us the character of God. No other religious leader has died a horrific death, rising three days later to conquer death and offer us eternal life through His sacrifice for us.

Some think God is punishing, vengeful, that he could not possibly forgive what they have done. But look at the promise in John 3:16-17, verses familiar to many of us:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

John 3:16-17

His desire is not vengeance, but reconciliation, relationship.

And God’s answers to prayer are not always what we think is best. His answer may be “Wait”, as it was when I longed for my first husband to pop the question! It may be “No,” as it was when people around the world prayed for the release of missionaries Jim Elliott, Nate Saint and three others at the hands of the Auca Indians in 1956. No, God didn’t spare the lives of these five men who were trying to reach a tribe in Ecuador with the Good News about Jesus. But through that murder, and through the continuing faithfulness of Jim Elliott’s widow, Elizabeth and Nate Saint’s sister Rachel, that entire tribe came to faith in Christ. His is a long view, if you will. This earth is but one step in our life’s journey. Eternity will be, well, eternal!

lightning unk on green grass field
Photo by Alexandre Bringer on Pexels.com

And his answer may be “Yes.” The daughter of friends was to be married at two o’clock this afternoon, outdoors in the Santa Cruz mountains. As many of you know, we have a storm today–heavier rains in northern California and in the mountains, with evacuation orders in place for parts of Santa Cruz because of debris and the threat of falling trees.

Don and I have prayed much this week for this wedding. We’ve prayed for rain, and didn’t want to ask God to shut the windows of heaven. We also wanted this family to have a wonderful day of celebration. Impossible to have both? When they planned the wedding the weather was projected to be clear; now there were no canopies available for rent in the area, for either the outdoor wedding or reception.

brown trees under blue sky
Photo by Jelena Juhnevica on Pexels.com

Our pastor told us this morning that another wedding at the outdoor venue cancelled yesterday (Saturday), and our friends moved their wedding up by a day. Photographer, caterers, pastor, all were available a day early and the couple had a wonderful wedding day without rain. I expect many were praying for this, and give glory to God for making a way in a situation that seemed impossible.

I don’t know what God will do with these abducted missionaries. My mind is not his. But I know this. God is good, and he loves each of those seventeen adults and children. And he will work through the resolution of this horrendous situation, whatever it may be. AND, he wants us to ask! Please join me in prayer for them.

Father, good God, please grant your peace to these servants of yours as they wait in captivity. Convict the gang members and show them your love through this group. Provide the grace that's needed for each person, and especially for the parents of the small children as they help their little ones navigate captivity. I pray the group will be able to stay together so they can encourage and uplift each other. Keep your word alive in their hearts. And in your mercy, I ask for their release. Be with their families; and in whatever comes, may your name be lifted up! In Jesus' name.

Amen!

What’s your Family History?

In researching Mennonite history for a novel I’m writing, I found the story of a whole village that escaped Russia through Siberia and over the Amur River to China, from where they went to Canada, the United States, and South America.

This was 1929, when the anti-God Communist government was imposing collectivization. They took property from individuals, leaving them barely able to provide for their families. They arrested and executed or sent to labor camps those who owned a horse or cow, machinery—or taught Sunday school or wrote letters to family in North America or Europe.

My grandfather was a minister/farmer; his family, including my father, was in the last group to receive exit visas from Moscow in 1929.

My grandfather, 3rd from left, back row, before he was married. Photo taken about 1900 in the Ukraine.

Others were desperate enough to escape illegally. One such route was over the Amur River in Siberia into China, and from there to the Americas.

Border guards were constantly on the lookout as the Amur was only about a mile wide at the point they planned to cross to China. Escape attempts were fraught with tension. Leaders tried to time their escapes in mid-day when they thought no sane person would cross the river; later in the afternoon when the guards were less well staffed; in the brilliance of the setting sun which they hoped would blind the guards temporarily; or at shift change between 11 and 12 pm.

The entire village of Shumanovsk (Siberia) planned to leave together–a very risky business with 60 sleighs and 217 people. They had to cross the Amur when it was frozen over. Villagers had been hiding sleighs and goods in their barns in preparation. The leaders knew there were several in the village they couldn’t trust to keep the plans to themselves. So they waited until late one night, then went door to door, knocking softly. “We leave in one hour.”

They approached the two homes of those they didn’t fully trust. “We leave in one hour. You come with us, or not, but we are going.” No time to warn the border guards.

There were some tragedies on the journey–several sleighs broke down and had to be repaired or their occupants shifted to other sleighs while crossing the river; and at least one baby was smothered as his mother tried to keep him from crying out. But the group reached China, across the river, as a whole.

In stories from two sources I read that the group learned later that the two border guards who were supposed to be watching for nighttime crossings were arrested. They were asked why they didn’t stop the group or call for help.

The men’s response was that they saw a large group of armed men around the group and supposed they could not overpower them, so they left them alone. The refugees thanked God for the guardian angels protecting them.

I think in these days we need to hear stories like this. I need them! While many have suffered and still do suffer for their faith, we need to be reminded of stories of God’s deliverance as well. And we need to remember that whatever comes, He will be with us–whether that’s by guardian angels surrounding us or by taking us Home to heaven.

Our pastor reminded us this morning that GOD IS GOOD. His character is good, and He does not change. So whether it’s Coronavirus, divisive politics, or anything else stressing us, we can rely on His goodness, knowing He uses even bad things for His own purposes.

For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

Psalm 100:5

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

2019 has been a year of contrasts, from the horrific fires and losses in California to the joy of seeing massive, snow-bathed peaks of the Canadian Rockies. From turmoil within our government, from persecution of people of faith around the world, to the joy of family love and care.

We’ve experienced the joys of first birthdays of a great grandson and a grandnephew, graduations, visits with family and friends.

We’ve experienced loss and concern for loved ones. My ninety-year old aunt fell and is in hospital in Canada–how I wish I could visit her! And I just got a message that my sister-in-law passed away.

We’ve visited family and friends across the country and traveled through the Canadian Rockies, built part of a school in Mexico, worked with third grade children in Kids’ Club, and enjoyed relaxation at the beach. I delighted in a girlfriends’ weekend as well as a meaningful reunion with women I hadn’t seen in 38 years.

Beautiful Botanical Gardens in Virginia
Columbia Ice Fields, British Columbia, Canada

We’ve had the privilege of having Mom with us for another Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas, despite her significant loss of hearing and reduced mobility.

Mom with my brother Arnold

I’ve struggled with weight, losing, then regaining some (not all, thankfully!). My Don has remained strong and healthy although he tires more easily than before.

Through it all, God has been faithful to His promise never to leave nor forsake us; and to give us the hope of heaven, as well as a future while we are still on this earth.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11

He has promised to finish the good work He began in us (Philippians 1:6) and so, even when I stumble or fall, I am grateful for this assurance. I am His, now and for eternity.

I’m grateful for you who read and encourage me in my musings, for the privilege of writing, for the research that makes me more and more thankful for God’s faithfulness to my family through several generations as my grandfather took his family, including my father, out of the Ukraine at the end of the Bolshevik Revolution. It was 1929, and about 15,000 Mennonites (conscientious objectors and people of faith, both anathema to the Communist machine) waited in Moscow, praying for exit visas to leave the country and retain their freedom of conscience. Of those, about 5,000, including Dad’s family, were granted visas. The rest? Sent back to their villages, executed, sent to labor camps in Siberia, families broken and separated, never to hear from or see each other again in this life.

So my wish for you is a healthy, meaningful, productive year in 2020, one in which you enjoy and rely on the promises of God; and that you and I will both deepen our walk with Him.

“… being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” 

Philippians 1:6

Happy New Year! God bless us, every one!

Thanks Giving

My third-grade kids were seated around a table in the school gym. I asked questions about keeping promises. Several related incidents in which someone had kept a promise.

Then Erica spoke up. “I promised to be Tracy’s best friend forever, but now she’s not my friend any more.” Erica had confronted Tracy about some behavior and Tracy told her she’s no longer her friend. Matthew, who can be disruptive at times and has a very short attention span, turned to her. “I’m sorry that happened to you.”

I was amazed and thankful for his sensitivity and kindness.

I found a poem on the back cover of a book about my heritage: Jacob’s Journey, edited by Barbara and Timothy Dyck. The poem’s author is not named so I assume it is unknown. But it touched me as we think of all who have gone before and prepared the way for the lives, freedoms, and the hope with which we live. I am copying it here.

“Lord, we keep forgetting all those who lived before us,

We keep forgetting those who lived and worked in our communities.

We keep forgetting those who prayed and sang hymns in our churches before we were born.

We keep forgetting what our parents have done for us.

We commit the sin, Lord, of assuming that everything begins with us.

We drink from wells we did not find,

We eat food from farmland we did not develop.

We enjoy freedoms which we have not earned.

We worship in churches which we did not build.

We live in communities we did not establish.

This day, make us grateful for our heritage. Amen.”

SONY DSC

So, as we enter a week when we focus on giving thanks, I am grateful for third graders who have a tender heart toward others, for the children with whom I have the privilege of sharing God’s love and mine.

I am grateful for my forbears, who fought for freedom, who left a country where they could not worship as they chose to establish roots in a place where they could, and I can, worship the God of our fathers.

I am grateful for my husband and family, whose love has challenged, encouraged and sustained me through the years.

I am thankful for you, my readers, who respond and give feedback to my ramblings.

I am eternally grateful for the love of Jesus Christ, which gives me hope, forgiveness, salvation, peace, love, joy … and who will continue his good work in me until he returns or takes me Home.

” …being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 1:6 NIV

For what are you most thankful?