Category Archive: Freedom

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.”

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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?

The Ragman

I listened to this yesterday and was deeply moved at the allegorical view of the Prince of Peace, my Lord Jesus Christ, who took the rags of my life and made me (is still making me) whole. I hope it touches you with a fresh vision of what He has done for you, as it did me.

Blessings!

Costly Freedom

Vivid reds, vibrant yellows, verdant greens; the colors were stunning. I gasped when I saw two trees next to each other, one a fiery red and the next, the vivid yellow of my old Ford Pinto. Breathtaking. We toured the hills around a national park, the hues at their peak.

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Four years ago Don and I had the privilege of taking an East Coast US-Canada cruise with our brother and sister-in-law, Arnold and Carol Froese. Our trip held lots of US and Canadian history–including a stop at Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. There, in early 1930, my father, his siblings and parents landed after leaving the Ukraine at the end of the Bolshevik Revolution. Grosspa (Grandpa), a pastor, was on a list for deportation to Siberia when church elders warned him to flee their village. Miraculously, of 15,000 German Mennonites seeking visas to leave Russia, Dad’s family was among the 5000 granted.

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Pier 21 has a marvelous Immigration Museum which gave us additional mental pictures of Dad’s arrival in Canada. Arnold and I obtained copies of the documents which listed Grosspa, Grossma and their six living children as arrivals at the Pier. What a moment!

We stopped in other places as well, including Lexington, Massachusetts, where I was touched by the stories of those who lost their lives fighting for freedom from oppression and religious persecution. They fought for the right to be free, to worship as they chose, to make new lives for themselves.

That freedom was hard-won. It still is. William Tecumseh Sherman said “War is hell.” It is horrific, the losses on both sides tragic. And yet, we would not be a free nation had others not fought and given their lives to preserve that freedom.

And now we have another election ahead of us. What changes will the outcome of this election hold? Will our choices retain freedom or give more of it away? I don’t wish to debate politics because I love and respect people who think differently than I do. Our freedom gives each of us the right to choose as our consciences dictate. But I do encourage you to vote on the candidates and issues.

Let’s continue to respect and uphold this privilege we have because others paid the ultimate sacrifice.

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior…” (I Timothy 2:1-3 NIV)