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KEEP IN TOUCH
To some extent, KITfolk must react to whatever the Bruderhof does. Just now there seems to be a newly added shimmer of Christian rhetoric on their website, after the previous focus on "Revolution Now!" meetings and political activism.
Although the seeds of the present have deep roots in the past, it appears that the Bruderhof many remember is simply no longer there, the 'primavera of the soul' an eroded dust bowl, even as the woods of Primavera are largely gone, replaced by the depleted soybean and wheat fields of Friesland.
The Whole Kit And Caboodle
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"I think they use their religion as a front to hide their grand plan, which is to control a good share of agriculture," said one non-Hutterite farmer who wouldn't give his name.
Undersheriff Dave Robins wasn't ready to label it religious bigotry. "To me it looks more like jealousy," he said. "Not that they hate the people for what they stand for, just that they're making a go of property and land that others aren't able to."
Investigators are reported to have a suspect, but as of the article's date there had been no arrests. The FBI also is investigating it as a hate crime. The local paper, The Shelby Promoter, has not editorialized against the violence, but publisher Drian Kavanagh explained that his new editor has been so busy learning the job that she hasn't written any editorials at all.
Mark Nagasawa of the Mountain Association of Churches, said that efforts at organizing a community meeting have received a lukewarm response. "I can't believe this is happening," he said. "People seemed to understand that they [the Hutterites] got their property burned and that's a terrible thing. But 'They're buying up our property' -- and all those excuses come up. There's been a lot of resentment building up over the years."
"They don't do anything illegal, but they're tough for an ordinary family to compete against," rancher Arlo Skari was quoted as saying. "They don't send their kids to college, they don't even send them to high school. Their wives don't go shopping. The women have very few rights."...
"A lot of the niceties people seem to enjoy, they take away from the efficiency," commented David Hofer, a member of the Hutterite community.
One rumor circulating through the area is that the Hutterites pay little or no taxes and thus compete unfairly. A local accountant who does taxes for several colonies said that's untrue.
Hofer said colonies do not pay into Social Security or buy workers' compensation insurance. But neither do they collect benefits from either program. Some in the community complain that Hutterites pay higher prices for land than non-Hutterites can afford. Hofer said that Hutterites often have no choice: given an equal offer from a Hutterite colony and another farmer, a property owner will sell to the other farmer.
Hutterites Face Judge
"Incidents alleged over a ten-year span,"
by Michael Lau
Ten members of two Hutterite colonies east of Calgary, Alberta, have been charged with 34 counts of sexual assault, sexual interference and incest over a ten-year period.
Two of the accused men, ranging in age from 17 to 62, pleaded guilty in Drumheller provincial court to sexual assault and sexual interference. Nine of the accused are from Ridge Land Colony near the town of Hussar, and one from another unnamed colony nearby. The alleged offenses occurred between 1987 and last year against four Hutterites aged 4 to 20 at the time of the incidents.
"I've never see anything of this severity in a Hutterite colony," said Sgt. Jerry Kopp, commander of the Gleichen/Bassano detachment. "It's very unusual. They're a very close-knit group of people."
Kopp, an RCMP officer for 28 years including four years in Gleichen, said Hutterites he's known across Canada are mostly law-abiding citizens. "They pick up the odd speeding ticket," he said, adding the colonies of the accused have been very cooperative with police.
"If you look at the outside world, we certainly don't get that kind of cooperation."
The investigation started after an undisclosed number of victims came forward and reported the alleged assaults. Further investigation uncovered several other incidents that led to more charges. The fact the alleged victims approached outside authorities shows the seriousness of the offenses -- since Hutterites prefer to resolve their own problems, said Kopp.
None of the accused are to have contact with children under the age of 17. RSMP have not officially released the names of the two colonies near Hussar... NOTE: According to the published reports, lawyer Hugh Sommerville, acting as a friend of the court in advising the colony but not representing any of the men, said, "These charges involved every boy touching a girl in the last ten years. Only one of the charges is serious, that'll be proven in court. We're not dealing with a group of rapists."
No details of the crimes were given with the guilty pleas. According to lawyer Sommerville, "I can tell you if investigators went through any local town school questioning the young girls, they'd find no lack of young boys doing some improper touching."
"In sentencing the men -- all as youths because they were under 18 when the fondling offenses on young girls were committed -- the judge advised Hutterites to consider sex education for their children in an effort to prevent similar tragedies occurring in the future. The four sentenced on Friday all pleaded guilty to the charges...
"Alberta Judge Gordon Clozza also ordered them to write letters of apology to their victims for the incidents that took place in classrooms and basements on the colonies from the late 1980s to mid-1990s. The girls are acquaintances and relatives of the four men and were six and seven years old at the time of the assaults.
"Clozza said the men, who cannot be named to protect the identity of the victims, had already suffered shame and humiliation within the Hutterite community, whose elders had banished them to other colonies after details came to light.
"The judge agreed with the defense lawyer's contention that the young men... were motivated in their actions by curiosity and ignorance. 'Sexual curiosity at that age is understandable, but I know the colony doesn't like to talk about these matters and does not educate about these matters,' he said, adding that the major shift to sex education should now be strongly considered.
"The other six men in the scandal were charged as adults for several alleged offenses and face trials this summer. A 64-year-old man who was expected to enter a plea was in the Drumheller hospital on Friday after suffering a heart attack or stroke earlier in the day in his lawyer's office, the colonies' legal advisor said.
"During a break in the proceedings, a group of six Hutterite men broke a stony silence they had maintained since the charges were laid, berating reporters over the attention given to the scandal, which they said brought them deep shame.
"'You're just like a bunch of vultures,' one bearded Hutterite man asserted during a heated exchange with reporters and photographers outside the courtroom.
"Calling the Hutterites mostly honest and hard-working people, Clozza said the public should not condemn the entire sect for the actions of a few."
Many serious thoughts were exchanged as we discussed the terrible 'sex scandal' at Hussar, Alberta, which has already filled far too many news reports, frequently peppered with inaccuracies. The real truth is bad enough! In our conversations, there was complete openness with no attempt to cover up or hide the severity of the situation. Everyone seems to recognize the extremely grave significance of this disgustingly embarrassing matter. (Although this is a sad hour, I also noticed it is a time of inner reflection and looking afresh to the Heavenly Father who alone can give strength and direction in moments like these. I found this encouraging.)
The Hutterian leadership is absolutely right in saying the church simply cannot defend the perpetrators in their perverted deeds. The law is for the lawless and will have to take its own course. These unspeakable crimes, especially those against little children, are more than the "weakness of the flesh." Indeed, the truly guilty must be morally and spiritually bankrupt! Although the law can punish evildoers after its own fashion, we know only the Holy Spirit can bring them to true repentance and real change! We also discussed how permissiveness and moral failures like these are 'root problems' that are essentially spiritual in nature, requiring a spiritual solution, not just an outward 'fix-up' job but genuine change from within. There really is no other long-term solution. Otherwise the same craziness will just pop up again at a later date.
Unfortunately, hundreds of innocent and faithful ones -- maybe even the victims of these dastardly deeds -- will be misjudged and condemned by many of the world's people, based on the evil deeds and perverted behavior of the guilty ones. Everyone tends to get painted with the same broad brush. No doubt, the anti-Hutterites -- probably including some of the Weggelufene -- are already delirious with a sick kind of joy. They should be careful, for their time will come soon enough.
I also passed along greetings and loving concern from colony to colony, which was received with real appreciation and warmth of spirit. I assured them we stand ready to help in any way they might think we could be useful. I came away greatly encouraged and truly hopeful, thoroughly convinced that God will yet bring much good out of what appears to be a very dark hour. God still has hundreds of faithful ones whose love for Jesus is real, both among the predigers and the people. (The world Christians may yet learn something from these people.) This is certainly not the time to point fingers, but like the early Anabaptists, we all (both the Hutterites and their friends) must look still more to the Living Christ, who alone has the answer and unlimited power to bring it to pass. Of this I am sure.
In closing, I'll mention how interesting I found Bette Bohlken-Zumpe's report of her visit to five Dariusleut colonies. I am so glad that Bette and her Hans were finally able to visit 'real' Hutterite colonies for the first time. Her life will be spiritually enriched and challenged by the experience. Good for Bette Basel! I know of what I speak, for although 25 years have passed sine I lived in the colonies, I shall be forever grateful to God for kindling in me, because of their life and witness, a fire that just keeps on burning.
No. 5, May 15, 1998
Hutterites -- A Growing Force
Colonies produce about 40% of South Dakota's hogs.
By Lora Duxbury-Berg, Associate Editor
Vicious straight-line winds had devastating effects on Oak Lane Hutterite Colony's farming operation on June 20, 1997. The storm unleashed its wrath in the dead of night, destroying the colony's grain handling facilities and a large shed full of machinery. Every colony building sustained major damage, and 1,600 acres of soybeans and 800 acres of corn were wiped out.
When asked how he could possibly make sense out of this distressing situation, Oak Lane's business manager, John Wipf, replied, "I don't like to put a question mark where the good Lord has put a period."
An early morning call for help was put out to other area colonies. By 9 that very morning, generators had restored power to the site and 325 additional men had arrived from other colonies to help with cleanup. This spirit of cooperation, combined with a strong religious faith in both good times and bad, has helped South Dakota's Hutterite colonies survive and thrive while blending deeply rooted religious beliefs with 21st century technology.
There are 51 Hutterite colonies in South Dakota. All but two produce pigs. John estimates the average colony has at least a 600-sow herd. The colonies work together to secure the best markets. It's been estimated that 40% of the hogs produced in South Dakota are produced by the state's Hutterite colonies. The Hutterites are frequently described as being among the early-adopters of new technology while living according to strict religious rules and traditions handed down since the sixteenth century...
As for me, after a certain amount of turmoil, which included a stretch in the Navy, I got married and lived happily ever after (7 kids, 7 grandchildren!) I'm still digesting the Bruderhof experience. I suppose reading Zablocki's book was the start of dealing with the rejection. I was only a guest, and still it hurt enormously when I was asked to leave.
Well, God bless everyone and forgive us all our trespasses. In friendship,
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"BVP Video has produced numerous videos for us which have proved to be invaluable in our marketing efforts.... excellent work at reasonable prices!"
Hans Boller, Boller Studios
It would seem that both Matthew Maendel and Hans Boller are Bruderhof members.
Especially among the second and third generation Bruderhofers one senses that to them, the Bruderhof is the only reality and the ultimate Good, and that the 'outside world' exists only as a source from which to "get stuff" for the Bruderhof. Therefore there attitude toward the "Outside" tends to be purely opportunistic: any means used to advance the Bruderhof's aims are legitimate.
I will never forget the suggestion made by one of the Bruderhof teachers -- born and bred in the Bruderhof and the daughter of a servant -- that we order videos for the school, copy them, and then return them for a refund. I tried to explain to her that this was the equivalent of theft. She replied, "But we don't believe in private property, do we?"
It is no accident that "principles" is a dirty word in the Bruderhof. I remember the first time I heard a member, after giving his opinion on some question, suffix the phrase "...but I don't want to be principled about this." My inward reaction was, "does that mean you're willing to be unprincipled about it?"
This rejection of "principles" -- that is, of unvarying standards of conduct -- is characteristic of the Bruderhof. Every lesser good is subjugated to the Common Good, and the only absolute good is Unity.
This accounts for some of the startling about-faces made by the Bruderhof over the years. When we joined the Bruderhof it went without saying that we didn't vote in public elections -- that was one of the distinctive features of Anabaptism, and wasn't the Bruderhof practically the only genuine Anabaptist group on earth?
Yet only a few years later, when Bruderhof building plans in Fayette County, PA, were threatened by opposition by certain neighbors, voting was suddenly an open question once again, and before long we were being pressured to register and vote for "Bruderhof friends." The Anabaptist principle of non-participation in government was sacrificed on the altar of Bruderhof self-interest.
Bruderhof-watchers who are puzzled by such abrupt changes make the mistake of assuming that the Bruderhof is like other churches in having a developed system of doctrines and ethical standards which change, if at all, only very slowly. This is far from the case: in fact, the Bruderhof scorns such systems as "dead legalism." Instead, the Bruderhof claims to be led by "the Living Word," as it "comes to expression in the Brotherhood." Naturally, the Elder, as the "Word-Leader" has a great deal of influence on what is allowed to "come to expression."
This hyper-spiritual subjectivism as a matter of course produces what can be wildly erratic behavior, with cycles of crises, periods of "boom and bust," and times of active engagement with "the World" abruptly terminated by a time of withdrawal. The seed of this subjectivism was planted by Bruderhof founder, Eberhard Arnold, himself. Though in many respects an admirable and courageous man, he has unfortunately bequeathed to his followers an inherently unstable ecclesiology.
Those who would like further insight into the inner workings of the Bruderhof and similar groups would do well to read Ronald Knox's classic Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion. Originally published in 1950, it has nothing directly to do with the Bruderhof, but everything to do with explaining what the Bruderhof is, and why it behaves as it does. Peace,
In response to my parents, I want to state publicly, that if you are trying to build a system that uses lies and cult mind techniques knowingly or unknowingly to gather and hold a group of individuals under the fraudulent cause of Christian community, that, yes, I am out to destroy that system! One thing I cherish from my upbringing was the teaching of always searching for the truth and to speak and live our conscience. If I have to sacrifice my relationship with parents and siblings to live out my conscience, and to speak the truth, so be it.
That said, I believe we have to try everything within our power to attempt to understand the Bruderhof, how they feel and act, and how we can best help them move from an abusive corporate environment to living out "their own best dream". We are in a protracted struggle for the hearts and minds of our loved ones. We need to understand that the power hierarchy would appear to have much to lose should they chose to change the system to allow individuals to live out their Christianity as their conscience led them. We must convince them that it is best for both them and the forces that prevail against them to come to a agreement that is a win/win for both sides. While we wait we need to heal, find fulfillment in our own lives, and break the cycle of abuse, insuring our children grow up to be as "normal" as possible. We need to be able to work from a place of love, peace, and understanding when approaching the Bruderhof.
I also am interested in exploring other avenues in both the healing process and how to deal more effectively with our "lost" brethren. Toward that end I am giving increased thought to starting my own non-profit to explore healing from cult and other abusive relationships. I want to explore how other cult graduates have healed and/or dealt with the cults/abusive relationships they have come from. Anyone interested? Feel free to reach me at email@example.com.
I wish you all the best of healing, peace, and fulfillment. Anyone interested in sharing their healing experiences or how to deal more effectively with cults or other abusive relationships I would enjoy hearing from. I bid you all peace,
And so it is with the Bruderhof. Each of us "sees" this elephantine animal in a different way. The new thought that came to me was a result of criticism directed towards those who only see one segment of the beast (or two). I would be, of course, one of those people. The three (or four?) blind men, like myself, only know a little bit about the elephant and only from the outside. My sympathies lie, however, with those who experienced the elephant from a perspective the blind men never "envisioned."
Those who lived inside the elephant, down in the very guts of the beast, know a side of the Bruderhof I acknowledge I will never know. Mike LeBlanc, my wife, John Stewart, the Chesleys, Ramon, Mel Fros, Tim Domer and the hundreds of others I have met and respect know the elephant as well as any who remain inside today.
I admire their determination in understanding their background and dealing with it. Each of these people bring much strength and faith to their daily lives. They draw courage from the experiences of their earlier years -- inside the elephant.
They would be the first to say, that even from the inside, each of them saw something different, much good, some bad. I admire their continuing courage in speaking out about the bad as a matter of conscience which has led, in many cases, to personal family estrangement. There is much good about the Bruderhof -- they have a cadre of former members and their families who could be their greatest allies and supporters.
As for the Bruderhof? All I can say is "What an elephant!"
I appreciate a lot of the points that have been brought up in the recent postings by David, Don, Wayne and Paul. Having lived in several types of communities has surely given me a lot of food and experiences for thought. In the late 70's we lived in Boston's South End by City Hospital. This was just at the time that gentrification was starting. There was a series of 12 murders committed against local young black women; the tension in the neighborhood was palpable. "Armed" with books like Rich Christians In An Age Of Hunger and No More Plastic Jesus, some of us moved into an old brownstone needing renovation and attempted community. We hoped to set up a resource center for the neighborhood. None of us had formal training that would set this in motion but that didn't stop us. We had big leadership problems where the group eventually quit the leader and later disbanded. But that "living on the edge" and committing ourselves to something bigger than ourselves are more than just a memory of treasured (and some not-so-treasured) days. It was risk, and it was a glimpse of dying to self in order to serve others. We had no safety net of 501(d) status -- we shared cars, food and income as needed, aware that we are only pilgrims here for a time.
A few years later, we shared a house with another couple from that old group. A formal community was not our goal at that time, but a cooperative living arrangement. We were open to see where this would lead to. At one point, our household consisted of one adult with a viable income, one unemployed adult, one full-time college student, and an ill pregnant women living in a rundown house with 2 mortgages and no kitchen sink (and a bunch of cats). One night, we got down to our last bit of food, had potatoes for supper and gave the one last egg to the pregnant woman. But we were joyful in our circumstances and committed our selves to God's care. The next day, a friend came by with a car trunk full of frozen, organic beef which was being thrown out at a store he worked at because it hadn't sold! This was repeated several times! I can tell you, we all felt mighty healthy for some time :-) In His providence, in our poverty, God had provided for us. Blessed is He!
I have experienced this provision again and again in our lives -- how other Christians helped us out after we left the Bruderhof, how others gave love-gifts at times when finances were strained and more recently in our church family here in Maine. When I was "laid up" on home intravenous therapy for 1-1/2 months, we were given so much help from people with looking after our children, with meals provided, with driving to doctor appointments and offers of housecleaning... this is where people have given of themselves, of their time and resources -- not because they necessarily had extra that they could spare, or were "assigned" to do it, but because they loved. This is where I have truly experienced the community that God calls us to.
Don, I do not feel to argue Scripture with you on the finer points of community. From your postings, I feel that you are convinced of the rightness of what you are doing. May we all love as our Lord loves. In Him is our only salvation. Peace,
6/9/98: Don Murphy asked: "Why does one join a community?"
Hi Don and all, In our earlier experiences with community, I think I was drawn for both wanting to live in community and to do something for others, to live in service. As a believer, I was already a part of the Body of Christ, as I understand it.
Why does one join community? Good question! I expect that it may be different in some ways for everyone -- we might be drawn or called, we might be looking to commit ourselves to something that can make a difference in the world, we might be looking for "family", we might be born into one and afraid to leave it... the list could go on and on as does the list of Christian and non-Christian communities that have existed.
...In spite of having (theoretically) no personal income or assets, the community itself still owns the property, business(es), etc. [the 501(d) IRS corporation status]. Consequently, one does not lack for basic needs or even for comforts. The real risk, as you mention, is when you leave such a group. Then you are essentially at their "mercy" for provision. But it is not at all like you have nothing as a member of a community. That is how I see it as a "safety net". The 501(d) can simply operate as a nice little tax evasion for the group at large. As I understand from the IRS, there are about 97 groups that use it, if I recall correctly. I hope this makes what I posted clearer.
Now the Commune does not want to forgive ex-members. We, why do we have to ask for forgiveness? What have we done, or rather what did we do? We are the ones who were asked to go! In our case, we are actually still waiting to hear why we were sent away. Each time we asked, "Why?" people would shrug their shoulders and say that they did not know. We have been waiting for almost 18 years to hear them give a reason as to why we were sent away.
While living in the Commune, we felt we were the pariahs of the Bruderhof. Merrill Mow, and I quote, said that if we felt like that then there is definitely something wrong with the Commune. Merrill did not discuss that issue any further with us, so we felt he had said all he could about that specific problem.
I was, to say the least, surprised to hear Merrill say something like that. However he did obviously not feel free to elaborate on the problem! So we have to go on waiting to hear from the Commune why we were sent off, but do we have to wait another 18 years until we are notified what actually took place in the inner circle where we were discussed?
Actually we do not need to find out why we were sent away. We are happy where we are and really have no need to live in community. We actually feel that living so closely in the Commune was not for us. So we really do not feel that we broke any vows. It was the Commune that did so. They severed the relationship. We were not the ones. I feel the same about novice vows, about which Kathy also spoke.
I do not think -- no, I know we would not fit into the Commune as it is now. We can never again let other people control us, as was done in the Commune. I personally have to be the person I am supposed to be, to be able to use the gifts given to me to their fullest capacity. I am a free person and want to definitely remain a free person! I do not want to live my life fettered and imprisoned, unable to express my true feelings! [see Nadine's life story, Free From Bondage]. Sincerely,
I trust that KIT readers will not allow the pronouncements and utter hypocrisy of the Bruderhof leadership to get in the way of addressing situations it has hooked onto such as the death penalty, the School of the Americas, and the U.S. policy toward Iraq. Regarding the latter, the Bruderhof's slogan, "Smash the Sanctions," signifies a violent approach which is intrinsically counterproductive. Concerning the U.S. and Iraq, I would like to share from my letter that was in recent local newspapers:
"The sanctions, which especially target small children, have caused excruciating suffering and the deaths of 1.5 million people. Many people worldwide are horrified and outraged by the policy, while most U.S. citizens do not know the effects of it because of concealment and deception by the U.S. government and the corporate-owned media. U.S. government plans to destabilize Iraq began in 1958, when the latter became independent. In 1989, the U.S. revised its military plans for the Persian Gulf in preparation for an intervention aimed at Iraq, which it had heavily armed during the Iran-Iraq war.
"The CIA assisted and directed Kuwait, which was violating OPEC oil production agreements and was slant-drilling a large amount of Iraqi oil. Kuwait ignored Iraq's complaints. The intention of the U.S. was to provoke Iraq into attacking Kuwait so that United Nations military intervention would see to be justified and could result in permanent U.S. military domination of the Gulf region.
"Kuwait, with vast financial holdings in the U.S., had hired Brent Scowcroft to be a director of its main petroleum company subsidiary in the U.S. in 1984, 1985 and 1986. Scowcroft became George Bush's National Security Affairs advisor. The U.S. government threatened and bribed countries so they would collaborate in the intervention and make it appear to be an international effort. The ensuing war involved heavy bombing of civilians, the slaughter of Iraqi soldiers withdrawing in accordance with a U.N. resolution, and the destruction of Iraq's infrastructure, including one of the best medical systems in the Middle East.
"The U.S. government continues on its despotic, cruel course in order to control oil and the wealth it produces. We must call upon it to end the sanctions now and to speedily withdraw its troops and weapons -- including those of mass destruction -- from the Gulf region."
Thanks to so many of you who have shared in KIT, and to Ramon and the others who make it possible!
Bette, I've enjoyed reading your articles and have learned much history and insight and have developed a kinship to you. By your own admission in past articles concerning the Bruderhof and its leadership, how they have used you and taken advantage of your forgiving and trusting attitude. You allowed it to happen. How they, the Bruderhof, roll out the red carpet to newcomers and make them feel at home. How they give them the royal treatment until after the newcomers join and find out what is really going on inside.
The abuse of power, politics, manipulation through fear and guilt, controlling them to one mind set, ultimately loosing ones individuality. The list goes on and on.
Well, my dear Bette, I as a former member of a Hutterite Colony have been looking forward to reading how you will report your trip to the Hutterite Colony that invited you and also the four others you went to visit while there.
Bette, Bette, Bette you've been used again! You have swallowed it hook, line and sinker.
Of course the Brethren will put on a big show for you. They'll take you in and make you feel like royalty. After all they knew you were going to leave in two weeks. By nature the Hutterite people are warm and friendly. So am I. I also have a big heart and love to entertain people.
My question to you, Bette, would be: is it necessary to believe in Jesus plus live in community to be guaranteed eternal life? Or can one believe in Jesus and live wherever one is at and have eternal life? If your answer is 'yes' to the first question, where does that leave me, you, and thousands of people who do not live in community but are born again and believe in Jesus?
If it is a choice that people want to live in community and believe in Jesus, I have no problem with this, but to suggest when you are living in community that you're somehow more pleasing to God and you can show more love to the brothers and God will favor you more, this is where the community and I part ways.
Bette, my challenge to you is: why don't you ask to join the Ritzville Hutterite Colony? Have the sister who wrote you the letter [KIT X #6 p. 6] show you "real" community. Then when you have lived for a length of time in the colony, I guarantee that you will begin to see the same pattern of abuse of power, politics, control, manipulation through fear and guilt and on and on and on.
Bette, when you do join, please don't give away your God-given brains, as you will need them to think through things. Maybe later on you will begin to see and write about the utopia on earth that this live was pumped up to be. Rest assured it will not be what you hoped for.
The first time you will start to question the system, they'll tolerate this for awhile. They will try to get you on the right track by wearing you down. If this technique does not work, then they'll bring in the hierarchy from other colonies. They'll go through the same procedure of wearing you down. You'll go back and forth, back and forth with them. Then they'll try the shunning game on you. In your case you do not have relatives there, but I know with your personality that you will have made some close friendships. The friends will be told to have nothing to do with you, and if the friends don't obey they will be threatened with excommunication.
Bette, there is one other thing against you -- you are a woman. God forbid, you cannot speak up to the hierarchy and ask good solid questions. After all they have all the answers and are "the anointed of God." (gesalpte des Herren). Who are you to question them? You will be excommunicated from the fold. In their words, "Let her run like this till she comes to her senses." (Las sic so laufen bis sie zu ihren verstand komen wird. )
Life will be so miserable for you. You'll either put up or shut up. Or you will decide to get out of there.
The question is how about your assets? Well Bette, you know and I know you leave without them cause you might have even signed a document that you can't take anything with you. Well guess what! Welcome to the club. To bad this will have been the second time for you.
Bette, I have a big heart, I will not leave you out in the cold. You can come and stay with me until you get back on your feet.
Now Bette, I'm hoping the above is all hypothetical, and it will never come to this. By your report of your visit to the Hutterite Colonies, you strengthened this utopian mirage that was brought about by one person's theory and forced people who were vulnerable to adapt to this beast called living in Community or gemein. In essence this way of life became The Way to eternal life. The ones that carry on this lifestyle are merely born into the community and continue on this utopian mirage. A pattern was set into motion that this creation (gemein) is worshipped more than the Creator.
Life becomes so complicated and confusing that at times one doesn't know if one is coming or going.
While from the beginning of time God made salvation so simple that in all it's simplicity we try so hard to achieve eternal life that we stumble and fall.
John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him, believes in Him (not living in community) shall have eternal life." Now what is so hard and complicated about this?
I know my Hutterian Brethren will say after reading this article that I've blasphemed the Holy Ghost by calling the gemein a beast. After all in their mind the gemein ranks right up there with God. Maybe even the earth will open up and swallow me for speaking out against this system and it's Hierarchy. I know I've had this fear put on me in church many times. Numbers 16:32. Like Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. They rebelled against Moses (comparing the hierarchy in the gemein to Moses). One needs to be untertahn, obedient and subservient to them. Another favorite line is, "Not to carry anything over the wall of Jerusalem." The wall of Jerusalem being compared to the gemein. "Du kanst nichts uber der mauer Jerusalem tragen." The ones that suffer in the colonies and are afraid to speak up suffer silently and alone.
Rest assured my brothers and sisters in the gemein, the earth will not open up and swallow me, as I am safe in the arms of Jesus. He made it possible for me to use my brains to think and maybe even ask some legitimate questions and demand an answer.
By the way Bette, have you ever wondered why there is only one or at the most two surnames in these colonies? In closing I'm saying, "I've been there. I tried it. I bought the t-shirt. I wore it, and it doesn't work." God Bless,
By way of explanation for the following, let me say that I am not presently 'on line', but only privy to the contents of this newsgroup as it appears in edited form on the pages of the KIT newsletter. Therefore, my questions and commentary here will probably be very much out of synch with the current thread of dialogue. That being said, my references to issues and comments from weeks or months back should not be too confusing for the reader. And here's hoping the complex process through which I hope to actually post this document to alt.support.bruderhof goes as planned!
I find myself in the odd position of having to 'defend' the Bruderhof from its critics. The intriguing irony, though, is that what reads as apologia to the majority will actually be, from my standpoint, an indictment.
The anonymous Bruderhofer 'bc3000' states correctly that the Bruderhof has never proclaimed itself to be 'the True Church' apart from which no human being can experience fellowship with God. The Bruderhof organization has always maintained and trumpeted a religious world view in which it was but one of a wide variety of legitimate human expressions of God's work in Christ.
I say this with the assurance that I do, because I had a very vested interest in repeatedly testing the Bruderhof's position on this issue while sojourning within the communities. This was due to the fact that I have a very different response than most to a group or organization's claim to being 'The Church', and by extension refusing to recognize as 'true believers' those outside of its membership. In fact, this controversial topic was placed on the proverbial table by me within half-an-hour of my first visit to Woodcrest.
I remember very clearly by first discussion with a Bruderhofer. His name was Doug Moody and he was the Witness Brother called to the Carriage House to meet with me, the young, unexpected visitor. After introducing himself, he asked me why I had made the journey to Woodcrest. I said, 'I'm seeking the True Church.'
This statement from me elicited a response from Doug that I was to eventually hear many, many times, almost verbatim, from many, many Bruderhofers over the course of the next two years. Doug not only told me that the Bruderhof was not the 'True Church', but went on to say that the very moment any Christian group or community says 'we are the Church', the Holy Spirit withdraws His presence from their midst. Doug said that such a declaration is so arrogant and self-assuming, the Holy Spirit cannot abide within that prideful corporate atmosphere. He concluded by saying that the Church is not something you are, but a heavenly condition that visits a people whenever that people is truly surrendered and submitted to the will of God. Doug said he had experienced the Church's presence in the Brotherhood many times, but that didn't make the Brotherhood the Church.
The Bruderhof both denies being the Church and is fully cognizant and up front about the ramifications of this declaration. I heard many members say that the Holy Spirit was at work in the lives of people outside of the community and that one did not have to join the Bruderhof to be a 'true Christian'. I believe that anyone hostile to the community who would continue to insinuate that the Bruderhof believes they are 'the only ones', or even that the Bruderhof teaches that one must live communally to be 'saved', is wrongly slandering that organization and revealing themselves to be disingenuous servants of a hidden agenda. They are clearly unwilling to deal fairly with the Bruderhof.
But acknowledging this lack of spiritual exclusivity on the Bruderhof's part in no way brings conversation on the topic to a close. At least not for one who believes peace with an organization or institution must be based on God's revelation in Christ as opposed to the standards set by the authors of anti-cult literature. No, the Bruderhof does not believe that theirs is the only path to God. But does the Bruderhof continue to perpetuate a double standard on this issue that is not only unbiblical but illogical and religiously schizophrenic? Absolutely.
Part of the reason I feel so compelled to speak on this matter involves the fact that, as I have already stated, I maintained a thorough and ongoing dialogue on this exact topic while within the Bruderhof. You see, I believed the Bruderhof had to state, to me and to all, that they were the True Church of Christ. To my mind and conscience, anything less than this created an unfeasible, and more importantly, anti-scriptural, paradigm. I could not reconcile the religious world view of the Brotherhood with the requests being made of me personally as a perspective member of the Bruderhof community.
What follows are but four examples of firmly held Bruderhof beliefs. A number of others could have easily been added to this list. Keep in mind that these are not simply opinions or general directions, but absolute, bedrock principles of community operation. Each will be carried over the garden wall of the Bruderhof's boundaries and placed in the midst of the mainstream Christian world. I will then comment briefly on the logical conclusions which I believe must be drawn in light of this juxtapositioning.
1. The Bruderhof teaches that to receive God's forgiveness for sin, one must be baptized. This baptism is to be preceded by repentance, a vital part of which is confession. The Bruderhof's baptism preparation group meetings make it clear that these confessions of sin must be spoken out verbally, in their entirety, to a Bruderhof Servant of the Word. The preparation group's teaching goes on to say that not only is this confession necessary for true forgiveness from God, but if one knowingly holds back even a single act of previous wrongdoing, failing to divulge it to the Servant, and allows themselves to be baptized, their baptism will have no efficacy. We were told in the course of these preparatory meetings that certain members, who had done just that, once their deception was revealed to the Brotherhood, were immediately put into church discipline in order to rectify the disobedience and have their slate truly wiped clean before the eyes of God.
Now, even if one were to remove the element of this confessional requirement that includes a Bruderhof Servant as the appointed confessor, we are left in a difficult position when we begin considering the type of Christianity practiced outside of the Bruderhof.
[Note: In my own preparation group experience it was, in a roundabout way, stated that if any perspective member had already confessed sins to a pastor or clergyman outside of the Bruderhof, such a confession could be left out of the future session with the Servant if the baptismal candidate felt within their own heart that this experience had been legitimate and meaningful. The unalterable principle was that any confession of sin had to be literally related, in its entirety, to another human being in some position of religious authority.]
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I know of no mainstream Protestant denomination or nondenominational tradition that even encourages, much less commands, the literal confession of all past sins before the sinner can be recognized as forgiven through the blood of Christ. In fact, all of these 'churches' believe, for example, that an individual listening to a preacher on the radio could be struck in his heart, recite the 'Sinner's Prayer', and receive forgiveness and salvation from God, right there on the spot. This means that if the Bruderhof's teaching is the biblically correct one (and they unwaveringly testify to this) the whole of Protestant Christendom is still dead in their sins.
2. Let's leave the specifics of confession behind and turn to the more general concept of repentance itself. Truly repenting, by definition, involves the individual's having a full knowledge and complete recognition of sin. Christ did not only call men to 'repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand', but he revealed through the demonstration of his life and the testimony of his words the nature of God's perfect righteousness. He taught Mankind how and from what to repent. He illuminated Darkness with Light so that each human being could see what sinfulness was as defined by the Father and thereby turn from it. A thief, for example, cannot repent of his thievery if the 'messenger of God' calling him to repentance teaches that stealing is acceptable and good in the eyes of the Creator, certainly nothing for which one should feel ashamed. Regardless of the criminal's personal sincerity or his innocence in wrongly trusting the 'messenger', and regardless of the cathartic rituals he may come to perform, if he continues to practice theft, he remains in the sight of God an unrepentant sinner.
It is my opinion that the Bruderhof not only takes issues of sexual sin very seriously, but sees acts of sexual impurity as perhaps the most death-dealing of all sins to the human soul. And like any individual or group, the Bruderhof has its own ideas about what actually constitutes sexually immoral behavior. The communities, with full conviction and no apologies, teach that hand holding and kissing in any form, when engaged in for the purposes of conveying romantic affection by a male and female couple not yet married (or at least promised in marriage) is sexual sin.
I saw Bruderhof young people publicly confess to the sin of hand-holding and/or kissing and even to the non-overt act of mentally fantasizing about such behavior. No one in the Brotherhood chuckled or winked at these revelations. It was weighty business indeed.
What percentage of mainstream Christianity (Roman Catholics here included) do you think draws this same line? My parents were sincere Methodists and they certainly never raised me to believe that taking a walk hand in hand with a date or kissing a young lady good-night were sins against God and Christ. Nor did the Methodist Youth Fellowship that I was part of as a young teen. Now certainly, 'heavy petting' and intercourse outside of marriage were identified as unacceptable sexual sins, but the above was seen as a normal and healthy part of growing up. It was even slyly encouraged through the lighthearted comments of the professing Christian adults. I believe I can safely say that my personal experience represents the norm for Christianity around the globe.
So, once again, if the Bruderhof teaching reflects the actual will of God, the outside Christian world is all but entirely doomed. For millions of individuals, be they the products of Christian homes or unbelievers introduced to 'the faith' later in life, that moment when they believe they were 'converted' or 'saved' by virtue of their repentance and faith in Christ is a delusion. Unless these individuals experienced honest sorrow and remorse over the acts of (premarital) kissing and/or hand-holding that they engaged in, in youth or adulthood, and have now completely turned from these forms of impurity (just as they would be obligated to do in cases of intercourse, sodomy, homosexual conduct, bestiality and pedophilia) they remain unrepentant sinners, still unreconciled to God and headed for perdition.
But does the Bruderhof really believe this? If not 'the One True Church' is the Bruderhof, in actuality, saying that it 'shares' the Church with an outside remnant of believers so microscopic as to be undetectable on the religious map, thus bringing God's offer of salvation right back to the Bruderhof's doorstep? No way. Let's pause here before going on to numbers three and four to consider some tangible evidence which fully corroborates the Bruderhof's stated position.
I will share here one memory of my life within the communities. Believe me when I say it is one of a large number of disparate incidents I personally experienced, all of which could be used to defend the Bruderhof's integrity on this issue. I share this particular experience because it is perhaps the simplest and most direct...
During an evening mealtime at Woodcrest, the community was hosting a special guest. He was a charismatic street preacher who worked with addicts, gang members and the homeless in some of this country's inner cities. In the course of reciting what he believed to be his marvelous adventures as an anointed servant of the Lord, saving hundreds of souls by the power of the Holy Spirit, protected from danger by miraculous intercession and bringing the Gospel to the outcasts of society, he paused awkwardly and said, "You know, I've never talked to such a strange group of people. I mean, you guys are really different... kind of 'out there'! But that's cool. God works in many, many different ways, right? I guess I'm just hoping you all don't think you're the 'Frozen Chosen'!"
This line elicited much laughter from the dining room.
The man went on. "I just want you to know that as far as I'm concerned, you are all my brothers and sisters in Christ."
Immediately, almost by way of apology, the Servant of the Word who 'had' the mealtime, turned on his microphone and, with palpable affection, said, "Make no mistake about it. We consider you our brother as well!"
As soon as the Servant had uttered these lines the members gathered in the dining room all (sans one, at least) spoke out at once in a verbal cacophony that proved a touching 'affirmative' to his declaration.
When the street preacher's tales were finally finished, and the meal was brought to a close, this Servant of the Word offered some closing comments. He said, "It's very important that those of us who live in this community have the opportunity to hear about what God is doing in other places. It is a great encouragement to us who only experience what He is doing here. We all have our own special calling. God is much bigger than the Bruderhof and we are thankful that we have brothers and sisters like you doing His work all over the world."
I think this story speaks for itself. I don't really know what more any doubter might require.
3. It is the Bruderhof's teaching and practice concerning the Lord's Supper that perhaps reveals most clearly the violent conflict between the community's stated view of outside Christians and its internal functioning. The Bruderhof teaches that absolutely no one who is not a baptized member of the Bruderhof ('Hutterite') communities may be allowed to participate in the breaking of bread and drinking of wine that is their Lord's Supper meeting. Conversely, no baptized member of the Bruderhof communities may participate in any Lord's Supper or Communion service that takes place outside of the community. There are no exceptions to this rule.
Let's try to place this position in the context of the New Testament's example of first century church life. If the Bruderhof considers itself 'one part' of the much larger Body of Christ, or one specialized demonstration of God's global influence, it is comparing itself to the New Testament congregation within a single city, say Ephesus, and that body's relationship to the Spirit-filled congregations in other cities, like Phillipi and Rome.
Why do I say this? Well, the far more 'logical' extension; that we should draw a parallel between the independent Bruderhofs' (Woodcrest, Darvell, Catskill... etc.) and the independent first century churches (Jerusalem, Corinth, Thessalonica... etc.) would take us back to the theory of the Bruderhof communities alone composing the true Body of Christ on the earth today. This is not what the Bruderhof itself is saying, so we must 'jimmy' the analogy to fit their clear testimony.
Having made this consistent connection to the New Testament churches (after which the Bruderhof claims to pattern itself) we can ask the questions whose answers should now be obvious. Would the apostle Paul have forbidden the members of the church at Ephesus to partake of the Lord's Supper with the members of the church at Thessalonica? If a business traveler or evangelist from the church at Ephesus were staying for a time in Antioch, would these believers from Ephesus accept lodging and fellowship from the faithful in Antioch, but refuse to share in Antioch's Lord's Supper assembly? Was any such division taught in even the most remote fashion by the books of the New Testament? No. In fact, to even intimate that such was the case is a blasphemy against the profound unity between righteous brothers and sisters that participation in this glorious meal of remembrance once represented.
I remember how powerfully a certain notion struck me when I was still considering full membership in the Bruderhof. What could be more terrifying than refusing to share the cup of the Lord with some professing disciple in this age, only to learn that this individual was destined and appointed by God to share in the marriage supper of the Lamb in the age to come? This would be a case of a created man refusing to recognize the soul who is already recognized by the Uncreated God. It would certainly cost me my seat at the eternal table. Hence, I take any rejection of those whom I deem false brethren and deceitful workers very seriously.
Yet the Bruderhof, in an absolutely premeditated and cognizant manner, acknowledges the eternal inheritance of millions, their participation in the death and resurrection of Christ, but rejects them outright by closing the doors of its Brotherhood Room each Easter. This kind of irrationality, to me, borders on the unfathomable.
4. In some ways this last example may hit closest to home for those of you who, like me, are former members of the Bruderhof. None of us, in either our acceptance as novitiates nor our baptisms, ever literally vowed to remain on the grounds and under the authority of the Bruderhof communities for the rest of our lives. Terms like 'Bruderhof Communities' or 'Society of Brothers' were not even included in the vocabulary in those moments. Yet each of us did indeed, clearly and incontrovertibly, promise this very thing. The intimation was clear and unequivocal. I believe that any ex-member who would now seek to deny that they consciously understood and acceded to a specific lifetime commitment to the Bruderhof organization is deluding themselves and lying to others. They are in denial. Saying, 'my promise was to God' or 'my vow was to Christ' just doesn't cut it. I would hope that God and Christ were included, but the Bruderhof community itself was a nonnegotiable part of the package.
How can it be that we former members made a literal vow to 'the Church' and to 'the brothers and sisters', but walk away holding the bag now that we have forsaken only the Bruderhof? Here again, the internal inconsistency created by the Bruderhof's on-the-record definition of 'the Church' and 'brothers and sisters in Christ' leads to a monumental paradox.
Let's return to the New Testament church analogy created in number three above and consider 'lifetime commitments'. Were the first century believers baptized at Ephesus told that they would be separating themselves from God if they ever moved away to resettle amongst the apostolic church communities in some other city? Does the scripture reveal an unspoken understanding amongst believers requiring that the whole of one's life be spent in the city within which one was converted? Obviously not. To give but one example, the deacon/evangelist Phillip was a baptized member of the church at Jerusalem, but towards the end of the book of Acts we find him settled in a house amongst the brethren at Caesarea. The apostle Paul not only fails to rebuke him, but spends 'some days' with his brother, enjoying Phillip's Spirit-inspired hospitality. Once again, if the Bruderhof's conundrum will find its resolution anywhere at all, it will surely not be within the Bible.
These four points now being made, and given the fact that these questions and others were actually raised by me in discussions with various members of the Brotherhood, the reader may be curious as to how I was finally able to go forward in good conscience and become a member of the Bruderhof. I will not seek to justify the actions through which I was able to resolve my own inner conflict, I will simply relate them.
Though I had asked for the novitiate and was soon offered the opportunity to be taken into it, I held back for a time. During this period I got word that my father had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and, with the Bruderhof's permission and encouragement, I left Woodcrest to spend a few months with my dad. It was during this time away from the Bruderhof that I finally decided to go forward into membership. I wrote a few letters to the elder Christoph Arnold asking to be taken into the novitiate immediately upon my return to Woodcrest and also requesting baptism. With these wishes however, I also included the personal 'terms' under which I could find the inner peace necessary to take these two steps into full membership. Christoph wrote back saying he was very happy to hear I had finally made up my mind and that I would be able to take the novice vow as soon as possible following my arrival at Woodcrest. He didn't address the question of my 'terms' however.
I returned to the Rifton community about a month or so later and met with one of the Servants. I reiterated the statements I had made in the letter, those concerning the tensions I felt between the Bruderhof's position that they were not the only expression of the Church on the earth today and my ability, from a scriptural standpoint, to become a member of the communities. I also shared with the Servant what I believed to be the solution to my dilemma. I assume he relayed this information again to Christoph, because I was offered the opportunity to declare my feelings publicly, during a meeting, to the Brotherhoods gathered on all the American communities. The intention was to see whether or not other members of the community might have difficulty with my viewpoint.
So, once handed the microphone I essentially said that, contrary to the majority (or even entirety) I did believe that the Bruderhof communities (and Hutterite colonies) represented God's true Church in this generation. I said that I believed the Holy Spirit worked through no other people on the entire planet (that we had yet encountered, at least) and that those outside of the Bruderhof and Hutterite communities who professed Christianity were deceived servants of the Enemy. I finished by saying that, though I could speak for no other brother or sister, this was my position and I could not in good conscience be received into Bruderhof membership unless my convictions were acknowledged and accepted by the Brotherhood.
These statements probably seem fairly outrageous to many of you, and you may also wonder how a community whose own stand on the matter was so clear could even allow a perspective member to mouth such damnable propaganda. Therefore I think it may be necessary to inject a bit of historical context here.
During this time (1989) the Bruderhof was in full unity with the Schmeideleut branch of the Old Order Hutterites. In fact the Bruderhof was calling itself the 'Hutterian Brethren' and clearly claiming to be the legitimate modern-day manifestation of sixteenth-century Hutterianism. The Bruderhof meetings for both the novitiate and baptism were in accord with those of the sixteenth-century Hutterites. The words read were from English translations of the original Hutterite documents. Indeed, I was only led to the Bruderhof initially because of this connection. I was originally researching Jacob Hutter and the manifestation of Anabaptism that eventually took on his name, not Eberhard Arnold and the German Youth Movement.
Though there are some who wish to soften the documented beliefs of the early Hutterian Church, it is a fact that those brothers and sisters believed themselves to be 'the True Church,' apart from which no person, no matter how sincere, could be justified in Christ. Their communities represented 'the Ark' and all of those outside were drowning in a sea of religious deception.
Many will cite the antagonism that existed between the Hutterites and the Roman Catholics, but the Hutterian Brethren did not stop at 'papists' when declaring outsiders devoid of the Holy Spirit. The record shows that the Hutterites opposed just as vigorously the claims of the Lutherans and Calvinists as 'born of God.' And in what sometimes seems to be the twentieth- century 'Anabaptist' tradition's dirty little secret, the early Hutterites were also vocal in rebuking the Mennonite and Swiss and Polish Brethren congregations, challenging doctrinally the assertions that these non-Hutterite Anabaptists were members of the Body of Christ.
Whether or not you agree with the positions taken by these Hutterian Brethren against outsiders, you must acknowledge that they were fully consistent and unavoidable conclusions when considered in light of the Hutterites' internal teaching on discipleship. They were also fully consistent with the position of the Church recorded in the New Testament.
Almost immediately following Pentecost, groups of people began to meet and teach 'the Word' apart from the authority of apostles. These fellowships had their own ideas about what the 'truth' was, and had no use for the men of God who had been chosen to shepherd the legitimate church communities, those 'built on the foundation of apostles and prophets'. These schismatic fellowships quickly prospered and grew, coming to hold their private meetings and 'worship' gatherings in the cities and towns already home to the churches of the Lord. Whether it was the Judaizing of those who came to be called Ebionites on the right, or the dualism of those who came to be called Gnostics on the left, all of these divisive parties were branded the illegitimate works of Satan by the apostolic Church.
The apostle John called the schismatics of his day nothing less than 'anti-christs', saying, 'They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that it might be plain that they all are not of us.' It was impossible that anyone outside of the visible, unified Body of Christ could be 'anointed by the Holy One'. Less than one hundred years after the ascension of Christ, Ignatius of Antioch wrote, 'He who does not have the bishop does not have God.'
So in actuality, regardless of its offense to the modern-day ear, (or its repugnance to me now) my statements to the Brotherhood were one hundred percent consistent with the beliefs and attitudes of those souls who had actually penned the words that I would be held accountable to as an avowed member of the Bruderhof -- the Hutterian Brethren. It doesn't hurt to keep in mind also that there were a number of Old Order Hutterites who visited Woodcrest during my time there who took the exact same position. If the Bruderhof had rebuked me for my stand they would have had to do battle with a large percentage of western Hutterites. At a time when unity between east and west was so precious, such a move would have been unthinkable.
Following the aforementioned meeting I received roughly ten to fifteen faxes and letters from various brothers and sisters on other communities. The collective thinking was that, though all strongly disagreed with my position (many defending outside individuals and movements that they 'just knew' were true followers of Christ) they were joyful that I had chosen the calling of the Bruderhof and looked forward to embracing me as a real brother.
The only possible exception to this involved the case of an older brother from Pleasant View. He actually called me on the phone, and when he was unable to elicit from me the recantation he obviously desired, he asked that we meet again face-to-face. He made the journey to Woodcrest and we took a walk, spending a good two hours or more in discussion. I made virtually all of the points I have made in this letter, as well as a number of others.
Like the many I had dialogued with much earlier on, this Pleasant View brother had no logical or biblical retort. All of his arguments were based on his subjective personal emotions. They all revolved around certain specific non-Bruderhof individuals who he could 'never, ever deny' were serving Jesus and the Kingdom of God.
In very telling fashion our discussion resulted, almost on cue, in a statement from this Pleasant View brother, the general contents of which were identical to the declarations made by virtually every other Bruderhofer I had spoken with on this subject. He said, 'John, what I'm trying to say is that ______ (a non-Bruderhof Christian) is doing far more for God on a daily basis than I am! How can I possibly judge them? They could be my judge!'
I had become less and less shocked each time I heard such assertions within the community, but responded as always with: '"Then why are you here? The Bruderhof does claim to be 'the fullest way of serving Christ that we know of, and if we meet a group who's commitment is greater we will join them.' If you really seek to 'Love the Lord God with all your heart, mind and strength' and believe that (for example) bathing and feeding the dying poor in a third world nation is the highest call of God, why did you join the Bruderhof in the first place? Why do you resist giving your life to 'the full measure of light' that God has given you in regards to His deepest truths and purposes?"
His response was, like the others, essentially, 'This is where I am called to be.' Unfortunately, that very answer completely circumvents the issue. Though we parted with a handshake and I was soon to become a full member of the community with no interference from this man or anyone else, it was clear to me that this Pleasant View brother walked away just as troubled by my overall attitude as he had been at the start.
All of this being said, where does it now leave the Bruderhof? I believe that the Bruderhof cannot have it both ways. It must either declare itself the true Church in this generation, refusing to recognize as Spirit-filled sons and daughters of God all those outside of its number, or cease and desist from:
Calling the morality and ritual peculiar to itself scripturally founded absolute --
Refusing to participate in the Lord's Supper with non-Bruderhof Christians --
Requiring a perspective member to make either a spoken or implied lifelong vow to the Bruderhof organization, the breaking of which constitutes an irrevocable separation from God Almighty Himself.
Ironically, by the Bruderhof failing to take one of these two hard and fast stands, it makes itself a convoluted version of the religious orders found within Roman Catholicism. Both the sixteenth-century Anabaptists and Eberhard Arnold powerfully contradicted the very foundation of such religious 'vocations'.
What I mean to say is that whereas Roman Catholicism teaches that only a small percentage of the members within 'the Church' (priests, monks, nuns... etc.) are actually called by God to obey 'the hard sayings of Jesus', the movements of Hutter and Arnold were founded on the fundamental precept that all those who would truly call Christ Lord were called through the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit to obey all that Christ commanded. There was to be no arbitrary application of the principles of God's Word upon certain classes of 'more enlightened' disciples. It is a sorry travesty that the Bruderhof is now a full-fledged participant in such a system of faithless compromise and spiritual elitism. But let it be a warning to the wary of the god that they indeed serve.
Ultimately, I have said all this for the purposes of asking a few questions to the participants in this newsgroup. And in fairness, given the basis of these questions, they are really only for the Chesleys and the Foxs to answer.
I find it intriguing that for the first time since I left the Bruderhof, I am in a position to communicate with ex-members who, it would appear, left the community or were sent away under the same general (and I stress 'general') conditions as myself. To me, these general conditions consist in: responding to a situation or individual within the Bruderhof from what we believe to be a biblical perspective, and when unwilling to step back from this position, receiving animus and censure from the community's power core.
I have had the opportunity to meet and/or correspond with a number of ex-members since my own departure (not to mention the many accounts of 'ex's' I have read) and until hearing from Wayne Chesley, none of them, in my opinion, fit this mold. I also hope I am not presumptuous in including the Foxes here, as I am only surmising the reason for their exit based on the substance of their postings to this newsgroup. If I am off-base, I hope Paul or Diane will correct me and accept my apologies.
As I see it, there are only two scenarios possible for any ex-member of the Bruderhof, so classed, when faced with the issue of the Bruderhof's place in the larger system of Christianity. Therefore in the following I will break my questions down into two separate sets. One of the two sets can then be chosen and those questions contained in that set responded to.
1. If you believed at the time of joining them that the Bruderhof communities represented the entirety of the Body of Christ on the earth today -- now that you have chosen to separate yourselves from the Bruderhof, are you continuing to seek out the true people of God? Do you believe you have since found His Church and are now genuinely baptized into Christ? If so, what are the origins of this movement and where do its congregations exist geographically? If you at this point remain essentially free from any formal ties to a 'community of faith,' do you believe it possible to be 'in Christ' while living outside of the anointing and authority of his visible, physical Body?
2. If you did not believe at the time of joining them that the Bruderhof communities represented the entirety of the Body of Christ on the earth today (but were comfortable with the Bruderhof's official position on the matter) -- do you still believe that your position then was compatible with the revelation of the Church as declared in God's Word? If not, does your request for Bruderhof membership cause you to seriously question your overall ability to discern the 'biblical' from the 'unbiblical', even today? Would you say you are at peace and spiritually satisfied with the current Christian fellowship you now have with others? If yes, and this fellowship does not hold the exact same tenets as those professed by the Bruderhof, (those that originally drew you to the Bruderhof) why did you forsake life, family and possessions to join the Bruderhof organization in the first place?
I look forward to some feedback, and will do my best to monitor and respond to future postings with the help of various friends who are currently on-line. And thanks for taking the time to read this far.
Well, that's going to do it for me. If anyone is interested in reading a more detailed account of my experiences within the Bruderhof communities, he or she can go to the Peregrine Foundation website and click on 'Peregrine Archives'. The title of my essay is, 'Out of the Opium Den'. It is a rewritten, reedited piece based on the transcript of an interview that was published in the KIT newsletter's April '95 issue.
John Stewart certainly gave us a lot to respond to in his posting. I hope that those Bruderhof members who are (as we have good reason to know) continually monitoring the newsgroup will also respond.
First I have to say that the circumstances of the Foxes' departure from the Bruderhof were not quite the same as those of the Chesley's. I wish I could say that, like Wayne and Betty, we had taken a clear, uncompromising, public stand on an issue where the Bruderhof was behaving in an unquestionably unbiblical manner, and had been expelled as a result. This, however, was not quite the case.
What did happen was that we privately told a servant about our growing discomfort with the way important decisions were being made by the circle of the servants "over the head of the Brotherhood" (that is, with little opportunity for genuine discussion of the issues by all the members); as well as our unhappiness with the increasingly close ties between the Bruderhof and a variety of non-Christian extremist groups and personalities, such as Louis Farrakhan and the MOVE cult.
This conversation resulted in our immediately being placed into church discipline, cut off from all common meals and meetings, and thus effectively prevented from sharing our subversive ideas with other members. After about six weeks of this, we were abruptly asked to leave, for reasons which remain unclear to us. Once we had recovered from the shock of this experience, and had begun to breathe free air once again, we realized that we could never think of exposing ourselves and our children to such spiritual abuse again.
That, in a very small nutshell, was our experience. I will also say that during our five year sojourn in the Bruderhof we also experienced much that was genuinely good, beautiful, and praiseworthy. We are grateful for those experiences, and want to build on them. Nevertheless, for the unwary who are approaching the Bruderhof, and are captivated by its beauty, we post this warning: "There is a worm at the core of this apple!"
John raised an important point about the sheer inconsistency of the Bruderhof's beliefs and actions. I would say that this inconsistency is almost a hallmark of the Bruderhof. Examples could be multiplied almost without end:
-The supposed equality of all members contrasted with the very real privileges enjoyed by the servants and their families. (Ask any Bruderhof kid about "servants' kids" -- they'll be more honest with you than adults.)
- The proclaimed identification of the Bruderhof with the poor and downtrodden contrasted with the thoroughly bourgeois life enjoyed by the Bruderhof.
- The supposed process of decision-making by the consensus of all members contrasted with the nearly absolute power of the Elder to override the decisions of the Brotherhood.
- The admiration of specific missionaries contrasted with the often-expressed view that "the natives were better off before the missionaries came."
- The public courting of leading Catholic figures, and the admiration for Catholic saints like St. Francis contrasted with the private contempt for the Catholic Church as "terribly corrupt" and "practicing magic" (in the Mass).
- The enthusiasm for social activists like Jonathan Kozol contrasted with the commonly heard view that "social programs are just 'band-aid' solutions."
- The supposed centrality of the Bible contrasted with a complete unwillingness to be subject to "the dead letter" of its standards when it is inconvenient.
I'm sure others who have lived in the Bruderhof can supply more examples.
In my opinion, these and other disparities result from a very strong tendency to anti-intellectualism which prevails in the Bruderhof. A common saying in the Bruderhof is "Theologians have to repent twice." Well, what is a theologian? A person who attempts to apply the God-given faculty of Reason to the deposit of faith given by revelation, in order better to understand God, His relationship to mankind, and His will for our lives. Or as someone put it, "Theology is Faith seeking Understanding."
Obviously, theologians can and do go wrong in their reasoning. But the Bruderhof slogan implies that the very process of reasoning, as applied to faith, is misguided and wrong. One should not attempt to reason about faith, but simply accept the "living Word" with childlike, uncritical joy. But this "living Word" turns out to have no fixed content, so that at different times wildly conflicting positions can be held with complete sincerity, depending on the spirit of the moment.
Therefore, except for practical applications (like improving shop production) thinking is discouraged in the Bruderhof. The person who begins to think about the discrepancies between the Bruderhof's image of itself and the reality, or between the Bruderhof's proceedings and the standards of the Bible, is likely to find himself accused of having a "cold spirit."
Since "intellectualizing" is a cardinal sin in the community, it should not surprise one if members avoid the sin by avoiding thinking too much. Diane and I practiced this technique for years, resolutely suppressing our awareness of these and other discrepancies, and swallowing both gnats and camels indiscriminately. Finally, however, the gnats became so numerous and the camels so large that our capacity for swallowing was overwhelmed. That was the beginning of the end for us.
Now to John's two specific questions:
1. At the time we joined the Bruderhof we did not believe that it in any sense "represented the entirety of the Body of Christ on the earth today." We did not believe then, and we do not believe now, that the practice full community of goods is essential to salvation.
2. We did believe that our position then "was compatible with the revelation of the Church as declared in God's Word." We believed, and continue to believe, that the Church of God embraces both communal and non-communal bodies. At that time we also believed that the Bruderhof was genuinely a biblically-based Christian community to which we were called by Christ. It was for that reason that we "forsook life, family and possessions to join the Bruderhof organization."
Obviously, we now have a different view of the Bruderhof. And having been "once burned," you can imagine that we shall be "twice cautious." Are we perfectly happy with the form of fellowship we now have? Of course not! Are we going to uproot our four children once again, and go off in search of "community"? Of course not!
It has been said that "the best is the enemy of the good." In our quest for what we considered to be the best -- full community of goods in the Bruderhof -- we disrupted family ties, friendships, and a perfectly good church fellowship, and subjected our children to a wild rollercoaster ride of ups and downs, ins and outs.
At the time, we felt that our motivations were spiritual. But looking back I have to wonder how much we were also moved by purely selfish desires: the desire to immerse oneself in a warm, supportive group; the desire to escape from the responsibilities of adult life; the desire to belong to a band of spiritual heroes.
So now we will content ourselves with what God Himself has pronounced "good," and seek to follow Christ as very imperfect persons in a very imperfect family in a very imperfect church. With what feeble light we possess, we will attempt to "brighten the corner where we are." Peace,
...It was a painful thing for any of us to learn this the hard way. I will always be struck by a brother's comment (to Wayne) that he went along with something because he "didn't want to be a conscientious objector against the Brotherhood." So much for *real* unity.
Ouch! Some of Paul's statements above (sadly) ring familiar. I think that I bought the Bruderhof's image of itself lock, stock, and barrel. I also felt that I had no other options because this was what God was calling me/us to. Our pastor has been very helpful my continued recovery -- he once stated that God may have called us to the Bruderhof, but He also called us through it. (Bless his heart!)
Yes. We are burned, but not burnt out! Paul, thank you for expressing so much so well. Peace,
1. The Bruderhof claims it is not the true Church. My brother-in-law has made that point on several occasions. John S. relates that B'hof. member Doug Moody explained the claim "We are the Church" would cause the Holy Spirit to retreat because such a statement is arrogant and self-assuming.
I am wondering if any one of you can provide a Scriptural basis for Doug's assertion When I first left the Bruderhof, I was very reluctant to call myself a follower of Christ. I found it difficult to accept any of the gatherings where I worshipped as part of the Body of Christ. Wherever I worshipped, I subconsciously made comparisons to the Bruderhof's understanding/practices. This was not a healthy thing to do. I did not know where to find "the Church". It took several years and a number of friendly admonitions for me to see that I needed to lay hold of the blessings Jesus said his followers were to enjoy. One of those, as I understand it, is the assurance that where two or three are gathered in His name, there he is also.
While I can identify with the Bruderhof's concern about spiritual pride and arrogance, I feel a need to say that it is very important that Christ-followers everywhere live with the assurance that the Church is among them despite human weakness. Believers everywhere need the support and the comfort of Christ's continued presence in their lives. The Apostle Paul is quite bold in the matter, claiming that we are heirs of Christ's promises, "a royal priesthood".
The Bruderhof baptizes, marries, lays the dead to rest, preaches, enforces Church discipline in such a way that "binding and loosing" have temporal and eternal significance. In short, the Bruderhof practices important elements of the Church of Christ. How can it then not claim to be a local expression of the larger Body of Christ?
2. The Lord's Supper has been another area where I have had to work through many lingering doubts. In years past, the Lord's Supper was such a weighty matter that I did not find spiritual meaning in it. I continue to struggle with the concept of "worthiness". Again, it took some timely admonishments to change my perspective and to treat this holy moment as a "meal of remembrance". I value the emphasis the Bruderhof places on the holiness of the occasion, but also feel that believers ought to participate knowing that through Christ's death they are now accounted "worthy". Participation in the Lord's Supper nourishes the soul.
3. I'm sure some of you may wonder what the purpose of your brief sojourn with the Bruderhof was. I ask myself the same question. Why have I struggled so much with deafness and with my faith-walk? I feel God is calling some of us to be witnesses to the Bruderhof, to warn them about wrongdoing and spiritual blindness. And this despite our own human failings. There will be much pain and rejection for those of you who wish to help the Bruderhof return to a faithful life in Christ. It may cost you dearly. I pray that those of you who feel this call will not loose heart. May you find your strength in the Lord. With love,
The Bruderhof actually takes neither of these positions. What is quoted over and over is a saying of Eberhard Arnold: "If you ask us if we are the church, we must say 'no'. But the church comes to us again and again." This rather obscure saying implies that the Church is a completely supernatural phenomenon, and only appears sporadically on earth at those rare moments when brothers and sisters are completely in unity with each other and with the Holy Spirit. This sounds very spiritual, but the problem with such a "yo-yo ecclesiology" is that it has no basis in Scripture, and of course makes the question of whether or not 'the church' is currently present incapable of any objective answer -- it is purely subjective... Peace,
A Memoir Of A Beloved Horse in Primavera
Part II by Hans Zimmermann [Part I in the X #4 KIT]
Lienhard Gneiting, who was on the Bruderhof, came for a last visit to say good-bye to his family. He was working on an estancia near Caraya Vuelta in central Paraguay. We had grown up together, were classmates and good friends. When he had to leave again, Bill Bridgwater and I wanted to see him off by riding part of the way and in a sense making this our farewell to Paraguay. Other than tearing the place apart, there was no productive work going on, and we would not be missed too much.
We left at the crack of dawn. Lienhard had his own horse, Bill was riding Butzy and I Mercedes. We rode over Campo Riveroscue, past the main branding corral by Monte Octavian and, the deserted house of Benito near the corral. Many, many memories were attached to this location. The grass was wet with a heavy dew that glistened in all the colors of the rainbow as the sun rose over the horizon, hitting us in the face. Small flocks of parrots were rising from the jungle, heading for their feeding spots with their incessant chatter as they flew. Other birds were calling in the tall grass and the vultures were sitting high up on dead trees, spreading their wings to worship the rising sun. Our two dogs, Aguaraii and Sheik trotted ahead taking delight in chasing the brown quail off the trail, which took off with an explosive flapping of their wings. It was a glorious Paraguayan morning with all its earthy smells, aroma of flowers and the calling of the many different birds. We continued on to Campo Dolores, crossing the canal and exited our property by Laureano, our border watch at the edge of Monte Isla Guazu. We crossed Campo Vacahu and by mid-morning stopped for a short break at the estancia of DiStefano to rest the horses and drink some terere In Paraguay, when one stopped anywhere, people would invite you for a refreshing drink of terere or water. In that respect, Paraguayans have no equal.
We continued on a back road through the low-lying woods, with its sandy and wet soil, missing the main village of Vacahu. We then hooked up with the Camino Real near the creek Ihu and continued on to Santani, or San Estanislau, as is the official name. By noon we arrived at the "Floh Frau" on the banks of the river Tapiracuay. It was quite hot so we made a longer stop, watered the horses and rinsed them off in the cool water. The innkeeper was always friendly. We let the horses graze in the paddock, not much grass to be found there, it was nibbled down to the dirt like a golf green as this was a popular stop for travelers. We ate and chatted with the locals, rested and then resumed our trip two hours later. We still had the intentions of riding well past Santani as Lienhard had to be back at his job two days later.
We had a lot to talk about. None of us had a clear idea as to what our futures would bring and where we would be living. The breaking up of the Primavera Bruderhof and the ambiguity surrounding it, made community life unpredictable and less desirable. We were not masters of our destinies. None of us was very fond of the hierarchy that governed the Bruderhof and the American invasion led by Heini Arnold, whom we considered a screwball, and a fanatic simpleton acting more like a born-again, self-righteous Christian. At that time we did not fully realize that the whole thing was nothing but a power struggle and grab for control. Heini fooled many and came out on top. Needless to say, we learned to be very careful in expressing our opinions and concealing our true feelings, knowing well what the consequences would be. All three of us had been away from the Bruderhof working on ranches or other jobs for two or more years, so we had learned to live on our own, but Bruderhof training and customs die hard. When you know that you will get no support from your parents or financial help from the Bruderhof, a break becomes a difficult decision. In most cases it is forced upon you when one cannot conform. At that moment we had no idea of how much our lives would change.
We passed Santani on the west side and then continued south east. At dusk we entered a forest and kept riding for quite a while longer. It was pitch dark by the time we reached the point which Lienhard had hoped to be at that night. It seemed to be a general stop over for travellers as wagons and riding horses were parked all over the place. We were assigned a free spot under a large open rancho (hut), where we hung up our saddles on pegs, hoisted some catres (wooden framed beds with leather webbing) from the rafters and prepared our beds. Our ponchos, sweaty horse blankets and, sheep skins serving as bedding. For a meal we had locro (corn kernels) with dried meat and the ever present mandioca. After that we flushed it down with terere and as a nightcap, a shot of parapiti-i (a native sugar cane rum). We were very tired and quickly passed out. Our trusted dogs lay next to us, growling at any one coming too close.
We slept well and did not awaken until the sun was about to come up. Near by people were drinking their morning mate and eating galletas. In the distance one could hear the distinct morning call of the herons, calling; krrau..krrau..krrau, always three times, indicating we were close to water or a swamp. We joined the people around the fire and drank our morning from the guampa (cow horn) that was passed around the circle. After the light breakfast, we saddled our horses, gave a quick abrazo and wished each other well, Lienhard heading southeast and we back to Santani. We were going to take it easy on the way back and stretch it over two days. By late morning we were crossing the property of the Schmelings and decided to make a short stop at their estancia. A deer came running across the campo and, Aguaraii, ever the hunter, chased after it into the forest. We did not see him again until a week later when he turned up again in Isla Margarita.
At the Schmelings we chatted with Egon, one of the sons. I had met him on a previous trip when the Bruderhof bought one hundred steers for slaughter from their ranch and we had to drive them back to Primavera. We drank terere, had some food and filled them in on the latest news from Primavera. After that we continued on to Santani, slightly backtracking to spend the night at the Candias, good friends, who had lived for a while in Ibate in charge of quarters for our Paraguayan workers. His children used to attend our school, the same way the Jaime children attended our school in Isla Margarita when Wenceslao, a native Paraguayan, was in charge of our logging operation, the alzaprimas and the oxen that went with them. The Jaimes later joined the Bruderhof and, made the move to the USA.
There is nothing like Paraguayan hospitality, they always welcome you in with open arms and genuine friendship. "Mi casa es su casa" is said in the truest sense of the word. We had a pleasant evening together and lots to talk about. The Paraguayans from far and wide wanted to know what was happening to the barbudos (bearded ones) first closing the hospital and now wanting to move away, a rather difficult matter to explain as we ourselves did not know the true reason behind it. The next day we took it easy again. Riding west, back from Santani, the road followed the River Tapiracuay which flowed at a short distance to the right in a shallow and swampy valley and slightly rolling hills. To the east of Santani the hills gradually became higher. It was then that we heard the sharp clear distinctive call of the Guira Campana for the last time, calling from somewhere in the woods down by the river. In the earlier years one would hear it also in the woods of Primavera, but with all the forest clearing, it completely disappeared.
By noon we reached the Floh Frau again, at the crossing of the Tapiracuay. We decided to rest, eat lunch and give the horses a good bath. Other travelers had stopped there and were washing their animals in the river. The river at this point was wide and shallow with a clean firm sandy bottom. Upstream stood the wooden bridge from which the kids liked to jump into the water. Like every one else, we stripped and led our horses into the clean water to wash. We were conspicuous with our pale bottoms among all the brown ones, to the delight of the onlookers on the bridge who, amidst laughter, were shouting "popo morotyi!" (white asses). Having lived amongst the Paraguayans, we did not let that bother us. It was all in good fun. At the almacen we bought canned meat and chipas and ate a casual lunch sitting on our saddles under a tree, finishing it up with terere. By now the reader should realize that whenever you had a rest stop, one drank terere.
Shortly after 2 PM we started back on our next leg to Vacahu. One first has to go through about one and one-half miles of forest, the extension of Monte Jaime. The road which had been in use for over a hundred years was washed out and more like a canyon, (Hohlweg in German) with walls on either side 10-15 feet high. I still remember when we drove the steers from the Schmelings back to Primavera, we had to go through this hollow road. First we had to send a few riders ahead to stop any oncoming traffic, or have them turn onto a side road. Then we posted riders at all side roads in the wood and, then proceeded to stampede the herd through the wood along this narrow road. As long as a steer sees another animal running in front of him he will follow and not try to head for the bushes. It worked well, we did not lose a single animal.
We slowly made our way through this wood, as the road is covered with deep sand and the horses sank over their hoofs into the soft hot sand. After Monte Jaime comes a long stretch of narrow campo and the air is trapped between the forests. One could see the hot air dancing over the dry grass and the horses were lathered in sweat. The Ihu was a welcome sight, even though it was just a trickle of water because of the dry weather we were having. Thousands of colorful butterflies covered the moist sand around the water and rose in a dizzying cloud as we came upon them. Shortly before 5 PM we reached Vacahu where we stopped at the local almacen, in no rush to get back. We seated ourselves at a table on the shady verandah, had terere and then ordered a shot of parapiti-i, the domestic rum. The owner joined us and we had a lively conversation. His two daughters got involved and before we knew it, they invited us to the local dance that evening. We had forgotten that it was Saturday. We were most tempted to stay, but felt self-conscious and uncomfortable in our sweaty and dusty clothes. We had been on the road for three days without changing. I'm afraid that not even a liberal application of perfume could have camouflaged our BO.
We politely declined, giving as our excuse that we had to be back that evening and already were running late. I had the feeling that all of us were disappointed. We would have preferred to stay for one last dance with the native Paraguayans, both Bill and I were fond of the music, always live; two or three guitars, a harp and possibly a contrabass and sometimes an accordion, accompany the singing.
At last we had to say "adios" and go on our way. It was a nice warm evening, the smell of burning campo wafting through the air. The smell of burning Colorado grass mixed with citronella grass, gives off a special smell and is quite aromatic, a smell which is part of the country I loved. We crossed the bridge over the canal as we decided to ride back using the Camino Real through Monte Tuyango. Each time we passed an oncoming traveler, be he on foot, horse or wagon, we offered him a friendly "adios!" the customary greeting in the country. (People feel offended when one does not greet them or reply to them). We did not want to push the tired horses, also we wanted to make the journey last. We entered the forest as the sun was setting and the light was fading fast. For a short while we could still hear the haunting call of the big brown wood hen and, the occasional shrieking of a kai (monkey) having a last altercation with one of its group. These monkeys don't have nests, and find excellent shelter high in the canopies of trees where the vines form a dense web, carpeting the top of the trees with a thick layer of leaves. Deep in the forest it soon turns quiet, just some insects chirping or buzzing. We heard the soft "chuck-chuck-chuck" call of the caure-i (dwarf owl), a very shy and elusive little bird. Paraguayan folk lore has it, that if a man carries the feathers of a cauire-i on him, it makes him irresistible to women and they tell about it in their songs.
In general, the wild animals of the Paraguayan jungle move about their business in a very quiet way. None wants to give their location a way, be it predator or prey. By the time we exited Monte Tuyango it was dark. We crossed a low-lying sliver of campo (ca–ada). The ever-present water puddle in the road dried up because of the weeks without rain. Now it went uphill to Campo Riveroscue where our property started. To the left lay Monte Octavian, where there was an abundance of sweet orange trees growing wild. Who can still remember the glorious outings we had when all school children and half the adult population went out for a whole day to pick oranges for our juice production? We rode along the fence which marked our boundary until we came to the village of Carolina. Here we entered the old gate to our property, where Basilio Vera used to be the gate keeper when the Camino Real still entered our property at that point. Now the road made a short cut through the woods, bypassing Isla Margarita. To the left down the hill used to be our first brick factory and a beautiful spring, a spot we loved to visit when we were still kids in Isla Margarita. We rode down the hill and turned the corner around the woods and could see the lights still burning on the hill of Isla Margarita. By the time we made it on to the hof it was nearly 10 PM.
For us it was a great way of experiencing Paraguay once more the way we knew it best. The trip also seemed to form an even closer bond between Mercedes and Butzy. The next day our Yankee intruders told us how concerned they were about our whereabouts; we could have been lost. We felt insulted. We were young men who had been all over Paraguay on our own before, and this was our back yard. We just looked at each other and had a good chuckle.
During the following weeks I took every opportunity to ride our campos before we would sell all the cattle and pack up ourselves. I worked during the day on all kinds of jobs, so most of my riding was done at night. I'd leave around 9 PM and return at 2 or 3 AM mostly alone but once or twice with my brother Kurt and a couple of times with my sister Emmi who loved the nocturnal rides. Often we would sing at the top of our voices while riding through the darkness. However, I preferred to ride in silence and listen to the night sounds.
Christoph Mathis came from Asuncion to help with the sale of the cattle, which were being bought by the concern Liebigs & Company, a British outfit that operated slaughterhouses in Argentina and Paraguay and also owned a few estancias. (I had worked for two months as a meat inspector at their plant in Asuncion after being asked to leave Primavera). Christoph asked me to provide him with two horses because he too wanted to ride our property once more, where he had spent so many years tending and improving our cattle operation. I considered him my mentor and a good friend, so as a special gesture I was going to let him ride Mercedes. Mercedes antics had long been forgotten and I didn't even give it a thought, but no other person but myself had ever ridden Mercedes, which proved to be a problem. When Christoph swung himself into the saddle Mercedes freaked out. She looked scared, backed in to a tangerine bush and refused to move. I was afraid that she would resort to her old tricks and throw herself to the ground.
Christoph kept his cool and asked, "What kind of horse are you giving me?" I went over and patted Mercedes' neck and rubbed her head, assuring her that things were all right. She calmed down and I could lead her out of the bush. After that she seemed OK and gave no further trouble. I guess Mercedes considered herself a one-man horse and wanted to keep it that way.
A week later the people from Liebigs came to round up our beef herd and drive them off to their estancia somewhere south of Puerto Rosario near the River Paraguay. Included in the deal were all our riding horses, breeding mares and foals. I kept Mercedes and Butzy for the last round-up and until we had driven the cattle off our property, exiting from Campo Riveroscue through Carolina then via Amambay towards Itacurubi. We rode back to Isla Margarita from where two of the Liebigs cowboys collected the remaining horses. Seeing the cattle driven away and giving up my horses was a hard pill to swallow. The last I heard of Mercedes was from one of our boys coming back from Rosario on our MAN truck, seeing the Liebigs cowboys driving the cattle herd near Itacurubi. By then the capataz was riding Mercedes while Butzy was trotting behind her like a obedient dog. The two horses stuck to together and the capataz appeared to have claimed them as his horses.
The following weeks we continued to dismantle and collect anything movable that could be sold to our neighbors from Riorugua to Puerto Rosario, before we all would leave ourselves, which I was told could be any week. One remaining task was to clean up the cemetery and provide each grave with a new plaque. Since there where no stones available, we made them out of Irundaimi wood that is extremely hard and takes decades to rot. The last person to be buried at our cemetery was Jens, the old Danish sailor who had joined us about ten years earlier. We kids always liked to hear the stories he had to tell about the many years he had spent on the oceans of the world, mostly fishing in the north Atlantic. He died of a heart attack one evening during a general meeting. I was sitting right behind him, when he just slid off his chair. He never knew what hit him.
During these last weeks, we received a Swiss illustrated magazine in which appeared a lengthy article about the Bruderhof in Primavera, Paraguay, and the communal life we were living. Among the many pictures depicting all facets of our lives: school, sawmill, turning shop, agriculture, communal meals, dancing etc., was a full page picture of myself riding on Mercedes, working with cattle in the coral at Ibate. Within weeks I received several letters from young lady admirers, some from Argentina, others from Brazil, wanting to know more about me and, if I was willing to give advice on how to raise and train horses. These young ladies were themselves either daughters of ranchers or did a lot of riding. It was suggested to me it would be better not to answer these letters. I had no intentions of honoring this request, but I was scheduled to leave for Asuncion the next week to prepare my papers for the immigration to the USA, not the best time to start a correspondence about something I was about to leave behind me.
The American brothers told me that I could go to the USA, but with the knowledge that one had to register within 6 months of arrival for the military draft. To avoid military service, one had to be prepared to register as a CO, which meant one had to be willing to do alternative service or at worst go to prison. I assured them that I would do so. In my mind, however, I thought 'I'll deal with that when the time comes.' The options for not going along with that were limited. Paraguay's educational opportunities were rather limited. I hoped to rectify that in the USA, with the option to return to Paraguay later remaining open. I had learned not to reveal too much of my personal thoughts and did not trust the Americans who were evaluating every single word you said, trying to detect hidden meanings and, with that, your attitude. E.g., when Doug Moody, over 6 feet tall with long legs and tall upper body, rode one of our horses, the picture was totally out of proportion. I said, "We are not used to seeing such big people riding on our horses." Art Wiser overheard this and called me aside to ask me rather pointedly if I meant "big" because Doug Moody was a servant of the word, or because he was tall. I knew in an instant where he was coming from and assured him quite calmly it was the latter, letting him know there was no reason to delve into this matter any farther. Heini I did not trust. I always felt that he was an egotistical phony and fanatic.
Before I knew it, it was time to leave, but what should I do with my two dogs, Sheik and Aguraii? Bill had departed already. I decided to give them to my good Paraguayan friend Hernan Jimenez as a farewell gift, which he really appreciated. I left Primavera by airplane from the Loma Hoby airstrip, to which many personal memories were attached. We school kids helped to build this air strip, with Whilhelm Fischer in charge. Here we played many football matches, inter-hof matches and also with our Paraguayan neighbors. We had horse races on the airfield and sometimes we would take the light spring wagon with a spirited team of horses and drive in full gallop down the field pretending it was a Roman chariot. We just had to be sure that Albert Wohlfahrt would not catch us when we did it. And let's not forget all the arrivals and departures that took place, with all the people from the hof coming down for the event singing the traditional "Kein schoener Land in dieser Zeit."
There was no singing when we left, just a depressed and subdued atmosphere. I left together with Margrit Meier and two of her daughters, Lydia and Priscilla. Margrit could be very upbeat, but also just as stern and dour. That day she was the latter, making the departure rather depressing. We took off south towards Campo Guana. As the plane rose above the trees and higher forest, one could look left to the east and see the hills of Santani on the horizon. Once high enough, we banked right and crossed the forest Tapere below. Soon the "Schlangen Kamp" appeared under us, a long narrow sliver of grass (ca–ada) in the forest with a bulge in the middle. This was a very secluded, fenced-off area and the nandus (rheas) always used it as their nesting place. After some more forest we flew over Campo Tapere, over the rice fields of the Mennonites and then over the swamps of the river Tapiraguay that become wider and wider as they reach the Paraguay river. The pilot dipped low to fly close to the surface, looking for swamp deer. Sure enough we flushed a few out of the bushes and high reeds.
Once in Asuncion it was a race to get all my papers ready. I would travel with a British passport because I was born in England, and therefore a British subject. My brother Kurt was already in Asuncion and about to leave for Germany. A few of us, Gottlieb Fischli, Allister Marchant, Aka (Karl Keiderling) and Mark Trapnell, drove him down to Plaza Llore on the bay, where Kurt took a flight to Buenos Aires with the hydroplane of Aerolinas Argentinas.
It took a couple of weeks until all the paper work was ready. Some of the brothers had a hectic time arranging all the passports and visas and whatever it took to prepare people for immigration to the USA, all this in the heat of December. We left Asuncion by prop plane from Campo Grande, also known as Aeropuerto Presidente Alfredo Stroessner. Our group included the Mathis family, the female Meier contingency (Hans Meier was who-knows-where?) Bastel Hussy and a few others. The flight from Asuncion to Sao Paulo was very rough. We were flying through thunderstorms and the plane was being tossed up and down, with many people getting sick. I did not feel very good myself and was afraid of throwing up, but I found a way to deal with it; closing my eyes I relaxed and imagined being on a bucking horse. Worked like a charm for me, no more problems with feeling sick.
The rest of the flight was routine; a short stop in Rio de Janeiro to change to a larger plane. We flew at night, so we never got to see the Amazon rain forest. Belem was sticky and hot. We made a short stop on one of the Caribbean islands but then were diverted to Miami because New York Idlewild airport was fogged in. So we entered the USA in Miami and the airline put us up for the night. The next day we took off late for New York and it was dark on our arrival. It was damp and cold, having snowed the day before but now melting and creating fog. We never got to see much of New York City and then the long drive at night to the Evergreen Hof in Norfolk, Connecticut.
Evergreen was located in a narrow, swampy valley, with trees covering the surrounding hills and limiting the views. I soon longed for the open spaces of Paraguay. Needless to say, one could not be too vocal about one's feelings. We arrived in mid-December, with lots of snow on the ground and all the men had to work in the toy factory or shop. We soon suffered from cabin fever and enjoyed every opportunity to get out into the fresh air. One day while working in the shop some one let out a "sapoka!"(the Paraguayan way of yodeling or hollering), and spontaneously all of us Primavera boys and men started hollering at the top of our voices, answering each other from the different corners of the building. One could sense the release of frustration, as we were laughing and hollering. This went on for a good 5 to 10 minutes, as one fellow tried to top the other. The American brothers thought we had gone totally nuts and made quite a fuss about the whole incident, which I thought ridiculous.
I was getting homesick for Paraguay, the wide-open ranges, my horses and a good piece of meat. On weekends Dave (Montanus) Mathis and I went for long hikes, usually seeking the high ground. We climbed every ridge and mountain within a 10-mile radius. At Evergreen I was not a happy camper. I felt stymied and did not like the way the American brothers treated us. They made it quite clear that we did not know much and had a lot to learn. I did take part in the Gemeindestunde. but had a feeling of drifting apart, not liking the way the community was totally run and controlled by Woodcrest. Nothing could be said or done without Heini's approval. He never showed up in person but let his minions do his work.
I started to take correspondence courses, occupying myself most evenings with studying. This took me even more away from communal activities. At that point the Americans suggested that I "take a distance" from the community, which might help me make up my mind one way or another. Also in the meantime, my parents and family had been kicked out of the community and lived in abject poverty in Zeitlofs, Germany. Art Wiser kept pestering me, wanting to know what I wrote in my letters and instructing me not to inform them about happenings on the community on the pretense they would not understand. I played stupid, but inside was very incensed.
So when I was presented with the fact that the brotherhood wanted me to leave, it came as no surprise. I was dropped off at the YMCA in Hartford, CT, with just a few personal belongings. They paid for a one-week stay at the Y and gave me a total of $10. "Go and find a job!" Luckily by the next day I found one, but was let go after just one week due to insufficient experience with modern tools and precision carpentry, i.e. working from complicated blue prints. By Monday of the following week I had another job on a large construction sight, but continued looking for an inside job. By now it was November and quickly getting cold. Through stubborn insistence I was given a chance to learn working at a metal lathe in a steam turbine factory. I immediately signed up for night school, studying English, math and civics, learning the true working of a democracy. There were many foreigners in the classes, so the teachers threw in a heavy dose of American history as well.
At the Y I met a young German organmaker who was here on an apprenticeship. His family owned an organ factory in southern Germany. Through him I was introduced to an American youth group that called themselves The Suburbanites, mostly well educated but rather unpretentious, and they made me feel at ease. Indeed there was a lot I had to learn. I soon realized that there were many more good people out in the U.S. world than bad. The group had many activities; weekend retreats, outings to view the fall foliage, climbing mountains, parties and dances, Christmas caroling etc. Life was all of a sudden good and stimulating again. Soon I started dating some of the girls in the group, initially rather shy but quickly feeling more at ease. The only one for whom it was strange and new was I. I felt free and happy, with no desire to return to the Bruderhof. Urges to visit them soon faded away. America now offered opportunities that I would not get anywhere else and I wanted to stay.
Initially, after registering as a CO at the draft board, my intentions were to skip the country if there would be no way out. I was not willing to serve in the military of a country in which I could not stay in and be a citizen. Registering as a CO bought me extra time to make up my mind. Deep down I was never a convinced pacifist and always questioned the religious contention that you should not kill your enemy even in your own defense when attacked. Once it was clear for me that I wanted to stay in America, it was logical that I should be prepared to fight in its defense, if need be. I had no special desire to go into the service, but most of my foreign friends, British and German, had already been drafted, so when the draft board set a date for my hearing on the CO issue, I told them they could skip it, I was going.
I was very lucky and was sent to Korea instead of Vietnam. After a 3-year stint in the U.S. Army, I became a citizen in February of 1967, while stationed in San Antonio, Texas, by now over 5 years in the USA. I had saved most of my pay while in the service, and ordered a VW bug that I would pick up in Wolfsburg, Germany. I booked passage on the SS Bremen and sailed for Germany in the hope of studying there, but this turned out to be impossible. I spent eleven months in Germany, not being able to study and feeling more American than German, although I was fluent in German. Philosophically I had become very American (north and south). A German buddy from the army who was living in New York wrote me that the best opportunity for work and study would be in New York City. An apartment was available where he lived and a free garage for my car. I wrote him to hold it for me and, two weeks later, I was in New York, my car being shipped via freighter.
I settled down in New York, found a job with a Dutch International Company that dealt in the importation of cocoa, coffee, rubber and spices, while at night I attended Baruch College of Business. The Bruderhof was as good as forgotten. However, Mercedes and my other horses kept popping up in some of my dreams. It occurred to me that the New York City library might have a copy of the Swiss illustrated magazine that carried the article about Primavera. I looked for it and sure enough there it was. I contacted the editor and they put me in contact with the photographer. He was willing to send me the negatives of all the pictures he took in Primavera and I was able to order copies. I selected a few, ordering 8x11 prints and, amongst them of course, the picture of me riding Mercedes.
Ever since, the picture has occupied a prominent spot on the wall of my living room and, serves as a constant reminder of some of the best times of my youth in Primavera, Paraguay and Mercedes, a horse which I truly loved.