The KIT Newsletter, an Activity of the KIT Information Service, a Project of The Peregrine Foundation

P.O. Box 460141 / San Francisco, CA 94146-0141 /
telephone: (415) 821-2090 / (415) 282-2369
KIT Staff U.S.: Ramon Sender, Charles Lamar, Christina Bernard, Vince Lagano, Dave Ostrom;
U.K. : Susan Johnson Suleski, Ben Cavanna, Leonard Pavitt, Joanie Pavitt Taylor, Brother Witless (in an advisory capacity)
The KIT Newsletter is an open forum for fact and opinion. It encourages the expression of all views, both from within and from outside the Bruderhof. The opinions expressed in the letters we publish are those of the correspondents and do not necessarily reflects those of KIT editors or staff.

April 1995 Volume VII #4

-------------- "Keep In Touch" --------------

The pressure of news has made this a DOUBLE issue. Please keep in mind our climbing costs with higher U.S. postage, and put a donation in the mail to us if you have not done so for a while. We would remind everyone that our foreign mailing costs are even higher. The XRoads Fund also could use some help. Thank you.

----- The Whole Kit And Caboodle -----

HAPPY 60th Birthday to Bette Bohlken-Zumpe! Also a big welcome to her new granddaughter!
Nadine Moonje Pleil, 3/6/95: August and I are the very proud grandparents of a new grandson! Kerry and Andrea have a son, 10 lbs and 21-1/2 inches long, with lots of brown hair. His name is Paul Joseph. He came by way of Caesarean, but everything went well. We now have 10 grandchildren. We are very grateful for the safe arrival of this new little person!
KIT: We were very sorry to hear that both Bronwen Bazeley and Richard Whitty are seriously ill. Our very best wishes to them both and to their families. Also Kathleen Joyce Hazelton is fighting emphysema. We extend our best wishes to her, Donald and their family.
"State Hutterites Split from Eastern Colonies for Differing Reasons," by Carson Walker © by "The Argus Leader," Sioux Falls, South Dakota
South Dakota Hutterites have split from their brother colonies in New England, and each side has different reasons for the schism. The minister of the South Dakota colonies, the Rev. Michael Waldner of Mitchell, said the separation started last year.
"There was something between us. Nothing drastic that can't be solved down the road sometime, we hope," Waldner said. "Like any other church, they get things between them."
Hutterites, who have German ancestry, live a structured life- style and are guided by a deep Christian faith. Most live in communal colonies of about 100 members. About 5,000 live in South Dakota. Waldner said the Western Hutterites, which include South Dakota, other states and Canadian provinces, stopped communicating with the Eastern colonies because of a colony in Nigeria, Africa, called Palmgrove. The dispute arose when the Palmgrove Hutterites took control of the assets that the Americans helped them establish, said Martin Johnson with the Hutterian Brethren Service Committee in Farmington, Pa.
Hutterites from the Dakotas and other parts of the West still support the Nigerians, but the Easterners believe the actions amount to a breach of relationship and it is not right to continue supporting them, Johnson said. Waldner said the Eastern Hutterites made accusations against the Westerners without asking them about it.
"The East just took the word from one person as truth. The Hutterite way of life through the centuries was to ask first before you accuse a person. They have not asked the second party if it's so," he said.
Johnson said the Eastern Hutterites have tried to settle differences with the Westerners, but it has been to no avail.
"From our point of view, we tried to settle these things, and now they do not accept our feelings on these things."
The West also shuns the East because of a book, said the head of the Eastern Hutterites, the Rev. Johann Christoph Arnold of Rifton, NY.
"We have published a book called "Discipleship," which the elders of Western Hutterites forbid them to read because it's a challenge to us as Christians," he said. "They see it as a threat because it means for them they have to change... They are furious that we published this book and are telling outside people not to buy it."
Waldner said the book is not banned. "We never opposed the book," he said. "I've got the book and have read it. There's nothing in there we didn't know. It's a nice book, and I don't know of anybody who's been forbidden to read it. Where he got that I don't know."
KIT: The schismatic faction of ex-Schmiedleut colonies known as the "Oilers" are being asked to stop identifying themselves as Schmiedleut and Hutterian Brethren. Quoting from a letter signed by Rev. Mike Hofer and Leonard Kleinsasser, Schmiedleut Conference, to Mike Wollmann, Sam Kleinsasser, Jacob Waldner, Jacob Hofer and Sam Hofer: "Again, we hope that you will act in an honourable way and discontinue use of the name "The Hutterian Brethren Church" and "the Schmiedleut Conference," as to do so is misleading." Another letter from Wolschock & Company, Barristers and Attorneys-at-Law, addressed to Bill Murray and Michael Radcliffe of the law firm, Baker, Radcliffe and Co., also made the same request.
KIT: The Bruderhof has filed two lawsuits in Nigeria attempting, first and foremost, to freeze the assets of the Palmgrove community. The Petitioner named is "Hutterian Brethren in New York, Inc. (for and on behalf of Hutterian Brethren Communities in the United States, Great Britain, Germany and Canada"). They accuse the Nigerian leadership of various infractions of their relationship, and request the court to:
a) Declare null and void any sale or transaction... respecting the assets (of Palmgrove).
b) Declare that all assets now in the name of the Nigerian trustees and member be held in trust for Palmgrove.
c) Declare that all trust properties be returned to Palmgrove.
d) Declare that any Palmgrove assets "that have been disposed of without the requisite approval" be returned.
e) Restrain Palmgrove's trustees, via a "perpetual injunction," from dealing with the assets... in such a manner that jeopardizes Palmgrove's title to same.
f) Direct Palmgrove to amend its Constitution to conform to the Bruderhof's Articles of Faith and appoint Bruderhof representatives as additional trustees...
As an alternative to the above, they request "an order winding up the Respondent in accordance with the Companies and Allied Matters Act." [We assume this would mean closing down the Palmgrove Corporation and disposing of its assets - ed].
Meanwhile the Hutterian Church of Canada has responded with two letters. One states that they oppose the lawsuit and have not authorized it, and that "the Americans left Palmgrove voluntarily against the wishes of the Palmgrove people and against the wishes of the Elders of the Canadian Hutterites, leaving everything in the hands of the Palmgrove people and Canadians, and we will therefore continue to help Palmgrove."
The second letter points out that "the Americans calling themselves Hutterian Brethren of New York Inc. have no right to request authorization to participate, control or administrate Palmgrove on a daily basis. Since Palmgrove was a joint venture and was built up by contributing colonies from Manitoba, Canada, USA, charities, churches and other organizations, the Americans have no more right to ask or demand a wind-up than anybody else...
"The Americans left Palmgrove voluntarily. After the pull-out, they contributed nothing to the upkeep of Palmgrove... There is no reason why they should claim or demand ownership now. From the beginning, Palmgrove was a mission field and joint venture for the benefit of the African people, and no foreign contributor should reclaim ownership or control of any of the property now."
KIT: The Bruderhof claims expenses "approximating U.S. $2,354,487" and alleges that the Nigerian leaders misrepresented the possibility of electing foreign directors to a Nigerian charitable organization and filed a constitution that "only makes scant reference to the Articles of Faith" of the Hutterian Church. Since Palmgrove did not yet exist as a legal entity when the property and various assets were purchased, they were transferred to Rev. Innocent Idiong to "hold in trust," with the understanding that once Palmgrove had been registered, Rev. Idiong would transfer the assets. These included five deeds of conveyance (presumably for real property) in Rev. Innocent Idiong's name. Once Palmgrove was registered, three additional foreign directors were appointed, including Jake Kleinsasser and Johann Christoph Arnold.
However with the ongoing Canadian Hutterite support for Palmgrove, the possibility of the Bruderhof reacquiring control or 'cashing out' (winding up) their investment seems very unlikely. Inasmuch as Jake Kleinsasser was elected Palmgrove's "chief of chiefs," it seems probable that his view will prevail. The sight of an established U.S. church bringing a lawsuit against the very people they set themselves up to assist, including a well-publicized fund- raising campaign, is unusual. Palmgrove's neighboring churches are outraged, as is evidenced by the following letter.
Bishop-in-Charge, C.A.C. Church of Nigeria, plus five pastors, to Christoph Arnold, undated: Dear Christoph Vetter and All Servants of the Word from the East:
We, the concerned Christians from other denominations, have heard the sad stories involving your group in Nigeria. Regardless of whatever may have been your reasons for disagreement with the Palmgrove people, you shouldn't have gone to a law court to seek for your right. It's only God that gives 'right,' not law courts.
We challenge you as fellow Christians to really state where your strength to do this comes from. Where is your first love? Where are your promises? Where is your humility and ability to give out of love, and unconditionally? It seems you are now counting costs without regrets. Where is your true mission (Mat 28: 18-20)? Where does your obedience to this commission lie? Is it in your action(s)? You've made a negative impact as far as the Gospel of Christ, which means love and life, is concerned.
What is the difference between your unbiblical lawsuit and the tax collector whom Christ warned true believers to be careful with, else he gives them to the world judges. Judging from your actions, you have nailed Christ again and again to the cross for representing Him with constant and fleshly demands, seeking utopian uniformity only to achieve half-truth by means of coercion, instead of using persuasive love to come to peace and dedication.
As it now appears, you have sadly made "Hutterites faith" a laughing stock, not only to ignorant Africans but also to the well- informed Western world. How can you now defend the "no lawsuit" belief of the Hutterites and then turn around and defy it? You are just like a dog who vomits and eats same again. How can you uphold your Peter Riedemann's "Confession of Faith" (page 112) as well as the teachings of our beloved Jesus Christ, especially when He commanded us to love our enemies.
If Palmgrove is now your enemy, why not love them? Enemies don't listen to threats, lawsuits or unloving actions, but they will return same, even worse. The only language they will listen to is "love." Do you use love? For how long? If you don't love well enough, then "shame on you all!"
How do you feel blowing your top against the poor people of Africa? You should please repent of this. What do you think you are missing in terms of property in Palmgrove? You will be told some day that billions of U.S. dollars, given out of love to Africa through the building of schools, hospitals, farms -- name it, by the various missionary societies, never came without struggles in various capacities. But none of these societies/churches had ever taken the poor people to disgrace them in the worldly court.
You have given yourself another name in Africa: "hypocrites, thieves, and liar." Shame on you again! How do you feel now when you look back to the very beginning of Palmgrove? You first taught the people about love and how to love. You never wait patiently enough to allow it to grow. You hastily uprooted love and planted bitterness. What a hasty turn-around? Christ would have a question for you as far as love talked about in I Corinthians 13: 3-5, is concerned.
You have stirred the poor souls to anger, which is not good either. But what can the poor people do? They have to resist all your attempts to break and tear them down. It's their identity they will struggle to keep. You will finally go in great shame and gain nothing at all. You have to repent first. It takes two to struggle. Remember, you must lead them to repentance by being the first to repent.
Your weapon of destruction (lawsuit) against Palmgrove shall never prosper. Palmgrove shall grow taller above obstacles and the good Lord shall be a shield unto them. Only love shall break the barrier for you to reach them. Why not use it?
Finally, brethren, how quick and best a way are you going to redeem your name already dragged by your greed, shaky faith and self-righteousness into these muddy waters? Please back up before your doom. Do something because your actions have betrayed and exposed your group as ocultic [sic] in practice and quite different from the known loving, sharing and humble Christian group from New York we first heard of. Where is your first love? We ask you again. Your fruits now have maggots in them. As King David puts it in Psalms 51: 3, "Your sins are ever before you."
Please, brethren, examine yourselves, ask again, test your conscience and judge your deeds now in accordance with the scripture. Repent today, for tomorrow may be too late. Yours faithfully, Fellow Christians, [six signatures]
ITEM: "The New York Times" of 3/2/95, Metropolitan Section, ran an article on the Woodcrest Bruderhof, titled 'Thou Shalt Not Traffic in Demon Gossip.' It focused primarily on the non-gossip rule, with photos of various grim-faced and dour adults obviously trying very hard to keep their lips buttoned. Some quotes:
"But it is the fight against unneighborly jealousies and social hypocrisies, the childlike urge to tattle and connive, that members smilingly admit to as the true daily cross.
"'That's the problem wherever there's human flesh,' Christoph Arnold, the lean, bearded elder insisted, smiling gently at his group's near-satirical contrast with so much of surrounding America.
"Hardly withdrawn, they like outsiders to visit... The dedication to family is obvious among the 350 residents here, but they spare visitors lectures on family values. Far from proselytizing, they go to protest marches against war, the death penalty, urban violence and racial injustice, but carefully distance themselves from the self- righteousness that they find in the political agenda of some other modern Christian fundamentalists.
"'That's where we part company with the religious right,' Mr. Wiser said. 'We are concerned when somebody takes us into politics and tries to push other people around. That's coercion, force.'
Ruben Ayala, who was "impressed by brethren at the Bowery Mission in Manhattan where he worked as a recovering drug addict and ex-convict," was quoted as saying, "'There's no grudges here.'"
Judith Sender, 3/7/95, to 'The New York Times:' Dear Editor: Francis X. Clines' "Thou Shalt Not Traffic in Demon Gossip" (Thursday, March 2, Metro Section) put an interesting spin on the "Rifton Hutterites," a group whose values are totally the opposite of the talk show, let-it-all-hang-out slice-of-life that permeates the TV 24 hours a day.
Unfortunately, in citing this group, Mr. Clines selected an oxymoronic example of a non-gossipy society. On the surface, this group seems a benign, Amish-like community grafted on one branch of the Anabaptist movement of the Reformation. Unfortunately I must inform your readers that over one thousand ex-members, members' children, survivors and graduates live outside the community in varying degrees of ostracism because they did not conform.
The "Rifton Hutterites" live in a closed community where gossip is not only considered a sin, but also is banned because it keeps the leadership safe from criticism from the rank-and-file. Too much gossip is unfortunately the by-product of a fortunately open, free- speech society.
When Clines' article alludes to the anti-homosexuality, anti- choice stance of a group that also is pacifist and anti-capital punishment, he was beginning to pierce the Rifton group's PR bubble. Sadly, I know at first hand the dark side of the "Bruderhof," as the Rifton Hutterites are more commonly known. Neither my husband nor I are allowed to visit our grandchildren in the Rifton community, and we are not the only ones suffering this ostracism. We have tried appealing to the group through the local County Mediation Center, we have tried conflict resolution training. We hold yearly conferences to work through the traumas of those Bruderhof survivors and graduates who want to dialogue and not just passively allow themselves to be cut off from their loved ones.
Personally, although I don't like "gossip" because it can be vicious, at least it emanates from an open, democratic, free-speech society. I want you to know that writing this letter breaks my heart. As a progressive woman who has spent much of her life working with the underprivileged and disenfranchised in the capacity of teacher and social worker, somehow my peacemaking, negotiating skills are useless tools in confronting the hegemony of the Bruderhof. I eagerly await the day when the Bruderhof will open their doors to us and to conflict resolution. Sincerely,
ITEM: Cadmon Whitty from Albuquerque has requested to be removed from the mailing list and to have that request published. We suspect that he has done so in order to retain his visiting privileges with his family on the Bruderhof.
Maeve Whitty 3/7/96: If my name exists on any of your address or mailing lists, please remove it. Please print this request in your next publication.
KIT: The following excerpts and quotes, translated from the German press by Elizabeth Bohlken-Zumpe (thank you, Bette!), address the closing of the Michaels-hof in Birnbach, Germany.
Joerg Barth, Michaelshof, to Bruderhof friends, 1/26/95: "...During the past weeks it became clear to us that our Bruderhoefe will have to move closer together. We need each other's help and support. Therefore we want to give up our community the Michael- shof in Birnbach and wish to move to our brothers and sisters in England. You might find this difficult to understand now that we actually have managed to receive permission to build our community house. If we want to survive, though, we are forced to take this step..."
"Rheinische Zeitung," 1/21/95: HUTTERITES LEAVE MICHAELSHOF: NEWS STRUCK LIKE A BOMB. The article basically states that the decision was made at a joint Bruderhof conference in England and America, and that it was unfortunate that it came just as the Bruderhof had been given permission to build a community house, a children's house and a workshop, at an estimated 7 million D.M. in improvements (about $5 million U.S.).
"Rheinische Zeitung,"1/25/95: INTERVIEW WITH JOERG BARTH:
Joerg: "Our communities need to move closer together in order to build a strong nucleus so that we will have the strength to meet our tasks in America, England, Germany, Hungary, Korea, Japan, Nigeria and Russia... No, we have no economical reasons for this... we never were able to start a real Bruderhof here. At the moment we have some 100 people here, and we should at least have 175 members here...
Since 1988 we have done our utmost to build a real community. We had to struggle with great opposition to all our plans, and I would like to mention the "Citizens Union" here. This union has been active since 1990 and has done everything in their power to frustrate our building plans. Although now we realize that they did not succeed in their plans to hinder us, it did cause a long delay. For four years we have taken all our meals in a big tent on the lawn and have held all our festivities and prayer meetings in this tent. We have no teachers for our children because we are unable to offer them accommodation...
In our search for a place where we can truly concentrate all our abilities and strength, Hastings seemed a much better choice. If you recall, we really should have had a building permit as promised us by the local authorities to go ahead with our plans. In the meeting of Dec. 15th 1994, the chairman of the Citizens Union announced that he would take legal steps to prevent any and every building plan, after which we had to have reason to count on a further delay.
RZ: What advantages do you expect in England?
Joerg: We are planning to build another community there and are sure that we can work together closely with the community there. There we have enough space both practical and spiritual for the work of building our life. We can offer space to some of the 300 members in our community there and are convinced that we will not find a "Citizen Union" to obstruct our plans. We never have we met anything like this before in our life together.
RZ: Do you see a difference between the local citizens and the Citizens Union?
Joerg: Very much so! With most of the citizens of Birnbach we have a warm contact. We not only feel accepted by the neighbors, but even welcome. The local management and the Mayor have always supported all our plans. No, we never felt that our plans were not handled correctly.
RZ: Is your leaving Germany definite, then?
Joerg: By no means! We feel that we have a big task here and we will fulfill this. We have experienced much goodness and look forward to welcome our Birnbach friends in England.
2/6/95: Article by Barbara A. Cepielik: "Religious Community Can No longer Live In Peace in Their Own Village in The Westerwald -- Local Villagers 'Citizens Union' Wants To Chase Away This Strange Group. Protest Marches And Demonstrations Will Follow In An Attempt To Ask These Christian People To Stay."
To sum up: No one would have thought that 800 to 900 people would have taken the initiative to demonstrate of the Hutterian Brothers in an attempt to ask them to stay in the Westerwald. With the Mayor walking ahead of the group, they marched up to the Michaels Bruderhof.
Two weeks ago Joerg Barth, the leader of the group, told the press that they could not remain in Germany any longer but would move to England. He said that they had had enough of the intimidation through the years from the people of Birnbach. "We the community in Michaelshof have had enough of your intimidation and your enmity. We cannot bear it any longer! Six years we have done our utmost to get a building permit for our community's children and workshop buildings -- all to no avail. For years we have held our prayer meetings in a tent where we also eat. We have invested millions here, but we are not getting any further. We do not want to go on any more! We are going to England where we can live in peace."
These surely are hard words for a peace-loving man whose religion forbids him to speak evil of his neighbors. But the only Hutterian Community in Germany is fed up -- they feel persecuted by the German people -- and this for the second time in this century. The first time was 1937 when the Gestapo chased them out of Germany away from their home in the Roehn-Bruderhof.
"Treacherous Words"
Almost 60 years since then, a 'Citizens Union' in Birnbach pursues the same goal, that is to get rid of this community of faith by every means possible. Their words betray their feelings: "We want to prevent our village from losing its identity and character to people from a different culture and a different life-style." Now demonstrators march through Birnbach with the protection of the police to try to get these people to stay. You can see people's heads peeking out from behind their curtains, but the enemies of the Hutterites don't dare to come outside. That's how it was from the beginning --Ęthey never challenged the Hutterites directly nor did they answer phone calls during these last few days. No, they fought the Hutterites with a war of red tape and now they have now won the battle, so to speak.
Joerg Barth and the people from the Michaelshof are touched by the large number of people demonstrating for them to stay. Also they were much moved by the number of signatures from the villagers. On this wet and rainy day and Joerg thanks the people for their sympathy. "The first and best friend of the Hutterites"
Whether the community will listen to the the people is uncertain. The seven worldwide Bruderhoefe held a communal conference between Christmas and the New Year and decided to give up Birnbach. Is this the end of a long story??
"Rheinische Zeitung," Nr. 26 2/12/95
County Council: In a letter, Senator Eda Jahns has conveyed her deep regret about the departure of the Hutterites from Birnbach. Her letter follows:
With deep sorrow I read in the newspaper that you want to close the Bruderhof house here in Germany and move to England. This decision has caught me by surprise, especially at this moment when everything seemed to go well with your building plans. Regrettably German law cannot prevent malcontents from using the statutes for their own purposes. But I still hope that the solidarity shown towards you by a great number of the villagers and neighbors will make you change your plans.
I hope that, in the light of all the sympathy shown you, you might reconsider your decision. Birnbach and the county of Altkirchen would miss you and would be the poorer without you!"
"Rhein. Zeitung," 2/14/95 THE HUTTERITES ARE LEAVING
The Birnbach Hutterites... have decided to leave Germany. Saturday some 800 sympathizers organized a march to the Bruderhof-haus and begged the Hutterites to stay. Their wish was supported by the local authorities. But housefather Joerg Barth said that the religious community sees "persecution of their witness of faith, peace and unity" in the constant harrassment of the Citizens Union. This Union has had as its objective in the past to hinder the expansion plans of the community. Last month, this situation reached a boiling point. The Birnbacher Bruderhofers will now join their communities in England and the States and will sell the Michaels-hof with its 24 hectars of land.
"Rhein. Zeitung," 2/14/95
More than 800 people took part in a sympathy demonstration for the religious community of the Hutter-ites... Because of the harassments by the local Citizens Union who have done their utmost to prevent their plans for new buildings, the same people who were persecuted by the Nazis in 1937 and were forced to leave their homes in the Rhoen-Bruderhof have now definitely decided to leave Germany. The Governor Herbert B. Blank read a resolution from the official government to beg the Hutterites to stay. "Please stay with us as our fellow citizens!" Housefather Joerg Barth said, "We are listening and will take your words to our hearts!"
Readers' response for the Bruderhof and against the Citizens Union. It is said that the Mayor has done his very best to help the Nazi victims resettle in Germany, but found too much opposition from the people of Birnbach.
Joerg Barth:
"It means a lot to us that so many of you have come to stand with us in this difficult hour. We want to set our "sign" as an example in Germany, that the German people might awaken and fight against the falsehood of those with a negative attitude. It is a difficult hour, but also a happy one to see you all here with us. I have no answer to your request as yet, but what we have seen and experienced today is something we will take with us in our hearts and treasure!"...
Andreas Meier, one of the preachers of the Hutterites:
"Seven long years we have tried and done our very best to build our workshop and life here in Germany, but our workshop is still a small room in the attic and we have had to eat our meals in a tent. This is not really an organic community and we are unable to earn our living in a decent way! This is the reason for our leaving..."
Pressure of neighbors forces religious community to leave -- by K. Rudiger Durth
Altkirchen: Now the 100 Hutterites from the States and England that settled in Birnbach on land they had purchased to reestablish their life in Germany will have to leave once more. Soon enough these words will become the bitter truth: "Even the most faithful cannot live in peace if evil neighbors do not like him!" ...After their arrival at the Michaels Bruderhof, the neighbors initiated a union to oppose them. 70-year-old Gerhard Schwalm fought against "foreign domination" in the village. He protested against the increasing traffic on their village roads due to their business, and against more Hutterites coming to the Westerwald. With the help of attorneys, the Union prevented the Hutterites from building on their property. In doing so, they hit the economic nerve of the community that already had invested some 5 million D.M. But without permission to build a workshop, living accommodations and a community building, all their efforts were in vain. They had to eat their meals in a large tent and their economic future looked grim.
The dispute amongst the people of Birnbach for and against the Hutterites undermined everyone's lives. Even the elections were influenced.
The devout Protestants have given up -- just at the time when the Building Commission had agreed to make their dreams come true. Now the Hutterites have received a lot of sympathy and compassion, but it comes too late. Their suitcases are packed to move to Hastings, England. Even a demonstration of 1000 participants (500 from Birnbach) was in vain. The leader of the Rhein-ische church, Prasis Peter Beier, called all Germany to pray for the Hutterites, but this prayer now will be only a blessing on the journey of these disappointed men, women and children in their old-fashioned dress.
The Westerwald Hutterites are thankful, as Joerg Bath has said, "that in all those years of difficult negotiations it never came to a confrontation! But who can give us any guarantees that this will not happen in the future? Since 1988 we have waited in vain for any signs of solidarity, which you give us now, when it is too late."
The people in the Westerwald are ashamed -- ashamed that even a religiously faithful community who live by strict rules do not find it possible to live a practical Christian life of peace and unity together. "The Open Door" was not open. People were convinced that the Hutterites were nothing but a sect or cult that would not fit into our modern way of life. Now the Michaels-hof is for sale again. Ironically, it used to be the property of a rich Jewish industrialist who was executed by the Nazis.
...It seems that even today, Germany is not a hospitable country. This is what happened: a Citizens Union in Birnbach decided to prevent the community from enlarging and expanding, building new houses. The leader of the community, Joerg Barth, said: "In no country have we been treated in this way. Never have we encountered so much resistance and opposition. That is why it was impossible for us to make a real bruderhof on the Michaelshof. True, the Mayor, the politicians of the country as well as the County Governor helped us get a variance in the "green belt" around Birnbach so that we would have been able to build a children's home, meetinghouse and workshop, and in the long run, the Citizens Union could not have stopped this..."
However a deeper reason for the Hutterites giving up of the Michaelshof in Germany and moving to Darvell in England is to be found in a controversy within their own movement. There is a split between the "New Hutterites" with 2500 members who now face exclusion by the "Old Hutterites" who number some 30,000 souls. In the future, the Bruderhof will not be allowed to call themselves Hutterites.
Within the "Old Hutterite Order," there are three groups, the Lehrerleut, Dariusleut and the Schmiede-leut. They live more or less excluded from the world in Canada and the United States. They farm the land, wear the old costumes and speak the old Austrian dialect of their forefathers. They are successful farmers and manual workers. The "New Hutterites" came out of the German Youth Movement and their leader was the theologian Dr. Eberhard Arnold. Arnold founded the Rhoen Bruderhof in the 1920s, and united with the Hutterites to become their fourth branch, "The Arnold-leut." But not until 1974 were they officially recognized by the other three groups. Now the Dariusleut and Lehrerleut no longer accept them as their brothers in the faith, and the Schmiedleut are divided on the question.
Johann Christoph Arnold, who is the leader and Elder of the Arnoldleut, speaks in strong terms when it comes to the old order Hutterites. He lives in Woodcrest (USA) and is a grandson of Eberhard Arnold. He has said, "They are lukewarm, superficial and indifferent. Material things mean more to them than the spiritual beliefs." He is very direct in accusation about their use of alcohol -- "even the leaders have fallen into this sin." Also sexual relations before marriage -- that they even have illegitimate children. In short, the "New Hutterites" reproach the "Old Hutterites" as traitors to the spirit of Jacob Hutter. The Old Hutterites therefore feel they have no option but to exclude their Arnoldleut brothers. Because they will now be excluded from the Hutterite faith, the "Arnold-leut" want to move together more closely and a Bruderhof house in Germany seems a luxury for them, at least in this situation. Some observers say that there is some basis for the "New Hutterite" vision.
On the other hand, many feel that the "New Hutterites" carry their fight against sin to an unnatural extreme. Their battle against alcohol is an inheritance from the Youth Movement, but their criticism of Old Hutterite sexual morals are exaggerated. It seems that the son of E.A., Heinrich Arnold, started a social control system that has nothing to do with free choice for Christians. It seems to lead to unbearable pressure amongst members.
Due to their rigorous attitude, a difficult situation has come about. Because the Hutterites put so much value on community and a secluded, closed life together, there is now a "schism" in which both sides forbid each other to be called "Hutterites." There is reason to believe that due to their relentless self-righteousness, a split in Hutterite ideology cannot be prevented. If this happens, the new Hutterite Bruderhof will have to engage in a dialogue with the "evil" world, as they will no longer be able to hide behind old Hutterite ideas.
(Wigbert Tocha)
Six years ago, Hutterites settled in the Westerwald, but conflicts with their neighbors who were afraid of "foreign domination" caused this religious group to leave as they had to do under the Nazis!
"We have to be honest," the words of the white-bearded head of the Hutterite community in the Westerwald, "No one has burned our houses, no child has been insulted, and none of our brother or sisters have been attacked! But before something like that happens, we'd rather leave of our own free will!" After 6 years of hard work, the Hutterites are giving up their community in Germany, and this for the second time.
In 1927 the Nazis forced the Christian community to leave their homes in the Rhoen. At that time, Joerg Barth was only a little boy. This time a neighbor from among the 500 villagers of Birnbach forced the women in their long dresses and polka-dotted kerchiefs, the little girls with their braided pigtails and caps and the men with their beards and their old-fashioned suspenders to leave their homes.
"If we are not wanted here, then we would much rather go to England or America," decided the religious people. "This is closer to the Gospel than to force ourselves on the people here." Now the 24- hectar land parcel with houses and workshops is for sale again, and the people of Birnbach are ashamed because once again intolerance against strangers is the cause of a minority group leaving.
When the first families arrived in Birnbach 6 years ago, we reported about this "God-fearing People" in our magazine Die Stern and about their first wedding here in Germany. Even then, it was known that a group of neighbors felt very aggressive towards these people, and under the leadership of the 70-year-old Gerhard Schwalm, they founded a Citizens Union against a "center for a sect" and against the workshops and against the "foreign domination" and heavy traffic that would have to pass through the village to their workshops.
During those six years, Gerhard Schwalm filmed all the activities of these hated neighbors and documented all their activities. Every truck arriving from England to bring in the wood for their workshop was documented. The treehouse the children had made to play in was, in Schwalm's words, a watchtower to frighten the people of Birnbach. Three old oak trees were, in his words, a danger during a storm. But when the Hutterites actually cut them down, Schwalm reported them to the forester and called them "tree killers." The community has invited him several times for "open house" or an evening meal, but he never came to the Michaelshof. "During those six years, we have not been able to speak with him once," said Joerg Barth.
Elizabeth Bohlken-Zumpe to the Mayor of Birnbach, 2/23/95: With interest and amazement I have followed the newspaper articles and TV Programs about the "Forced Exodus of the Bruderhof Community at the Michaelshof". I feel that a little correction is important here and in order. My grandfather, Dr. Eberhard Arnold, founded the Bruderhof Communities in the 1920s in Sannerz. Later they bought the Sparhof in the Rhoen to live a life of Christian community. (This is where I was born.)
In 1937 the Bruderhof community was forced to leave Germany as suspected Communists, but a few years earlier my grandfather had united with the Hutterian Brethren Church in the States and in Canada -- this was in 1931. He had hoped, because of the growing difficulties in Germany, that they would find refuge in America. But it was difficult for his group of modern young people to become real Hutterites, which is a community founded in 1600. This is also the reason that the Bruderhofers never became real Hutterites.
After living in various countries -- Switzerland -- England -- Paraguay -- they finally returned to Germany in 1955. First they had a community in Hohenstein -- Frankish Alps -- and later the Sinntal- Bruderhof near Bruckenau. In 1962, they left Germany again of their own free will because they had difficulties amongst themselves. 1974 they reunited with the old Hutterites and accepted their customs.
Now the Hutterites no longer accept them as their brothers in faith and have actually forbidden them to call themselves "Hutterites." In the eyes of the Hutterites, they are not truthful and too worldly. As the Michaels-hof was bought as a joint venture with the Hutterite communities, they will have to sell the Michaelshof and leave for elsewhere. As a question of guilt has been brought up regarding the people of Birnbach, I feel it is important to set the record straight.
The way the Bruderhofers live today, they will never do anything to adapt to their surroundings but will always demand to be accepted. They will never admit their own mistakes, but will blame others for their misfortune. That is the reason I left the community in 1961. I am a sister of Ben Zumpe and a cousin to Joerg Barth. Yours sincerely,
KIT: Bette Bohlken-Zumpe's letter was distributed widely in Birnbach with the result that two German TV stations have decided not to document the Bruderhof's 'second exodus from Nazi Germany.' "If the reality is [what now has been reported,] then we also want to apologize for all our reports on the Citizens Union in Birnbach and most certainly will not bother them any more in the future." A source writes: "The [German] media has no idea how much upheaval they have caused by covering such a one-sided story, and especially by labeling the Birnbachers as Nazis."
Gerhard Schwalm, Citizens Union, Birnbach, "The Lies of Mr. Joerg Barth, Leader of the Bruderhof-Community Michaelshof:"
From the very beginning after his arrival Germany, Mr. Joerg Barth not only lied to the villagers of Birnbach, but told untruths and half-truths to the Media, and omitted important information. With this, Mr. Barth has not only put the name of the Hutterites to shame, but forfeited the expectation of the local people that he will handle his affairs in a decent and honest manner.
Lie #1: When Mr. Barth bought the Michaelshof, he declared that the intention was to build a Bruderhof house in Germany for at least thirty to a maximum of fifty people. In a press interview in July, 1988, he made an explicit distinction between a "Bruderhof house" and a "real Bruderhof."
--The truth: Soon after this declaration, he applied for a building expansion permit.
Lie #2: In a second interview, he declared that their growth would be very slow and that within ten years they might reach a population of one hundred members.
--The truth: When this statement was made, more than 100 people were already living on the Michaelshof.
Lie #3: In order not to arouse fears among the people of Birnbach about the Community, he declared that the Bruderhof did not intend to build their own school but would send their children to the schools in Weyersbusch and Alternkirchen, and their older students to Bonn.
--The truth: This, like almost every else he said, is a lie again, as in their new plans they have a large school building for nine grades as well as hobby and art classes.
Lie #4: During one of many press interviews, Mr. Barth declared that the Bruderhof people are non-political and therefore would refrain from voting during elections.
--The truth: Mr. Barth did, together with all those members eligible to vote in Germany go to vote last summer in order to strengthen those in the village administration who were willing to help the Community with their plans. By doing this, he managed to get a large majority of votes in Birnbach, but lost the last remnants of trust or any reputation for honesty among the people.
Lie #5: When there was unrest in Birnbach because the Bruderhof was buying houses around the Michaels-hof, he declared that the villagers should not be afraid because the Bruderhof would not buy any more houses.
--The truth: At the very same time, a contract was already signed for another house. After that, he bought two more houses.
Lie #6: Mr. Barth made a point of saying that he wants to be a friend to each and every one.
--The truth: That is the biggest lie of all! How can you call your neighbors Nazis and "enemies of their peaceful life?"
Lie #7: During all his interviews Joerg Barth repeatedly said, "Since our forced evacuation from Germany in 1937, we are now back in our homeland for the first time."
--The truth: That also is a lie! In 1947, the Bruder-hof people tried to purchase the Rhoen Bruderhof because they wanted to rebuild what Dr. Arnold had begun. But they were unable to get the Rhoen Bruderhof back because the new owner had legal to it, bought from the German government. In 1955, a Bruderhof was founded in the Frankishe Alpes, "Hohenstein." From 1956 to 1962 they had a regular Bruderhof in Bruck-enau, "Sinntal Bruderhof," which, due to some legal inaccuracy, had to be given back to the Putz family who were the legal heirs.
Lie #8: Mr. Barth has told at every possible opportunity that in 1937 the Community was forced to leave Germany due to the Nazis.
The truth: As early as 1935 all the young and military-age Bruderhof men left Germany of their own free will because of a war duty obligation [military draft - ed] and the Bruderhof people are against all military service. The families then left of their own free will because they did not want to send their children to the German Nazi schools.
Lie #9: "Our Bruderhof was closed by the Gestapo and illegally taken from us!"
The truth: The Bruderhof was not taken from them, but "auctioned off." In 1947 they did try to buy back the former Bruderhof, but this was not possible because the new owner rightfully had purchased the place. So they requested money from the German State, and the German authorities paid them their money!
These are the lies that have caused so much difficulty and disquiet in Birnbach. We could say more, but it would be repetitious.
Hans Zimmermann, 2/7/95: It is interesting to note that the articles in the German newsletters are in no way critical about the community, and if anything, give a genuine feeling of regret for the impending departure. The main and really the only reason given was the enormous difficulty in obtaining building permits, and the general frustration of the Bruderhof at the chronic procrastinations. The decision to leave was made in spite of promises that these permits were imminent.
Nowhere in the article is there a mention of real friction and animosity towards the Hutterians by the surrounding community-at- large, and they seemed to have developed an acceptable coexistence with them, even some good friendships. My sister, who was there this past summer, expressed amazement to me because her impression of the relationship between the 'hof and the outside was very favorable.
I'm afraid to "say it again," but the decision seems to have come from America. It is absolutely frightful to see how people seem to be used like pawns on a chessboard in the never-ending power struggle and desire by elements in America to maintain control. My opinion is that the SOB is doing itself an immense disservice leaving Germany under fabricated conditions. This will make a third -- or actually fourth -- return to Germany all the more difficult. Their credibility has received a major blow. Best regards,
August Pleil, 2/7/95: In response to a quotation from Milton Zimmerman in an article by Kendra Kenny in "The Pittsburgh Post- Gazette," I would like to make the following observations:
Milton says, "The doors were never closed on the Pleils." The doors were closed and a Berlin Wall was erected.
Steve Wiser says, "Separation is always painful." It seems as if the Commune only realizes now after "Free from Bondage" has been published how painful separation is!
Milton says "The Pleils want a different life style. They do not want a life of complete submission and surrender to Jesus." However my wife and I had to give up life with the Commune in order to live a life of surrender to Jesus!
When read carefully, the article shows that the Commune unwittingly has admitted several things which were done to us while living with them. Milton says, "Our only attitude is 'Poor Nadine'!" He furthermore states, "We are conscientious objectors to the military. We love God, man and our enemies. We prefer not to discuss criticisms without the presence of the other person and say, 'If you have a problem, come and discuss it face-to-face!'"
We cannot discuss things face-to-face because the Commune has built a high wall between us and them! The Commune has to realize that if they kick innocent children out, then they kick Jesus out too. Tarrel R. Miller to Rich Preheim, "Mennonite Weekly Review": Dear Mr. Preheim, you asked for my opinion of Christoph Arnold's "Open Letter from the Bruderhof", printed in the Winter 1995 issue of "The Plough. "
The Bruderhof made a serious blunder in chastising the Hutterian Brethren Church publicly, accusing both the leadership and brotherhood of spiritual and moral failure. Surely the Arnoldleut hierarchy knew this action would likely cut any remaining ties between them and the Hutterian Church, including those colonies allied with Jake Kleinsasser.
By washing Hutterite laundry in public, the Arnold-leut appear to have violated their own teaching, not to mention long-established Anabaptist and biblical precepts. Those issues on which they can not "remain silent", should have been addressed in private consultation with the Elders of the Hutterian Church and lovingly dealt with in that forum, not printed up for the whole world to see. The wider Christian community and Anabaptist believers, in particular, will likely share in this concern. As it now stands, wittingly or unwittingly, the Arnold letter simply provides more fuel for the "anti-Hutterites", that motley collection of malcontents and religious zealots who find no good thing in present-day Hutterianism.
The Hutterian Church certainly doesn't need me, a non-member, to defend it. Although researchers usually try not to get involved in a personal way, I did write to Christoph expressing both my personal sadness and general disappointment in their public letter. I told Christoph although it may not be their intent, the letter comes across as unloving, somewhat rude and terribly judgmental, almost Pharisaical. Generalizations such as there is a "general acceptance of sin in the church" is an overstatement, to say the least. Many of the allegations are similarly exaggerated. Some are simply not true. Others are based in fact, but even many of these seem magnified. To paint nearly thirty-five thousand men, women and children with such a wide brush is ludicrous. No sensible Hutterite condones alcoholism, premarital sex, illegitimacy or unfaithfulness in marriage, for example.
Almost thirty years ago, when I was only nineteen, I became a novice or "trial" member of the Schmiede-leut. Although I was young and somewhat foolish, I was sincere in my desire to know the living Christ and be a part of the people of God. I remember Prediger David Decker telling me, "We are trying, merely, with God's guiding hand, to fulfill Christ's command to 'love one another'". "Tarrel", he said, "you will not find us perfect, and please, do not expect to". That was sound advice and real spiritual wisdom. Of course, I didn't find them perfect, but then neither am I, nor is any other Christian group I've encountered since. Although I never became a "full" member of the Hutterian Church, I shall be eternally grateful to God for kindling in me, because of their life and witness, a fire that keeps on burning!
The Arnold letter tells us the Hutterian Church is "lifeless" and their "witness has been almost completely lost". They say there's a "general acceptance of sin in the church". I'm not sure what's really behind all this sudden Hutterite-bashing, but in my experience, of the several hundred Hutterites I've known personally over the last thirty years, the vast majority take their Christianity very seriously. They are sincere in their faith experience and try to live and walk in a Christian way. Any Hutterite will tell you there is always room for improvement, but the faithful should not be judged by the misdeeds and unfaithfulness of some. As in every group, the Bruderhof probably included, there are those who do not behave according to the accepted norm. Those poor unregenerate souls who persist in a non-Christian life-style are a constant embarrassment. (God alone knows how many tears are cried and prayers are prayed on their behalf daily.)
The Arnoldleut say there is "little or no spiritual leadership" in the Hutterian Church and the young people "no longer receive clear guidance and direction from their ministers, teachers and parents". This simply is not true. It's like a slap in the face to hundreds of loving fathers and mothers who do all in their power to prayerfully raise their children and young people "in the fear of the Lord". Not to be overlooked are the sincere efforts of countless grandparents, the kindergarten mothers, German and Sunday School teachers, and the ministers.
The preachers seem to be special targets of the Arnold letter. It is said for the whole world to hear: the ministers are "no longer true servants of their flocks but lord it over them". (Perhaps these are the kind of "idle words" for which an account must be given in the Final Judgment.) I told Christoph, "methinks you doth protest too much"! The misbehavior of a few does not justify any condemnation of the faithful servants of the living Christ and His church. Although I know many of the ministers personally, I certainly don't know them all. Several have been very influential in my life, and some still are. Most of those I've known over the years are very serious about their Christian service and have the cares of the brotherhood on their heart night and day. I have great respect for the many who have grown old and grey in the faith as they keep the Light burning, ever- watchful over the flock.
Contrary to what the Arnold letter declares, for many thousands of the faithful, the Hutterite way of the 1990s is not a "lifeless form". The nearly 468-year witness of the Hutterian Church cannot be dismissed that easily. Like other Christians, the Hutterite faithful also pray for spiritual renewal, yet they are still a viable alternative and God has not written them off. Sincere Christian everywhere, the Arnoldleut included, may yet learn something from the Hutterites. Most Sincerely,
Tarrel R. Miller - Hutterite Studies Centre Box 150 - Austin, Manitoba, R0H 0C0 - CANADA
Christrose Johnson Sumner 2/26/95: I just found this letter on my computer after some technical problems got sorted out. It is one of many I compose each month, either in my head or late into the night on the keyboard, -- you'll probably be glad by the end that they never get sent! But tonight I'm in the mood for communicating, but not for recomposing, so here comes my lengthy contribution, the first paragraph written earlier last year, but thereafter my thoughts of October 16th 1994... I wrote them to reassure myself that I exist, after Charlie left his visit to me out of his UK summer report!
It seemed for a while that no one met in KIT circles remembers the incidents of my childhood as I do, and childhood was all I had in the Community. I have shared a few memories with former school pals met again in Darvell, but for them the familiar world didn't stop in 1961, as it did for me: Oak Lake and Community in a time warp. Who remembers the Great Collapse of the snow caves on the side of Bear Mountain? Who else knew Fairyland? The Witch in the Woods near Park Lake Hotel? My blindness? The secret hiding places for forbidden personal treasures in the upper boughs of the evergreens across the lake? And Phewy, the skunk... Ah, Joel, you were younger than I, but you wrote and immortalised Phewy; thank you! (Any one of us would have sacrificed our shirt! I remember finding Phewy so vividly, and I loved Jim "Hersheybar" so much for being the kind of teacher who would let us do that, and allow us to play April Fool and disappear from classes across the mud banks, and who taught us such good basketball skills, and gymnastics -- no accounting for the way things were later to develop).
Recently, I found Margot Purcell shares some of my memories; any one else out there?? Charlie Lamar placed a surprise transatlantic call to me to apologise for missing the St. Albans bit of his U.K. trip out of his KIT report. And quite right, too, Charlie, because I might have sunk into great despondency to think it was so utterly forgettable. Or perhaps it was a Freudian slip to protect me from the taint of acknowledged KIT association -- it's OK., Charlie, I'm out already! So I'll add the missing link: It all started with my offer of a lift to help one lovely new acquaintance made at KIT, Andover, to travel halfway up to her Arnold cousin, a friend who hadn't made it to the get-together. We persuaded him to travel down to my place, which also gave my brothers Tim and Barnabas, and sister Elfie (once Jane) the chance to meet up with him after many years, and so began my mini- KIT. Everyone had missed this absentee, with his warm smile and twinkling eyes (and one of the best with whom to sing old community songs) so by the following weekend others gathered, including Charlie, Vince, Ramon and Judy; (various theories abound as to how Charlie came to block out the experience! French wine, perhaps, or the shock of getting his fix at last of Californian coffee?) thus prolonging the keeping in touch business by many days. Wonderfully hectic. Good job my house is elastic, and the weather was fine. The kids loved it, the dog coped, the rabbit dug out and left home! (Back now.)
I enjoyed an evening stroll with Ramon and Ben Cavanna, walking out across the Hertfordshire fields, in conversation about children and contact issues. We have different personal and professional perspectives, and Ben and I had previously found it helpful to look at things from each other's viewpoint. I was intrigued to see Ramon gathering oat straws, carefully selecting the best. Back home, we were all fascinated to watch and learn as this man of so many talents swiftly whittled pipes from them, leaving a legacy we have yet to perfect! This year, Guy and Eleanor Johnson's offspring, of which I am number seven, have had two historic family gatherings, one bearing out the immeasurable value of the wider family. This was by way of a belated celebration of the eightieth anniversary of my mother and her twin sister's birth, and involved all of her siblings, many of their children (our cousins), partners and their children. We held it at Bulstrode, where Guy and Eleanor's earthly remains are buried, and all brought picnics to share. We brought out old photos, some showing Johnsons and Jeffries at Wheathill, with maternal relations visiting, a particularly good one just before our family's departure for the U.S. in 1955. Others went back further, scenes with Mummy before she joined the Bruderhof, and still others showed how quickly we were taken back into the bosom of her loving family after our return to England following expulsion from Oak Lake.
Some of my brothers and sisters, too widely scattered geographically to make the May gathering, were there only in thought, but the weekend before the KIT European conference we Johnsons all got together for the first time since 1959. Momentous occasion! We finally made it. Don't think we don't know how lucky we are that we were not divided by the Bruderhof; we do, but even though we had all been out since 1961, and had all seen each other quite a bit over the years, the best we had managed was seven out of eight (plus parents) in 1977. Always at least one missing, until July 1994. And then it happened again, at Andover, for a few hours on Saturday: there were eight Johnsons at KIT. How Daddy and Mummy would have loved this year's European KIT, enjoyed meeting their contemporaries, the children of others (who bear spitting resemblance, even down to their dry humour), seen how well nearly everyone is doing, what an advert for the core values instilled, many Bruderhof born, now really contributing to world peace, children's welfare, or the relief of society's disadvantaged and deprived.
I wish the Bruderhof would open their eyes and hearts to what KIT is. They can accuse and name-call, but I still believe the people (as different from organisa-tion) could not mind us individuals keeping in touch, many of us relatives and friends who have kept in touch for years without anyone minding, so why fear the greater numbers now keeping in touch with greater ease through this facility of open letters, conferences and other gatherings? Why pick on Ramon as the arch enemy, accused somehow of orchestrating this? No amount of theorising helps me to understand why the people I know, who are in the community, would fear this, or worry about it, much less hate it and ostracise us for it. The occasionally expressed views with which I don't agree aren't "KIT" any more than the hidden agendas that some individuals might or might not have, or the views with which I personally feel much empathy. Neither is KIT the selected antagonising remarks or actions that members of the Bruderhof find difficult. How much more clearly can we say that KIT is a process, a medium, a facilitator?
How frustrating that ears are blocked to this: hear no good, see no good, speak no good. But the way the B'hof chooses to read us doesn't make us bad or evil; -- not now, not any more. After I last (and first) wrote to KIT, I found I had unwittingly upset two beloved people in Darvell. I do care about this. My letter had been written in an attempt at bridge-building and this adverse reaction disappointed and saddened me. Together with my sister Susan we visited and discussed the whole matter, and seemed to reach an understanding and more positive footing for their appreciation of the KIT process. But we've not been invited back, and the overall relationship between the B'hof and KIT has not improved, nor the requested opportunity to discuss things with Christoph Arnold face-to-face materialised. I hope that sharing my thoughts again does not have the same adverse effect with loved ones; I have tried not to mention names of people who might mind, although I find when I read other people's letters, they are more interesting when they include names. It is a bit stilted without, especially as all those in Hummingbird, telephone, or postal contact with each other do use names.
Postscript to above, written today: How rivetting I found the Chip Wilson correspondence! KITfolk did their best, but the passion was upon him. Reminds me of someone I knew whose family and friends presented all the cerebral arguments against marriage to a particular man in her late teens, but the heart won. Several years and lots of love and two priceless kids later, his economic ineptitude, mounting abuse and violence took their toll; they're divorced, but she'll never be free of the distress of him. So who was right? Luckily, she never cut herself off from her family (try though he did), nor they from her. Poor Chip, but he may know terrific happiness and all sorts of envelopingly wondrous things for a while. And he knows we're here -- but then, they know he knows and that's not so good for him because that's hard to forgive and they don't forget. Much Love,
Bette Bohlken-Zumpe, 2/10/95: Dear Muschi, thank you for your letter in the last KIT. I also remember the dream of your father and how shattered he himself was about this, and how he used this to make it clear to us children that God had sent his Son Jesus Christ for the humble in Spirit, the lonely, the poor, the ones that hunger and thirst for love. This story made me think about my three uncles and aunts who all gave every ounce of their lives to the vision of their father. They all have since died and left their message with their children, some of whom use a misinterpretation or their own interpretation and have led the Bruderhof so completely astray.
So I think I will write something about my uncles today as I remember them and their wives [see p. 10. -- ed]. Another reason for this is that I have had some strange reactions to my book from some of my nephews that live away from the Bruderhof. One of them wrote to me, and sent a copy of the letter to the Bruderhof:
"What are you doing, Bette ? Why are you trying to discredit our grandfather? Are you trying to discredit all Arnolds inside and outside the Bruderhof. It seems to me that by attempting to blacken E.A. you are trying to dress up the public image of your own father, who was an adulterer. To me this seems very dishonest and self- destructive. It is true, that the Ex-Bruderhofers have much in common, but to speak of unity is a total falsehood. I am very sorry that your father and a few others resented some of Opa's actions. The Nazis used this weakness to discredit the Bruderhof. Dear Bette, it seems to me that much of your life is determined by Nazi Propaganda." (written 12/31/93)
On 1/29/94 he wrote " seems to be one of your trademarks to talk bad about others, but doing so, you will only blacken your own name... Your father hated all the Arnolds -- even his own wife. Therefore all of you are even worse than the Nazis, but still you hypocritically pretend to be Christians. I have no adoration for you..."
Letters like that prove only the complete lack of love "between brothers" -- between men and fellow Christians.
I believe there is nothing at all in my book that discredits my grandfather. As for the love between my parents, I know that it was there even in the last breath of my father who also had only respect and love for my grandfather. His personal sin -- as the sin of all humans -- we should really leave for God to judge. He knows.
Andy Harries, 2/21/95: Hallo, everybody, it's me again! I have been learning more about our past and my past. How is that, you may ask? Answer: through the KIT organisation. Where would we be without it? Through meeting with people, corresponding with people, reading and writing, I am learning more and more all the time. I am sure that information helps us sort out our past and helps us work through things in our minds, and that helps us get over difficult events.
An experience I had recently confirmed this for me. I had to go into hospital for an operation. On the first day, I just had many different people coming round and interviewing me, but nobody seemed to have time to tell me or another chap who was in for the same what was going to happen and what to expect. But two other patients had already had the op, and told us all about it --with plenty of the unwanted details! Enough to put anybody off. But actually, both of us felt much happier and relaxed after that.
Many of us were abused on the Bruderhof and we didn't know why or what was behind it. We were small children at the time and didn't understand things. It seems that all who were born there or joined as children did not have a choice. Therefore we had to be educated, brainwashed, persuaded, forced, indoctrinated, coerced, whatever, into their way of thinking. If we thought or acted differently, that was wrong. Also it seems the men actually run the show. The women have to go along with whatever the men decide. The leaders use and manipulate the Bible to their own advantage to force through rules so they can dominate the women and get their own way. So the children are afraid of the adults, the mothers of the men and their husbands, the "plain people" of the higher class, the higher class of the Stewards, the Stewards of the Witness Brothers, the Witness Brothers of the Servants, and the Servants of the Elder. The whole structure is based on fear, with the threat of punishment or exclusion, etc., Aussprachen, husband or wife taken away, or a child or any individual who dares to think for himself or speak his mind. Now for those who joined as adults of their own free will, they know if things get tough they cannot blame anybody else for being there, because it was their own decision, and if things went wrong, they had another life to go back to. But we who were born there or joined as children had no such choice.
I have just been reading a book where two people discuss relationships between people and values. In this part of the book, they are talking about Japan's culture and values, and why they are so different from ours. Why are the people or followers totally obedient to their leader? Basically, loyalty always has been an ethic of submission. The leader doesn't have to do anything to earn it. This sounds so much like the Bruderhof. This is because Japan has been so long cut off from other cultures and other models. "One way to explain the Japanese view of hierarchy is by saying that it's a bit like the power of the parent in a very isolated one-parent family where the children don't ever see another adult. Even if the parent wanted to be democratic, and to help the children to be liberated, it would be extremely difficult for the children to achieve it because they would not have any other model they could use for comparing and criticising the single parent's values and ways of doing things. You see, most of us become independent by witnessing independence in others."
I found this very interesting, and it helps understand how the Bruderhof manages to keep such control over people. To those who feel angry about how they were treated, I say "Well done!" I feel angry, and I am not ashamed of that. If we feel angry, we are feeling some emotion, and that emotion will help to repair some of the damage which is causing that anger. To those who say we should not feel angry I say, "Hang on a minute. Were you in that person's shoes? You did not suffer that person's punishment or abuse! Nobody should say to another, 'You should not feel like that!'" (We cannot help the way we feel). It is a fact that many of us were abused physically, mentally or sexually, or various combinations of the same. These things often are worse in a religious sect because of the strong belief in the perfect way, the perfect life, for "love" and God, etc.
Any deviation is punished more severely than it would be otherwise. Also on the Bruderhof there is so much secrecy! Children were being abused, and only one or two knew about it. Fathers were forced by the Servants to punish their children. Mother were not supposed to love their children or show affection. Men would demand subservience, and the women had to submit and obey.
I was just talking to a nice young man on the phone about if we have had bad experiences that we need time to heal, to go through a healing process. He said that in America, somebody had said just the same at the KIT conference. I think it's so important to allow people their own time to heal. We all go through this process at our own pace, and that is the only way.
If people are seeking a new way or want to give their life to something, then the Bruderhof has all the answers. When you join, you must promise to give everything for the life. Everything there means everything! The more you give, the better person you will become. Well, we all want to be good, In some sects, they give their bodies for sex. As far as I can see, if we give everything, we have nothing, are nothing and are worth nothing. If we are worth nothing, then we have no value. If we don't value ourselves, then we have a low self-esteem or self-image. With a low self-image, it is hard to cope with life and then we can have emotional problems or mental breakdowns. If also it is a known fact that children do not necessarily show the results of pain, suffering, abuse, trauma, etc. when children, the symptoms and problems will usually show up later in life. Children manage to block these things out, but they only are buried and still there and will cause damage at some time.
It has hit me recently that we have been intentionally brought up with the teaching that we should be meek, mild, submissive, humble, lowly, etc. The more we were all these things, the better person we were. They liked talking about the meek and mild baby Jesus, how we should be so childlike. To think of only others. If we did anything for -- or thought of -- ourselves, that was selfish and wrong. That was egotistical. They liked talking about one's ego. Egoism was morally wrong. I am sure that was their plan to get everybody to be submissive. If the common people were submissive enough, then the leaders had all the power. Then they could manipulate all the people and mold them to their own wishes. Of course we don't see that when we are there, but that is how I see it now. The result is, of course, that many people leave the Bruderhof with a very low self-image. We might not be aware of it ourselves at the time, and other might not be aware of it either because we always try to find ways to hide our weaknesses and things which make our life harder, but this low self-image is still there and it can cause us many problems.
I believe the Bruderhof ideal is good, but it doesn't work as it should. Originally I am sure it worked well. People were full of commitment and enthusiasm. It must have looked like an answer to all their problems and questions, and I am sure it still does to many new people. Unfortunately, as time went on, they had to bring in rules and regulations, because if everybody was allowed to express different opinions, it would eventually break up. Then they had to bring in means of enforcing these rules, then ways of punishing those who transgressed, and of course ways of persuading and brainwashing people to stay and to follow 'The Way.'
Then, of course, there were the children. Ways had to be found of making them stay as well, so mind-control was used. If people were born and grew up there, they had no real contact with the "Outside World," with other people or with other values. Everything outside was portrayed as wrong or evil. So we had no choice. Why choose the wicked outside world when we had the perfect life?
On a different subject, about the "Open Letter" from J. C. Arnold, I don't want to go into that, but only the business about it being written "On Behalf of All Its Members." Now, for people who have not experienced how the systems works, all decisions in the Brotherhood meetings, which are the meetings of the baptized members, are supposed to be unanimous. So it makes it sound as if all those hundreds of members who have been wholeheartedly supporting the unity with the Hutterites have now all suddenly, miraculously, changed their minds, all at the same time.
This just goes to show how everybody just foes along with whatever they are told. It reminds me of the time at Wheathill leading up to the "Big Crisis." We were told about certain things that were happening, then we would be read excerpts or whole letters written by so-and-so from America to Paraguay, Paraguay to America and England. Whatever the Servant said, we just went along with it. Whatever he said, we agreed with wholeheartedly. When the Servants showed disgust, we did as well. When they showed agreement, so did we. When they showed anger, so did we. When the Servants wrote a letter in reply and read it out and explained why it was necessary, we all agreed. We were and felt a very strong unity, but of course we did not have all the facts. We only knew what the leaders wanted us to know. So to me, this ideal of a united brotherhood, or of a letter "on behalf of all its members," is just a fallacy, a con.
I was glad for what you wrote in the February KIT, Hans Martin. That is what the KIT newsletter and organisation is all about: somewhere where we can express our views and experiences. That does not mean that I agree with everything you say. I do not believe that if we disagree with certain things on the Bruderhof that we should join and then get them changed. Unfortunately, this does not work. They will not change for a single person joining. They are right and have got all the answers. I don't know of anyone who has joined and then got them to change any of their fundamental beliefs. Growing up with two languages can be an advantage, but it can also have disadvantages. Working in certain environments we can be treated as outsider or foreigners. We have a Bruderhof or a German accent, and different values. This makes us stand out and we get devalued. In England, Germany is still the old enemy or the 'baddy' for many people. I do agree with you, though, that we should be very careful how we talk about other people and what we say. I think we should only mention names if we are quite sure that that person will not mind. Greetings,
-------- Poetry--------
by Hannah Goodwin Johnson
O shadowy mother, from time to time in silence
You show your face: "Why?" I ask you.
"Why did you give birth to me?"
In our separations with grief I cry: "Why me!"
And the earth looks suddenly dazzling
In twilight gloom:
I see a tiny flower blue,
Forget-me-not small, blue bright,
Brighter than all the other day colors
Or even the dusky crimson hue
Where darkening purple and gold
Fade under deep blues of the sky by night,
The night sky that is forever unto the night,
Filled with the stars of eternity.
Magic Woods
I cannot climb
the woodland trail today
for, if I were in the wood,
then I could not see
the silver-veined design in filigree
of winter-brightened twigs.
A light snow in late winter
brushed the hill
before me, motley
in contrast to the distant hue
where blue-grey dim
subdues my anguish.
This is a marvelous visual distraction,
full of the contrast
of black-wet tree trunks
against the snow that settled
on the tumble of leaves.
-- I love a wood,
the brown leaf smell and rustle.
But I shall restrict my steps
and not climb the trail
for this that is so magical.
-- to see the branches stand
against my eyes -- restrains my feet.
It is more than what I can believe.
of you
beauty i see
when i look at you
you are poetry
and then i saw you
young and beautiful
the way you laugh
reminds me of when
i was young
i tried to jump through a breaker
my motions were badly timed
i was tumbled by the wave
then when i stood
with rushing foam over my feet
all bubbly and sweet
were the shining ripples
like your laughter
and everything about you is
the poetry
where the tide line trails
along the beach
where the river flows to the sea
so my heart is saying
such beauty is too much
the poetry is in motion
and everything about you is
the shining ripples of your laughter
KIT: The following letter describes some of the suffering that Hutterite families are experiencing because of infighting between the "Gibb" and the "Oiler" factions.
Name Withheld: This is a detailed report of the events that took place at Rock Lake Colony, on the 1st and 2nd of April 1994. It should be noted that the purpose of this report is not to turn people against each other, but to make people aware of the evil, destructive force that is at work among us.
Peacefully at the Stonewall Hospital on April 1, 1994 Margaret Gross (Nee Tschetter) wife of Rev. Michael Gross Rock Lake Colony, passed away into eternity at the age of eighty-seven years. She had 12 children... and 71 great-grandchildren.
She lived on a Hutterite Colony all her life and was a sincere, honest, and devoted follower of the Hutterian Brethren Church She left behind a set of footprints of which her family should be proud. She served the Hutterian Brethren Church sincerely and taught her children to do the same. Unfortunately, all but four have turned their backs on the church and on what they were taught while growing up under her rule and discipline.
Hutterian Brethren religion boasts century-old traditions. For instance, at the funeral of all devoted members a few ministers will come to the family of the deceased and offer them words of comfort and ask for the body to be taken to a place (usually the church) where family, friends and relatives have gathered for an evening of singing and prayers. However, it seems as though Grandmother was so insignificant to Jake W (Blumengart) that she did not even deserve an honorable wake. For at about 9-9:30 PM, Jake W. of Blumen-gart (Gibb movement's so-called self-elected elder) sent Dave M. of Blumengart (who is not even a witness brother) along with his henchmen (most of them not even related to Grandmother) to bring the body to where he and other Gibb preachers were waiting to perform one of their many deceitful, scandalous ceremonies. When Blumengart Dave and his henchmen entered Grandma's house, it seemed as if a dark cloud of evilness rolled in with them. Some people still remember Blumengart Dave's facial expressions and have commented that they cannot get his appearance out of their mind. They say he reminded them of an evil person possessed by some kind of demonic force.
The entering of the henchmen marks the beginning of a time that will never be forgotten by anyone who was present. Mike (Grandmother's oldest son) was seen nodding in deceitful acknowledgment to the henchmen that they should now come and grab the body away from the children and grandchildren that were gathered around the coffin. Margaret (Newdale), Marie and Christy (Brightstone) who were seated at the right side of the coffin all broke down in heartbroken crying. They couldn't be comforted, and couldn't believe that their blood brothers and sisters would plot in favor of such an evil deed. They pleaded with their brothers and sisters not to go through with their plans of having Grandma taken to a Gibb wake, but unsuccessfully. Their brothers Solomon, Mike and Jonty were determined to have the body ripped away from their sisters to be taken to the Gibb wake. Fortunately, however, Tom Vetter and Dave (Brightstone) and Joe (Newdale) along with their wives remained faithful and stood steadfast on their beliefs. The women collapsed in hurt and pain onto the coffin and would not move. Things got so ugly that Dave, Tom and Joe along with their families were ready to leave. They said, "rather then participate in such horrible deeds we'll pack up, take our wives and children and meet at another colony and have a wake with or without the body, so long as there is no Gibb present."
Realizing that they were defeated and that we would not take part in such ghastly, shocking and horrifying ceremonies, the Gibbs seemed to loose control of their deep-rooted and wicked hatred. The church ministers present were called evil, drunk and crooked culprits. Mary (Rock Lake) Grandma's daughter-in-law told Sam (Springfield) to "go home, you've stolen enough from Rock Lake. We don't want you here because you're nothing more than a culprit." She went on to tell Dave Vetter (Rock Lake minister elected by the Hutterian Brethren Church) that "You call yourself a prediger, you're nothing but a thirteen-year-old boy. Besides that you're just a drunk. You've stolen Rock Lake blind, you never gave a hoot for Grandma and Grandpa or for anybody except yourself. Go back to Keystone and leave us in peace, you're nothing but stealer anyway." She also told Tom Vetter, and Dave (Brightstone), "You never did care about your in-laws. The only time you visited Rock Lake was when you could go drinking with Grandpa." I guess by saying this she's trying to blame her husband's alcoholism on someone else). Now you're trying to fool people that you actually cared for Grandma, but we know better. Just leave us alone and go home, all of you. We don't want you here." To some, Mary's (Mike's wife) attitude may come as a surprise. However, those who are acquainted with her personally know that she is impudent and the owner of an impolite mouth that should be washed with soap and water.
Throughout this time, the henchmen tried to pull the coffin away from Margaret, Christy (Grandma's daughters), who at this time had already collapsed onto the coffin. Jonty (Sommerfield) was seen trying to nudge his sisters' heads away from their mom. When one of his sisters told him, "You know better than participating in such a horrible deed," I'm sure she said, "Deep down in your heart you're not acting as you really feel. You're acting simply out of fear." He simply shoved her hand away from him. She told him that he was raised and taught differently, and that he should know better than this. However, this did not have any impact on him at all, for he along with Solomon and Mike, didn't listen. They just kept on trying to push their sisters and their children away from the coffin.
The pushing and shoving by the henchmen became so vicious, that at one point Solomon (Rock Lake) grabbed Joe (Newdale) by the scruff of his neck and tried to stop him from preventing the lid of the coffin from being slammed down onto Margaret, Marie and Christy (who were seated at the right side of the coffin). During this commotion, more verbal abuse and assaults were thrown at the Hutterian Brethren ministers by young Gibb followers who at this time were standing on chairs. When someone in the crowd asked Tom Vetter, Dave Vetter, and Sam Vetter to recite some songs from the Lutrishes Gesangbuch, one of Jonty's (Sommerfield) married daughters yelled at the ministers (while standing on a chair) "They don't know any good songs! All they how is how to drink whiskey and eat sausages!" It's hard to comment on how long this Commotion went on. It seemed as if it lasted for about two hours, but really I believe it lasted only half an hour to forty-five minutes.
After some of the commotion had settled down, Tom Vetter (Brightstone) asked some of us to take the coffin's lid out of the room. When we tried to take the lid out of the room, Sara (Solomon's wife Rock Lake), put her feet on the lid and tried to hold it back with both hands. When Joe (Newdale) tried to remove her hands from the lid, she slapped him on his hand. In contrast to this true version of the story, some Gibbs have already made up a different tale. A couple of days later they said, "Joe (Newdale) had his foot in the coffin." But in fact it was a Gibb woman who had her feet on the lid of the coffin.
When most of the Gibbs had finally left the house at about 11 PM, Sam Vetter (Springfield), Sam Vetter (Decker), Tom Vetter (Brightstone), and Dave Vetter (Rock Lake) along with everybody else present started to sing a few songs from the Lutrishes Gesangbuch. Sam Vetter (Decker) paused for a moment to leaf through the pages of the Gesangbuch in search of other songs. At this point Mike (Rock Lake, Grandma's son) passed by Sam Vetter and intentionally ripped the songbook out of his hands, and by doing this shred and tore a few pages of the songbook. I do not believe that Mike wanted the songbook to sing along with the rest of us, because when Sam Vetter asked him if he wanted the book, he simply waved his arms and muttered something that was intangible and walked away. We, the Hutterian Brethren Christian Church, were kind of hoping against hope that the Gibbs would leave us in peace for the funeral. But much to our chagrin, the Gibbs proved once again that they are incapable of feeling shame or remorse.
The funeral was just as awful as the wake, if not worse. At about 10 AM the family had agreed (Gibbs and Hutterian Brethren) that the faithful Hutterian Brethren ministers would be in charge of the funeral.. However, Jake (Blumengart) refused to go along with the family's wishes and asked for a compromise. John Hofer (James Valley) was appointed by the Gibbs to be their puppet. He came to the room where Grandma lay and called some family members into a meeting. At the meeting it was again decided that the faithful Hutterian Brethren ministers would be in charge of the funeral. John left after the meeting had been adjourned and took his verdict to Jake (Blumengart). Apparently, he was not happy with what he heard for John came back a second time and called Mike, Jonty and Solomon (Grand-ma's sons) to a meeting that was now held in the church. The three brothers followed John just like three little puppies would follow their master. What was decided at this 'cat-cheese' meeting I do not know. But John came back a third time and again asked some family members to another meeting. This meeting Christy (Brightstone) refused to attend.
At this meeting John asked Margaret (Newdale) and Marie (Brightstone) if they would not meet them (the Gibbs) halfway. His plans were to have the Gibbs hold half of the sermon and the faithful Hutterian Brethren ministers the other half. Margaret (Newdale) said, "No way! To me there is a left and a right, but no in-between." Marie (Brightstone) said, 'My religious beliefs do not allow me to go halfway. It's either all left or all right. There is no in-between." He replied by saying, "Religious belief has nothing to do with any of this and it shouldn't come into play with what we're trying to do." This statement makes a person wonder if John Hofer (James Valley) has any religion at all. He was like a tempter coming to tempt them into falling or going along with the Gibbs' Godless movement. This attitude is certainly not a characteristic of the Hutterian Brethren religion to which the Gibbs claim they belong.
John Hofer (James Valley) again came to tempt like a tempter in the night, but this time he approached the faithful Hutterian Brethren ministers who were sitting at Dave Vetter's house. Present at this meeting were Sam Vetter (Springfield), Sam Vetter (Decker) and Dave (Brightstone). The Gibbs' purpose for this meeting was to try and compromise of who should be in charge of the funeral. In other words, they wanted the Hutterian Brethren ministers to forget that there is a split in the Church, and pretend that nothing is wrong. After John (James Valley) had said his piece, Sam Vetter (Decker) told him that the faithful Hutterian Brethren ministers would not even enter the church unless, of course, the Gibb ministers would sit right by the back door with a wall or chalk line dividing the two sides. Then pray that God would forgive the faithful Hutterian Brethren ministers and understand that the line is supposed to represent a wall. The Gibbs did not accept this proposal and continued to plot against the wishes of the family members who are not Gibbs.
When it came time for the funeral (about 3:30 PM) the Gibbs came once again for the body. The henchmen were sent the second time (by whom we are not quite sure). They did not go through with the traditional procedures, but rather sent Ike (who is a Gibb Farm Boss in Rock Lake) as a leader to try and take the body by force. After about fifteen or twenty minutes, the ministers decided that if Margaret, Marie, Christy and their families decided to let the body go, then we'll let the Gibbs take the body. They (the Gibbs) did not carry the body out of the room in the respectable head-first fashion, but rather they grabbed Grandmother feet-first and left. The hurt, pain and anguish suffered by the children, and grandchildren cannot be described. The children were not able to attend their own mother's funeral just as the grandchildren could not attend their grand-mother's funeral. But the Gibbs did not seem to care about how many people they hurt or how deep the pain would go.
The Gibbs seem to be just as one author wrote, "Those that yield themselves to sin, to serve, and to let such rule over them. These people separate themselves from the Church of Christ and depart from her, and leave her and go further into destruction." Just like the Gibbs, they just keep on going as they still do to this day, living their lives just as if there was no God in heaven. What hurt even more was the fact that until now there was a flicker of hope left that some of Grandmother's children would see the light and not take part in such an evil deed. But as Grandmother was carried away, only four of her ten children present stayed behind. Not participating in this ghastly ordeal was: Margaret (Newdale), Marie and Christy (Brightstone), and Joe (Fort St. John B.C.). The rest decided to follow the Gibb movement probably long before that, but to us this was like proof to a fact that we did not want to accept, the fact being that over half the children of a devoted, sincere and true person such as Grandmother had decided to give up what they were taught ,and adopt a new movement. This new movement is nothing but a destructive force ruining anything and everybody who might cross its path, and has come to be known as the Gibb Movement.
It has been over a month now since this ordeal has taken place. To everyone who was present, (especially the children and grandchildren) this affair has haunted them ever since. The memories of this horrible deed are still fresh in everyone's mind, and probably will be for some time. The only comfort is knowing that Grandmother was a true Hutterite in all sense of the word. The Gibbs might think that they stole and ruined just another soul by taking her to their so-called funeral, but we know that no one on earth can take away what she had gathered while still living. It should be noted that Grandmother was a true Hutterite, and that she by no means ever agreed with the Gibb movement. It should be noted that Sara (Decker) was not present at the funeral, and is not a Gibb. The Gibbs might think that by forcefully taking Grandma to their funeral they converted her into something which she was not. They don't seem to realize that this is not possible, and never will be.
It should be mentioned that there were several older ministers who were present at this ordeal. They have commented that never in all their lives, as Servants of the Word or otherwise, in Winnipeg or in any other city or town of the world, have they been witness to such a horrible godlessness and sinful deed.
------ A Short Story ------
by Susanna Alves Levy (formerly Fischli)
I was twelve, living in the Paraguayan communities of the Bruderhof sect, and I was in love. He was much older, a grown-up, just into his twenties. Everyone liked his wit. His smile was charming. When I realised that I was head-over-heels in love with him, no one else existed for me but this young man. I will call him Daniel. It is not his real name.
Whenever I crossed his path, my heart wanted to jump out of my throat like a bird trying to escape. It was beautiful to be in love.
Then one day, the brotherhood decided that he should go away to England, to join the Wheathill community. My heart stopped.
Mother was in hospital at that time. Twenty-two-year-old Elisabeth was our foster mother. We were a handful of nine. My oldest brother was fourteen, the youngest about ten months. It was from Elisabeth, who was in the Jugend (youth group), that I had heard that Daniel was going away.
On moonlit nights when the Jugend danced their folk dances in the village centre, I would be terribly jealous. I wanted so much to grow up quickly and belong to the Jugend so that I could dance with Daniel... It was annoying and angering to be so plain and small, to be just a very young girl.
For hours on end -- or so it seemed -- I stood in the small dark hallway at home and stared through the night, straining to see the dancing young men and women of whom I made out only vague silhouettes. I would try to make out Daniel's shape, to pick out his voice. And whenever they sang the love song "Feins-liebchen, du sollst mir nicht barfuss gehn", tears tumbled and my throat ached and the powerful feelings were quite confusing.
I was in anguish when I thought about his departure. One day, I thought, one day he must be told about my love for him. He must not leave without knowing. But how could I let him know? These kind of feelings were taboo, no one spoke about them, one kept them as secret as possible. One spoke with one's eyes only, one tried to be near the beloved one, but it had to be inconspicuous, so no one would notice or suspect anything.
My frustration and impatience increased when I was reminded that Daniel was already a brotherhood member. I wasn't even taking part in the Gemeindestunde, the meetings of communal prayer. Community life didn't mean anything in particular to me. I was born into community and thought nothing special of it. I belonged there because that's where my parents were. I knew, though, that later, as a grown-up, I would have to decide if I wanted to become a member too. And I probably would, because only brotherhood members got married, and I was intent on marrying Daniel.
So what should I do to let Daniel know that I was so much in love with him? Did he actually notice me? I certainly saw only him. I would go early for the communal meals to secure my place at the girls' table. The "youth table", as it was called, was at the other far end of the room. From my chosen seat I could usually see Daniel quite well and I would watch him all the time, during the song, during the silence after the song, during the whole meal. After meals, if he stayed around chatting with people, I would linger nearby with my little friends. But I had to be careful and watch it. I did not want to be seen as wanting to be near Daniel.
I never spoke to him.
I had been watching his comings and goings closely for a long time. He worked on the campo with the cattle. His daily routine was irregular. Sometimes I didn't see him for a few days running. He often rode away very early, when daylight hadn't even broken, and returned only after dark. Keeping track of his movements was also difficult because he lived at the eastern tip of Loma Hoby, whereas the School Wood, where I spent most of my day, lay west, and our house, the Wiesenhaus, north.
So here I was, sweetly fulfilled but sad, wonderfully happy with the many feelings evoked by my love for Daniel. My naive adoration introduced me to so many new sensations. My heart could beat wildly, or hurt, and then again I could rejoice and jump, run and dance -- it was beautiful to be in love, to love! But oh, Daniel was going away to England! Would he come back eventually? Elisabeth said no, he would stay in Wheathill. He had health problems, she said, and he would be having extensive health checks because something had to be done about it. Health problems! This too! A new kind of ache was added to my kaleidoscope of feelings.
I continued thinking hard about a way of letting him know. He ought to be told. I would then wait for him, and he for me...
Mother was recovering only slowly and was still very frail, so we moved to a house closer to the hospital. This would enable her to visit us daily for half an hour or so. My heart somersaulted with joy! The new house was just opposite to where Daniel lived! I was catapulted into bliss. At least now, during the last weeks of his stay, I would see him more often. The path to his hut went right past the front door of our new living quarters.
My heart quivered with anticipation each time I heard his horse trot by on the soft sandy path. There was the gentle creaking of leather against leather. From then on I would not go to bed at night until I heard Daniel riding past. I stood in the shelter of darkness at my open window, and it was here that I discovered those most beautiful Paraguayan nights: the gentle warm north winds whispering and rustling, heavy sweet scents drifting from night blooms. And something very great, very huge and sweet began moving my heart and I did not know what to do with it all. Countless shooting stars did I see falling, and they all fell into my lap. The silver shimmer of the moon's rays lay on the sand of the path, now velvety white where it had been golden in the sunshine of the day. And then the sound of hooves approaching, a saddle creaking softly -- there, there he was! There was Daniel!
I stepped back into the safe darkness of the room, but my eyes burnt through the layers of night and followed his shape until it disappeared along the path underneath the branches of the orange trees surrounding his hut. There was a brief shimmer of light down there, but only after that too disappeared was I able to go to bed and sleep.
Little Lily, my two-year old sister, fell ill and had to stay at home. I was asked to baby-sit her one afternoon. It was raining heavily. Lily was asleep. I slipped out of the house into the rain. I had an idea and wanted to find out if my plan was viable.
My hair was drenched immediately, dripping and heavy. The dress clung to my back. Small water puddles splashed around my bare feet, wet sand seeped between my toes. I loved rain, I loved walking in it. The orange trees around Daniel's hut were heavy with fruit. As I stood quietly beneath them, I listened to the humming and rushing of the rain. Noisy drops trickled and splashed from the leaves. The earth smelled good. There was not much undergrowth, but branches hung low and each time I brushed against them, I was showered with heavy drops. Drops trickled down my face.
I felt hot. I stretched and began pulling oranges from some lower branches whilst slowly approaching the hut. I had noticed that normally at this time of day no one was there. Anyhow, the whole village seemed deserted. No human sounds could be heard, there was only the drip-drip of the rain, softly, constantly, as if it would never stop. I stole my way around the hut. The windows were boarded up, but above one of them I saw a gap. I quickly climbed onto the sill, peering into the gloom of the hut. Three beds. There, that must be Daniel's bed! That is his faja, the broad waist band. I knew it well!
My heart was thumping by now, I thought it would explode. I jumped down and ran. The soft ground made no noise.
I had just emerged from among the wet trees onto the path, clutching my apron of oranges, when I saw a figure approach through the grey sheets of rain, a grey outline in the greyness of that day. My heart stopped: It was Daniel! He was coming right towards me!
I lowered my eyes, my cheeks burning. Like a lizard I slipped past him and ran, hardly realising that he had greeted me. Once in my own living room, I stood shaking. What a lucky escape! Still clutching the oranges I stood for a while, quite still, listening out into the rain and into myself, into my wildly beating heart.
It was still raining the next day, as if the rain had come to stay. Lily was not much better so I volunteered to spend the afternoon with her. I had an idea. I had made a decision, and I was going through with my plan. If I stayed at home and the rain continued and Lily was quiet like the day before, it should work out all right.
In a secret corner at the bottom of a drawer I had found a postcard. It belonged to my seventeen-year-old sister Anna. The card showed two beautiful, slightly open, rosebuds. On the back of the card, Anna had written her name with a pencil in big childish letters. But I rubbed and rubbed with the eraser, and in the end, I was satisfied. Anna's name had disappeared. Only I knew how to make out the impression of her name on the back of that card. What did Anna want that card for anyhow? Red roses for a seven-year- old? No! I was sure she wouldn't miss anything.
Then in my own hand I wrote: "For Daniel. From me." Just this. No word of love, of adoration, of hope. No signature. Only "For Daniel from me". Those four words said it all, contained everything that was inside of me wanting to be told. They held the universe of my feelings.
Then came the great moment. I was already shivering and trembling, thinking about the execution of my plan. But I had made up my mind and nothing and no one would stop me now.
Again I had watched the path and knew that of the three young men living in that hut. Nobody was around this afternoon. So there I went once more, slipping out into the rain, along the narrow path under the trees. Today I did not think of oranges. I wanted to do everything very quickly and then run away immediately. Again the constant dripping of raindrops around me. Everything was grey, quiet, subdued. Daniel, as if he had sensed something, had left the window slightly open above his bed. I bent in and slipped the postcard between the two sheets just below the pillow. Then I turned and ran.
Before stepping out onto the sandy road, I stood quietly listening. Nothing could be heard, nobody could be seen. Only my heart was thumping. I sighed a sigh and slowly, in dignified manner, I walked back to our house through the rain. I lay on my bed in my wet dress. Lily was sleeping. There was nothing else to be done. I had achieved what I had set out to do. My heart felt light in a kind of dizzy drunkenness. It was done, finally, and I did not wish to undo it!
That same evening nothing happened, nor the next morning. I forgot that I had actually done something quite out-of-the-ordinary, and spent my time as usual: school in the morning, then luncheon with the grown-ups, afterwards the daily siesta at home.
The bell rang to signal that siesta was over. Father went to the kitchen to fetch "vesper", the afternoon snack. My two older brothers were in front of the house, as was I with Anna. The weather had changed overnight, a lovely sunny day. I felt lighthearted and unconcerned. I hadn't seen Daniel so far, and assumed he had left for work at dawn, to be back only late, after dark.
My brothers were playing a game of marbles while Anna and I were skipping my rope. Suddenly my feet stopped, also my heart. Two figures stepped out of the greenery. I froze. Daniel, instead of continuing with Manuel along the sandy road as he would do at that time of day, had turned toward our house and was coming toward me. I couldn't take my eyes off his face and suddenly a boundless fear took hold of me. My feet seemed nailed to the ground, only my heart was beating frantically. An icy coldness slowly covered my brow, my forehead, a sensation I had not known before.
Daniel's face approached, it came closer and closer. His eyes were laughing, his mouth was smiling. He was so much a man, and so near to me as he had never been before. He stopped in front of me and, slipping his hand into his shirt pocket, pulled out the card.
"Do you know from whom this card comes?" he asked in a half- whisper.
His face was close to mine. I felt his eyes wander over my face. I could not draw back, I could not turn my head, I could not disappear. And I could not answer.
"Look here, Simone," he coaxed, "I found this card. Don't you know from whom it is?"
He had spoken my name! My heart missed a beat.
His eyes were still laughing, but his mouth had become serious. Suddenly that sparkle in his eyes hit me. He was laughing at me! And instantly I found myself again, and a furious and urgent anger mingled with my confusion and terror, a terrible burning anger, and shame too.
"I do not know that card," I managed to say defiantly.
He turned it over and showed me my own handwriting. But he pointed not to my message, but to something else.
"See here," he continued, and his finger rested on the spot where I had erased Anna's name. "Here," he said. "The name of your sister. I can still read it. Are you quite sure it wasn't you?"
I had lost, and I knew it. A terrifying sensation of helplessness surged and began spreading inside of me.
"I don't know anything about the card. I do not know the card! I do not know at all what you are talking about," I managed to blurt out vehemently, and suddenly I snatched the card out of his hand from in front of my face, and instantly I ran, heading for my bedroom. I dashed through the bedroom and through my parents' room and, in terrified flight, out of the back window right into the brambly underbrush that spread behind our house.
I knew nearly every square meter of this sizable piece of rough growth. I had often slipped into its wilderness, watching the apereas, those fat tail-less rats that made all those fascinating grass tunnels and well-trodden tiny paths. In the centre was a small patch covered with grass, like a miniature clearing in the middle of a big forest. Here I had read many a book and spent countless hours, far away from everything and everybody. No one knew my hiding place. It was here that I sought solace and found solitude when I didn't know what to do with myself, when life was too helter-skelter to understand, too confusing, too difficult. From this spot I could still overlook the road that led to the centre of the village, and sometimes I saw Daniel walking along. From my hideaway, I could hear everything I wanted to hear: The voices of people, the call of the bell. If I wanted to see them, I needed only to roll over and peep through the twigs of my shelter. There they were, walking to and fro like busy insects. I saw them but they didn't see me. Here I felt safe. Not even my ever-so-smart brothers had found my hiding place so far.
I threw myself down and buried my burning face in my arms. I wanted to cry but the tears would not come. Only despair burned inside and that terrible anger, the rage, the helplessness and shame -- and love, this love for Daniel. I lay there, very quietly, and let myself go and allowed the waves to close in and bury me.
After a while I lifted my head. I saw the card in my hand. I had briefly forgotten it. It now seemed so shoddy. The two rose buds looked artificial. It was a photograph, I knew, but the blue of the sky was now too blue, and the dewdrops on the petals were just water, sprayed on by a human hand. The red of the flowers was too red, their stems too stiff and straight. They were more like tulips than roses, I thought, and I had never found tulips very attractive!
Should I tear it up? But what would I do with the pieces? No, that wasn't safe enough. I'd have to make it all as if it had never happened. But how?
I saw someone walking along the road toward the village centre. I stared. It was Daniel! What had he been doing all this time at our house? Another heat wave engulfed me. I bet he waited for my father and told him everything! I squirmed with embarrassment. Before my inner eye, I repeated the encounter. Suddenly I remembered registering how my brothers had stopped playing and had stared at me. They had heard every word! And Anna had listened too. I recalled her big unbelieving eyes and her whimper: "But that is my card!" She wouldn't have grasped what was going on. But those other two, they probably wouldn't leave me in peace anymore, those two devils! They had enough imagination to put two- and-two together.
I waited. The minutes went by. Slowly my heart began to calm down. My forehead reverted to its normal sensation, the iciness disappeared. What stayed behind was an acute sense of shame. He had made fun of me! He didn't take me seriously! I should have known! Why was I so foolish, so silly? Now I would have to avoid him, I wouldn't be able to look at him anymore without embarrassment, and that seeking of his face at mealtimes would have to come to an end too. Who was I, after all, to have such ideas? I was a nothing, a nobody, a little girl, a child! Not even my body showed any signs of a womanly form. There was still so much growing up to do! I felt terribly ashamed of myself and of my deed.
The humiliation! That sparkle in his eyes, and my bewilderment. He made fun of you! I thought. He thinks it's a joke! He probably showed the card to the two others who share the hut with him! Hatred now crept in, toward Manuel who had been there when Daniel came up to me. Had not Manuel grinned gleefully? I hated him! I hated Daniel! I hated my brothers, my father, all of them!
No. I did not hate Daniel. Now I was afraid of him, afraid of a chance meeting. I would have to avoid those paths he usually trod. But as I knew his habits and routine, this should not be too hard. And from now on, in the dining room, I would sit where I could not see him and he would not see me.
The bell calling to departments or work places had sounded a long time ago. It had grown quiet at home. The clatter of cups and spoons had ceased. Surely they had all gone to where they had to go. Slowly I crept out of my hiding place and sneaked farther away from the house. I entered a small wood area where the nearest outhouse stood. I slipped inside. I let the card fall into its dark stinking hole. So, now it was gone. Now it had disappeared. It would rot, be eaten by worms. Nobody would ever see it again. If anybody asked me about it, I could now simply deny its existence.
I walked home very slowly. This time I showed myself. If someone saw me, so be it.
At home everyone had gone. Lily had been taken back to the toddlers' house. I was worried that father might still be at home waiting for me, but he had also left. I remained in my room for the rest of the afternoon. I slept a long time. When I awoke, it seemed as if the card story had happened a long, long time ago.
Late that afternoon, mother came around for her daily half hour. She entered my room. I was still on my bed. When I saw her face I knew that someone had told her.
"Simone," she said. "Why did you do this, with the card?"
I kept a defiant silence. Who had told her? Father? Daniel? She and Daniel got along. I had seen them recently, chatting away on that hospital verandah.
"Don't you want to tell me about it?" she asked. "After all, I'm your mother."
I continued stubbornly silent. No, I would not talk about it with her. With nobody.
"Well, Simone," she said, with disappointment in her voice, "as you do not seem to want to tell me about it, let me at least say quite clearly that a girl does not do this kind of thing, going into the bedroom of a young man, putting things into his bed! It is just not done!"
Her voice was stern. I remained silent, but shame and embarrassment engulfed me again, and anger too. And feelings of humiliation and helplessness. I stared at the ceiling. She watched me quietly for a moment, then she left the room closing the door softly behind her.
So, well, that was that, then! I sighed with relief. Thank goodness she hadn't blown it out of all proportion.
That evening Daniel wasn't at the communal meal. I didn't see him during luncheon the next day either, but he did appear the following evening.
I had already settled into a sense of lightness and relief of not having to confront him when he strode into the dining hall using the door right next to our girls' table. Waves of heat and cold engulfed me. He stopped and looked at us, one by one, and I knew he was up to something. I huddled in the farthest corner and tried to make myself even smaller, but it was useless. He had spotted me. He came over and stood opposite. He seemed huge, towering, overpowering. A giant! Again my forehead was icy cold and I could not tear my eyes off his face. And -- he was smiling.
"I want my card," he said in a loud whisper.
"I don't have any card!" I hissed back.
"Oh yes, you have that card," he insisted. "It is mine, and I want it back!"
He sounded determined and suddenly his mouth didn't seem to smile and an angry light flashed in his eyes.
"I have told you already," I whispered fiercely. "I do not have any card! I don't know what you are talking about! Go away and leave me in peace!"
The girls were watching in amazement. Some of them were already nudging each other, giggling and whispering. I went into a red hot rage.
"Shut up!" I snarled. Then I glared at Daniel. I was by now a quivering bundle of fury. We stared at each other for a moment.
"Well," he said in a low voice and with a shrug. "That is a pity. I wanted to keep it."
He bowed ever so slightly, the smile returned to his eyes and was already playing around his mouth. He turned and went.
I had won this unequal fight. But I wanted to die! To run away, hide, not show myself ever again. There it was, the anger, the shame, but I had to stick it out. The giggling and whispering had stopped. They knew me well enough to stop the nonsense.
After the meal, one of the girls asked softly, carefully, what that was all about, this card that Daniel wanted so much?
"Oh, he is a fool," l answered disdainfully. "He only wants to make me angry."
She left it at that. No one else dared ask. The matter was ended. Finished with. It now can be forgotten, by everybody, including myself.
* * *
It was as if the incident triggered Daniel's move to Isla Margarita, where he was to some time prior to his departure to England. But before he moved, he gave me another fright. It was after "vesper". The rest of the family had already gone. I was dawdling with the dishes in front of the house, pouring the washing- up water onto the grass, when Daniel came walking up the path, directly up to me. As he stood in front of me I was again nailed to the ground. But this time I was determined I was going to fight! If he insisted, he would get it...
He only wanted some ink! His pen had leaked and he had run out of ink, could I get him some?
I was trembling. My hand shook when I gave him the ink pot. He must have noticed but he didn't say a word. He smiled, but there seemed to be a wall through which I couldn't see. It was probably better that way, I thought. He is going away anyhow, for always and ever. It was all in vain...
"Put it into the living room, please, when you have finished," I said before he turned away. "I have to go now."
"Indeed, as you wish," he said. Adding a "thank you," he bowed in his very own way, very elegantly. As if I were a lady, I thought, and blushed. I turned and fled. Had he seen my blushing face? There had been that twinkle, that mischievous lightning in his eyes... I left the house, walking away briskly. I would not risk waiting for him to return that ink pot, oh no!
I did not see Daniel for many weeks. But one day, as I was walking to school, I heard the sound of horses approaching, and there he was, sitting smoothly on his horse as if born onto that saddle. With him was that other boy, Manuel, whom I had sworn to hate for the rest of my life.
Daniel held back his horse to let me walk by. He was laughing, and I blushed deeply. He lifted his straw hat, bowed and said: "Guten Tag gnadiges Fraulein!" I glanced up. He is mocking me, he finds it funny, I told myself as I proudly walked away. Take care! Don't give him another opportunity!
Time went by. In a way I was glad that I could now forget Daniel, without having foolishly walked into difficulties or having made myself punishable by the adults. They punished so easily! They always found so many good reasons for punishments. Happily for me, this episode had not been selected as a punishable matter, and I felt a huge sense of relief. Still, deep down, inside a tiny corner of my heart, I felt a burning sadness. I had loved so much! Why had it all turned out the way it did? Why had it to be this way?
* * *
It was a mid-week, mid-afternoon. I had kitchen duty. Some kind of special meeting was to take place that evening in the adjoining dining hall, and I had been asked to sweep the floor, dust tables and benches, clean window sills and decorate the large room with flowers. It was a hard task, the hall was enormous, the tables and benches so long and never-ending, but now I was nearing the end of the job. Only the flowers were missing. I would have to go and pick them, but they were my treat. I decided to first sweep the verandah around the dining hall before turning to my beloved flowers. There was still plenty of time. There I was, sweeping away, singing softly to myself. The dust whirled in front of my broom, the broom itself seemed to dance, and I felt happy. In school that morning everything had gone well, at home also.
All of a sudden there was a jingling sound behind me, very softly, and before I had time to turn around, a well known voice said, "Hello, Simone!"
I whirled. Heat rose through my whole body. There stood Daniel, right in front of me, laughing! It was his spurs that had jingled, and only ten metres away stood his sweaty horse. He had ridden in, dismounted, walked up to me, and I had never heard him! Here were his blue-grey eyes in front of me, sparkling, on my face. The heat on my cheeks grew deeper.
"What do you want! "I said defensively.
"Ach, only something to eat," he replied. "I have just come back from work. You are on duty, are you not? Can you get me some food?"
I dropped the broom and went into the kitchen. I was walking on clouds. I could not feel the ground. My legs didn't seem to belong to me. Somehow I found a plate of food, and outside there was Daniel, sitting at the rough wooden table under the lime tree, next to the old well. He smiled when I put the plate before him. Still, just then, his smile could have been for anything in the world. Because in the meantime, one of the men working in the kitchen had sat down next to Daniel and they were chatting away in a lively fashion.
After Daniel finished the meal, he got up, disappeared into the kitchen, then emerged again. He mounted his horse, rode past me, and saluted, touching the rim of his hat. I dared look only very quickly. He looked at me. He seemed serious.
Actually he doesn't see me, I thought. He sees only a foolish school girl who has kitchen duty and is sweeping the verandah of the dining hall.
I never saw him again.
When some years later I heard about his engagement to one of the girls in Wheathill, a girl only about three years older than me, I felt a strange choking pain.
That night, I stood for a long time at my bedroom window, watching the shooting stars fall They did not fall into my lap anymore. They were falling into the lap of another girl.
-------- Memories --------
Paraguay to Forest River to Oak Lake
by Margot Wegner Purcell
My family moved to Forest River in late November of 1956. We traveled from Isla Margarita, Primavera, to the Hutterite colony in North Dakota. I was nine years old when we made this trip. When we left, it was summer and our school had just let out for the summer break. We arrived in the middle of winter -- the first one for all of us children -- and right back into school. The decision for our family to move to North America had been made at least a year before we actually went. All of us children had been anxiously waiting for the day to arrive. We did not know where in the United States we were going until our move was ready. Several other families were also preparing to move to the United States.
Many evenings my sister Gisela, my brother Adolf and I would talk about our trip. Gisela was our storyteller, so she told us many times of our trip. We would have a love meal for our family and all of us would be able to attend (children did not usually attend evening meals at that time). The next morning everyone would gather around the wagon (sometimes we even got to go in the lorry ) and everyone would sing for us. The three of us would then sing the songs we wanted them to sing for us. "Einen goldnen Wanderstab" and "Kein Schoner Land in Dieser Zeit" were two of the songs. We would then travel to Rosario and take the boat to Asuncion. From there by plane to America. If Adolf and I were still awake, we would hear about our arrival at Woodcrest and greeting those we knew that lived there.
The story of our travels changed over the months we were waiting to go. Gisela was not thrilled when we asked her to tell us the story again each night, as most nights we would fall asleep well before we departed. Sometimes we would argue about the songs that would be sung. My parents spent a lot of time filling out papers and getting all the right forms ready. I remember asking many times where we would go. It seemed to take so very long. Since many would be moving to the USA, we were learning English in the school now.
Finally we were ready. We had a family birthday for my grandmother in October. I did not realize how long it would be before we were able to see her again. My cousins (Leslie and Elfriede Barron's family ) came from Loma Hoby. It must have been very difficult for the adults to say good-bye, but for us children, we just wanted to get on with our new adventure. Our farewell was not like what it had been in Gisela's story. We did all leave Isla together -- I don't recall the actual leave-taking. We went to Loma where our family separated. Mama, Adolf and I went by plane to Asuncion while Papa, Marlene, Helmut, Gisela and all our duffel bags and suitcases went by wagon to Rosario and then on to the capitol. In Loma, my father was asked to tell his life story at the farewell lunch.
I think we all have wonderful and varying memories of our plane trip. We were all dressed alike. The girls had identical flower- pattern summer dresses and the boys' shirts were made out of the same material. We traveled by prop planes via Braniff Airlines and stopped at every capital city on the way north to Miami, Florida. Then via Delta to Chicago, IL, and Northwest Orient Airlines to Grand Forks, ND. Most of the time we enjoyed our airplane ride except when we flew in the clouds, had much turbulence and became airsick. The entire trip took two days. Lots of fun for the children and probably quite draining on our parents.
Miami airport was just as I had expected all of America to be. Lots of toys in the shop windows. Airplane models hung from the ceiling in several locations. More candy and chocolate than we had ever dreamed of. We went through customs there. They unpacked all the carefully packed bags and searched through them. Poor Papa had trouble getting everything back in as well as he had packed them before.
Our first view of snow was at the Chicago Airport. When we landed, Papa pointed to a pile of snow that had been plowed away from the tarmac. It was very dirty but we did not care. We were eager to get out to see it and to eat it. Papa told us that when we got to Forest River there would be clean fresh snow that we could eat. We did at least get to feel it.
We arrived in Grand Forks around 9:00 P.M. and were met by Hardy and Sekunda (Martha) Arnold. This was one family we knew. We got to Forest River at 11:00 and were greeted by so many in the dining room. It was very cold and we were still in our lightweight clothes with sweaters. (I think Hardy and Sekunda had brought coats for us.) We were wearing our klepper (sandals) with socks as we had done during the winters in Paraguay. We did meet others who had once been in Paraguay, but most were Americans or Hutterites. The Trumpi family came a few weeks before or after we did. We were served supper while everyone watched us eat and sang some Christmas songs.
It was a clear cold night. We were taken to our new house, a small house that held just our family. A small entry way with a bathroom, dining room with a coal stove to heat the whole house, and four bedrooms. Two bedrooms were on the second floor and we climbed a flight of stairs for the first time. On each of our beds was a new doll or toy, as we had to leave most of our toys behind.
Gisela and I asked if we could possibly stay up to see it snow. (In our story, it snowed the night we arrived). The adults must have been quite puzzled because it was a clear night. I was under the impression that it snowed every night in the winter and only at night. After all, most of the stories we had heard about winter told of the new snow that had fallen during the night. We soon were tucked in under our down comforters,
In the next few days we learned about winter. It was so very cold (according to my father's notes it was thirty degrees below zero many days). I remember going to school with my socks and klepper on my feet but no boots, We went for a walk and the teacher did not notice that I was not dressed for the weather. It was not until I got home that I noticed that I could not feel my toe. Boy, did they tingle when they finally defrosted!
I was very sad that there were no leaves on any of the trees. I was told that when spring came there would be leaves again, but that was so hard to comprehend. In Paraguay some of the trees lost their leaves but new ones replaced them within weeks. We went skating on the river behind our house. That was a great river, I wish that I could have learned how to skate there, but I did not learn until we moved to Oak Lake. There were many uneven areas because the river seemed to have frozen in great waves. Several areas remained unfrozen due to the rushing water and there were some big cracks. The school groups took walks on the ice. Sledding down the hill near the schoolhouse was great! There were a few good sleds and it was a wonderful, but dangerous, hill. I recall long afternoons of sledding.
For us children, that winter was such a new experience in many ways. Being so very cold was a new sensation, seeing the snow, ice and bare trees. We saw the aurora borealis on several occasions which was a treat. Using a coal furnace and smelling the coal dust every morning when our father had to restart the fire, being surrounded by English-speaking people, and having to learn a new language. The pipes froze almost daily.
The river that looped around the 'hof was a wonderful source of learning for me. There were beavers who had a house that we could walk to and look into when the ice was thick. We could see their dam and the effect it had on the river. Many an evening we would stand quietly on the small bridge waiting for the beavers to come out so we could watch them work on their dam or gather food.
Springtime was the best. It came so fast and was very much like what my parents had told us it was like in Germany. The snow melted rapidly and small rushing streams were everywhere. The river ice melted quickly with huge sheets breaking up and rushing down to the next pile-up. Buds appeared on the trees and soon tiny leaves appeared everywhere. It was also very muddy all over the 'hof. Since it was my first spring, it remains very memorable for me,
A few days after we arrived, we were taken to the school. My oldest sister had to go to the local school at Inkster. The rest of us went to the community school. They did not know which grade to place us in because our education had been so different and our knowledge of English was so limited. I was first taken to the Johnsons' living room where Eleanor taught the first and second grades. I only stayed there for a few days and then was moved up to the third grade.
My teachers were Doug and Ruby Moody. In Social Studies they were talking about Christopher Columbus and Lief Erikkson. That is all I can recall. I did learn English pretty quickly and was able to write long letters to friends in Woodcrest. We went to the local library and toured several factories as part of our schooling. The country side was very much like Paraguay in its flatness and openness. In spring we made kites and flew them on the hill overlooking the 'hof. We took walks to the "40-acre" field and played in the hayloft.
Forest River was different in several ways. The unity between the Bruderhof members was not there. There was quite a separation between the Hutterites and the Bruderhofers, Everyone worked together, but there was "their" way and "our" way of doing things. The Hutterites spoke with quite a different accent than the Americans. I found it difficult to know who belonged to which family because there were only three or four surnames for all the Hutterites, but many more families. The common names were Hofer, Waldner and Maendel. The food was quite different and many foods we did not acquire a taste for. There was a limited repertoire of songs known to all. We had two little songbooks, one for Christmas songs and the other had a mixture of international songs,
I was not aware of the conflict between the Bruder-hof and the Hutterites regarding Forest River. I remember the decision to move to Oak Lake and the planning of the move. Every family that was to move had a planned way to get to our temporary hotel, Park Terrace, near Lake Huntington, New York. They had figured a way to transport everybody and every vehicle. Our family traveled by Greyhound Bus to New York City, then by local bus to Park Terrace.
My mother and several others flew out earlier to get the place ready, so my father had the responsibility of taking the five of us on the bus. We had a hamper full of sandwiches to eat over the two days of travel. We had a great time. The double-decker buses were wonderful. We tested each new driver for their tolerance of children. I recall seeing so many lakes as we passed through Minnesota and I was so very thirsty. It was a great time to learn about the states. In Isla our family had a puzzle of the states. We learned all the names, locations and much about each state. Now we were traveling through so many of them!
Somewhere in Ohio or Pennsylvania our bus was involved in an accident. This delayed our trip quite a bit and we missed our connection from New York City. We were then rerouted to Woodcrest. We spent a short time in Woodcrest with our best friends, the Stevensons, next to whom we had lived in Isla. But all too soon we were off to Park Terrace in a small car that had a flat tire just outside Woodcrest. Eventually we did get to Park Terrace, where Mama was anxiously awaiting our arrival. Park Terrace was located about one hour from Woodcrest, and functioned as a two-month holding area between Forest River and the availability of Gorley's Lake Hotel in Farmington, PA. Our move to Oak Lake started a new phase in my life.
-------- In Fond Remembrance ------
My Uncles Hardy, Heini & Hans-Hermann Arnold
by Bette Bohlken-Zumpe
It is sad that all the brothers of my mother and their wives have died, and amazing that my mother Emi-Margret and aunt Monika have outlived their brothers, even though their health seemed so much poorer than that of the Arnold "boys". My very first memories are of very happy, jolly, full-of-fun uncles who loved us, the children of their sister, deeply. It is not true what the Bruderhof proclaims, that Heini was my grandfather's "special" son who understood his father's faith, hopes and beliefs the best. No, my grandparents, like all parents on this earth, saw the strong and the weak points of their children and tried to help them develop the good and the strong points in that way. All their children were very special to them!
My Grandparents had little time for their children as they were building a community of goods and spent their energy very often in talking to people, giving official talks, writing books and compiling songbooks, talking with guests and people that felt close to their ideas. Therefore my great-aunt Else von Hollander was a true blessing for the Arnold children Each one had the feeling, that "Tata's special love" was for them personally. She was there for them and there for both my grandparents, and her loving and complete surrender to Jesus Christ made her an inestimable and invaluable member to the family. In her quiet love, she embraced each and every one.
My mother, the oldest, was ten years old when the community was really started in 1921. She was expected to understand and pull her part of the weight. My grandfather wanted her to work with the children of the community and that is why she was sent to Thale for a Kindergarten training. The witness she gave there brought Annemarie (Heini's wife), Gretel Gneiting and Margarethe Boening to join the Bruderhof. One of them told me: "There was such a deep understanding between father and daughter, that we just admired this in their relationship. E.A. would come as often as he could. He usually wore a corduroy blue suit and we would see father and daughter walk together for several hours in the nearby meadows and woods. He would have his arm around her shoulder, and for us it seemed a completely loving relationship."
Hardy, the oldest son, was his parents' joy. He was intelligent, extroverted, lovable and always joyful. At a young age he went to the marketplaces in Sannerz and Fulda "to preach" to the people. Wherever he went he brought back some interesting story and a interesting encounter with someone. His joy and enthusiasm were infectious and gave a special addition to a sometimes difficult life in a starting community. Edith his wife had a quiet nature, was extremely well-read and had a quiet, serene outlook on life as well as a deep faith in the ultimate leading of her life, by Jesus Himself. My grandfather had hopes that together they would lead the Bruderhof school into unity amongst all the children.
My own memories: as a small child, I played a lot in their home because Eberhard Claus was my age and we got on well with each other. When my mother had to be isolated from the community due to her Open Tuberculosis, the three uncles decided each to take the responsibility for one Zumpe girl. My brother Ben was very sick at that time and in special care of Margot Savoldelly (later Davies). Heidi, my oldest sister, was assigned to Hardy and Edith, me to Heini and Anne-marie and Burgel to Hans-Hermann and Gertrud. I remember the eagerness with which Heidi and Burgel would pack their little rucksacks in Primavera when they went to their uncles in Isla Margarita with the Fleischwagen (meat wagon) for the weekends. Hardy and Edith's home I remember as feeling warm and very secure. In the Cotswolds, they would have a big jigsaw puzzle on the table and while discussing serious matters, would try and find a place for the small pieces.
The discussion was often about "how to bring the message of unity to people" without trying to be self-righteous -- to bring the message in simple words. That is also how he tried to tell us about the Bible, and I have many memories of how he and Edith tried to make us children understand. For example, he told us about how after the death of Jesus, Peter had returned to fishing and was fishing day after day and catching absolutely nothing. Then Jesus appeared on the shore and said :"Throw your nets on that side and you will find plenty of fish!" Peter did that and the nets were so heavy, that he was almost unable to pull them up. To demonstrate this, Hardy asked Claus and me to stand on their bed while he rolled himself in a blanket. He then asked us to pull the blanket with him in it into the bed. It was too heavy for us, so Edith came to help, but she laughed so much that she lost all her strength. Finally we pulled Hardy onto the bed, our faces red from the effort. This made a deep impression on me.
Hardy could laugh at his own mistakes. I remember him telling us that he had to go into Kembly (the nearest town) to buy material for making baby diapers. He asked the shopkeeper for 30 meters of "swaddling cloth" and the man just looked at him in pure amazement. After Edith's death, Hardy experienced a time of deep depression and I believe was not helped by his brothers and sisters and the whole community in the really warm and loving way his father would have done. He was sent on "begging trips" and then admonished because his children were not in line. As the community rolled from one crisis to another, Hardy was a lonesome man. We children loved him, though. His imagination was wonderful and his surrender to the life in discipleship for Jesus and His community complete. When he married for the second time, Sekunda managed to awaken much of the happiness and jolliness we had known so well in our early childhood. He wanted to give his children and the children of Sekunda and Fritz Kleiner (Sekunda's first husband who died tragically) a real home. He wanted to make up to his children for all the "bad" years they had had, being in community care with no real family of their own. I remember how they moved into the Kleiner house in Isla Margarita and how they wanted their children to be integrated, giving each two of the same age a room to share. But again Hardy was sent on mission to the States (away for a year or so from wife and children) which caused difficulties and troubles.
I met him and Sekunda again at Bulstrode in the U.K. and his clarity and enthusiasm for the life in community impressed me a lot. My mother was radiant too because she had always had a warm relationship with her brother Hardy . They laughed so much together that tears would run down their faces!
While I was excluded on the Sinntal Bruderhof in 1959, Hardy and Sekunda came and really wanted to help me find my way back into the Brotherhood. They took me out to a restaurant and bought me the biggest ice cream cup I had ever seen.
"You know, Bette, all of us are misunderstood many times in our lives," Hardy said. "People will be people, and they are not always moved by the spirit in their actions. Listen to the advice from your old uncle -- we are all carved out of the same wood. If you want to find your way back, forget trying to be understood, but repent for all the sins and faults all of us make daily! Have you never been haughty, envious, proud or conceited? Repent for that! Have you never been loveless in thought or deed? Repent for that. In true brotherhood you will have to learn that what you yourself feel is not important. What is important is that your life is lived in the image of God and repentance is the first step to acceptance by God. What does it matter if you are sometimes falsely accused? Just repent for the things you know you have failed in!"
He was most loving and understanding. I met him for the last time in 1985 on a visit to Woodcrest. He talked about his children mostly and how he wished to be close to them. Hardy in short was a special uncle to me due to his honesty, love and complete conviction that the way of brotherhood was meant to reach all men on this globe and give them all a chance to live and work, worship and pray together for a better future!
Heini was my uncle -- the one I was assigned to in childhood. Much has been written about him. He evokes feelings of both love and hatred, warmth and coldness. There always was both, which is and was very confusing. I wrote about him in my book, and people have asked how it was possible that I loved him so much after all that he had done to me personally. Well, he was a lovable man! He was the complete opposite of his brother Hardy, who as a young man was spontaneous, extroverted, intelligent and very warmhearted.
Heini never liked school at all and therefore just was not interested in learning. He had an inferiority complex toward my mother and Hardy, was very sensitive to people's reactions to him personally, insecure, easily thrown off balance and very drawn to spiritual miracles such as hearing voices, seeing lights, experiencing the "evil" or "good" atmosphere of a person.
To lead his life into acceptable channels and to give him a feeling of self-assurance and self-confidence, his father used his weakness to build it into strength. He was baptized at age 12 to give him the rope of faith to cling to when times got bad. I remember many good things about him, but also a sense of absent-mindedness while talking to him. He would see you and not see you at the same time, because his mind was often very preoccupied with other things. Later in life, he would use my grandfather's words to serve his own ends.
Annemarie was -- at least I thought so in my early childhood -- a wonderful person. Very cool-minded and straightforward, loving and motherly, with the stability that Heini needed to function properly. In later years, they would fight for their own vision of community life -- their own interpretation of what E.A. wanted, their own idea of leadership and the place of a Servant in the Brotherhood. Everyone who held a different thought or idea was trampled on and excluded, as though God had given them the power to do His job on earth. It was a changed Heini and Annemarie when I left the community in 1961.
My other uncle, Hans-Hermann, was like a candle burning from the inside. He was very modest in every way. Being the fourth child, he and Monika often were seen as the "two little ones", but like the others he was convinced of the rightness of the brotherly life. He only spoke when really necessary because he felt that "the big ones" could put it into words better than he could. He was especially loved by his father for his complete trust, his unassuming manner, his intelligent mind that tried to work things out alone before bothering others. He went about his duties conscientiously, quietly and lovingly, and therefore was a living example of brotherliness.
My grandfather had hoped that he would read, study and translate all the Hutterite writings, that he would be the brother to lead the Bruderhof back to the origins of the Hutterite Church, and to strengthen the brothers and sisters to be loyal to God and Christ's message until death. My grandfather felt that Hans-Hermann had all the qualities within him to study and understand, believe and convey his faith founded in the Bible and the Old Hutterian writings, to guide the Bruderhof to the deepest essence of our human existence in the view of the big cosmos around us. In Gertrud Loeffler he found a wife who stood behind him 100% at all times.
Gertrud was a matter-of-fact, down-to-earth, straight-forward person, ready to give love and therefore easy to receive trust and love. She had a lot of energy, a good singing voice and was completely devoted to Hans-Hermann as well as the community life. Often I marvel at what all these people did. The great poverty in Primavera, the hard work in the heat with so many children in the children's departments, and then pregnant almost every year! I have a great admiration for all the adult members of that time. We Arnolds tend to exaggerate certain vents to make a story more interesting, and Gertrud would quietly call Hans-Hermann back to the facts. She always did this in a wonderful and loving way that made us all laugh instead of holding malice. Hans-Hermann was my teacher in Isla Margarita in the seventh grade. On Wednesdays I would stay over tea time as we had lessons in the afternoon as well. They lived in one of the large buildings for several families that looked out onto the Beinenwaldchen over the campo to Oktavian. The family was well organised, and everyone had a task. Gertrud was the heart of the family around whom everything revolved.
I remember once the Paraguayans burglarized the house. It was during a meeting, and Gertrud was pregnant -- I think with Johann -- and had all the baby layette ready as the baby was due any time. All the children were asleep and the Evening Watch had just done her rounds and settled in the other building for a little reading. The Paraguayans, who always thought that we were rich, came in through the low, open windows. We never had any glass in the windows, just openings to let the cool evening air into the hot houses. They came in barefoot and took absolutely everything, the blankets from the sleeping children's beds, the baby crib with all the baby clothes ready for the little newcomer, the children's potties, shoes, clothes, cups, plates! They wrapped everything up in sheets and blankets and went running over the campo towards their village in Vaca-Hu. Gertrud, who must have been absolutely petrified on returning home from the meeting, had only one thing in her mind. The children were OK. One of them was awake and fearful, and Hans- Hermann was in an absolute panic. She comforted everyone and made them all be thankful that the children were safe -- so God once again had worked the miracle of His presence.
While I was on Nurse's Training in London, Hans-Hermann and Gertrud visited me. They wanted to see me in uniform, and together we went to pastor Eberhard Bethge who was leading the German Evangelical Church in London at that time. My father was there too, and we had some wonderful days together. I loved both Hans- Hermann and Gertrud, and always feel saddened at all they had to suffer in the 1960s and 70s. They had a strong vision of what the B'hof should represent, and this vision was not always their brother Heini's. This caused unmendable pain to their family and children. I will always remember them as clear, simple, faithful and honest, and that is what really matters in our lives.
To put it in a nutshell: all the children of Eberhard Arnold shared his vision of brotherhood and peace. If they had listened to each other and if they had been open to God's spirit amongst all the brothers and sisters, if not one of them had felt that he was special and knew better than the rest -- well, then God might have used each one for his own special gifts and character. The hazard came when one of them felt he was the only vessel for God's spirit on earth. With this I want to close and give you all each one my special love and best wishes,
------ An Autobiographical Narrative ------
KIT: John Stewart was a Woodcrest Bruderhof member from 1988-1990. The following transcript was recorded in San Francisco, and edited by Charlie Lamar and the author. Some of the names have been changed.
John Stewart, 11/16/94: I first discovered the Old Order Hutterites in the encyclopedia in 1987 when I was twenty-one years old. I had been doing some studying, very intentionally looking towards finding a group movement or church that was consistent with what I saw revealed in the Scriptures. A few months after discovering the Hutterites, on Easter Sunday, there was an article in our local paper about the Bruderhof communities, Woodcrest and Pleasant View. It was really amazing. I had never even heard of the Hutterites before discovering them in the encyclopedia and here was this article in the paper reporting on a bruderhof in my home state. It seemed at the time orchestrated by the Hand of God.
The information I had collected about the Old Order colonies was a little off-putting. They seemed almost Amish in a cultural sense, a closed society that certainly was not responding to the needs of the world or playing a vital and relevant spiritual role as the Body of Christ. But in the newspaper article they actually included a number of quotes from members that had recently come from the "world" into the community. They testified to having discovered the truth of the Gospels there. It was a powerful, well-written little piece.
Shortly after this, I decided to visit. I didn't even phone ahead or anything. I think I wanted to go there so badly I was almost fearful that if I talked to them first they would say that I couldn't visit. I had no idea how open they were to visitors. So I just drove down one weekend, stayed in a motel Friday night, and then Saturday went to Woodcrest.
The first brother I spoke with there was Ogden Glumm, because the Servants were away somewhere and he was the responsible Witness Brother. He came up and talked to me in the Carriage House for quite a while. I think he was taken by what I had to say about seeking them out in a desire to enter into true baptism and a life of obedience to the teachings of Jesus. He invited me to stay the whole weekend, which surprised me. I didn't expect that. Through him I had my first introduction to some of the other brothers, and to some of the young people there.
I attended that Sunday's meeting. They passed the microphone around, and one of the young guys whom I had gotten to know said, "John, I'm going to get you the mike! I want you to say something!"
I was kind of nervous, but I did say something. I really spoke from my heart about what I had seen there and how I really felt drawn to the life. I talked about having given up a lot of things in the course of my search to that point, but seeing in Woodcrest a call to a more complete renunciation amongst brother and sisters.
A lot of people came up to me after the meeting and embraced me, telling me how much they appreciated my sharing. It was very overwhelming. I left there Sunday with tears in my eyes. I felt like I had finally come home. It was very powerful.
A month later I took a week off work and came back for a longer stay. By the end of that week I had decided to move there, although I had some concerns. One of them involved what I saw in the young people. I longed to come into relationship with the young people at Woodcrest, because by this time I had become so alienated from my peer group because of my faith. I longed to meet young people like myself who wanted to completely lose their lives for the sake of God's Kingdom. I expected it would be like meeting a twenty-one- year-old in Jerusalem in 40 AD.
I roomed at the community with a young man about my age who had been baptized recently, was going to college and getting ready to marry a young sister. He became a dear friend of mine until I was sent away.
I gradually realized that he was actually more impressed with my participation in the world than with my desire to join his Bruderhof. His eyes lit up when I said that I had played in a rock band and done other things. He wanted to hear all about them. He was really struggling, as most of the young people there were, quite intoxicated with what he was experiencing in college, seeing young people with freedom and cars and stuff. In fact he himself had been outside for a very short time. He had left the community and essentially came back for economic reasons. He wasn't making it, and he realized that in the community he wouldn't have to pay the gas bill and such. It was a sad excuse for returning, but he wasn't the only one who came back for that sort of reason.
He was almost flabbergasted that I, as a young man, would have CHOSEN the community. He was struggling in a sense to find freedom from it, and here was this young guy coming in. I tried to explain it to him. I quoted the Scripture where Jesus said, "No one of you can be my disciple who does not renounce all that he has." And other Scriptures too.
"Jesus SAID that?" he exclaimed. He repeated that question two or three times on other occasions.
"Yeah," I replied, somewhat puzzled.
I had assumed that here was a guy who probably had read the Bible cover-to-cover ten thousand times. He would be filled with wisdom and knowledge having learned the way of holiness by actually being raised in it. But he was completely ignorant of Scripture. He admitted that he seldom if ever read the Bible while growing up. I talked later with other young people who said that their parents never even prayed with them, and the only information they had about Jesus came through the Christmas and Easter stories.
That was a real blow, a real shock to me, but maybe with the exception of two or three young single people, it was the rule. The young people were devoid of any kind of spiritual zeal, and certainly devoid of any real hunger for the word of God. They even lacked the feeling that somehow their life was vital and alive and worthy of sharing with all mankind because it filled them with such joy. It was no different than my experience in the Methodist Church or with Roman Catholic friends. The young people had been brought up in it, they sat in the seats every Sunday, and that was their life. Except that in this case, it was a life separated from the world, a more totalistic thing.
Despite my having some questions, after that week's visit I definitely made the decision that the Bruderhof was the place for me. I went home, put my affairs in order, and within about a month-and- a-half, I had come back to stay. Throughout that time I had concerns, not only on an individual level but even about directions in which the church was going. I really struggled with the fact that they sent their children to the public school systems. I saw that as inconsistent. It shocked me, particularly because they kept the young people in an insulated environment until the hormones were raging, and at that point sent them out to high school. But the Bruderhof was not exactly going to change their system for me, and that was something that I had to submit to.
The Bruderhof understanding of what community is supposed to look like, what I call "compound communalism," also concerned me. The idea that true brotherhood must take place in an isolated, self- sufficient little "village" or compound is a wrong one. It is clearly not the type of community practiced by the early church. It defeats the point of the church, which is to be a living corporate testimony of righteousness in the midst of an unregenerate mankind.
I came very, very close to leaving the Bruderhof four or five months into my stay. I talked to the brothers about leaving and made some plans about where I was going to go. I felt completely settled in my mind. I had so many questions, so many deep-seated concerns about the community, I realized that I couldn't be there. I just wasn't at peace with it. I went to bed that night and I prayed. And out of the prayer there came a vision of this incredible, almost blinding, whiteness before it went away. I was at that point completely overcome with a sense of absolute peace, and the absolute rightness of remaining. This experience was profoundly moving to me, especially because of the way I'm wired. I'm a pretty cerebral person, and I think things through. I never in a million years could have anticipated complete unpeace, no qualitative answers to my concerns, not seeing myself in the Bruderhof -- and then, like a snap of my fingers -- poof! It was almost a supernatural change in my heart.
I awoke the next morning feeling my questions and doubts were no longer stumbling blocks, that their resolution lay securely in the hands of God. This continued for a time, through my asking for the novitiate, until blatant realities allowed the earlier tensions to creep back in.
Once I had asked for the novitiate, I was invited to attend brotherhood meetings. I can remember some things brought up during these meetings really shocked me. I do respect the fact that I think they wanted me to hear those things, brothers who were struggling with sins no less ugly than the sins of men and women within the world system. I'm glad that they didn't try to conceal these matters, and I don't think that they ever do. I certainly didn't find that what was happening in the community in the way of sin or failure was ever hidden. There was a real desire to be open about it, because this openness definitely brings with it a deep trust. When you see someone really willing not only to preach to you but to be incredibly vulnerable, it shows a humility that is very trustworthy.
However, I found a real difference between how the brotherhood acknowledged a sin or a difficulty after it had been acknowledged by the authority of the church, and how they completely silenced someone coming forward with concerns about a sin or a problem BEFORE it had been acknowledged by the authority. I experienced that really clearly, even in the sense of a real openness to be able say, "We all struggle, we all sin, we've all been in church discipline, and we deal with it because we have such good authority, Servants who see it and want to bring us to clarity." A couple of times I even experienced the community repenting as a whole once the authority had concluded that the direction in which we were moving was a wrong one. But I also experienced a complete lack of honesty regarding people who had left the community and whatever issues those people may have had with the church. I had been told about members who had left and was led to believe -- and believed -- that the reality essentially was, "These are people who of their own volition more or less woke up one day and said, 'I don't want to go the way of the Cross! I'm not willing to be a brother. I'm not willing to stand by my brothers and sisters in times of struggle, I'm bailing out.' And we almost begged them, 'Don't bail out! Don't bail out!' But they bailed out. Then they gave themselves over to Satan and attacked the community."
I certainly never, ever, was told that one day someone came to some of these people in their room and said, "It's time for you to go." That's what happened to me, and when it happened, it was an incredible shock. I was really, really misled in terms of how people were treated who had left the Bruderhof, and certainly the circle had no desire to say to me, "Hey, we feel good enough about how we've dealt with ex-members here that we want you to go talk to some of them. These are people who have left..." If that had been the case, there might have been a different outcome for me. The KIT Newsletter started while I was a member and we had brotherhood meetings about it.
When I look back at some of the things that won me to the life, they involved a few individuals with whom I became very close, mostly older members who had come out of the world in the early days. I've heard echoes of this experience from other folks also. After a meeting or after supper, I would go and talk with them into the evening, and the love and the humility that they projected overwhelmed me. It wasn't even as if they had answers. I can't say how many times I heard the words, "John, we are not perfect, and we know that, and we long to change, and even in the things you are saying -- that's the way we want to change! But unless you throw yourself in with us -- you have to become a brother before you can have any ability to speak to these issues! But if you can join our fight, we'll go forward together. And if we stumble, we'll stumble together. It's all of our longing that this would take place!"
These words were not just coming out of the mouths of some kid who had been born there. These were people who had sacrificed far more than I had in coming. Some had come during the war years and given their lives to suffer through the time in the jungles of South America and had stuck with it. It was such a powerful draw! I saw in them a living faith in God.
Sometimes it would be just one night with a truly dedicated older couple that would get me through two weeks, and then there would be another. Those experiences gave me the ability to get over the hump and be taken in as a Novice and turn over what I had to them. My novitiate period was very brief, and during it I was allowed to sit in on a baptism preparation group. During the summer of 1989 I went home to visit my father who was dying of cancer. I stayed there for about two months, and as soon as I returned to Woodcrest, I asked for baptism. I remember my own baptism preparation less clearly than the previous one because my father died during it and I was gone for two days to attend his funeral.
The Servants who led my baptism preparation group with Christoph were, curiously enough, Chris Winter and Danny Moody. I was baptized by Jake Kleinsasser. All three of these men are now cut off and reviled by the Community. It is an evidence to me of the mockery that is the Bruderhof's belief in their possession of, and ability to confer, the Holy Spirit. I met Christoph Arnold, the Bruderhof Elder, for the first time one day when the Shalom Group went on a hike. The first brother I had met, my young friend, said, "John, you've got to talk to Christoph! Everyone should talk to Christoph! You really need to get to know him!" We held back from the group and waited for Christoph, but when he came up, he seemed really detached. He didn't even look at me. I said a few things to him and he just responded in monosyllables. Essentially he just walked on by. I was a little surprised, but also I realized that the guy had been walking a long way. My friend said to me almost apologetically, "Christoph! He gives so much! He just wants to clear his head! He's not always like this. I'm sure if the situation was different he'd love to sit down with you."
Later Christoph did sit down with me and we were able to have some discussions and went on a few walks together. Because Christoph was the Elder, I recognized that if the Bruderhof was going to change, the changes were going to have to come through him. That was apparent because of the respect, reverence and authority he was given by the membership. This was not especially disconcerting to me at the time. I do believe that there has to be authority within the church. Not in a sole eldership (which is unscriptural) but a defined, decentralized bishopric like that revealed in the church's first two centuries. This is a truth rejected by evangelical christianity which believes in a freedom and fulfillment of grace within each individual that is contrary to God's revelation regarding the Body of Christ. Authority comes with a risk, but it is a risk without which one cannot enter into true communion with the Father.
In talking to Christoph I had longed, with a certain idealism or romanticism, to find the Bruderhof Elder the most apostolic, prophetic, wise, knowledgeable, spiritual man in the whole community. I don't know if this sounds arrogant, but after just talking to him a few times, it became clear to me that he lacked even the depth of understanding of the Scriptures and Anabaptist theology that I felt I had. This may sound very strange, but it's definitely true as I look back -- I made an almost subconscious decision that went, "I don't even want to get to know this man any more because it's going to deflate my bubble. If I talk to him at too great a length, I'm going to lose so much respect for him that I won't even want to recognize him as an Elder. So I'm going to pretend that he's something else. I'll watch him walk around and such, but I don't want to have too much personal interaction."
Later I wrote him about directions the community was moving in, expressing some concerns I had, at least a couple of fairly extensive letters. From his responses, it was obvious to me that he didn't even understand what I had said. His mind couldn't process all that information. Believe me, I'm not saying that the shepherd of the flock has to be a great intellectual, but certainly you look at men like Paul, or early Christians like Justin or Tertullian, and they had a command of the Scriptures and an ability, a divinely inspired way, to relate with other human beings and convict them regarding the truth of the Gospels.
This kind of gifting was something I clearly didn't see Christoph as having. I think any of us who had grown up 'outside' would have realized that this man was born into his role. He was the son of the son of the founder of a community. Why was he the leader? Was his eldership just a coincidence?
When asked that question, brothers would try to say, "Certainly he is the grandson of Eberhard, we can't deny it. But it's almost like a coincidence. He happens to be the grandson, and the son of Heini, but he is also the most likely man to assume the mantle, the most gifted man in this community. It's just a coincidence that he happens to be in a direct line from the founder." Others would explain, "It's not because he is the son in the blood sense, but because he was raised up under his father, who was Heini, and who had these great spiritual gifts. How could the son not help but see the way a man should interact with his brothers?"
Unfortunately, I never experienced that in Christoph. I became accustomed to his behavior after a time, but even in his tone, in the way that he would share things, usually it was just reading something that his father or grandfather had written, and then making some rather simplistic comments.
"We all need to take this more to heart," or "This is what we need to listen to," or "Let me read that again." He was not able to speak extemporaneously out of his head or out of his heart with very much substance.
I definitely, over time, became more intimidated by Christoph. I don't think "fear" is too strong a word. I remember confessing it to him after a dialogue with his son in which I had been strongly critical of the son's desire to join the high school football team. The son informed me that his dad had been very supportive and thought it would be good for him. I remember feeling a real agitation at the thought that my critical comments would get back to Christoph. There was a growing sense in me, real or imagined, that this man was capable of giving you the back of his hand. Literally.
A couple of times I experienced his losing his temper with me a little bit. He sometimes had a way of doing it that struck me as fairly manipulative. Perhaps there had been some ongoing issue and you had sent him a letter to respond to something. He would wait until the end of a meal for example, and while everyone was clearing the tables or walking out, he would come up to you and start saying very intimidating things in a very loud voice. You would realize that everyone was listening and cringe inside. I had seen him do it with other people, and felt like, "Whoa! I'm glad I'm not that brother!" It seemed really out of place, and a contrived way of admonishing someone. It happened to me once. Its acceptance as appropriate behavior demonstrated very clearly the kind of free rein that was given to Christoph.
Once we were waiting to start a brotherhood meeting, and I was sitting there while people were arriving. I had had some correspondence with Christoph, and he came over to me. He stood over me and began talking. We were just conversing, and I was responding to him from my chair. He walked away and the meeting started. Afterwards, when I walked out of the meeting, a young sister came up to me all trembling and emotional.
"John, I don't believe what happened in there!" she said. "What do you mean?" I asked.
"I saw Christoph come over to you, and he was talking to you, and you just SAT THERE! Why didn't you STAND UP!?"
"Well, I was taught to stand up when a woman enters the room," I said. "But I didn't think of it!"
I'm also a tall guy, and one of my friends once said that I was one of the few guys who could look Christoph in the eye. He said, "I wish I could look him in the eye just once!" It had been out of a certain humility that I thought, 'I'm going to remain seated.' He was towering over me, and this seemed a humble way, at least in my mind at the time. But to this young sister, the way that I addressed Christoph was important, and because I didn't stand, I had 'dishonored' him. She was really emotional about it, although she was a person with whom at that point I had not even had much interaction. This was one of the things that started me wondering to what degree there was a human worship going on, something beyond a respect for Christoph's authority and for his place in God's plan for the sheep.
I had observed this heavy emotionality a lot in the community, particularly in the women where it was almost as if a veil would come down over their faces. They would change from being composed to having water just pour from their eyes, coming unhinged in really frightening ways. Usually this was triggered at a point when something had been said about the authority of the church or a question was raised about the integrity of a respected brother or sister.
Returning to the chronology of my time at the Bruderhof, I was eventually nominated to take on the male leadership of the Shalom Group because the young brother who had been doing it was going to be married. There was a female counterpart to that position. I already had a pretty strong rapport with most of the young people there. I spent a lot of time with them, and was trying to talk through some things. Also I had some ideas about the group and what I felt could really help it, because it was struggling in various ways. I actually presented the idea of starting a magazine that the Shalom Groups on all the communities would publish and print. I was so disillusioned with The Plough and virtually everything that I read in it. I had read excerpts from early Ploughs that Eberhard had published, and something even before that, Das Neu Werk. Those early publications proclaimed that the sole solution to the earth's ills lay in a regeneration of the individual heart through the Cross and entrance into the new society of the church, that manifestation of God's Kingdom amongst men. All other efforts at charity or human betterment, no matter how sincere or merciful, do not strike at the root of injustice which is man's selfish and fallen nature. Where man is truly reconciled to his created purpose, love, peace and divine justice shall reign, just as they did within the heart and life of the reconciled man Jesus.
The Plough of today has become more a kind of catchall, printing the experiences of different social organizations and little stories about the Bruderhof. I was very disillusioned with that, but it wasn't something I was going to be able to change. But I thought, 'Maybe the young people can get excited about publishing a magazine directed specifically towards the youth culture of the society.' Of course that was very naive of me. I had to admit that the majority of the young people who had grown up in the Bruderhof did not have the first clue about the experiences of people outside. I didn't know what their contributions would look like, but I wanted to try it. I wrote a proposition outlining my vision, what I wanted this magazine to be, and it was read in all the Shalom Groups on the communities. The response was really incredible. All the young people thought it was pretty profound, maybe even thought it was more than they could take on, but still expressed a willingness to do it. Of course I had to run the proposal through Jack Gmorning, who oversaw the Shalom Group at the time, and Christoph. They gave me the go-ahead, 'Throw it out there and let's see what happens." So I wrote the first article. I had finished it before I was sent away, but the whole concept was scrapped along with me.
During my time in the Bruderhof I had opportunity to come together often with various young people. This many times came from a desire on my part to see them actively dialoguing about our life together, directions the church was moving in, or the meaning of a particular message shared in Gemeindestunde. We might read from the Word or discuss Hutterian history. A lot of the young people took to these discussions, and for the first time I saw in some of them a zeal for God and the common life, and a burgeoning recognition of this faith's implications.
One young man had come recently from the outside to Woodcrest, Brian Bachman. He had come out of prison and I really tried to befriend him. He was just a little older than I was. We shared some similar past experiences with the world and drugs and such. He definitely was a troubled guy, and I tried to spend time with him.
One Sunday the Shalom Group went on an outing, a canoe trip, and stopped to eat lunch in a meadow. The female leader and I had decided beforehand that we would use this time to talk about problems in the Shalom Group and how we wanted to deal with them. She kind of represented the 'old school,' it was very clear, especially in struggles with some of the young guys . There were some in the group who were not showing up on time for work projects, or became abusive in volleyball games. Of course in talking about these things, she and the old school types wanted to say, "Well, it's time to pull up your bootstraps, guys! If you care about this community and all that this community has done for you, you're going to show up on time, and you're going to respect people when you play volley ball."
I knew these so-called troublemakers intimately. Their problem was not behavioral. It was born of inner dryness, never having truly known something greater than themselves. They had never perceived the Master who is worthy of their daily living sacrifice. If He were alive in them, they would find strength, meekness and an eagerness to love. I knew that if they could find faith, their actions would take care of themselves. They would respond out of that. My ability to function in the community was born out of my daily desire to serve God and to be obedient to Christ, not out of a fear of men or a desire to be a 'good community kid.'
When the concerns were brought up at this lunchtime meeting, Brian spoke first, and then some other young guys with whom I'd been talking said some things. I know this sounds pretty risque, but I actually suggested that the Shalom Group could read something from Eberhard Arnold or Andreas Ehrenpreis. I did not realize what a radical step that would be. I thought we might even share something from the Scriptures, something that had been meaningful to one of us and might have a bearing on the daily life of people who claimed to be following God. We talked about it, and the meeting ended amicably. Some people even came up and thanked me for what I had shared. No real problems. We got our things and finished the outing.
The next evening before supper, Christoph called a meeting of the Shalom Group. We all came together in the brotherhood room with him. Essentially he said that he had heard some stories about the outing and wanted to know what had happened. I learned that some of the sisters who had participated in our meeting in the meadow had felt a bit disturbed. When we returned to the community, they had told their parents and Christoph. So the whole story was recounted, and Christoph made it real clear that the Shalom Group should be about young people coming together in a natural way to enjoy themselves. It should not be about 'theology,' or heavy spiritual things. That was not what the group was for, and that was not what it was going to be like.
I had kind of anticipated something like this when I heard that he wanted to have a meeting with us. But Brian Bachman became enraged. He stood up and expressed himself very strongly to Christoph.
"I can't be a part of this! I can't be a part of rejecting Jesus!" he shouted. "I feel what you're doing is rejecting Christ! You are trying to separate faith from daily reality, and to me that's impossible!"
Brian then stormed out of the meeting, and slammed the door, which you don't see too many people doing to the Elder. Of course he didn't realize that was the case because he hadn't been there that long. When Brian started to walk out, one of the young brothers whom I knew well stood up. "We don't WANT your kind here, Brian!" he shouted, shaking his fist and almost crying. "Get out! Get out!" Whoa! Not exactly a Christlike response towards his "brother," but certainly an action that could win Brownie Points with his affronted Elder.
Earlier, when Brian had started speaking, I had glanced over at some sisters sitting together, and obviously they were shaken by what was happening. When I looked at them after Brian had shouted at Christoph, they all had begun to heave and bawl and cry, almost as if someone had snapped their fingers. They were really frightened -- shaking and shuddering. The whole atmosphere of the place just became weird.
Brian took off, we weren't sure where. I remained fairly quiet throughout the ordeal, because I did not see any point in trying to argue. Christoph had spoken, and even at that point I thought, 'Well, he's the Elder. If I want to remain in the Bruderhof, I have to recognize this man as Elder.' I did not see any point in having dialogue. The group filed out, and I stayed behind to talk to a couple of the sisters. I said some things to them that came back to haunt me.
I had wanted to go look for Brian, because I felt badly about what had happened. Christoph's wife Verena was there and assured me that other brothers had gone after him. "Just come to dinner," she urged me. I was in no mood to eat. I was pretty upset, so I went down to my room that night.
The next day I was down in the shop working, just a normal day -- or so I thought. We went to Shop snack time, and Johnson Rufus showed up. Both of his daughters had gone on the outing with us, and had reported it to him. He was one of the people who had asked Christoph to talk to us. Also I feel that Johnson ultimately, and almost single-handedly, was responsible for ousting me, or at least getting enough of a current going amongst the leadership to do so.
"I want to talk to you," he said.
We went over and sat down somewhere by ourselves. "I heard about your Shalom outing," he said. "I heard about some of the things you said, and what happened with Brian. I want to know if you feel responsible for what Brian did."
"Well, in a sense, Johnson, I feel responsible for the sins of all men," I replied. I quoted something that a Christian writer had said about how if our neighbor or brother sins, it's a reflection on us. I thought that was true. "But do I hold myself personally accountable for Brian's behavior? No, and I can't really understand why I should."
Johnson made it clear that he felt that I was personally responsible. "I think you've been getting together with Brian, and filling his head with things," he said. "I think you need to take personal responsibility for the things that Brian said to Christoph."
"Well, Johnson, I would really take issue with that," I replied. "Brian is his own man, and a pretty strong man at that. He made the decision to say what he said, and if I had completely wanted to echo what Brian had said, I would have said it myself."
Another thing happened during that conversation that I feel was very telling. Johnson began to talk about what I had been saying in the Shalom Group and how he thought my remarks were filled with religious language. The Shalom Group was for having fun, for being natural, and he mentioned some of the difficulties some of the young men were having.
"Well, you know, Johnson," I said. "We are not just called to some moralistic, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps human betterment. We're called as believers to die on a cross with Christ, to give up our own lives so that His Life can fill us."
"DIE on a CROSS with CHRIST," Johnson replied, very sarcastically. "Don't talk like that to me!" He patted the ground. "We're on earth here, John! We're not up in the clouds!"
"But it wasn't too long ago that Heini Vetter used to say that all the time in meetings!" I said. "That we were to die on the cross with Christ!"
"You let Heini Vetter say what Heini Vetter needs to say," he replied. "But I'm telling you, this is what YOU need to say."
I thought, 'Whoa!' It was a real, real strong condemnation. I always had felt with Johnson that it was difficult to call him a Christian. Any time that I had tried to talk with him about spirituality he had displayed a very humanistic bent. He was big on Albert Schweitzer, and seemed to see him as an epitome of human goodness.
I had talked to Johnson a few times in the past, and it never had gone really well. Once we got on the topic of nonviolence. The community at that time had been dialoguing about what it would mean to call in the police, and would that ever be legitimate. This was the same year that the brotherhood decided to vote.
"I want you to know something, John," Johnson said. "If someone broke into my house and tried to harm my family, I would kick them, I would punch them, I would do anything I could to disable them, because my family is that important to me."
I couldn't believe that he was saying this! "Johnson," I said. "Do you realize that in the early Hutterian Church, communities were pillaged by marauders and not a hand would be raised against them by the brothers, even as they were savagely beaten and tortured and their sisters raped?"
They felt this is what Christ calls his disciples to do in the face of violence, letting God the Father ultimately avenge. The world views that kind of response as cowardly and insane, yet we in the Bruderhof were supposed to be the "fools for Christ" who imitated it!
"I don't believe it's true," Johnson said. "I don't believe the Hutterites ever would have done that."
"Have you ever read The Great Chronicle, Johnson?" I asked.
"Well, I'll look into it," he said. "But I don't believe they ever would have allowed something like that to happen."
I had once earlier quoted a Scripture to Johnson and he had denied that it existed in the Bible. "He who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." John 12: 25
"I don't believe it. You'd have to show it to me," he said.
That same day I found it, wrote it down and slipped it to him at a mealtime. He read it and at the end of the meal he just grumbled something to me about "Maybe I have to take back what I said, but I'm going to have to read it in context." Of course, he never discussed it further.
So here was this other thing with our Hutterian history, and I just couldn't believe that he had said that. He said it with real venom.
"I would KICK and PUNCH and DAMAGE any attacker! I would do anything I could to protect my family."
One of the other earlier conversations that I clearly remember occurred when Johnson and I were eating early because I was on austeiler (waiter) duty. Videos were real big on the community at that time, and people were always watching various ones. I really struggled with that. I couldn't understand why anyone would be so moved. Johnson started talking about a Danny Kaye movie that he had enjoyed. I made some comment questioning the significance of Danny Kaye for the community, and Johnson Rufus took real offense.
"What's wrong with Danny Kaye?" he asked me.
"Well, there's nothing wrong, but what does it have to do with the Kingdom of God?" I said. "Does Danny Kaye's life represent the life that we're seeking?"
I just didn't see any connection, and therefore I saw it as meaningless. Johnson however really felt that there was nothing wrong with Danny Kaye movies.
"I think that's absolutely ludicrous," he said. "There's nothing wrong with Danny Kaye."
It sounds crazy, but I remember the conversation and I think that he was offended because I had judged Mr. Kaye in that manner.
But to go back to our shop conversation, Johnson began to say some things that very clearly had come from his son, Mathias, with whom I had talked at length many times and for whom I had a certain amount of respect. We really bumped heads, but we always ended up as friends and as brothers, and I always appreciated that. However Johnson was repeating things that I had said to Mathias and that I had never said to Johnson. Obviously he had been talking to his son about me, so I believe that even before the time of that Shalom outing he had been gathering information.
"You know, Johnson, it's clear to me from what you're saying that you've been talking to Mathias about me," I told him. "Isn't that contrary to the First Law of Sannerz that states that we won't talk about brothers behind their backs, even amongst members of our own family?"
"I've done no such thing," he replied. "You and I really seem to have reached an impasse."
"Well, I'm sure we'll have time to talk again," I said. "It will come clear."
"Yeah," he said, and walked off.
I thought that was the end of it, I really did. I went back to the Shop and he walked up the hill. Fifteen minutes later, while I was at work, he came back down.
"Some of the brothers want to meet with you in the Woodcrest House," he said to me. "Come on."
We walked up. Johnson walked ahead of me, not saying a word. I had no idea what was going on. In fact, all the Servants were off 'hof on Servants Call, so these were Witness Brothers who were waiting for me.
Tim Pans, Dick Cough and also Saul Snap, my host family father and principal of the school, and Johnson met with me. Johnson began.
"I've gone to John and I've expressed to him my concerns, and he doesn't seem to be listening," he said.
"Well, John, what were you saying to Johnson?"
I started to share a little bit about what I had said and what I was feeling. I reiterated some of my previous conversation.
"You know, I also want to say this," I finished. "I don't want to hide it. Johnson said some things about me that I know we have never talked about. These are things that I talked about with his son Mathias, and it's really clear to me that he has been talking to Mathias about me. I know that's not something that we want to have as a part of our lives here. I just want to get that out in the open so at least at some point maybe we can discuss it and clear it up, because it's of concern to me."
I spoke in all innocence, believing it would be responded to. I didn't want to hide it, and wasn't ashamed of feeling that way. But as soon as I got that out of my mouth, Dick Cough stood up almost in a rage.
"I'm just SHOCKED!" he said. "John, I can't BELIEVE you would even SAY such a thing about a brother like Johnson Rufus! You have no IDEA what he has meant to our life. You have no IDEA what he has gone through to serve this community! I won't even listen to such charges!"
Everybody else just nodded their heads, and he sat back down.
From that point on, I thought, 'This is frightening! I can't believe it!' I really couldn't believe it. I thought they would at least open the floor and Johnson would be given a chance to respond. I knew that if Johnson had been given a chance to respond, there was no way, short of claiming he was psychic, that he could have proven that he had not been talking about me behind my back. But that was the end of that topic, and then they just got into me.
"Now John, there's something really wrong here," they told me. "And you're not seeing it."
Tim Pans pulled out a letter. "John, I'd like to read you something," he said. "This is a letter that was sent this morning to Christoph. It was written by a sister who talked to you, and she wrote some things that you had said. I would like you to tell me if you really said these things."
I had been reading about the early Hutterian Church's teaching on rearing children. One text I read said, "We put the words of the Scriptures into a child's mouth from the time that they can speak." Of course, that is something completely unheard of in the Bruderhof. It was almost seen as damaging. This sister had responded to what I had suggested about reading Scriptures in the Shalom Group by saying to me, "We don't think religious language should be a part of our life together in the Shalom Group. We just want to have joyful fun together in a pure way and leave that for the brotherhood."
"You know," I replied to her. "I bet if I said to you that we should put the words of the Scriptures in our children's mouths from the time that they can actually speak, you'd say that that was the most evil and vile and Pharisaic thing you could imagine. But do you know, that's exactly what the early Hutterian forefathers practiced and taught as an important part of rearing their children in the spirit of the community?"
That's all that I said to her, and it was in her letter.
"Yes, I did say that," I said. "And that's true."
Tim Pan just shook his head. "Do you realize what saying something like that means?" he asked. "The fact that you would even SAY something like that -- do you realize what that means about what's going on inside of you?"
"Well, yes," I said. "It means that I'm struggling with some things, and there seems to be a real ignorance amongst people here about what the teachings of the Hutterian Church really are."
We went around and around about a few more things. A couple of times, Johnson Rufus got up, left the room to talk on the phone to somebody, and then came back. The one thing that Johnson finally kept saying to me was, "John, you're not listening."
And I thought, 'Okay.'
The others would then say, "He's not listening"
It finally became clear to me. "You say I'm not listening, and I am clearly hearing everything that you're saying and I'm responding to it -- " And I was. I was responding to everything that they sad.
"You're defending yourself," they said.
I thought, 'Well, I'm responding honestly to whatever you're asking me.'
"I'm trying to explain what my motives were in the things that I said," I replied. "I'm trying to explain what is behind the things that I said. When you say, 'You are not listening,' what you mean is that I'm not agreeing with you."
And that, really -- I should not have said that. Johnson Rufus got up again, left the room to talk on the phone to somebody, and came back.
"John, during the course of this meeting I've been in contact with Christoph, who is in Connecticut" he said. "I've been telling him what you've been saying. He said that this needs to come to an end, and that we're going to bring it before the brotherhood tonight."
All the information that Christoph had received about what was happening was coming through Johnson Rufus, and who knows what Johnson Rufus was telling him! That was that.
Johnson Rufus and I walked back down to the Shop together, and I really appealed to him.
"Johnson, I don't understand what's happening," I said. "I'm trying my best to respond honestly to the brothers. I don't know what else I can do, what else I can say!"
He wouldn't look at me or really talk to me. When we walked into my room there -- I had a room down at the Shop, he said something to me like, "John, you're going to face the brotherhood on this one. I think you know exactly what you did, and I think you know exactly why you are in the position you're in, and I don't think I need to tell you."
I can't describe the kind of nightmarish reality that his words evoked. I almost broke down at that point.
"Johnson, I love you!" I pleaded. "You're my brother! I'm appealing to you for help!"
He looked right at me with these cold, cold eyes. "John," he said. "You don't love me. You still love yourself too much." And he walked out.
I was pacing around the room. I didn't know what to do! Finally I walked back up the hill and tried to talk to Dick Cough.
"Dick, I don't know what's happening!" I said to him. "I don't understand!"
He seemed have some sense of what I was saying.
"What do the brothers see?" I asked. "What do the brothers feel? What have I done? What do I -- ?"
"Well, I could TELL you, John," Dick said. "But I think it's something you need to figure out for yourself. And I think that somewhere deep inside you, you know. You just need to find it in yourself."
"You know, it's like -- it's like -- " I groped for an example. "What if someone was accused of stealing money from the Steward's office or something?" I asked. "And it turned out they had done it but they were sleepwalking. And maybe they had really done it, but they weren't aware of it and they needed someone to point it out to them. Maybe just someone to say, 'Well, this isn't something you were doing consciously, but we all saw it and found the money down in your room. Here's how you went about it...'"
"No, no, I don't think that's what's happening here," he replied. "I think you need to come forward with it."
Again I asked, "What is it? What do I need to come forward with?"
"Uh, I think you know," he said.
We just went around and around, so I went on a long walk. Finally the Servants returned, and Christoph said that he wanted to talk to me before the big joint brotherhood meeting. I sat with him in his yard, and he seemed fairly reasonable.
"John, you know, I know what's been going on," he said. "And we're going to have this brotherhood meeting. And if you'll just come out and admit that you said things that you should not have said, that you were not acting out of love for your brothers, you were acting in a spirit of pride, this will be put behind us. I'll make sure of that. We'll just say that all is forgiven, the brotherhood will agree, and that will be it."
"But Christoph, I don't FEEL that!" I said. "And that had nothing to do with -- I mean, I said what I said because I LOVE my brothers and sisters! I said what I said because I wanted to be faithful to my baptism vow!"
"Well, John, I think it's clear that there's more to it than that," he said. "You really need to see that, and if you don't see it now, it's only going to get worse."
We went around and around with it, until finally I gave up. "Okay," I said. "I'll say that at the meeting tonight and that will be the end of it."
"Good!" he said. "I'm glad! We've won a brother here!"
I found out later that Christoph had called some of the young Shalom boys up to his office prior to our conversation to question them about me.
"I want you to tell me what you feel about John Stewart," he had said. "What do you know about him? What has he been saying to you? What has he been doing?"
I found out later from a close friend of mine who had participated that Christoph especially was questioning Milton, the brother with whom I shared my room. No one actually said anything until Milton first spoke.
"You know, all I can say is that John has been a really strong influence in my life," Milton said. "And he has never said or done anything that I think is out of step with what he should be as a brother. I really respect him a great deal."
And I have been told that Christoph got up from his chair and shouted, "Don't you SEE how you've been DECEIVED by this person? Don't you REALIZE that John Stewart is in a completely WRONG spirit, and that by defending him you are a part of the wrong spirit?"
Finally Milton came out with this thing that he ended up repeating in the brotherhood meeting. But first they set the stage.
"There's been a struggle in the Shalom Group..." was announced very solemnly, and then my roommate got up and said, "John Stewart said..." And I did say what he reported! I didn't think it was a big secret. My host family, the Snaps where I had my meals and spent my free time, had some children. I felt that the discipline was weak, and I had talked to the parents about it. I had talked a little about child-rearing and such with Milton, this brother. So Milton got up at the microphone.
"Well --"
"What has John Stewart been saying to you?" Christoph urged.
"Well, he did say that he wasn't too impressed with the way the Snaps were raising their children."
The whole circle gasped -- "Ohhhh!" I just felt so bad for the Snaps. I loved them dearly, and to hear something like that -- just the way it was said in this offhanded manner -- I never said anything like that. I never criticized them in any spirit of ridicule, but talked seriously about what it meant to raise children. In just being honest, I felt that the Snaps' kids were occasionally out of control. Oh man, I just felt so horrible!
Another young guy had been involved whom they had seen as part of this 'schism' that I was trying to form, a Shalom Group of Holy Shalomers or something. This was how they eventually tried to paint it. A bunch of stuff came out about this young guy, and I remember how horrible he felt. Things that he had said all came out publicly. Finally I got up.
"Listen, I'm so sorry!" I said. "I think I have acted in a wrong spirit, and obviously -- " The only way that I could justify this in my own conscience was to say, 'Listen, John, obviously it hasn't born good fruit, because look where you are! And by your own definition, if it's born bad fruit, maybe you're in the wrong spirit. You must have acted wrongly.' And that is what I said. "It's obviously born very bad fruit. I just want to ask the brotherhood's forgiveness. I want to change."
I had learned THAT line, but I meant it, or at least I half-meant it. I felt like it was being pulled out of me. Even at the time I felt that I was acting insincerely. I really did. But I said it, and then Brian got up. That surprised me.
"I've completely failed the brotherhood," he said. "I know people have been accusing John of having led me on, but I know completely and utterly that this was my own doing. John never influenced me --" which was true to a certain degree. "I just want to say that I completely failed, and I was so wrong to speak to Christoph in the way that I did.' He went on and on and on and on. I was surprised by that.
The meeting ended, and Christoph announced, as he said he would, "I think this is the end. I think we can bring it to a close. I think all is forgiven, and if the brotherhood is in agreement, we'll put this behind us and go forward."
"YES!" everybody responded.
They all agreed, and that was the end of it. Thankfully I was able to walk out with the Snaps and we had a good cry together. I was really sorry, and they were sorry.
"We should have seen more of this coming, John!" "We shouldn't have been with you in the way that we were. And even what you did say about our children is probably true." It felt good.
Brothers and sisters came up to me and said, "John, we've all been where you were. Don't feel bad about this. I'm sure it's really hard, but -- "
I felt appreciative, and thought, 'It's okay.' But I didn't feel good deep inside. I felt as if I had not been honest with where I was at. I had allowed the thumb screws to push me into a position where I shouldn't have been.
Shocking news came over the phone while I was with the Snaps in their apartment. It turned out that Brian had taken off after the meeting. He had run out, stolen a bottle of whisky from one of the brothers and gone to the pond. He drank the whole bottle and was going crazy out there, saying things. Two young brothers went out to find him and he was threatening that he was going to kill them. I had no idea the degree to which he was a damaged individual, and certainly being put under pressure in the Bruderhof didn't help. Even before he had come to Woodcrest, he had lapsed once or twice.
Actually at one point they went after him and found him fifty miles away trying to get home and brought him back. He'd been through it, and I didn't even know all that at the time. He was threatening to kill himself, threatening to kill these brothers. Finally the brothers got him under control. They got him back in the house, and that's when I said, "Let me go talk to him. I want to be with Brian. Let me try to help him, Let me see what I can do."
"No, no," I was told. "There are brothers who are taking care of it."
It turned out that he stayed up almost all night ranting and raving and swearing at people, saying things against Christoph, and these brothers were like holding him down, getting him through it. The next day I found out right away that everything was fine. Brian was resting peacefully, and the worst was past. I went down to the Shop to start another day. I worked for the morning before going into my room for snack time, which I occasionally did. I probably felt a little ashamed to go up and sit with the brothers, but also I sometimes went into my room because I was trying to do some writing. Anyway, I felt that snack time was limited to talking about the weather and the new shop machinery. Any attempt I had ever made to talk about issues of the brotherhood or issues of faith had been pretty much rebuffed. There was clearly little interest.
Suddenly into my room walked Campbell Twister and Jerry Sitklose. I greeted them, and they said, "John we want to talk to you."
They sat down on the other bed. "John," Campbell said. "The brothers have decided that you need to take a distance."
I remember that my jaw just absolutely dropped! I couldn't believe it, especially those words, because I had heard those words before, 'take a distance,' and I knew when you 'took a distance,' what 'to come back' meant. "Take a distance!" I said. "I was just in the meeting last night and Christoph himself said -- and the brotherhood agreed -- that all was forgiven and that we were going to go forward!"
"Well, the brothers have had to rethink things," Campbell said.
But 'the brothers' had not even been there to think anything! Very clearly this was coming from just the inner circle. If ever there was a perfect example of the fact that 'the brothers' meant Christoph and the inner circle, this was it, because I had gone to work that morning with 'the brothers' saying, "John, don't feel too bad. We've all been through it."
Now here were Campbell and Jerry saying, "The brothers have rethought things and you need to take a distance." And get this -- they said, "So we've made arrangements to send you to your mother."
I thought, 'Send me to my MOTHER?!'
"I've given my life here!" I said. "I left my mother to do this, and now you're going to throw a twenty-three-year-old guy on her?"
"Well, we think it probably would be best that you go back and be with your mother," they said.
They assumed that somehow my mom was just going to be 'okay' with that. Of course my mom would have been, but it was their assumption. It was not even stated as, "We'll pay to put you up somewhere." It was, "You're going to go be with your mother."
I was just floored, and tried to talk it through.
"I can't understand this," I said. "What have I done? Can you give me a greater sense of what I've done?"
"John, what you've done or what you haven't done isn't important," Campbell said. "What's important is that you PROVE to the brothers that you're willing to listen and trust them and accept what they have for you."
"Well, I can understand that," I replied. "But I don't really think that sending me away is going to be best right now. If anything, I'd like to dialogue some more and try to understand, so that even if I was sent away, I'd have a sense of what to dwell on, what to think about."
"You know John," Campbell replied. "The fact that you're sitting here right now and not just accepting this PROVES that you're in a totally wrong spirit. You've completely given yourself over to a spirit that is against the brothers, and this is proof of it. And the longer you sit here and don't accept the fact that you're going to be sent away is just proof! It is!"
This was what Campbell said to me, and it was SURREAL! It was like that fear of being in the insane asylum and then suddenly all the insane people think they are sane. It was funny, because even as a kid I had always had weird premonitions about how that would be one of the most fearful things in the world, being in a society where everyone was insane and they thought you were because you were sane. That's what I was feeling!
So I gave up. "I guess that's going to be it," I said. "If I must be sent away and the brothers think that's best, that's what I'm willing to do."
"Okay," they said. "After lunch today, the brotherhood is going to meet, and we want you to be there."
"But we've essentially decided that I'm going to be sent away," I replied. "Is there any chance that they're going to decide differently?"
"No," they said. "Don't feel that. But it's important that you be there."
I thought, 'Why don't we just get this over with?'
"Why don't you just send me away, if that's what needs to be done?" I asked.
"No, it's very important that the brotherhood meets and that you be there. After that, we'll make arrangements to send you back to Buffalo."
I didn't know what all that meant, but sure enough, after lunch they called a special brotherhood meeting and I was there, and Christoph made the opening statement.
"Well, John, is there anything you'd like to say to the brotherhood?" he asked me.
Again this was on a conference call hookup, so all the other communities also were holding a special brotherhood meeting and listening. I stood up.
"Well, the brothers have asked me to take a distance," I said. "I really struggle with that. I don't completely understand why, but I'm willing to do it."
I expressed my inability to comprehend their decision to send me away, and I was glad that I did. Even though I was unsure, I said things like "I hope that I can be led back in unity with the brothers, but I also wonder if -- " I don't remember exactly how I said it -- "if the Spirit is really even present here, and if this is really a place where a man can lead a faithful life."
When I said that about 'the Spirit,' the whole circle reacted with gasps and people started saying things in whispers. (I got a letter about a week later from a brother who wrote that when I said what I did about questioning the work of the Spirit in the community, he could clearly feel that Satan was inside of me. He explained that many years before, Satan had entered him when he questioned the validity of the Bruderhof, but his dear brothers had saved him by helping him find true humility.)
"I'm sorry," I said. "I hope you can all forgive me, but this is where things are at, and I want to do what I need to do at the behest of the brothers." And with that I sat down.
At that point the floor was open, even for people on other communities, who then stood up and said things about me. It was strange, because if three days before that meeting you had said to me, "John, write down a list of the people about whom you've always had a feeling that they really have a problem with you but never have come forward and told you that." Virtually every one of the people whose names I would have put on that list were the people that stood up and said things. It was nothing like, "I caught John out in the back with one of the sisters," or "I saw John treat a brother unjustly." It was "I had a talk with John and I sensed that he was in the wrong spirit," that whole kind of amorphous description. One of the brothers, Calvin, stood up -- he was right there in our brotherhood room -- and he became quite emotional. He was the shop foreman.
"John has been struggling for some time," he said. "There have been a number of incidents where we've had to shut down Shipping for hours just to work through problems with John!"
I'm standing there -- he had my mike, and he wouldn't even look at me while he was speaking. "Calvin!" I said when he put down the mike. "Those are absolute lies!"
He looked at me and then looked away and sat down.
"There's been one incident at work where a brother overheard me say something," I said into the mike, because it was the truth. "He said, 'John, I want to talk to you about this,' and we went off and probably it took an hour to talk it through. But it happened once, and it was at this brother's request!"
Calvin got up and made it sound like on numerous occasions John had shut down the shop for hours with his troubles. I insisted that it was an absolute exaggeration, but the response was "There it is again, John! You are just defending yourself. If you were really humble, none of this would even matter to you," and on and on and on.
Other people got up and said things. At this point I had just become numb. I felt as if I was in a dream, and in fact looking back at the event it almost feels dreamlike to me. I could no longer take it, so I turned around and walked to the back of the room and stood just looking out the window at this sunny day outdoors. I had no idea what motivated me to do that, but perhaps a combination of fear and shame. It wasn't like 'I am turning my back on these people.'
One of the sisters stood up and screamed, "Look at him! Look at him! He disregards the brotherhood and turns his back on us! Look at how highly he regards himself!"
I turned around and said -- I think I was even crying at that time -- "I'm ashamed! Don't you understand? Don't you realize what I'm feeling right now?"
I looked around at all these people, and some of them were also crying. It was really an emotionally draining experience for them. The Servants wanted to continue the meeting and asked me to come back to the microphone
"No, I'm leaving," I said, and walked towards the door. I put my hand on the handle, and then one sister whom I had known well, and considered a sweet person, spoke.
"John!" she called. I looked at her and she had tears in her eyes. "Please don't go! Please don't go!"
It was such an incredibly emotional moment. Then things kind of backed off and people were calling out, "We love you, John!" "We love you, John!" I can laugh now as I look back, but believe me it wasn't funny at the time. Recalling all this is cathartic for me, but I could not laugh for many years afterwards.
I would like to comment on two things regarding that brotherhood meeting. One was an issue about which all were aware because we had talked about it often in the brotherhood during my days in good standing. When a brother or sister were 'on the outs' with the brotherhood, suddenly this welling-up of unresolved feelings would burst forth from all the brothers and sisters, things that had never been brought out to the individual prior to this. The person's 'fall' was almost seen as the 'Big Okay' to bring out everything that one held against them. It felt like cannibalism. This issue had been talked about, and people had been warned against it. I had experienced instances of it in the brotherhood when someone stood up and confessed to something. If they were clearly in sin, other brothers would then stand up and make accusatory comments in the same vein as the confession -- and maybe be challenged by Christoph or a Servant who would say, "Don't bring this out now. You should've brought this out before." But it still happened, and in certain instances was obviously acceptable.
I think because of the nature of their community life, a real inability exists for the individual to conduct himself daily in a state of emotional or psychic freedom. There is a kind of ongoing masked experience so that when a little crack in the dam is seen, the floodgates open and it's a cathartic release for the whole body. Individuals use these moments to vent many of the feelings that a person living in the wider society has the opportunity to release on a daily basis in other ways. But there's such an unchristlike shutting- down of the Bruderhof individual and the personality that in these times of crises, these times when brotherhood members fall, a door is opened for the kind of rage and chaos that is normally so powerfully repressed. And then the group changes from the beloved brotherhood to an entity that views the fallen individual as an enemy, and an effigy of all that is bad, thus creating a target for purposes of their own emotional projecting. It's indeed like a wounded hen in a flock of chickens. She is pecked to death by the others.
You can see this dysfunction's long-term ramifications in the attitude of the Bruderhof towards KITfolk and ex-members. What is supposed to be this incredible spirit of love and forgiveness, even towards one's enemies, turns into its opposite. When the individual -- even a beloved brotherhood member -- turns that corner, she is seen as someone who has become almost inhuman, and the brotherhood circle displays an amazing ability to lash out. Because the person has come out of unity with the brotherhood, they can be dealt with in a way that is completely contrary to the very essence of what the brotherhood and the Bruderhof claim to represent. I find it amazing. The brotherhood exhibits a real, almost frightening ability to maintain a deep-seated animosity towards someone in my position who has been out for a period of time -- and certainly anyone who would continue to be critical of the community. Yet at the same time, they claim that whenever they come to prayer, they are at peace with all men, having nothing in their hearts against anyone. They claim, in the spirit of the Gospel, that if someone came up and tried to defraud them or insult them or slander them, they would receive them with love. They would look at that person and still be able to embrace them and say, as Christ did, "They know not what they do." But that Spirit of Christ, that transcendent Power, is not in their midst, because the Bruderhof has proven itself incapable of that witness again and again. KIT's very existence stands in many ways as a testimony to this.
The second issue regards fear of men. Only lip service was paid to the idea that we, as members of the Bruderhof, should never fear men, but God alone. This was really emphasized, and was similar to the scapegoat issue in that it often was discussed in brotherhood meetings. I heard brothers confess to this fear. Again it was such an insidious thing, because the ability existed within the circle to recognize this fear of men as something very wrong. They warned against it, yet they suffered from a total lack of ability to discern it when it occurred, and therefore it ran rampant. In some way, either consciously or unconsciously, it was winked at because it served the purposes of the inner circle.
"You should fear God," we were told. "Anyone who is working out of a fear of Man shouldn't even be here.".
Occasionally I heard people confess, "I did this out of a fear of Man," or "I wanted to please men." Almost confessing, "My relationship with God is so removed from my personal experience that it can't even play a role. My fear of, and desire to serve, this distant, fabled Being is meaningless compared to the fear of a Servant of the Word, or Elder, who are in the immediacy of my life. I may thank God for my 'daily bread' because I was taught to do so, but who really holds the purse strings?"
I think the circle truthfully struggled with this issue, but a vested interest on the part of some to see that its defining remained muddied could serve a diabolical purpose within a closed community like the Bruderhof. If one truly didn't fear Man, and only feared God, one would act out of a love and obedience to God rather than a love and obedience to men. However, that would create the possibility for the individual to maintain a life-giving relationship with God outside of the circle of authority and power within the community. The individual could then truly say, since this was supposed to be an essential part of the baptism vow, "My faith in God, my relationship to God and what God is saying, means that I must stand against men. I must stand up to an authority which is a bad authority." Obviously such behavior would create anarchy within a community that was not truly directed by the reigns of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, men must be feared in the Bruderhof if that humanly driven system is to survive, and I'm concerned that the Bruderhof won't be rightfully "slitting their own throat" on this issue any time soon. If they did, God might truly be able to give them a repentance that could lead to rebirth and newness of life.
In a talk I had with some Servants when I was trying to find my way back, I mentioned the difference between 'submission' and 'recantation.' I used the early Anabaptists as an example. Jacob Hutter had stood against the whole force of the Roman Catholic Church and all the Jesuits that tried to get him to recant. He stood firm against them, he stood against torture for the sake of divine truth and his faith in God. Bruderhof history calls this man a hero of God, but if an individual tries to stand up within the Bruderhof today and say "I love you! You are my brothers! But it's so CLEAR that the direction in which you are going is counter to the Spirit of God! And not just counter to MY interpretation of the Scripture, but clearly counter to the very interpretations of the Scripture which YOU claim are the foundations of this life." At what point is this standing firm courageous, and at what point does it become satanic? I was considered satanic and devilish because of the strength that I had to remain "unrepentant" in the face of Servants' arguments and admonishments. That same strength in the face of a Jesuit four hundred years earlier was what these Servants would call righteousness.
The true Body of Christ will always foster in its members a powerful, individual zeal and desire for obedience to God above all other things. You foster this zeal, or as a community you either peter out and become irrelevant, or you open the door to strong-arm authoritarianism. If the individual's fire exists, you will raise up children who will not submit to bad authority, but will have a true righteousness and a transcendent understanding of truth that no man can control.
After I had walked out of the brotherhood meeting, I went back down to my room. Some brothers came down later and said that I should get my things together. They would give me the bus fare and send me back to Buffalo. A couple of the young guys showed up while I was packing, and I was very touched by their real desire to see this thing heal. But also it was very clear that some of the young Shalomers had quickly turned tail.
"John, we were wrong and you need to see it," they told me. "Just humble yourself. Just admit it and get this over with so we can go back to being brothers and sisters."
I received that, but I knew what my conscience was saying.
Shortly after their visit, an older Hutterite brother, a really dear, sweet person in the manner of the Old Order Hutterites, came down and poured his heart out.
"John, don't go back! You know how the world is!" he begged me. The Hutterites almost feel that if you are geographically located on a colony you are safe from evil, no matter what's going on inside of you. "Don't go back into the world, John! You'll be lost! The devil will have his way with you there! You need to stay here!"
"I want to stay here and work this thing out," I explained. "I don't know why the brothers are forcing me to leave!"
"Oh, I don't think the brothers would ever ask you to leave the colony if you really wanted to stay," he said. "They know what's out there too! This is the garden where God's true flowers can grow, and out there are just the killing weeds! You need to be here!"
"Well, you can talk to somebody and tell them," I replied. "But they've got the bus ticket ready and they're going to send me out of here."
"Well, I will," he said. "I'll go talk to Christoph and tell him you want to remain in Woodcrest."
Sure enough, he must have gone and spoken with Christoph, because they gave me another option.
"Okay, we won't send you to Buffalo," they said. "We want to send you to a house in Kingston that we have, and you can work things out there."
I was glad. At that point I especially did not want to leave. I wanted to try to work this thing out. I certainly did not want to go back and show up on my mother's doorstep! It would have been pathetic. So I got my things together and one of the brothers drove me to this house. It was strange, because I knew there were a couple of houses on the outskirts of Woodcrest that the community owned -- for example some families lived in some homes down the driveway -- but I had no idea that they had any holdings in Kingston, or anywhere else for that matter.
We drove into this beautiful area of town, with a lot of land and woods. The house itself was a pretty little cottage with a swimming pool. It was made of stone -- I think they may even have called it 'The Stone House.' It was set back off the road, very picturesque, and I was told there were hiking trails in back.
"Where did this house come from?" I asked, because I certainly had never heard about it.
"Oh, this is the house that Christoph and his family use," the brother said. "They go away on weekends here."
By then I had heard things about Christoph and his family, and how they went out to dinner quite often. They were well-known in the finest of the local restaurants..
"Oh, yes, it's hard for Christoph with all that's after him, and sometimes they just need to get away."
I thought, 'Well, it's nice that Christoph gets to use the house, but it's not like any other brothers get to take vacations here.'
Almost as if he had read my mind, the brother spoke up.
"As you are an example, John, we also will use this place for the sake of other brothers and sisters."
'Yeah, you use it for me when I'm being humiliated and ostracized.' I thought sarcastically. 'This is a great place for plain brothers to come and experience their inner hell.'
He gave me a very quick tour of the place and drove off. I think he found the whole thing unsettling. I found a real unwillingness in people to tell me what was coming next -- and this continued throughout this whole time. No word about when anyone would come by again, how long my stay might last, what I could do while I was there. It was just a cold and removed good-bye from the guy.
Here I was in a strange place. I knew nothing about what was coming, nothing. I thought, 'Am I just going to be here for days and no one will even talk to me?' I had no idea.
I experienced my time in that house as violent despondency. I never have experienced, before or since, that same kind of complete inner desolation. I felt like I had lost a part of myself, because my identity had been submerged in the brothers, in the body. I had tried so much to give myself to the life, because I knew that was the calling. My presence in that house seemed proof positive that I was not in unity with my brothers, although I still kept wondering, 'Have I really come against God? Have I done the thing that I so longed never to do in my life, be disobedient to God's will?'
I went through 'The Dark Night of the Soul,' as someone called it, weeping uncontrollably, just really being broken. It was interesting how I would ride this roller coaster between feeling like I had done the right thing and then total despair and self-condemnation. I had listened to the voice of God, I had stood against something very wrong, and this persecution, this was what a Christian had to endure. I recalled the words of Christ, 'You'll be hated and persecuted, and men even in the name of God will kill you and think they are doing a service to God.' But then I would go through a period of feeling like I was the most evil man that had ever lived, that I was a child of Satan, that I was completely and utterly dark and without virtue, and without God in the world.
The brothers had told me that I should use this time to write to Christoph and confess my sins. So I wrote a letter and tried to say some things, but that part remains an emotional blur. At that point I felt like -- and this was the ongoing struggle -- 'I don't care what it takes! I need to get back there! I need to be reconnected! I need my umbilical cord plugged back in! I'm not going to live like this! I can't survive like this! Whatever I need to do, whatever I need to say, I will do it and say it!'
I wrote some things in the letter, and I was picking my brain for every little thing I could think of. What had I done in the past? What were my motivations during that time? Certainly no human being who recognizes God could really look at their life and say that in every instance, every word spoken and every act was done for the good and done in absolute humility and with absolute altruism. Nevertheless I really picked my behavior apart with thoughts like, 'Even if I was eighty percent thinking I did this right,' I'll give in on this one and confess it all as sin.
The next day, Campbell Twister and another brother who was Servant of the Word in the Pleasant View Bruderhof came to talk to me. I had not known the other brother at all, and recently, since I was sent away, he has lost his Servanthood in some kind of crisis. I already had lived through that one experience with Campbell when he came into my room and told me I was going to 'take a distance.' I had experienced a few run-ins with him before, not bad run-ins but opportunities to talk to him about situations in the community. Frankly I wasn't sure how to read any of it, but I think obviously we saw things differently. I don't know if it was his personality or not, but he certainly had a kind of very disconnected demeanor, and almost an offhand style that was very disturbing to me because of what I was going through.
Maybe he was reacting like the doctors in hospital Emergency Rooms, where they deal with critical cases by trying not to invest a lot of themselves emotionally. But it certainly seems to me that within the Body of Christ as I recognize it -- and I certainly recognize the need and the gift of church discipline -- we all have to go down into church discipline together. One brother does not stand above the other and remain detached. The Bruderhof made it so clear that when a person went through a struggle, the brotherhood should look at it as a gift because we all went through it together and we all would be the better for it and repent together. That certainly sounded good on paper. Anyway, the two brothers and I talked. I said that I had a letter that they could take to Christoph.
"Well, that's good," Campbell said. "What have you been thinking?"
I reiterated some of the things in the letter that came to mind. "All I want to do is repent," I finished. "I want to do whatever the brothers would have me do. I want to find my way back."
They sat there and didn't say much.
Three things that Campbell had said to me on various occasions were real red flags, where for the first time the whole idea of cults and of mind control occurred to me. I would never even have conceived of such a possibility prior to my viewing things from the 'outside.' The first was when Campbell had come into my room in the shop and had said, "The very fact that you're still asking questions, the very fact that you still think you know what's best for you, shows that you're out of unity with the spirit of the life. In fact, it would make us happy EVEN IF WE KNEW THAT YOU COMPLETELY DISAGREED WITH THIS DECISION BUT ACCEPTED IT BECAUSE IT CAME FROM THE BROTHERS." That was a little unsettling.
Now at the Stone House, after I had said everything that I could think of, he said, "You know, John, we've been through this with many other brothers and sisters. This isn't the first time. And we KNOW that when a spirit like this manifests itself in the brotherhood, when people are this much out of UNITY with the brothers as you are right now, there are ALWAYS OTHER SINS. There are always other things going on, things that are going to need to come out. We're going to have to wait until you bring all those other sins out, and until you've done that, you won't be able to experience true repentance."
I remember my heart just leaping in my chest with terror!
"What are you talking about?" I asked. "What other sins? I really have said everything I can think of!"
"John," Campbell said. "We know there's more, and until you can come out with it, we can't meet you." He stood right up, and the other brother who had said very little stood up, and again there was no 'We're coming back tomorrow' or 'Somebody else is coming back.' Instead it was "You think about what we said and we're going to leave now." And out they went.
I was just flabbergasted! I thought, 'What am I going to do now?' This may sound really crazy, but I started to think -- still so desperate to get back -- 'I'm going to have to leave and go out and do some heinous stuff. I'm going to sleep with a prostitute, snort some cocaine, because that seems to be what they want to hear!'
It was almost as if they were telling me that I had been living some secret life. I had slept with sisters or had been stealing things, or I had harbored evil, murderous thoughts about Christoph. I thought, 'I'm going to have to go out and - and end up in prison! I'm going to have to DO something so that I can GIVE them what they WANT!' I almost felt, 'I will do it! I will go out and do it just so I can give them something that isn't in me,' because there wasn't anything in me that I could see that would have appeased them. They needed something big, and I knew that I would need to get out of that house to get it for them.
I struggled with that, wondering what I should do. I got up the next morning, having had the night to think about it, and felt a somewhat stronger sense of 'There's something wrong here. I know there aren't the kinds of skeletons in the closet that these folks want to pull out of me.' I began to feel something really dark and sinister about their desire to find things in my life. I felt that from where I had stood, rightly or wrongly, I had really 'fessed up. I had been willing to say, "Okay, I acted in a spirit of pride. I didn't act out of love for the brothers. I was in the wrong spirit." I didn't even necessarily understand how some of these words applied to the situation, but I knew these were the words they were saying. And now it was more! They wanted more!
During my time in The Stone House, they eventually brought up some little hand work from Assembly for me to do. They brought over some equipment they wanted me to use to weed around the swimming pool, essentially just clean up the yard. I did that, and it was helpful, getting outside and feeling that I could be active. Then I got a phone call, again out of the blue, always keeping me in the dark and then suddenly throwing the stuff on me. "John, we're going to come get you," someone said. "We want you to come back and have supper with us in the dining room. There's a special play that we want you to see."
As scared as I was to walk back into that whole circle after what had been a humiliating, demoralizing experience with the brotherhood, I thought, 'Well, this is going to be Step One.' One of the Servants came and picked me up. He seemed real happy. On the way home he stopped and bought ice cream for his family. We arrived and I walked into the kitchen. I guess they had already eaten, and I entered a room with three hundred or so people all sitting in there. I just kind of walked in very nervously, and ended up sitting in back with Campbell Twister. They were performing a play from a collection of comedic plays about Brother Juniper, a really dumb, simple monk who made all these horrible mistakes, but ultimately St. Francis would show how Brother Juniper was closer to Christ than the wise monks who looked down on him. It's a one-trick pony little collection of stuff. What was funny was that I had always disliked these plays.
I had even made comments to the young people about not wanting to perform them, because the comedy -- and a lot of people liked it for that reason -- was just -- well, it was hysterical stuff to these folks. But I guess when you come out of a culture where comedy has reached a certain level, and suddenly it's back to slapstick for you, it's like hot dogs after prime rib. Literally a pie in the face would make this crowd really lose their socks. I had seen a few of these plays, and felt, comedic depth aside, that they had nothing to do with the life that I wanted to live. They had nothing to do with bringing me closer to a knowledge of the Kingdom of God. I got very little out of these comedies, and had told that to a few people.
This play happened to be about -- and believe me, it was no coincidence -- a situation where Brother Juniper essentially has done nothing wrong, but some bad things had happened in the monastery or the village. He was so stupid and simple-minded and always so questioning his own rightness before God that he ended up confessing to all of it. That was the big joke. Even though he had nothing to do with it -- or very little -- he confessed to all of it. In contrast, the other brothers were trying to measure everything, weighing carefully their degree of culpability.
In the end, Brother Juniper was the man of God who had taken it all on his shoulders. Of course I knew that there was a reason why they had me there watching the play. When it ended, Campbell leaned over close to me.
"You know, John," he said. "What do you think about Brother Juniper's reaction to the situation? Even if you did NOTHING of what the brothers feel you've done and even if everything you did was really out of a love for God and the brotherhood and we are completely wrong, IF YOU WERE TRULY HUMBLE, you would recognize your constant sin before God -- it has nothing to do with this situation -- and because of that, you would submit and confess to everything that we've accused you of, even in their specifics, before the brotherhood."
I thought, 'Whoa, this is -- ' I looked at him as he said it and that was when some lights started going off in my head. 'This is frightening!' I thought. 'Where does that kind of control end? Where does truth begin?' There was a seed of real and poignant truth in what Campbell had said that I would never take away from it. But to use something like humility, which is such a dear part of what we are called to, to control and to manipulate individuals into buttressing an authoritarian system and not making the system look bad. Essentially he was saying, "The point here is not to argue the charges, John. The point is to submit to them, and if you were truly humble, you would. In order not to make everyone else look bad, this is what you need to do." After the play I was returned to The Stone House. The next day they brought me back for some sort of outdoor Gemeindestunde. I think it was Sunday morning, and they invited me to come and sit through that. Christoph got up and talked about this crisis in the Shalom Group and how there were some who were putting themselves above the Servants, not mentioning any names. He went on about how some were trying to compare him and the Servants to Eberhard Arnold and the forefathers, saying that because they didn't measure up, they were not worthy of leading the Church.
"We all realize that none of us are of the forefathers' stature," he said. "We long to be, but we all realize that comparisons like that gain the Church nothing and are only destructive."
I had certainly never said anything of the kind, but Christoph's and the Servants' own recognized ineffectualness and guilty consciences probably helped formulate what I had been saying to the young people in this conspiratorial way.
Of course comparing anyone to anyone else was considered a sin in the Bruderhof, and even was called "the sin of comparing." Basically it was evoked if anyone became aware of Christoph's perks and complained. His youngest son took a shine to me and invited me up to their place to hang out. He would open their cupboards, and they were crammed with all the 'goodies' that I hadn't seen since I had been out in world.
Really incredible! They had a special television set in the Servants' office. I found out later through someone else that a lot of the young guys went up there and watched the Superbowls and stuff. I never knew about any of this, and would have railed against it. One of the young brothers told me, during of my three visits to the community after being sent away, about some of the other retreat homes that Christoph used. It almost sounded like Christoph had an outside home for every community. Woodcrest had a house, New Meadow Run had a house, Deer Spring had a house. Even as this young brother told me these things, he'd say, "I shouldn't be saying this! You know, we're not to compare! That's a real sin! But I'm not holding that against Christoph, because I know that he gives SO MUCH, that he needs to get away."
How long would any of them last if they did have to stand in comparison to Jacob Hutter who was tortured and murdered for the sake of the Brethren? The Bruderhof members were people who not only had not given in that way, but lived a life of real luxury and ease. Already by that time the brotherhood had discussed putting an airstrip in Pleasant View. They were going to buy a private jet for Christoph, and everyone said "How important that would be for mission and unity with the Western colonies." When I went back for a visit a year or so later, they had put in a helicopter pad at Woodcrest so that Christoph could be transported around. By then they had purchased some type of a jet, because a pilot had come into the brotherhood who could fly them. And after I was out, I learned through one of Christoph's nephews that a "throat ailment" led to the brotherhood sending Christoph and his family to vacation in the Bahamas.
Anyway, after the Gemeindestunde was over, I was taken back to the house, and was told that I would go to the New Meadow Run Bruderhof to work things out there. So I was driven to New Meadow Run and put in Luther Rufus's family. He treated me quite well. I thought he was an okay guy -- he wasn't too much like his dad, for which I was glad. I worked in the Shop, and I talked to the Head Servant there, Saul Summer. The other big player over there with whom I had a lot of contact was Martin Boilman. Martin was another often cold, detached older brother with almost a mocking demeanor. At least I saw him that way. The first things he said to me went as follows.
"You know, John, you almost expect me to talk with you in some type of legitimate way and yet here sits a man who stood up and raised his voice to my Elder and essentially slammed a door in his face!" He obviously had me confused with Brian Bachman.
"What are you talking about, Martin?" I said. "Brian Bachman said that. He's the one that stood up in that Shalom Meeting and gave Christoph what-for and stormed out."
"Oh really? Well, I'm sorry! I apologize," he sputtered. "Maybe I heard it wrong. I was away at the time and someone told me that it was you."
Maybe this sounds crazy, what with everything I had been going through, but I started to think, 'Who is dispensing the information around here? Do all the brotherhoods think that I am the guy that stood up and told Christoph off and stormed out and who knows what else?' It really disturbed me to think that these people didn't even have the story straight! 'How many people are going to be holding this thing against me?' I wondered. 'I'd be happy to have them challenge the Shalom Group issue or even the things I had said in the brotherhood meeting, but don't pin Brian's freak-out on me! That's not what I'm about and I had nothing to do with it.' I expressed my concern to Martin after he apologized.
"Can you make sure that isn't what everybody thinks?" I asked him.
"I don't think it is," he assured me. "I had been away, and it was something my son had shared. Maybe I misunderstood him."
That was my first experience with Martin. At first I respected him, because I felt that he was one of the few Servants there who could deal on any kind of an intellectual level, who had some depth of mind and heart. It was interesting to me, because during that time of struggle I kept thinking, 'What Servant of the Word do I know that I really wish I could talk to about this right now?' The one who was dearest to me, almost a father to me was Jack Gmorning, but he had been sent to Paraguay to look up some ex-members there. He was gone throughout this whole time. I thought, 'Who would I really like to talk to? What I'd like to do is talk to a Servant who came out of the world fairly recently, and maybe I'd be able to communicate with him.'
I went down the list of Servants in my mind, and I realized that despite the large number of converts since the early 1950s, there was not a SINGLE Servant of the Word who was not a second or third generation bruderhofer unless you went back to the generation of Martin Boilman and Merrill Mow (who was dead by then), Don Noble -- that whole generation. There had not been a single brother from 'outside' esteemed enough to become a Servant since that time. There were Servants as young as their early thirties, but they were all children of Servants or children of second-generation Bruderhofers. This seemed to indicate to me the creation of a Servant pool that was old school, uninformed, dependent and malleable. It was another recognition that left me feeling ever more alienated.
At one point in New Meadow Run, I ended up talking to Christoph very briefly on the phone. He said that he had read my letter and asked if I had come to repentance yet. He thought that the letter was a really good start, but that I needed to look further. It was a brief chat.
I felt at this point spiritually extinguished. I was losing the ability to tell up from down, much less good from bad. It was clear to me that in my deteriorating state I had to leave that environment. Otherwise I would be making essential life decisions in a weakened and faithless condition. Whatever the sway from my condition might be, for or against the community, I knew it would no longer be the real me responding. I was far too damaged. I needed some time to find balance.
I went to talk to Luther. "I want to leave," I told him. "I want to return to Buffalo."
Luther said real clearly, "No, we don't think it's best for you, John." This is after at first WANTING to send me home. "We don't think it's best for you."
"Well, I think it is best," I replied
"Listen, I really want to go," I repeated.
"The brothers don't feel that, and I think if you give it some time, you will realize that we're right about it."
I talked to one of the other Servants and told him, and the next day I told some other people. Then Christoph phoned again, and I told him that I wanted to leave.
"John, don't," he said. "If you leave, you leave here under your own steam. Right now, you're out of the circle but you are still part of us. But if you leave under your own steam, you're really going to be separating yourself. You'll really be making a statement."
That night I went back to Luther. I was almost frantic, thinking, 'What are they going to do? Hold me here?' I said. "I want to GET OUT OF HERE! Either make some arrangements or give me some bus fare, but I want to go." I was firm about it, and he must have talked to someone, because the next day they said, "Okay, John, you can go."
It was amazing how it turned out. It just so happened that a brother had come over from England who was driving up to the Buffalo area to visit his daughter-in-law's parents. I rode with him and he took me right to my mother's door. It was a tough time, and luckily I didn't decide to go rob a bank or sleep with anyone.
After about three weeks I telephoned Christoph. "I'm ready to come back," I told him. "I really want to work this out."
He sounded very happy. "Oh, it's going to be a new beginning for you, John!" he said. "We're so thankful that you're going to come back!"
At that point my head was clearer and I had been able to think through some things. I felt that what I had done and said to the brothers was as true as it could have been, coming out of me at the time. I wanted to see if there was a way that we could find some middle ground -- that's what I longed for. Also I had made the decision that this was going to be it. I was going to go back there, and either come to full unity or leave and move on with my life to find God's true people.
I took the bus back to New Meadow Run. I tried to deal with the brothers down there, but I think they had expected me to come back and just lie down. I tried to enter into some real dialogue, going back over things, even sharing some things from the Scripture, sharing some things from the writings of Eberhard Arnold, and it became very quickly apparent that things were not working out.
I took a walk with Noel Coward. After we had been talking a while we sat down, and he seemed really frustrated. The brothers often became frustrated when you didn't agree with them.
"You know, John," he said. "You're just unbelievable!"
"What do you mean?" I asked him.
"I'm walking with you, and YOU are making ME feel like I'M the one who should be looking at MY life. It shows how wrong you have it. You don't realize where you are right now. Until you realize where you are and where I am, you're never going to be able to come back into unity with the community."
I felt bad, because I certainly wasn't trying to intimidate anyone. I was trying to be honest. I was trying to speak my heart, of my love for God and the things that had brought me to the community. I had paid a price in coming to the Bruderhof. I had left my family and my friends and the things that I had, because it was more important to me to be obedient. I wasn't going to stop now. I wasn't going to say, "Well, now that I have this nice life amongst my brothers, I'm going to lay my conscience down at the door and forget my obedience." Especially since obedience was one of the main baptism vows. "If you ever see ANYTHING WRONG in the life, you must vow to stand against it. You will stand up and raise your voice against it, no matter what it costs you." I took that to heart. I really, really believed that. And yet others obviously didn't.
A day or so later, I had an opportunity to talk with Martin Boilman again.
"I've heard it said that once the community really entered into a period of humanism," I said. "Christ was no longer at the center, particularly during the time in Paraguay. Brothers and sisters have admitted that, and I see that as absolutely being the case right now."
"Oh, John, I was in Paraguay," he said. "I know what it was like there. I'll give you an example. There was a wedding and the Servant of the Word got up and spoke for two hours about marriage, and in those TWO HOURS, never once did he mention Jesus, never once did he mention God, never once did he mention the Church. THAT is what it had come to then." He said it as if somehow this was going to be a shock, but I had experienced the exact same thing time after time in the brotherhood -- how many times!
I can remember once when they had a big struggle in the brotherhood with the young people. The kids had been listening to rock music and fooling around and such. The meeting went on and on and on and on, and no one said anything to these young people about "Where is your love for Christ?" Or "Do you have a living relationship with Jesus that can bring you out of yourself?" Instead, the counsel was, "Do you realize all that this community has done for you? Do you see how you are letting your parents down? You are so selfish and ungrateful!" The adults were trying to blame it on the rock music rather than saying, "If there really was a powerful manifestation of God amongst us, why would our kids even want to look to rock music?" But instead they were scapegoating the music. It went on for a couple of hours, and finally a seeking guest who was in Deer Spring, obviously some kind of an evangelical christian, stood up in the meeting.
"I can't believe what I'm hearing!" she said. "I've been here for weeks now, and I really long to be a part of this life. I've had good conversations with people, but we have sat here for two hours talking about what to do, and no one has mentioned the power of God! No one has mentioned Jesus Christ!"
She was kind of hushed up. Someone said something, and then it snapped right back to typical Bruder-speak about "the community" and "do you realize that your parents want you to be different?" -- which was always the line, more about parents and 'what the community needs' than about God. That was so clear.
When Martin said that to me, I thought, 'Martin where is your head at? Don't you see that's the reality right now, TODAY? The only difference is that when you have a Gemeindestunde or a marriage ceremony, you read Eberhard Arnold or something from Christoph Blumhardt so that the right words are there. But look at the reality of our daily life! Look at when we're confronted with a real problem or a struggle in the brotherhood what takes precedence. How do we approach it?'
I later took a walk with the Head Servant, Saul Summer. I had made the decision to be true to what I had felt about returning to the Community, to get to the bottom of this. Things had to go either one way or the other.
"Listen, Saul, I want to go talk to Christoph," I told him. I knew that Christoph was going to be the final arbiter. "That's what I'd really like to do."
"Well, I'm glad to hear that, John," Saul said. "I'm sure that can be arranged. I think there's a trip going to Woodcrest tomorrow. Let me take care of it."
That was in the morning. At lunch time, at the end of the meal, Saul came up to me while I was walking out. Some other brothers were standing around. He had a funny look on his face.
"John, I want you to come up to my office after rest time," he said. "I want to talk to you." And he walked away.
'Maybe we're going to decide what time we're leaving tomorrow,' I thought.
After rest time I went up to the Servant's office and was surprised to find Martin Boilman and a couple of Witness Brothers there along with Saul Summer. Of course as soon as I walked in, my heart started pounding in my chest. I thought, 'They are not just sending me to Woodcrest!' I sat down and it was a real brief session.
"John, the brothers have decided -- " again, 'the brothers,' although there had been no meeting -- "the brothers have decided that you need to leave and go back to Buffalo," Saul said.
"But we just talked about my going to see Christoph!" I said.
"John, there's no point in your going to see Christoph," Saul replied. "I've talked to those who have spoken with you here, and it's clear that you're not open, you're not listening, you're not submissive. And talking to Christoph isn't going to change things."
He had talked to Christoph, and Christoph had felt there would be little point in our having a dialogue. I was shocked, because at this point I wanted to remain in the community. I almost begged him.
"Please, don't send me away!" I said. "I so WANT to really come out one way or the other with this thing. As much as YOU want to feel peace, I want to feel at peace with the decision. If it's 'to go,' then I can go with peace, without one single nagging question. And if it's 'to stay,' then I can stay with full peace and full assurance in truthful submission."
Once again they said, "John, here you are thinking you know what is best for you. You need to let the brothers make that decision."
It is so clear to me now-- looking at the way we ping-ponged back and forth -- even in the first thing that Campbell had said to me -- that it was almost a game, in a sense. It was almost more of a test. It wasn't important whether I stayed or left, but it was important that whatever I WANTED to do, they would do the opposite to see if you would receive it. So when I was begging to leave, when it was literally "I've got to get out of here! I've got to get out of here!" they would say, "No, you must STAY! You must stay, you must stay!" Then when I was begging, "Please let me stay! Please let me STAY!" -- they said, "You must go, you must go, you must go!" I mean, it was AMAZING!
What I clearly remember about the end of that meeting was that I stood up with all the other brothers. The Witness Brothers all shook my hand and wished me the best. However Martin Boilman, who had been sitting next to me the whole time -- and I sensed had by that time become pretty disgusted with me -- would not look at me. In fact he had made a few comments about me during the meeting while looking the other way.
"John is just not willing to listen to the brothers!" he said, gesturing with his hands. "He thinks he knows best about everything!" But he wouldn't look at me.
I even tried to say, "Martin, I felt that at least we were able to talk about a few things together. I sensed that there was some interplay between us that was good." But when they all stood up to shake my hand and go, Martin literally turned his back and would not shake my hand. I remember this as clear as day. I was really shocked. In fact, I went over to where he was standing, and he made a dismissive gesture towards me, and I left.
The other interesting thing about this time when I was in New Meadow Run, and I believe that in some ways it wasn't any accident, I had been given tapes of brotherhood meetings and Gemeindestunde to keep me updated and maybe even to challenge me. The brothers for some reason had decided to reexamine in themselves the manner in which they had served and responded to Heini. They opened this up for weeks, and it was a big thing. I heard tapes of people talking about how Heini had poured out his life for this community, and that "we wouldn't even exist today if it hadn't been for him." When he went under the exclusion of Hans Zumpe, he went "as a martyr," almost as a Christlike figure. "He knew that he was completely innocent, but he willingly suffered the humiliation." In the reuniting with the Western Hutterites, "he took on himself all the responsibility for the sins that had been done to the Western Brothers in Paraguay." The Hutterite Elders had tried to reason with the Primavera brotherhoods and the brotherhoods had treated them very arrogantly, saying, "We don't need your 400-year-old traditions, we can do quite nicely on our own." "Heini had had absolutely nothing to do with that," it was explained. "But he had to repent for that and actually was put in discipline, and he had been willing to humble himself and take that on."
Believe it or not, people were crying and weeping. It came to the point that older brothers would stand up and confess, "I failed Heini Vetter! I was not a true brother to Heini! I should have given more. He did all this for me, and I realize that I never was really faithful to him." It was deeply unsettling. Even during some mealtimes when I was austeiler, they would read things that had been written during Heini's time, either travels that Heini had taken or something that he had written. When I had to make arrangements to leave, I went to phone a friend to pick me up in Buffalo because they were sending me back on the bus. I was phoning from one of the offices, and it was right next door to the Brotherhood Room where they were having a brotherhood meeting.
After I finished on the phone, I could kind of hear what was being said. I heard them talking about Heini, and it was amazing. Christoph especially was going on and on about how "We really need to see that Heini Vetter and Annemarie gave so much of themselves. Every day that we work and every day that we eat, we have to realize that if it hadn't been for the price that Heini and Annemarie had paid, we wouldn't be able to have these things."
Then Johnson Rufus got up. He was in Woodcrest, but his voice came over the phone line. He began confessing how he had failed Heini, and he asked forgiveness of the brotherhood. Here we were in 1990, and they were saying these things! It was spooky! Yet I have been told by people who knew Heini that when he talked about his exclusion in the early 1940s, he confessed that he had done wrong things. He had become addicted to the morphine injections while he was ill and faked being in pain to receive more. But the way that the story is told now, he had done absolutely nothing wrong, and that was why it was so Christlike that he endured it.
So much of what is said in the KIT Newsletter about Heini, if I had not experienced some of this, I don't know if I would believe it. I would think, 'Maybe these are just the words of bitter ex-members. I didn't know this man. Who is to say whether or not he was revered as a god?' But in 1990, I saw this. I heard this with my own ears. I saw the reality, and no one could tell me differently. That has stuck with me, and I don't think it was a coincidence that I had the opportunity to hear the brotherhood meeting that night.
That was pretty much the end of my Bruderhof story. They gave me a hundred dollars or something, and I went back to Buffalo and lived with an old friend of mine rent-free. During the next couple of weeks I ran around trying to find a job, and luckily found some decent employment and started making money fairly quickly. In the ensuing months I would get occasional calls from New Meadow Run, usually Luther Rufus, with some big idea that the brothers had for me.
"John, we're sending a delegation of brothers off to the Darvell Bruderhof to do some building, and we want you to go," he said to me. "We want you to go and live and work in Darvell. We think it would be really good for you."
The other one was, "We're sending some brothers out West, and want you to go out to the colony with them. We think you'll really enjoy it."
I tried to explain to them that I couldn't just drop everything and go. "I've just finally found my feet here," I said. "I've got a job, I'm making money. I can't just leave!"
Despite their having made these overtures during these first couple of months, the reality was that I knew there was no guarantee. I had gone back to the community out of a deep desire to work through every issue and really come to closure. But at their whim they could snap their fingers and -- snap! -- "You're gone!" I thought to myself, 'Am I going to go through that again? Am I going to fly over to Darvell and in two days have some Servant of the Word say "You're not listening!" and fly me back and have to find a job AGAIN -- and hope that I could find another kindhearted friend to take me in?' But the Bruderhof just didn't understand that.
For a long time after being sent away, there remained a part of me that continued to debate, "Maybe I am in sin. Maybe I have fallen out of favor with God and been cut off from Him. Maybe I need to return to the Community and repent."
My prayer was always that God would reveal this to me, not through some groundless human emotion or feeling, the thing most christians confuse with the "still small Voice," but by the quality of the fruit of my own life and the unfolding fruit within the Bruderhof.
I do not believe there has been, in the entire history of the Bruderhof, such a clear manifestation of sin, chaos and impotence as that occurring from 1990 to the present. The two Servants who were shining stars within the Community, the two foundation stones beneath Christoph upon my arrival to the Bruderhof, both have been exiled, one himself confessing to the sexual molestation of teenage boys throughout his tenure. Jakob Kleinsasser, the Elder of the western Schmeide-leut, the man often called "Christoph's Elder," is now banished by the Bruderhof as a fraud on many levels. The ensuing, complete rupture of the "unity" with the West stands as testimony to the factiousness that the Apostle Paul considers an insurmountable impediment to entrance into the Kingdom. And as far as the lawsuits, the phone taps, the handguns, the surveillance, these are things that, even in my wildest imaginings, I could not have foreseen as possible. There is an ocean of difference between falling into a pit when you are truly without eyesight, and digging a trench while you have one corner of your blindfold raised.
As for me, my deep love for the sincere Bruderhof brothers and sisters, with whom I threw in my lot, fervently continues. My direction since 1990 has led me together with a group of men and women who have heard the Voice of the Messiah and recognize the costly discipleship that is the Good News to those who have ears not heavy of hearing. Our sojourn together towards a restored Body of Christ is far from maturity. It has been fraught with condemnation from those whose lives and human endeavors are threatened by its implications of God's judgment. A "church," as I have learned, does not have to be of a separatist, authoritarian nature to indulge in slander, lies and ostracism in the defense of ego-driven empire- building. I have suffered the loss of the woman dearest to me in all the world through the siren song of these and other so-called Christians, whose christ is their belly. I hold no malice, knowing even as I say this that others of our number may soon follow that same mellifluous tune.
I long so much to come into a true life of obedience where a place can be prepared for those Bruderhof brothers and sisters who through choice or coming crisis leave that barren system. My baptism vows remain in force as regards the Way of the Cross, and the community of saints. For them to find the true fulfillment of what they also promised their lives to would be such a blessing. My heart and our door are open to them. May God's Kingdom truly come.
-------- Book Review --------
"Religious Melancholy and Protestant Experience in America" by Julius Rubin
Reviewed by Hannah Goodwin Johnson
This is a personal response to reading a windfall book. Julius Rubin sent me his book, and as an extended 'thank you,' here is my review.
For me, a depressed drop-out from a fanatical Protestant organization, the book was hard work to read. Starting out, I was eager enough because I find the Professor a most likeable kind of fellow. Then the reading became harder and I just had to stick to it to get to the end -- it took me several months. (It took me a year and a half to read "David Copperfield," but what the Dickens!). I now have a greater appreciation for writers in general, and for all the research involved in a book of Rubin's academic caliber. The trouble I had in reading it was doubtless due to both my lack of college study and my depression.
Reading has always been depressing work for me and, while Rubin's work made me feel even worse in some ways, the book was a mellowing downer -- I'd recommend it over alcohol any day. If I must read, I prefer naturalists and, interestingly, Rubin points this out as an escape that, though it may be "the one less travelled by," it is a well-established trail (Robert Frost, 'The Road Not Taken'). Having to write a research paper in high school was, for me, cruel and unusual punishment even for a "jailhouse in compulsory education." Well, I had always seemed to be catching it for lingering in the woods too long, so my topic became my first great effort in self-defense and assertion as a naturalist. I selected five American authors and, to the best of my recollection, they were this odd crew: First I fell in love with Henry David Thoreau, and so I added his closest friend, Emerson, and the poet he presented as "possibly the best of us," Walt Whitman. It wouldn't do to list any American naturalists without John Muir, and I think I brought my paper into this century with Rachel Carlson (the house where she grew up, an historical sight, is here in Western Pennsylvania.)
Rubin fills in the discussion of what were the social predicaments that drove someone to become as outrageously singular as Thoreau. Most Nineteenth Century writers seem determined to keep labor separated from the intelligentsia, and my favorite naturalist, Thoreau, comments quite stoutly that it is best not so. Respect for the ideas of the laborer seems his whole argument for democracy....
Rubin examines the psychological poisons injected by hellfire preachers into those traversing despond or locked in despair. Evidence is presented of the many who were unable to become somewhat creative in deciphering the dry demands to conform the limited conversions. I found the first chapter about genius in piety most informative, and I garnered many social aspects explained by Rubin that pertain to my own involvements (I continue to seek the discourse of my contemplative nature -- the best I have to offer.)
Sociology is the Professor's involvement, and his book is to be recommended to every Protestant who would understand self as a means of esteeming others... After reading Rubin's book, it seems to me that grief is most vulnerable to disrespect. My observation is that although it usually appears morbid to resign oneself to grief, there can be contentment in misfortune, and this may be the very vitality of contentment: I think it is the content of a valiant character to stand alone on the edge of compromises where there is nothing but death, or the recognition of one's existence by the opponents of compromise, ready to go with those considered an unnecessary expense -- oblivious of human obligation. Can there be an end to doubts or passions? Must the passionate and the doubtful be stopped by ostracism or death? I find Thoreau the finest individual of New England Puritan derivation. "Not by constraint or severity shall you have access to true wisdom, but by abandonment and childlike mirthfulness."
------ A Little Doggerel ------
How Lousy Can They Get?
by Brother Witless
Dogs can get fleas
with the greatest of ease.
Sheep can get ticks
when they sit in hayricks.
People get lice
when they stroke pet mice.
And some pick up leeches
on tropical beaches.
But phones get bugs
Put on them by thugs.
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