A PRAYER – from my desk drawer

            In my desk drawer I find a scrap of  paper on which I had scribbled out a prayer that I had composed several years ago; it reads thus:

 

Dear Jesus,

            You are the Truth!  Since Truth cannot lie, I will trust You completely, for You will never forsake or leave me.  Since Your Word cannot deceive, my salvation remains irrevocable into all eternity!  Amen.

 

            So there you have it to pray with me… I no longer have any talent for composing prayers.

 

In Christ,

 

Elmer M. Hohle

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A Summer Seaside Sonnet

As my wife Norma and I were sunbathing on Mustang Island beach near Port Aransas, Texas on 14 Jul 93, the sun was shining brightly at 10:30 a.m. and the thin of the moon was briefly visible directly above us.  The sonnet below was my immediate response to this scenario.

So there you have it – I’m happy to share it with you.  I’m saddened that I no longer possess the gift of poetry that crept into my mind in the early 90’s along with the pain that has prettily permanently plagued my physical body ever since.  But I still stealthily also align myself to alliterations.

A SEASIDE SUMMER SONNET

The stars are set

And silent.

Suddenly the sun starkly strikes

The moon’s silver sliver.

And this sinner-saint’s soul

Is soothed,

While sunning on a sandy sea shore,

As sea gulls and sandpipers

Seek their succor.

By the Spirit his soul serenely sings a song,

Thanking his Sovereign

For the Savior,

And His stalwart, heaven-sent

Salvation and sustenance!

Copyright by Elmer M. Hohle, 14 July 1993. Printed here with his permission on 15 July 2013.

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Victory of Faith

The Victory of Faith

 

Stories and descriptive pictures from

the life of ancient Christianity,

presented to the newly confirmed

youth

 

by

 

 

Theodore Graebner,

Pastor in Chicago, Ill.

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Introduction.

 

                                                                                                                                                                If they persecute Me, they will also persecute you. John 15:20.

As Jesus spoke to the assembled crowd by the Sea of Galilee about the kingdom of God, He told them the following parable:

               “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field; which is the tiniest among all seed.  When it however grows up, it then is the biggest among the garden plants, and becomes a tree, so that the birds come under it from the sky and nest among its branches.”

               With this Jesus teaches that His kingdom, even though at the beginning it is quite small, will eventually be spread out over the entire world.

               And the Savior promised this kingdom to His believers.  It shall have an eternal existence.  Also the power of hell shall not overcome it.  His church is of course the kingdom of the peace of the Messiah, concerning whose eternal existence the Prophets had already spoken about.  The Christian church shall never die out. 

               The Savior had however also explained to His believers that they would also have to drink from the cup of suffering and through many tribulations enter into His glory.  And He indeed had pointed out the huge mass of humanity that surrounded them, pointed out to them their paganism, and admonished His disciples:

               “Beware of the people; for they will hand you over to their courts, and will whip you in their places of worship.  And people will lead you before princes and kings on account of Me, to testify to them and to the nations.  One brother however will hand over the other one to die, and the father the son, and the children will rise up against their parents and help them die.  And you will have to be hated by everyone because of My Name.”

               And soon these words of Jesus were fulfilled in His church!  How quickly Christianity needed His comfort: “Blessed are you, when on account of Me people mock and persecute and speak all sort or evil against you, about which they are lying.  Be happy and comforted, it will be very well rewarded to you in heaven.  For that’s how they also persecuted the Prophets who preceded you.”

               Already at the time while the Apostles still were living there already began – apart from the animosity and persecution of the Jews – persecutions from the side of the Gentile pagans, so that Peter had to admonish and strengthen Christianity to remain of a good mind among the animosity and persecution of the unbelievers; and, to patiently bear up under the suffering that the brethren encountered, even as He also foresaw his own end, – “I know that I soon will have to lay aside my tent.”

               A similar role model of the willingness to be offered up for Jesus’ sake was given to the believers by the great Apostle to the Gentiles when he wrote:

               “I am all ready to be sacrificed, and the time of my departure is at hand.  I have fought a good fight; I have run the race; I have kept the faith.  Now there is waiting for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous One will give to me on that day; but not only me , but also all who love to see Him come again.”

               Also many in the heat of persecution or out of love for the world – like Demas (2nd Tim. 4:10) – have forsaken the Lord, and became “afraid of those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul,” and have denied the faith.  Yet an uncounted massive amount of people have fought a good fight and have regarded everything earthly, also this temporal life, as nothing for the sake of Jesus.

               O the wondrous power of the Word of Jesus that dwelled within His sent messengers!  Weak senile folks, indeed smart looking ladies, and little babies have entered into this power to become heroic models like have never before been seen in the history of mankind.

               You also, dear your Christian, should enter into this power.  This faith, which has carried off the victory over paganism, is none other than the faith that now lives in the heart of a Christian.  The Gospel, whose victorious race the power of darkness could not keep away from us then, is none other than the message of salvation in Jesus Christ that is now being proclaimed in every nation. This Gospel also has ignited faith in your heart.  The warning of the Savior also applies to you: “if they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.”  However to this also applies the promise: “Whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My heavenly Father.”  So then, as you step out of school, out of the Christian home, into the huge world, the battle of living begins with full seriousness.  How others in ancient times obtained this victorious battle, and went out of the militant church into the glory of the church triumphant, we shall be told something more about this in the following chapters.

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Reasons for Persecution

Since you are not of the world, rather I have chosen you out of the world, that’s why the world hates you. John 15:19

               You most certainly agree that the book of Acts frequently regards the unbelieving Jews as agitators of enmity against the Christians.  So also in the after days all sorts of disgraceful defamation and fabricated accusations went out from the Jews against the Christians.  And indeed there spread out such casting of suspicions and making of insinuations from among the heathen precisely for the purpose to stir up unrest against the church.

               In this there of course was fulfilled the Word of its Master, that one would falsely ascribe the most despicable crimes to the believers.  Especially the worship services of the Christians and the celebration of the Sacraments were what induced and motivated them to such most wicked instigations.  Thus the Gentiles/heathen sometimes carried out their delusional infatuation, thinking that “they were doing God a service.”

               Yet such slandering did not manage to explain – as much as also the hatred of the unbelieving masses was sometimes enraged – the enmity of the heathen world against Christianity.  On the contrary Jesus says: “If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you,” and again: “The world hates them (the believers), for they are not of this world.”  It was the enmity of the Darkness against the Light.

               Not just in the church, but also in homes, in callings, upon the street the Christians wanted to show themselves as Christians.  And the world could not stand that.

               Every stride and step required a confession, and every confession brought on danger.  If the Christian went out on the street, there stood the images of idols; there he was encountered by a procession of people who with celebration carried these idols.  All of those who passed by bowed down before the image of the idol; the Christian did not do it.  If he went into a law court, there stood n altar, with incense next to it; and custom required that a person offered up to the Emperor’s statue a small grain of incense.

               Or, the Christian would be invited by heathen friends or relatives to family festivity.  If he did not go, it then evoked enmity.  If he did go, then he could again not avoid thereby giving offence by not participating in the drink offering which was toasted at the beginning and at the end of the meal to the emperor-god.

               The entire conversation was entwined about spirits of heathenism.  The oath sworn before a judge, the greetings and the thank-offerings, all contained reminders of heathenism.  How was a Christian to guard himself not to deny his Christian faith?   Many a one had to give up his craft, his business if he turned to Christianity, especially if he before his conversion had been a slave or worker in the temple of an idol, sold incense, was an actor, etc.

               Thus the accusation and reproach was not far off: “You are not Romans, you are enemies of the state.”  In Christians one would see a dangerous party in the state.  If the Emperor’s birthday was celebrated with the showing of divine honor, the homes of the Christians remained dark, their doors were not decorated.  If in honor of a victory dramas were presented, no Christian allowed himself to be drawn into the circus, where people entertained and amused themselves by fighting animals and having murderous fencing duels and executions.  Might the Christians allow themselves to be called to obedience, be peace keeping subjects, where they also in the worship services prayed for the Emperor, where they punctually paid their taxes – of what help was that to them?  The opposition of the customs and practices of the heathen world was too vast.  They were regarded as enemies of the human race.  Already just the one thing that they refused to glorify the Emperor as being divine was sufficient enough to brand them as enemies of the state.  Thus it came to a bloody persecution.  First when an emperor ruled in the Roman Empire who himself bowed down to the true God, did the time of persecution come to an end.

               The Roman Empire collapsed, but the world of our day is not kindly disposed to Christianity, just like in the first century.   Still today the Word of Jesus applies: “The world hates you,” – namely the disciples, — “for they are not of this world.”  Still today every distinct confession of Christianity stirs up enmity from the world.  It will not tolerate it that the children of God keep themselves spotless from the sinful joys which they herald; and it churns up every crafty art to bring young Christians to fall away.  If the Christian does not give in to the temptation, then there immediately follows persecution, even if also not with sword and torture, as they did at the time of the first Christians, yet still with bitter mockery and hateful rhetoric, which burn in the soul like fire.  If we experience such, then it dare not estrange us.  For the world today is still filled with hatred towards Jesus and against the disciples of Jesus who follow after His Word.

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Nero.

You shall drink of My cup, and be baptized with the baptism with which I shall be baptized! Matt. 20:23.            

               During the night between the 18th and 19th of July in 64 A.D. there broke out in a huge flaming fire in the world’s chief capital city of Rome.  The fire was started in the garbage-kiosk/cubicle at a circus, in which also many Jews were promoting their business.  On the piled up heap of combustible stuff the fire found rich nourishment, and with unfavorable winds the flames were rapidly driven further.  In a short time the gigantic circus stood in flames, and with rushing quickness the fire spread over into the city.

               Human help was helpless against the fearful might of this burning fire.  All efforts of the firefighters and the soldiers, who with war machines tore down the houses in order to take away the fires nourishment, were in vain.  For six days the fire raged and after a short time it broke out again in a spared beloved part of the city, so that finally of the fourteen regions of Rome only four were spared, and the giant city had become a smoking heap of rubble and debris.  The misfortune was immeasurably huge.  Thousands of people lost their lives in this burning of Rome.

               One searched for the cause of this fire.  Then there arose a rumor, the source of the fire was none other than the Roman Emperor himself! 

               Now whether Nero – that was the Emperor’s name – carried the guilt for this burning of Rome will never be able to be solidly proven with certainly.  It was enough, so that among the people this rumor was quickly spread and was believed by all.  One would want to have seen people who tossed firebrands into the houses and at the same time have powerfully hindered the work of the firefighters.  Well, the Emperor was to have watched the burning from a tower, played the harp and to it have sung the song about the burning of Troy.  One would have thought that the love of beauty and the desire to build by the Emperor and his plans to beautify the chief city; would he have allowed the city to be destroyed in order to replace and establish a new, more magnificent Rome according to his own plans?  This much is certain, this rumor found believers of it.  Nero could do what he wanted to, but he would not be freed from the thinking – and one already heard talk about requiring the life of the Emperor as atonement for instigating the fire.

               It was necessary for him to turn this thinking away from himself.  Nero had to place the blame on others whom one could hold responsible for this misdeed.  And so the Emperor shoved the blame for burning Rome upon – the Christians!  These were people who of course had introduced a “new religion” which the heathen regarded as a “corrupt false faith”.   Why might not these adherents to a foreign “false faith” be responsible?  To this also came out that the fire had broken out in Jewish quarters; and of course many Jews belonged to the Christian congregation in Rome.  Evidence enough; certain Christians were placed under arrest.   With the use of frightening tormenting torture one forced them to testify against those whom one saw as making a confession.  Thereupon there followed further arrests.  Finally there was sitting ‘an enormously immense crowd’ – as one historian at that time described it – in prison, and the rage of the people demanded that the harshest punishment be given for these ‘enemies of the human race’.

               Heathen gruesomeness arose anew in carrying out frightening methods of killings with the judgments against these innocent Christians.  Some were enclosed in a cell with wild animals and tossed to the dogs that mauled them.  Others were given as prizes to the wild beasts in the Amphitheater.  In his garden Nero set up poles upon which the Christians were tied or actually were speared, then immediately smeared with tar and wax, and with the approach of darkness were set afire in order to serve as ‘living torches’, as the Emperor drove between them on his chariot and the people jubilated with joy.

               Frequently the Christians gathered together in the arena in the presence of the watching people and the wild animals for a final fellowship prayer, and then also in the most difficult moment saw death, and on the other hand they looked with their upward glance at the image of their Redeemer with calmness and joy.

               Nero, the most gruesome and blood-thirsty of all emperors, opened up the dance of the persecutors of Christians.  Spotted with the blood of his brother, his wife and his own mother, with the blood of a reprobate slave and as a faithless villain, he for all times made his name heinously infamous as the first persecutor of the Christians.  Whether the Apostle Paul and Peter were also among his sacrifices in this persecution can not be definitively said.  Nero himself died in 68th year after Christ’s birth, also four years after Rome burned.  He died a violent death, after he through his unspeakable gruesomeness had brought upon himself the hatred of the entire nation.

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Ignatius.

 

 

You will be dragged before Princes and Kings on account of Me. Matt. 10:18

               In the year 100 A.D. their lived in Antioch, in Syria, a man highly regarded, with the name Ignatius.   He was to have been instructed in the Christian faith by the Apostle John, and for forty years he was the Bishop of the church in Antioch.  Despite the fact that he was so highly respected that he was given the nickname ‘Theophorus’, i.e. ‘the God-bearer’,  amidst an insurrection that the people had stirred up against the Christians, he was taken captive and led before the Emperor Trajan. 

               This emperor had shortly before received a letter from one of his governors, in which he was asked how one was to deal with the Christians.  The response from the Emperor pointed out that the Christians were not to be spared by the government, that they yet nevertheless when they are accused were to renounce their Christianity by calling upon the Roman gods, in any case they were to be punished.  That’s how blind this otherwise beneficent and just prince was towards Christianity.  He regarded it as a harmful false faith against the welfare of the state, whose adherents were to immediately be judged as criminals.  As Ignatius was led before him in Antioch, he sentenced him to death, and ordered that he was to be torn apart by wild animals in the Amphitheater in Rome.

               As Ignatius heard the sentence pronounced, he folded his hands to pray and said: “I thank You, Lord, that it has pleased You to have me counted worthy to be a witness to Your perfect love, and that You have given me the privilege to be bound with iron chains like Your great Apostle Paul.  What I still wish for is that the wild beasts may quickly lacerate me.”

               The congregation could not separate itself from their beloved shepherd.  He was preceded by a huge number of members of the congregation who walked parallel upon a different road journeying up to Rome.  They wanted to wait for him there and prepare the congregation there about his arriving.  Ignatius was led to the capitol city by ten soldiers, partly over water, partly over land.  In Smyrna, where there was taken a several day delay, he encountered his fellow classmate Polycarp, the Bishop of the congregation there.  A large number sent from surrounding Christian congregations joined together there, so that his trip was more like a victory march than like a transporting of a prisoner.  He also wrote letter to the Christians at Smyrna and to Bishop Polycarp, in which he at the end admonished: “Be sober as a warrior of God; the appointed goal is imperishable and an eternal life, of which you are assured.”  He encouraged and urged the believers to pray without ceasing, and to keep the unity of the Spirit in the church.

               Ignatius also sent ahead a letter to the Christians at Rome.  He had especially heard that the Roman congregation had the intention to send an advocate to the emperor on his behalf.  He nevertheless asked them to hold off doing this since death for him would of course be an entrance into life, and he would ‘like Christ first come into full glory by going to the Father’. It they wished to show him a love, then let it be that they not lodge an appeal for him before men; however to indeed direct their prayers to the Most High that He might provide for him to have a quick and blessed end.  “Let me”, he wrote, “be food for the wild animals, through which I may find God.  I am God’s grain; through the teeth of the animals I will be ground up, so that I may thereby be found to be as pure bread of Christ.”

               Landing in Italy, he with great haste went to Rome.  The ship had endured exceptional delays, and the great plays in the in the Amphitheater were coming to an end.  The soldiers were afraid that they with their prisoner were going to arrive too late.

               Arriving in Rome, the soldiers kept the order to immediately go to the huge, open Theater.  In keeping with their orders they brought Ignatius – accompanied by a small group of Roman Christians – into the place of martyrdom.  He was thrown before the wild animals; already he heard the roaring of the hungry lions.  Then he once more threw himself down to the ground and thanked God with a loud voice that He had made him worthy of such a death.  He did not have to suffer long.  As he had wished, his life was ended quickly.

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Polycarp.

                                                                                                                                                                “Be faithful unto death, thus I will give you the crown of life.” (Jesus to the soul-caretaker of the congregation at Smyrna.) Rev. 2:10

               The unconverted person has an enmity towards God, against His Word and His church.  If the devil needed the blood-hound Nero in his attempt to uproot the church, — it was also an easy thing for him to utilize the otherwise so fair-minded and moderate Trajan for persecuting Christendom.  And now we have to talk about a persecution that was hung over the church in 167 A.D. by Emperor Mark Aurel.  Mark Aurel was a serious minded man and was heaped with praise by historians of his time as a righteous ruler.  Nevertheless he was an unconverted man, and therefore we should not be surprised when also this so-called ‘good’ Emperor spotted his soul with the murder of Christians.

               The hatred by the heathen mass of the population was indeed not shrinking away in Asia Minor.  It required heavy sacrifices, especially in Smyrna, where the aged Polycarp still held the office of Bishop – whom we already in the previous account mentioned as being a student of the Apostle John.  He was even ordained by the Apostle himself to be the shepherd of the congregation and had converted many who still were eye-witnesses to the works of Jesus.  He was held in high regard among all of Christendom; and on account of his venerable appearance he was held in high esteem with a child-like veneration by the members of his congregation in Smyrna.

               As the police-spy of the Roman regime’s officer traveled to his residence in a country house nearby Smyrna and searched through the home, Polycarp willingly stepped before him, in that he said: “The Lord’s will be done.”  Serenely he went towards the constables.  These had still never seen him before, and full of amazement the observed the earnestness and the worthiness of his facial expression.  He still hospitable received them, and asked for an hour of time to strengthen himself with prayer.  With great intensity he prayed for two hours, so that the soldiers themselves were moved.  Then they sat him upon a donkey and led him to the city into a big circus.  There Polycarp was led before the advocate of the Roman Empower Mark Aurel.

               “Are you Polycarp?” asked the judge.

               “Yes, I am,” answered Polycarp.

               The judge counseled him, in order to still spare him in his old age, to swear by spirit of the Emperor, and to curse the Christians.

               Polycarp with a glance looked at the assembled crowd, made a hand gesture at them and said, with a sigh looking up to heaven: “You shall sweep away these God-despisers!”

               However the Judge thereupon stood up and said: “Swear and I will release you; deny Christianity!”

               Then Polycarp repeated: “Eighty-six years I have served Him, and He has never done me any harm; how could I deny my King Who has saved me?”

               Once again called upon to show the Emperor divine honor, he said:  “I am a Christian.”

               The threat of the judge to allow him to be thrown to the wild animals, if he would wait longer to swear off Christianity, was encountered by the Bishop with the demand: “Bring them on; for with us it is a fundamental, principle truth not to turn from what is good to what is bad, instead to convert from unrighteousness to righteousness.”

               The Judge then threatened him with wanting to swing him with fire.  Polycarp, with a peaceful resignation, spoke these words: “You threaten me with fire, which will burn only for a moment and will quickly be extinguished; but you know not about the fire of the future judgment and the everlasting punishment with is reserved for the godless.  But why do you dawdle?  Bring it on, what you desire!”

               Filled with joyful confidence and a shining face Polycarp said all this, so that the judge himself was amazed.  He then through heralds let it be shouted out in the circus: “Polycarp has confessed to being a Christian.”

               Then the assembled crowd of pagans and Jews broke out with rage and screamed with loud voices: “away with him!  This is a destroyer of our gods, who has taught many to no longer offer sacrifices to the gods and to worship them.  Turn the lions loose on him!  Others screamed out, one should burn the Bishop, and the judge concluded by sentencing him to the latter. 

               The old man then took off his outer garment and with his hands tied behind his back, he stepped up on the pile of wood.  He thanked God with devout, diligent prayer that He had made him worthy to suffer the death of a martyr for the sake of His Son.  Immediately the flames brightly rose up.  The people delighted themselves over the torture of the martyr.  Finally the executioner stepped up to stick the dagger into his chest.  The body was not immediately given to the congregation; rather, according to a Roman custom, after it had burned up were they allowed to gather up their bishop’s bones and bury them.

One will talk about the heroic-minded confession of Polycarp for a long as the world stands.  The Christianity and the honorable conduct of this eighty-six year old martyr who rather went into a flaming death than to deny His Savior, is unforgettable.  However realize, dear young Christian, also you promised with your confirmation vow to be faithful to the Savior unto death.  For this you should also keenly praise the dear God, for the power that once upon a time did not let Ignatius tremble before the raging lions, and that gave the old Polycarp the courage, indeed showing the greatest courage any heroic warriors have ever shown amidst killings – this same power you too have received through faith in the Word of Jesus.  If a person ever demanded that you deny your Lord, then also your weak faith will possess the power to attack the enemies of Christ with victorious defiance.  God’s power is mighty in the weak.  This also reveals itself, and actually in a very special, glorious manner in two young confessors, about whom something is to be read in the next section.

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Blandina.

                                                                                                                                                                “My Power is made mighty in weakness.” 2 Cor. 12:9.

               With Blandina – a young lady with a feeble body – the Lord Christ made known that what appears little and insignificant to humans is regarded as being worthy of great honor by God – on account of the love, that love which a person substantiates with deeds, not just producing them for show.

               A horrible persecution raged in the year 176 A.D. against the Christians at Lyon and Vienna in France.  One found torturing against the steadfast confessors of such a gruesome kind that one correctly recognized in it the inspiration of the devil.  He now appeared to have called upon everything in order to destroy the church of God.  Most of all, out of the mass of people who in these difficult times suffered death for witnessing, there towers above them all a poor maiden by the name of Blandina, whose death made a deep impression upon the heathen themselves.  She was of such a weak physical condition that her believing mistress was afraid she might have neither the power nor the courage to confess her faith.  But by the grace of God she was filled with great zeal for the faith, so that the torture-servants, who took turns in painfully torturing her from early in the morning unto evening, were worn out.  They confessed they had been conquered.  They testified that they had tried every kind of earthly martyr torture on her without being able to bring Blandina to deny Christ. 

               “I am a Christian, and nothing evil happens to us,” she contended also under the most severe painful torturing by her tormentors – who had the assignment to force out of her a confession of doing shameful deeds, which one would use as evidence against the Christians.

               “We cannot break down her steadfastness,” the torture-servants realized; “there is of course only one kind of martyrdom available for this lady martyr, and that is to take her life.”  That’s how God strengthens the courage of his faithful Christians.  Blandina was brought back to the executioner.

               On the final day of the circus play, she was ordered to be taken there along with a fifteen year old lad named Pontikus.  Both had to undergo every conceivable martyrdom, under which Pontikus gave up his spirit.  Finally Blandina was wrapped up in a net and thrown in front of a bull, who threw her wrapped body up into the air.  Finally she was killed.  The heathen were completed astounded over the unshakeable courage of this weak, feeble woman.

******

Blandina.

 

A poem by K. Gerok.

Listen! How the hungry beasts growl

Down in the lion’s dungeon so raucous and rough!

Just look at how the benches at the circus are filling up,

Row after row up to the blue heavens!

See, kept for today’s sacrifice,

Oppressively squeezed into a corner of the cellar,

Sit two youthful charming figures,

Festively attired for a martyr’s death.

With a feverish blush Pontikus leaned

Solidly against Blandina’s sisterly heart,

Not of death was this youth afraid,

Just of the final, grime pain.

However the gracious, sublime princess,

Leaned herself over him with her gentle look,

Comforted and reminded the praying lad

Kindly and earnestly like an angel of the Light.

“Let not a young maiden put to shame the young lad

Be brave. Be a valiant, courageous son!

Don’t let two red-hot minutes grieve you,

Short is the battle, superabundantly exuberant is the reward!

With eyes and heart look up to heaven!

Today we will still see each other again up there,

With palms in our hands, with the blessed choir!”

Clinking locks. – A man at death’s threshold,

Outside was a disorderly mood of revelry.

Outside the frightening brightness of daylight!

Pontikus was released and stepped outside. –

— — — — — — — — — — — — — —

A short time later the lock clinked again,

Festively Blandina walked through the door,

Saw the young lad’s shredded bodily members,

With songs of praise glanced up to heaven,

Standing like an angel amidst horrid surroundings, —

Amidst her walking around it became speechless, —

She kneeled down and endured the rescuing wounds

From the horns of the raging bull.

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The ancient Christian divine services.

 

 Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly; teaching and warning one another with all kinds of wisdom.  With thankful hearts sing Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God.  Col. 3:16.

               As a well-instructed confirmed person, you now with the confession are further required that you not only are to be allowed to partake of the Sacrament, but that you now can participate in all parts of the liturgical Christian divine service, following it with understanding.  This is a glorious privilege, of which you will make much use, as God indeed also requires of you in His holy Law.  As you then now come to church to participate in the divine service, above all else you do it less because you thereby fulfill a requirement of the Law than much more out of love for God’s Word, and with the goal to obtain strengthening of your faith.  You come because you have a heartfelt longing to grow in faith and in sanctification.  For a Christian not to go to church is inconceivable.  From the very beginning on the believers, young and old, designated a time for themselves for God’s Word, and with prayer and singing they there brought the Lord their offerings from their lips.  Hear now how this took place in early Christendom.

               Justin the Martyr in the year 150 A. D. wrote the following about the divine services of the Christians:  “We hold our fellowship assemblies on Sundays; for this is the day on which Jesus Christ, our Savior, rose from the dead.”  Two week days were dedicated to the remembrance of the sufferings and death of Christ, namely the Wednesday and the Friday.  On these days one would conduct prayer assemblies, also one refrained from eating until 3:00 p.m.  There also were days of repentance, on which one would strive to kneel to pray, while on Sunday one would stand. 

               A heathen reporter, Plinus the Younger, wrote this about the divine services in the first century:  “They have the custom to assemble on a designated day before sunrise and to jointly sing hymns to Christ like as if he was a god; in addition they obligated themselves to refrain from robbery, thievery, adultery, lies, deceit and keep themselves pure.  Then each one went his own way; however, they soon came back together again in order to eat a common meal.”

               Justin the Martyr describes the divine service even more precisely:

               “On Sunday there took place a gathering of all those who lived in the cities or in the country.  Then the written remembrances of the Apostles (the Gospels) – or the books of the Prophets were read for as long as we had time to do it.  After this, when the lectern reader had finished, the Elder (senior pastor) gave a talk of remembrance and of admonishment, urging one to strive after the portrayals from the Scripture.  Thereupon we all stood up and performed prayers.  After that one brought bread and wine along, and the Elder (pastor) conducted prayers and thanksgivings.  The Congregation replied with ‘Amen’, and the consecrated elements (of the Sacrament) were then distributed, which also were brought to the absent by deacons.  There followed the gathering of gifts for the support of the poor, the sick, the imprisoned and the strangers.”

               Already in those old ancient times we again find the chief parts of our divine services – portions of Scripture, sermon, prayer, singing and the celebration of the Sacrament.  It is to be noted that the holy Lord’s Supper was celebrated every Sunday.  Also the antiphonal singing soon became a common, customary practice.  The singing of the cantor was antiphonally exchanged with the congregation, and also exchanged between the men and the women in the assembly – who sat separately.  Augustine confesses that as he, during the early times of his newly awakened Christian faith, stepped into the church and heard this singing in it, he broke out in tears.

               The sermons were usually conducted by the Bishop or the senior pastor, and he actually sat behind the altar table upon a seat that was so high that from there the entire congregation could see him.  Usually the seat was veiled by a curtain that was pulled away as soon as the sermon began.  The sermon was conducted while seated.  In large churches the preacher actually stood up, and also upon a stage in the middle of the ship of the church, upon which, in addition to him, the lector and the cantor also had their place.  The sermons seldom lasted longer than a half-hour, the entire worship service perhaps two hours.  Usually the congregation stood during the sermon.  Also the Scriptural segments were listened to while standing up, and the Psalms and chorales were sung standing.  Naturally, the divine service was in every place preached in the language of the country, so that it could be understood by the listeners.  Also the
Scriptural segments were translated into the language of the land.  A fully toned Amen out of the mouths of the entire congregation concluded the short prayer with which the Bishop or Elder concluded his sermon.

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The Lord’s Supper and the feast of love.

 

                                                                                                                                                                                    The cup that we bless, is it not the fellowship of the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not the fellowship of Christ’s body?  1 Cor. 10:16.

               The un-baptized were allowed to participate in the first part of the divine service that was conducted in early times in the forenoon.  Only during the times of persecution one brought up the rule that only baptized Christians were allowed to participate in the divine services.  One did this because one had to be afraid of the presence of betrayers and spies.

The second part of the divine service arranged the celebration of the Holy Supper.  At the time of the Apostles the Lord’s Supper was celebrated daily in many places, and actually in connection with the so-called ‘love-feast’, the Agape.  Also still in the second century, as one still received the Lords Supper only on Sunday, it was conducted at the conclusion of the Agape, and actually in the evening.  Only baptized Christians were allowed to participate.  Soon one of course united the celebration of the Lord’s Supper with the morning divine service.

               The deacon standing next to the Bishop called out at the beginning of the celebration: “No one is to have a grudge against another!  Let no one be here with a hypocritical mind!  Then the deacon spoke the general ecclesiastical prayer, a petition for the church, the entire world, for the Bishop and the secular rulers.  Thereupon the Bishop bestowed the sacramental blessing.  Then yet each person bowed his head in prayer.  Now the communicants stepped up, sorted out according to age and position, men and women separately, then unmarried and widows, and received the holy Sacrament.  All received the Supper under both kinds – also bread and wine.  At the conclusion the Bishop spoke a prayer, and then the deacon dismissed the congregation with the words: “Depart in peace!”

               That’s how Christianity in the first century served their God on Sundays.  How often they must have thereby been prepared for spies to betray them or to be oppressed by a vulgar mob with screaming and hurling of stones.  Nevertheless Psalms and songs of praise rang forth; one heard, filled with holy earnestness, the unadorned proclamation of the life-giving Word; then a quiet prayer.  All received the body and blood of the crucified One, Whom perhaps they soon would follow after into death.  All united together for the love-feast; prayerfully they departed with the kiss of peace – and we now understand that often heathens, who only attended the divine service one time, were thereby won over forever.

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The time of the first love.

 

                                                                                                                                                                Love one another intensely with a pure heart. 1 Pet. 1:22.

               Nothing amazed the heathen more; nothing was more incomprehensible to them, than the love which the Christians showed one another.

               “See,” they cried out, “how they love one another!”

               Among each other they called themselves ‘Christians’, in remembrance of  a Word of their Master: ‘Brothers’.  And this brotherly name was not only a simple word, they actually lived like brothers.  The congregation was a family; all its members children of a heavenly Father.  Each served the other, each prayed for the other.

               Also the complete stranger who came from far away, simply brought with him a letter of commendation for his congregation, thus he was received and dealt with as a brother.  One astonished heathen said, “They love one another even without knowing one another!”  Usually the heathen saw to it that every stranger was dealt with as an enemy.

               The Christians took seriously the Word of the Lord: “If anyone asks you for anything, give it to him, and don’t turn away from anyone who wants to borrow from you.”    Out of a writing that comes from those ancient times we read: “Don’t be one of those who always stretches out his hands to take, but closes them for giving.  Don’t be slow to give, and when you give, don’t do it unwillingly.  For you will find out Who the glorious One is Who rewards.  Share everything that is yours with the needy brother, and don’t say that it belongs to you.”

               Usually a person brought a gift at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  The names of those who brought offerings were written on a tablet and named in the prayers.   Also in the name of deceased one would bring gifts on the day of their death for the poor, as well as for the support of the pastoral ministry.  Also the first fruits of the field and the home one would offer them up for the support of the ‘caretaker of souls’ [pastor], as well as for taking care of the poor.

               In front of the places where the Christians gathered, there stood a poor-box, into which everyone placed a small free-will offering every month.    If it needed more means, there then was gathered a congregational collection, into which everyone contributed from his earnings.  Poor people who had nothing, also of course fasted, in order to give the needy what was spared that way.

               The entire care for the poor in the congregation was overseen by the caretaker of souls.  He had helpers, called deacons, who gathered the gifts and according to his directions distributed them to the poor.  To that end they exactly looked after the needs of the poor. 

               Those, who during times of persecution were sitting in captivity or had to work in the mines and languished in construction work, thus knew that their own family members were being taken care of through the love of their brothers and thus received new steadfastness. Cyprian writes at the time of the persecution by Decius: “Do not let your zeal for the poor to fail; namely, for those who have not forsaken the camp of Christ, steadfastly and nobly fighting the battle by faith.”   If a Christian was taken prisoner on account of his faith, then the congregations with great zeal cared for him.  He was visited, he received the necessary food, also pecuniary resources in order to ease the stress of dealing with the situation.  Anyone who had nothing would fast for a day and brought the saved food to provide for his imprisoned fellow brother.  Especially one would take on the one who had been sentenced to the horribly rewarded job of working in the mines.  The thank you letters of such martyrs are still preserved for us about the aid-rendering congregations.

               With special love the Christian congregations took care of their widows and orphans.  There existed homes for widows, in which these lived together.  Only sixty-year-olds, who had a good witness, were taken into them.  All, also the younger ones, received support from the congregation, if they needed it.

               The orphans were raised at the expense of the congregation.  The boys were taught the skills of hand-crafting and thus prepared for a calling.   Also people adopted many orphans as their children.

               Sick people were taken care of in their homes.  There the deacon or pastor would visit them.  The deacon had to examine whether the sick were in need, and then had to take care of everything to provide what was necessary. 

               You know the words of the Apostle: “Be doers of the Word and not only hearers.”  This also applies to you!  You gave a beautiful confession before the Christian congregation at your confirmation.  But in this congregation you should now also serve your Lord Jesus.  For that end result you have been enlightened with the Light of the Gospel by the Holy Spirit, so that you now through deeds confess by a pious life, by works of Christian love the faith you confessed with words at the altar.  What rich opportunities you will have to make your Savior happy by serving the poor, the sick, the orphans!  In every congregation there are people who completely or for a time rely upon the help of fellow believers.  There also is for you opportunities, through all kinds of aid-rendering, in every case however to show through kind, sympathetic concern for the suffering of others, so that you are one of those youngsters who did so much good, calmed so much suffering, dried so many tears, as he pilgrimages among people.  Anyone who knows Jesus as the Savior will also by faith follow the example that He gave to His disciples.

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Perpetua and Felicitas.

Anyone who forsakes homes, or brothers, or sisters, or Father, or mother, or wife, or children, or fields for the sake of  My Name, he will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. Matt. 19:29.                  

               “Let this intention/resolve never waver, God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!”  That’s what you sing in a confirmation hymn!   The ‘resolve’, that the hymn mentions, is of course of the greatest importance for your entire life, indeed for all eternity.  In confirmation you renounce the devil and his service, and promise to remain faithful unto death to the confession of the truth of the Holy Scriptures.  That’s how serious the matter is.  You would rather suffer death than to fall away from the church of Christ.  God has always required such confession from His believers, both in the Old and New Covenant.  He has however also at all times provided steadfastness to His believers.  The Lord does this, since we would actually soon go down if we had to rely upon our own power.  How our gracious God strengthens His believers in the hour of temptation and danger so that so that they themselves do not fear the most martyred death,  for this yet one more thoughtful example.

               In the year 202 A D Emperor Severus decreed a law that forbade with severe punishment the conversion to Christianity, and in general was regarded as charted excuse to persecute the Christians.  This time it was particularly in North Africa that the Gospel had to suffer the rage of paganism against Christianity.  Just when the conversion to Christianity was with this empirical decree made into a designated transgression, the first in line for persecution was against the catechumens, i.e. those who were thinking about receiving holy Baptism, or such who recently had converted to Christianity.

               During this time there especially stand out two women who catch our amazed attention, Perpetua and her friend Felicitas.

               Perpetua was a noble descent, just 22 years old, and had an excellent upbringing.  Her mother was a Christian, her father still a heathen.  She lived with here parents in Carthage when the persecution of the congregation there began.  Her father tried to persuade her – in vain – to forego receiving baptism on account of the decree.  She received holy Baptism.

               Thereupon the constables immediately forced themselves into the home and took Pepetua away to prison.  Her father came to her and begged her, in order to spare herself the torture and shame, to deny Christ. She answered: “I can call myself nothing other than what I am, a Christian.” 

               The hearing began.  Yet once more the father tried to persuade his daughter to deny her faith.  “Child!” he cried out, “have mercy upon my gray hair, I beseech you, don’t bring such disgrace and shame upon your father!  Look at your baby,” – namely she held in her arms her firstborn baby boy born a short time before, – “that after your death he won’t be able to keep living.  Don’t bring disgrace upon all of us!”  And in tears he threw himself at her feet.  Perpetua answered: “Father, when I stand before the judge on the stage, then will happen whatever God wants.  For know this, we are not under our own might, but instead in the hand of our God.”  And with deep sorrow the Father left her.

               The Judge himself was deeply moved.  Kindly he spoke to Perpetua: “Have pity on the gray hair of your father, on the tender age of your baby son; make a sacrifice to the Emperor!”  She however replied briefly and conclusively: “Never ever!”

               “So are you a Christian?” asked the judge.

               “I am a Christian!” she repeated.

               Now the sentence was decided.  She, along with the others who had given the same joyful confession, was judged.  They would all be thrown to the animals during the coming festival play.  Joyfully they left the court house and returned back to prison.

               Among Perpetua’s female companions there was a slave, Felicitas.  She too had married young.  In prison, shortly after the death sentence was hung over her, she gave birth to a child, which a sister took to herself and later reared it. 

               Finally the hour arrived.  Yet one more time the judged ones, in fellowship received the holy Lord’s Supper; and then without trembling they walked, completely at peace and with dignified demeanor, into the Amphitheater.  Coming inside, the men – Revokatus, Saturnius and Sekundulus – turned around once more to the assembled crowd and warned it with the judgment of God.  To the judge they shouted out steadfastly and boldly: “Now you have judged us; someday however God will also judge you.”

               Upon the men one now turned loose leopards, bears, and wild boars, for them to die their witnessing-death under their teeth.  Perpetua with her friend Felicitas were to be ripped apart by a wild cow.  By this raging animal they were severely wounded, but not wounded to death.  The sharp sword of the executioner first made an end to their lives.

               Every year with immeasurable popularity among the believers was celebrated the day of death of these martyrs in Carthage.  Still today shines forth the remembrance among Christendom the wondrous mind of faith of these simple Christians, some who were men and women slaves, who amidst the persecution had just become Christians through Baptism, whose faith nevertheless overcame the world.

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The Catacombs of Rome.

 

They, of whom the world was not worthy, wandered around in the wilderness and upon the caves and holes in the ground. Heb. 11:38.

               A blessed gain that every child of God has from his Christianity is the certainty of a joyful resurrection on the Day of Judgment.  Our Master has arisen and He will someday wake us up.  That was the thinking which made the martyrs in ancient times and the warriors of Jesus Christ so cheerful at the time of their death.  Even though the body becomes death’s booty and loot – on Judgment Day it will gloriously rise up and be placed before God’s face with joyfulness.  The heathen did not know about such joyful hope.  Upon heathen tombstones are found expressions like these: “This is my eternal home, here I am, and here I will remain.”  How differently the inscriptions on Christian graves read!  There we constantly encounter the joyful confidence, which grounds itself upon Jesus’ resurrection; the darkness of the grave was also made bright for the first Christians by the joyful op of life with God.  It is worth the effort that we occupy ourselves a bit with the customs and practices of the first Christians at the burial of their dead.  And first of all we have to hear something about the Roman Catacombs.

               With the word ‘catacomb’ one indicates underground rooms that were used by the first Christians as burial places.  The most famous Catacombs are those in Rome.  They are wide-layered galleries or passages in the bosom of the earth.  They are not under the city itself, rather conveniently located in the hills surrounding the city.  Often two such galleries, sometimes even four and five, on top of each other in various stock-works, and crossed over each other in a special stock-work countless times, so that a veritable confusing maze confronted one in going in.

               The galleries usually had a width of between two to four feet, thus in general they were very small.  Its height varied according to the hardness of the rocks in which they were dug.  The rocky walls on both sides were broken through with grave holes or niches, and in each of these niches lay one or more corpses.  Often the galleries were crossed over by a square passage that led to a small room.  Also in these rooms the walls were crammed full with grave holes.

               Sometimes an entire room was designated for one family.  One called this a cubicle or sleeping chamber; for death for a Christian is only a sleep.  In the back recesses there were found in a kind of niche or offset the grave of a martyr.

               In this section were cut out illustrations for the reader to view what was said.  In one of our pictures can be seen three of the seven described inscribed entrances [Graebner has a picture in the middle of page 36].  On the other [the picture on page 37] the coffin places are clearly visible, also the grave of a martyr, with the inscription: CORNELIUS MARTYR.  Also other inscriptions, in Greek as well as in Latin, are to be differentiated.  These contain the information of the name and age of the Christians buried here.

               Frequently the Christians conducted their worship services in these underground rooms.  Initially this happened of course only on the date of death of those who were laid to rest here, especially the martyrs.  As a result one would break through the ceiling of many rooms with a shaft which had its opening in the surface of the ground and brought in light and air into the rooms.  In many sections of the Catacombs close to a hundred people could in this way attend the worship service, while an ever greater number were scattered in the rooms of the nearby galleries and there received the Sacrament from the hands of the deacons who had to bring it in to them there.  Rooms that had no light shafts were then lit up with torches and lamps. 

               Already in early times these worship services suddenly interrupted by heathen breaking in.  During the times of persecution, those who came together did not know whether the might not suddenly be confronted with a similar fate like those who were named at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper as confessors and martyrs, or the plain graves with simple inscriptions that surrounded them.  How celebratory serious such a worship must have been, truly initiated in order to strengthen the faith for a joyful confession.   While many fell away, the remaining faithful locked themselves up here all the more crowded together in the fellowship of prayer.

               The persecutions soon motivated the Christians to cover up from public view the entrance to their underground hideout.  One walled off, buried or destroyed the entrance door and steps, and built entrances which led to daylight at a far off place.  These entrance ways offered the Christians a means to flee even when their enemies themselves found a track into the Catacombs.  If one of the Emperor’s henchmen, perhaps led by a betrayer, were to push his way into the cemetery, the believers could through a few feet of a thick wall of rock separate themselves from him, quietly crawl out another way.  There also were steps whose bottom rung could only be reached through a ladder from the bottom.  If all the Christians were up on top, one would pull up the ladder and then come out through a remote, out of the way passage way into freedom.

               Since the discovery of the Roman Catacombs in the 1578 one has partially researched them and found various kinds of memorabilia.  To this belongs, e.g. all sorts of children’s toys, like dolls, bells, and the like.  Dolls, whittled out of ivory and bones, one found at times in the graves of girls, likewise also of boys, at times brought out of the same place.  Little bells out of bronze and silver belonged to the most loved testimonies of children’s toys.  These one found in great numbers in the graves of the children in the Catacombs.  Also small clay ‘piggy-banks’ in which the children – namely on New Year’s Day – gathered coin gifts of of money. 

               In the burial places of the grownups one found jewels and gems, also a great number of hand mirrors out of metal, then also hair pins and combs, earrings and necklaces, and rings out of metal and ivory. 

               The previously found lamps obviously served mostly for lighting the passageways and rooms.  Most of these Christian lamps were made of clay, many also out of bronze, there was even found one made of silver.  They ordinarily were shaped in the form of a ship.  One of these lamps is built in the form of a sail-ship.  And on its rudder sits Christ, and at the front part is portrayed the deceased person – a person who is hurrying to the shores of eternity, carried by the rescuing ship of the church, whose rudder man is the Savior.  Worth noting is also the large number of glass and clay jars in which there still can be seen traces of Lord’s Supper wine that they once contained.

               On the walls of the Catacombs there still remain scrawled inscriptions that were brought there from the time of their first existence and later by visitors.  Just like in our times a visitor, in remembrance of his visit to an important, significant historical place cannot resist to leave behind a testimony of his visit by scribbling his name on the wall, so also in ancient times visitors to the Catacombs could not resist leaving behind such a testimony to their visit.  There one finds names scraped into the stone; names like Rusina, Felix, and Maximus, which have been standing there for one and a half thousand years.  Next to them are also pious wishes, prayers, greetings to and for friends and relatives – both living and deceased.  For fifteen hundred years ago one Christian visited the Catacombs, he came with a heart filled with the most tender, fond remembrances of a certain Sophronia – whether this was his wife, his mother or sister is unknown.  In one of the front halls stands the inscription that is engraved into the stone: “Sophronia, may you live with your own!”  Farther into the entrance: “Sophronia, may you live with God!”  Then the pilgrim wrote on the main altar of the chapel: “Precious Sophronia, you will live with God forever!”  And one more at the same place: “Sophronia, you will live!”  That’s how in this dwelling of the dead was shown by this visitor the hope of immortality.

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Tomb Inscriptions.

 Death is swallowed up in victory.  1 Cor. 15:55.

               As can be seen from the pictures in the previous section, the final resting places of the Christians in the Catacombs were seen with inscriptions, which have the name of the deceased, usually also the date of his death, age, status, etc., accompanied with a suitable tomb verse for passing over into the afterlife.

               The names of the Christians sometimes still indicated the time of the bloody persecution and the public derision.  Mocking and scolding name were laid upon the believers, and they had to bear it instead of their true names.  Thus there stands upon one Christian tomb the name ‘Alogius’.  Nobody was named that way out of free choice, for the name meant as much as ‘Stupid John’.  Another was called ‘Malus’ – the wicked one; again another ‘Injuriosus’ – the harmful, noxious one; ‘Calumniosus’ – the contemptible one.  Nobody would name himself like that; these are names; these are the names the hate of the heathen gave to individual Christians, and they had to keep them.  This is called suffering shame, disgrace, for the sake of Jesus, right?

               The heathen would write on the tomb remembrance of their dead the obituary: ‘May the earth be light for you!’ – ‘May your bones have a good rest!” – Upon Christian tombstones we read words like: ‘God revive you!” – ‘Live with the saints!’ – ‘Live with God!’ – ‘God refresh your soul in the dwelling place of the saints!’ – Or the prayer: ‘Let the soul of Your servant be revived in Abraham’s bosom!”

               Upon the Christian graveyards, as well as in the Catacombs, also usually in the burial places of ancient times, we never encounter reproach against the fate or actual threats which the father, the son, the widower, which the members had to encounter against the authorities.  An unending well-doing breath of peace and the committing oneself to God’s will wafts one out of this opposition against Christianity.  Two expressions turn up again and again: ‘In peace’ and ‘This is what God willed’.  Thus we read: ‘Here rests in peace with holy remembrance the Presbyter Euripus, who lived 27 years, 10 months, 18 days’.  Again, quite simply: ‘Victoria.  In peace’.  ‘Maxima.  In peace.’  ‘Faustimus. In peace.’

               Ever again returns: ‘Sleep in peace’.  Also: ‘He has traveled out of this world’, and: ‘Taken up by the Lord’, as well as: ‘He has gone to be with the Lord’.

               The inscription upon a simple grave plate: ‘He lives!’ – ‘In peace!’ gave notice to the heathen that the Christians had become confident of everlasting life.  Against no article of the Christian faith did the enemies direct their assault with such vigor as against the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead.  As the bodies of the martyrs at Lyon were burned and their ashes scattered into the Rhine [river], the heathen shouted out with frightful mockery: “Now let us see whether they will be resurrected!”  Yet this glorious hope of the Christians was not subdued by any mockery, by any threats, by any, by any martyrdom.  Steadfast in the faith they wrote on the tombstones of the sacrificed ones: ‘He has forsaken the world’. –

‘He lives in eternity.’ – ‘He rests in God.’ – ‘In peace.’

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Two stone coffins.

 

And so he comes to peace.  Everyone who has lived right will rest on his own bed. Isa. 57:2.

               Would you like to know how the Christian congregation in the first three hundred years learned Bible stories?  Bible stories, like we use in school, did not exist yet; also no Picture-Bibles.  When a person wanted to show the children the holy stories with pictures, one would then go to the burial sites, for there one found stone coffins and marble slab tombs that were decorated with a large quantity of figures from the Bible stories, and on which the children saw placed before them to see what the grownups told them from the Bible.

               Here you see such stone a coffin [p. 42] (also look at page 43). [There are two photos of stone coffins carved out with figures of people and one with a Chi Rho]  They were found in the Catacombs and now stand in the Latin Museum in Rome.

               In the middle of one of these stone coffins are to be seen incorporated the lifetime journey of the married couple.  Above on the [upper] left side next to their portrait, is portrayed the feeding of the five thousand.  The Savor is blessing the bread and the fish.  On the [upper] right is presented the martyr’s death of James and the healing of a blind person.  What a wondrous gracefulness in the expression on Jesus’ face!  Further back stands the Good Shepherd with a lamb, between Adam and Eve.  In the bottom quarters are seen presentations of the following Biblical stories: Jesus heals the hemorrhaging woman; Jonah is tossed into the sea and spit out from the fish; Daniel in the Lion’s Den; the taking into captivity [Babylonian]; Water out of the rock in the wilderness.  The last image became of great benefit, and actually as a symbol of the living water, the Gospel.

               The other coffin is older, which shows presentations of Christ’s sufferings.  In the middle section stands the monogram of Christ [CR] upon a banner – the field-badge of Constantine the Great, called Labarum [Translator note: Labarum = Latin word meaning: A Roman military standard of later times, richly ornamented with gold and precious stones and bearing the effigy of the general.  Constantine the Great placed upon it a crown, a cross and the initial letters – CR – Jesus Christus, and made it the imperial standard.]  The surrounding border wreath is an emblem of the immortality, how also the fruit picking doves are to remind one about the renewal of the soul in eternity, while the cross, upon which the doves are standing, indicates the tribulations of this temporal life.  The guards, which Constantine had placed to guard the holy banner, is presented by two soldiers under the cross – a symbol of the Christian-army, that whether it sleeps or is awake, lives or dies, finds its rest by the cross.  Two side sections present the Lord there, of how He bore witness about Himself to Pontius Pilate.  Over Him hangs a crown as a reward for those who confess Christ before people.  On the other side [left side] is contained a presentation of the Lord, of how He under the guardianship of a soldiers carries His cross.  Once again the crown dangles over the configuration, which will be given as a reward to those who carry their cross after the suffering Master. 

Emblems.

I am the A and the W [the A and the Z], the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.  Rev. 22:13.

               Next to these inscriptions we find on ancient Christian memorial drawings a number of noteworthy emblems or symbolical signs.

               One of the oldest ones and indeed the most significant of these signs was – the fish.  The image of a fish shows up again and again, not only in the Catacombs or upon tombstones in other places, rather also upon rings and different garments, like also on lamps and glass dishes and earthen pots.  In the graves of the Catacombs one found a large number of little fish on crystal, ivory and mother-of-pearl, also on expensive stones which many an ear had and were worn around necks.

               It retained itself like that because: From the earliest of times on one would indicate Jesus with the words: ‘Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior’.  One would shorten the up in that one only wrote the beginning letter [of each word – aka an acronym].  The Greek initial letter of the word for Jesus was the I; of Christ C; of God Q; of Son U;  of Savior S. Thus there stood the initials: ICQUS.  If one then left off the periods and let that be one word, a person would then read Icqus – and that is the Greek word for ‘fish’.  Instead to then write these letters, one symbolized/drew a fish.  This is also an emblem for Christ that contains a complete confession of faith: Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Savior of the world – a person cannot express the content of the Gospel anymore briefly.  That was the Christian faith that the world sought to destroy, but the faith that overcame the world.

               Innumerable times one finds this symbol to arouse their courage against the opposition against ancient Christianity.  Especially however upon gravestone inscriptions there would be the words ‘In peace’ and next to them the image of a fish.  This was a very beloved inscription.  Also many times next to the fish there was found the image of an anchor.  That was an emblem for hope.  Or their was inscribed a dove – an image of the soul of the sleeping ones, like the most often adjoining words ‘Pious soul’ or ‘Innocent soul’ indicated.  At times one saw the dove placed there drinking out of a bowl or picking a grape – an emblem which indicated the joy and the drink of eternal salvation that lavished itself upon the soul.  Also often the dove carried an olive branch in its beak – once more a symbol of peace.  Also frequently the lamb showed up again as an emblematic sign of a Christian, either with or without adding an image of the Good Shepherd.

               Very frequently there was used in inscriptions the monogram of Christ.  It consisted of the Greek letters CHR [CR] written intertwined together – the beginning letters of Christ’s Name.  This sign seemed very appropriate for the first Christians, because the Greek letter Ch [C] is like a cross.

               Thus also in the emblems of the Christians everything pointed to Jesus, the Son of God, the Good Shepherd, Who gave up His life on the cross for the sheep. 

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Youthful Confessors.

I am writing to you youths, because you are strong, and God’s Word  abides in you, and you have conquered the evil one.  1 John 2:14.

               When the power of Jesus showed itself especially in the fearless confession of so many Christians during the times of the great persecutions, it shines forth to us in an ever greater measure in the testifying mindset of a Christian lad, whose name history has preserved for us.

               We read in the above account about Blandina about the martyr death of the fifteen year old Pontikus.  The same Emperor Mark Aurel, under whom Ponikus so joyfully went to his death, decreed a persecution over the entire Province of Burgundy, in which a young lad also fell as a sacrifice about whose judgment there has been preserved for us a precise message.

               Symphoriamus, that was his name, belonged to a prominent family.  A noble, pious mother had led him to Christianity.  At an idol festival he did not show the required honor to the cloaked statue of the idol.  And so he was seized and was dragged before the judge by an enraged crowd of people.  To the questions about his name and reason for being there he calmly replied: “My name is Symphorious and I am a Christian.”

               “You are a Christian?” responded the Judge.  “That you confess to your other Name hardly matters; however, why did refrain from worshiping the idols?” 

               “Already previously I have confessed that I am a Christian.  I worship the living God, Who dwells and reigns in heaven; your idols I will never ever give glory to your idol image, instead I also am prepared, if you will allow me, to shatter it to pieces with the hammer.”

               He was flogged with rods and led into jail.  At the next hearing one wanted with all kinds of allurements to get him to step away from Christianity.  He was going to be lifted up to high honors in the Emperor’s Palace.  Otherwise, however, he was going to be martyred and led to his death.  Neither allurement nor threatening achieved their goals with Symphorianus.  The sentence was read and the lad was lead away for retrial.

               On the way to the place of execution in front of the city, his mother called out: “My son! My son!  My Symphorianus, remain mindful of the living God!  Remain steadfast, persevere steadfastly unto the end!”  Fearlessly he kneeled in front of the executioner’s sword and received the stroke of death.

******

               Under Decius another lad, the fifteen year old Dioskorus, was brought before the judge.  Also him the official of the Emperor tried to tempt by talking to him, then with torture, but both in vain.  Also as he saw his grownup relatives being beaten most horribly, and saw them being led away to a fiery death before his very eyes, he remained faithful to his confession.  Astonished over such courage, the judge released him with the decision that he on account of his youthfulness would grant him some more time to come around.

               Most of the heathen judges were of course strangers to such kindness.  Mercilessly also the children were killed off.

               The judge thought he could easily scare the lad Hilarianus.  However after all the talking to and threats he had only one answer: “Do what you want with me, I am a Christian!”

               “Well then,” repeated the governor, “I will let your nose and ears be cut off.”

               “Do it,” retorted the lad, “but I still will remain a Christian!”

               As then the death sentence was pronounced upon him, he cried out: “Thanks be to God!”

******

               Also the martyr’s death of the lad Cyrillus in Caesarea is indeed to be placed during the time of persecution under Decius.

Carl Gerok in his ‘Palm-branches’ sung about it like this:

I am a Christian.

I am a Christian! So say you boldly, my child,

With that glancing fresh and friendliness to your teacher;

Yes, with the mouth one is a Christian in a moment,

Yet with the deed, my son, there it is far more difficult;

Take note and learn what this means and is:  “I am a Christian.”

Cyrillus was a lad just like you;

The Word of the cross still lay in severe ban,

Yet his mother early in life led him to Christ,

Into the gruesomeness of yet unconverted men;

To them the cheerful lad’s first words were: “I am a Christian.”

There went out a command from Rome to murder,

That one should capture, torture and bind up Christians;

A bloody stream flowed through Caesarea,

The constables took the Praetor with the child,

Who first off asked him: “Speak up, lad, who are you?” “I am a Christian.”

“You are a fool, your father threw you out of your home.

And now, so young, you want to die such a horrible death?”

“O Sir, my Father’s house is in heaven,

Up there I shall inherit better goods;

So get on with it, you executioners, do what you must; I am a Christian.”

The rope was tied around his tender flesh,

Perhaps the courthouse would frighten his foolhardy venture!

He was led away to the high pile of wood,

Where the voraciously greedy little flames where licking their chops,

Yet joyfully he said underneath the murderous scaffold: “I am a Christian.”

The judged warned and pleaded with him for the last time,

The executioners, those inhumane men, were crying;

“Why are your crying over my brief torture?”

That’s how the joyful confessor comforted them,

“O just let me go home, just don’t delay the pain: I am a Christian.”

So then one led the young lamb to the slaughter-bench,

The people lamented loudly, only he remained unafraid,

Quietly upon the martyr-stake he glanced up to heaven,

The flames already had begun to touch and lick at him,

Yet there still echoed out of the fire that was consuming him: “I am a Christian.”

It is finished, the young lad’s noble spirit

Had soared up to the chorus of the victorious,

Where a brother angel showed him the wreath,

Where his mother happily hugged him,

And where his everlasting song of thanks and praise is: “I am a Christian.”

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The Victory.

Who by faith conquered kingdoms, did righteousworks, received what was promised, shut the mouths of lions, put out raging fires, escaped death by the sword…  Heb. 11:54.

               How finally did the Christian faith obtain the victory over the power of the paganism of the Roman Empire?  It came about like it always does – the world simply had to simply surrender itself, had to concede, that with all its power and all its cunning it could not dampen the power of God that dwelled within the Christians.  Very briefly listen to how heathenism finally had to give up the battle against Christianity.

               Once more the fire of persecution blazed up with the penal judicature that Galerious decreed over the church in the Eastern Empire.  Through mass murder one sought to eradicate Christianity.  One would burn up entire congregations in their houses of God.  One entire city with its residents, who were all Christians, was burned up.  Galerius released a decree in which he ordered to kill all the Christians with a slowly burning fire.  The Governors on their part competed to find newer ways of torture.  At times the storm of persecution let up for a short time, only to have it then flare up even more severely.  Then there appeared an Emperor’s order that the idol temples were to once more be built; all, men and women, free and salves, including the smallest of children were to be forced to offer up sacrifices and participate in the sacrificial meals.  Here the shedding of blood began anew.  However heathenism had not exhausted its power.  It found itself to be powerless against the quite patience of the Christians.  Even the executioners and trial judges were worn out.

               Galerius, the instigator of this last persecution, was lying on his death-bed.  With living bodily decay, he suffered the greatest of pains.  Upon his death-bed he released in the year 311 A D the noteworthy order that discontinued the persecution.  It contained in it that it was impossible for him to eradicate Christianity, and that most of the confessors ‘stiff-necked’ stubbornly refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods.  So he then allowed the Christians to exist and to conduct their gatherings, and added on to the order this sentence: “They now in accordance with this grace shown by us to them should pray to their God for our welfare, for the welfare of the government and their own, so that the government remain undivided on behalf of everyone and they themselves may live confidently.” 

               With this Galerius conceded that in the long battle Christianity had won the victory.  Soon thereafter he died under indescribable agonizing pain.

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[A picture of a statue with the inscription below]

Constantine the Great.

 

Constantine.

And the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces.  He will remove the disgrace of His people from the whole  world. Isa. 25:8.

               The official writing, in which the persecution was brought to an end, bears next to the signature of the dying Galerius also the witness signatures’ of Constantine and Licinius.  They were two fellow emperors of Glerius, who also along with him reigned over certain parts of the empire.

               Constantine was born in Serbia.  In his youth he lived in the castle of the horrible Diocletian.  His father was the ruler from Gllien, and after his death Constantine was raised up as Emperor by the soldiers.   Already back then he availed himself as a friend and protector of the Christians.

               After the death of Galerius, he still ruled for quite a long time jointly with Licinius.  Now he demonstrated his kind attitude towards the Christians, in that he selected laws that then provided various protections for them, and in that he spent huge sums of money to replace destroyed churches.  Yet at that time Constantine was still captive to heathen unbelief.  Nevertheless he bore the worthiness of a heathen high priest, participated in the Easter festivals, and otherwise also indicated that he had not yet properly understood Christianity. 

               He had a bitter enemy in Maxentius, one of his fellow rulers, who ruled over Italy and North Africa.  Maxentius showed himself to be so hostile that a civil war was inevitable.  With a troop of only 40,000 men Constantine traveled over the Alps to Italy.  As one realized that the troop of Maxentius was at minimum three times as strong, a grumbling went through Constantine’s battalions.  The hazardous risk seemed so huge.  Is it any wonder that Constantine in this situation looked for help from on high?

               He himself told that he at that time deliberated a lot as to what god he should seek support from.  In his need he prayed to the highest god, which his father had glorified as the sun-god, that he would let him know who he was.  One day a miraculous thing appeared to him.  As the sun was setting, he especially saw the light of a cross standing on the sun, and next to it from the reflection of the light was inscribed the words: “In this sign be victorious/conquer!” [Translator note: He saw it in Latin: In hoc signo vincit] Disturbed by this and still not sure about the meaning of the sign, Christ appeared to him that night and ordered him to make this sign of the cross into a battle-field emblem, and then with certainty achieve the victory in the battle.

               In compliance with this directive Constantine let a standard be prepared with the cross and signature of Christ.  That was the labarum.  He himself placed a cross on his helmet, and His soldiers drew it on their shields.  The slaughter happened on the Vilvischen Bridge to Rome.  His lordship won a hard fought, bloody victory over the lordship Maxenius, triumphantly he conducted his entry into Rome, and soon all of Western Europe was under his power.  Immediately after his entry into the main city he there let his statue be built with this particular flag staff in his hand and with the inscription: “Through this saving sign, the true sign of bravery, I have freed your city from the yoke this tyrannical despot.” 

               Upon the field-badge, upon the helmets and shields of the Roman soldiers, as well as also upon the coins there encounter us since that time the cross and the beginning letters [Tr. Note: CR  in Greek] of the name of Christ.  And even through Constantine was at that time still not ready to confess his conversion to Christianity; he nevertheless soon thereafter in Milan issued the famous edict by which complete freedom of religion was given was given to the entire Roman Empire.  This was in the year 313 A D. 

               Without persecuting the heathen, Constantine tried in every possible way to promote Christianity.  “We wish,” he wrote, “that the truth also be imparted to the heathen.  However no one undertake to disturb the peace of another person.”  If it was impossible to convert the heathen, then one should let them go their own way.  Everyone should do what his soul thinks.  No one should be forced to believe something against which he inwardly opposes.  Without delay the churches now had all their buildings and plots of land saved for them.  Also the Emperor handed over great sums for the construction of new houses of God, as well as for the support of the poor; he even provided Bibles for them.  In his new residence in Constantinople he built a glorious church.  With the opportunity at the great Synod at Nicaea in the year 325 AD he gave the attending Bishops a resplendent banquet.

               As at Easter of 337 his health was failing, he became ill, which would be his final illness, he showed up in the church as a Catechumen, i.e., as on who wanted to receive holy Baptism.  There he gave a confession of his sins and then gave himself in his heart to receive holy Baptism among the Bishops that were assembled there.  Soon thereafter he died.  Constantine reigned for thirty-one years, with all his undertakings promoted with unprecedented prosperity.  In world history he bore the surname “The Great.”  Even though he was not a member of the church until shortly before his death, and his name also was blotched with how many great things on this earth he had spotted with evil deeds, yet he nevertheless had been a instrument in God’s hand to bring about the longed for peace for His church from its enemies.

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Julian the Apostate.

                                                                                                                                                                Sitting on His throne in heaven, the Lord laughs and mocks them.  Ps. 2:4.

               Yet one more time heathenism raised itself up again, under Julian the Apostate, who from 361 until 363 as the successor to Constantine reigned over the Roman Empire.  Julian was reared as a Christian, but yet before his rising to the throne publically let it be known that he had become a heathen.  He was convinced that he had the assignment to once more reestablish heathenism.  Yet it was not in his plan to persecute Christians and to bring them to fall away through force.  He knew that the Christian faith had victoriously withstood all such attempts.  That’s why he attempted to bring it about more hidden and secretly.  He took away the privileges that they had obtained from the previous Emperor.  With every imaginable method one would try to motivate the Christians to honor the idol gods.  Yet Julian still held on.  In trying to win this battle he himself soon realized that he was fighting a loosing battle.  In every place the temples [of the idols] stood deserted and forsaken.  In many places they had collapsed and in their place Christians houses of God were erected.  The faith in the gods itself had been extinguished.

               At Antioch Julius refurbished a collapsed idol temple.  Through the carelessness of a heathen it burned down soon after its dedication.  Despite that, one placed the blame on the Christians, and it came to a bloody persecution.  Yet, even though a row of confessors fell as a sacrifice, it did not last long.  The ecclesiastical teacher Athanasius had it right as he comforted his congregation: “It is only a little cloud, it will soon go away.”

               In Jerusalem, in order to please the Jews, Julian wanted to rebuild the Temple.  An earthquake put an end to that effort.

               Soon thereafter he began a warlike expedition against the Persians.  With a powerful army he went against the old enemy of the Empire in the field.  At the beginning everything went very well.  Finally he nevertheless had to retreat, at which time an enemy’s arrow hit him in the hip.  With a loud cry (according to tradition: “You Galilean, You have won the victory!”) he fell to the ground.  He was carried into his tent, where after an hour he died.

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Conclusion.

               “I fought the good fight, I ran the race, I kept the faith,” wrote Paul to Timothy in the face of the martyr’s death with which he soon would be confronted.

The life of a Christian today is also a fight.  Of course the enemies that confront his soul, in outward appearance, are a less dangerous kind than the enemies of the church in ancient times.  Today no heathen world-ruling Nero or Domitian or Decius thirsts for the blood of Christians.  [Tr. Note:  In this 21st century there are Christians in Africa and other places that are again undergoing such persecution].  No Julian is trying to reestablish the wrecking and ruining of ancient heathenism.  The images of the Emperor, before whom one would try to force the Christians to sacrifice incense offerings to, have long since fallen down; and the temples and courthouses into which one demanded the Christians in the first centuries to denounce their Christian faith, have become ruins or have totally disappeared.  The ancient heathenism has disappeared.  So who then are the enemies who now intend to bring down the Church of God, and take away the faith of the believers – especially the young Christians?  It is the huge unbelieving world that surrounds us, the world with its fleshly lusts and lusts of the eye and haughtily proud life-style, with its manifold allurements to sin and to fall away.  In the time of the first persecutions, Peter in his first epistle likens the devil to a roaring lion that goes around and seeks who he might devour.  If Satan also no longer rages against the body and life of Christians like in ancient ties, he nevertheless is still filled full with gruesome hatred towards Christ and His church, and he stalks after the individual child of God with all sort of allurements of the evil flesh, and tries to extinguish the light of faith through mockery and allurements of the world.  To resist these temptations requires as much faith-mindedness as the testing which the church underwent in ancient times.  Still always the fight between the Christian and his accusers is a fight of life and death.  In this fight you also, young Christian, should prepare yourself as a true warrior of Jesus Christ.  And since you out of your own power can accomplish nothing  against the enemies of your soul, go into the weapon-closet of God, namely in God’s Word [Tr. Note: cf. Eph. 6:14-16], and there get out for yourself strengthening for the life-long battle against Satan, the evil world and the sinful flesh that confronts you.  Thus by the power of the Spirit of God, Who is imparted to you in the Word, there will be doled out and bestowed to you the victorious outcome of the battle.  Think often about your Holy Baptism, through which you once entered into the number of God’s children, where the heavenly Father promised you His grace and help for your entire lifetime.  Diligently partake of the Sacrament of the Altar, for the strengthening of your faith – which sometimes wants to become so weak; and, for the sealing of God‘s grace to you – which for the sake of Christ’s merits covers up all your transgressions.  Endure in such faith until the end, thus you will obtain the blessed goal, which also the heavenly calling holds before you.

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[This is not part of the above translation:]

 

Now the light has gone away;

Father, listen while I pray.

Asking Thee to watch and keep

And to send me quiet sleep.

Jesus, Savior wash away

All that has been wrong today;

Help me ev’ry day to be

Good and gentle, more like Thee.

Let my near and dear ones be

Always near and dear to Thee;

Oh, bring me and all I love

To Thy happy home above.

Now my evening praise I give;

Thou didst die that I might live.

All my blessings come from Thee;

Oh, how good Thou art to me!

Thou, my best and kindest Friend,

Thou wilt love me to the end.

Let me love Thee more and more,

Always better than before.

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Glory to God

Elmer Hohle recalls and writes down some of his childhood memories and tales told him by his parents in this series of vignettes.

Vignette # 1 When sister Edith was 4, Papa and Mama were rent-farming the old Lauschke place.  As they went to the barn on the way to the cotton patch, Edith stepped on a corn cob, slipped and fell. Her hand came down on a “Red Top” axle grease lid. The sharp edge inflicted a severe cut on her hand. She remembers vividly how Papa scooped her in his arms and ran up the hill to the house. Mama immediately wrapped her hand in a towel. Papa realized he didn’t have time to change his blood spattered trousers (Father never wore overalls like many of the other farmers).  Instead he ran down to the barn to finish harnessing the team of horses and hitch them to the buggy. In the meantime, Mama tried to comfort Edith. To do so she even brought the “forbidden doll” down from the shelf.  It was the only doll – a china doll – Mama ever had when she was a child.  Ordinarily Edith would have been delighted to finally have the opportunity to play with it. But she pushed it away because her hand hurt so terribly. By then Papa came up to the house with team and buggy. Baby Charles, aged 2, was put on the seat between Mama and Papa while Mama held Edith in her lap – blood soaked towel and all. Edith remembers the horses’ backs humping to pull the buggy up the steep hill by Andrew Winkler’s place as they came out of the Leon river valley. Papa drove the team at a precarious full gallop up the strait-away of “Otto Winkler’s lane.” The six mile trip to The Grove, Texas must have seemed like a never-ending nightmare to this little injured girl, her distraught parents, and her bewildered baby brother. To this very day, Dube’s General Store has a second story above the corner which houses the Post Office. Back in 1926 it served as Dr. Sutherland’s office.  Fortunately, Dr. Sutherland was “In” that day instead of being at some farm house delivering a baby or treating a mule kick. One wonders if little Charlie was left downstairs to get the mail out of the mail box, or what. However, while Papa held her forearm firmly and Dr. Sutherland began to suture, Mama tried to distract Edith by telling her to look out the window and “look at the man” who had just then pulled up with his team and wagon by the community well. The well still stands in the middle of main street The Grove.  More faintly, the scar is still on Edith’s right hand.  It belies how deeply this episode seared itself in the memory of a four year old girl who, as my oldest sister, became a second mother to me. On January 10, 1989, at age 66, she could vividly recount these details to me, her youngest sibling. We give glory to God for not only His forgiving grace in Christ Jesus, but also for His protecting care! Vignette # 2 It was Christmas Day 1931. “Votie” – my baby-talk name for my Grandfather – had no doubt gone to church that morning with Grandmother.  By midafternoon he was sitting on the whittler’s bench that graced the front porch of Dube’s General Store in the Grove, Texas.  Seated next to him was Huey Dixon, spitting snuff off the porch. “Votie” was puffing on his inseparable companion, that curved stem pipe with the teeth-scarred stem. The two men were sharing a bottle of Christmas “cheer.”  Their mood became ever more exuberant as the afternoon wore on. In the meantime, a shiny, new ford came driving up to the John Winkler farm. The strangers were obviously lost. The dirt road made a fork at the Winkler’s farm yard. Mrs. Winkler looked over her shoulder while hanging the wash on the line.  Teenage daughters Ruth(now Mrs. Monroe Winkler) and Sophia(now Mrs. Fred Munz) were by the barns. The occupants asked Ruth, “Which way to the nearest public road?” Ruth, who was standing by the cow pen hastily and courteously opened the wire gap gate to the road that led to Grimes’ bottom place and Owl Creek. Without as much as a thank you, the car with its man and woman occupant picked up speed. The couple reached Grimes’ bottom and proceeded to cut the telephone line for the “crank” phones that some of the farmers had.  As they passed Owl Creek, they came to the Tolkmit farm. When they saw Herbert (Slim) Tolkmit, they asked him for directions to The Grove. In his usual soft spoken voice, the lad told them to keep on the course they were driving. Four dirt and gravel roads converged at the Southwest corner of the W J Dube general store. The sound of the engine of a new Ford automobile caught the attention of Votie, Huey, and the other men seated on the Wittler’s bench as they looked past the gasoline pump and car shop towards the south. Its speed raised a hefty cloud of dust as it cruised past the front of Willie Dube’s home – 100 yards from the store. Little did “Votie” realize that the couple in the car coming from Temple had shot and killed a man there that morning – in cold blood. The car passed to the right of the well that still sits in the middle of The Grove’s only street. With the sound of tires sliding on gravel the car pulled up in front of the whittler’s bench. Had this couple come to possibly rob the Planters State Bank that was located inside the W J Dube general store? Joe Hancock and Aubry Ray had robbed it of $1,100 in 1927. The cashier allegedly absconded with the rest and received a five year prison sentence for complicity in the robbery. Hancock and Ray claimed alibis at their trial held in the Coryell County Court House. But they had made the mistake of playing poker with B. Adams and Josh Kennedy of The Grove, who in turn fingered them as the criminals.  Hancock received a 45 year sentence – Ray, 25 years. Ray was a vicious  criminal who later escaped the Huntsville,  Texas penitentiary.  He was killed by law enforcement officers in Lincoln, Nebraska. The woman rolled down the window. The man leaned over her lap and gruffly yelled, “Which way to MacGregor.”  With a reflex reply, Huey Dixon pointed around the corner of the store with his right hand, thereby indicating a right turn around the store.  This was indeed the north bound road which led to MacGregor some twenty miles away. Almost simultaneously, “Votie” staggered (the “cheer” was taking its toll) to his feet.  With pipe in hand and mischievous glint in his eye, he smilingly stated, “No,No! The shortest way is by going straight,” as the bite-marked curved stem pointed to the west-bound road to Gatesville. A brief argument ensued between “Votie” and Huey. Finally the car lurched forward as the driver heeded “Votie’s” second opinion. Thereupon Grandfather felt hunger pains and with an unsteady gait walked up the south bound road to his home 300 yards from the store. Mr. Dixon went East to his home half that distance. Both hoped to eat some Christmas left- overs for an early supper. The other men went home, also. Several miles away on the Gatesville road, Doyle Johnson and R.T. Adams were on horseback, riding towards The Grove. The driver of the car slowed as he approached them – a tiny doubt was gnawing in his mind about “Votie’s” advice. “Is this the right way to MacGregor?” he yelled out the car’s window. “Naw, Mister; you should have turned right at the store.” Angrily the stranger brandished a big black pistol, as he muttered under his breath to his companion:  “Bonnie, I’m going back  to  The  Grove,  and I’m  gonna  kill  that  lying *#{@&*%(censored).” When the car approached Dube’s store, it was obvious to the driver that the whittler’s bench was now vacant.  As they turned left at an unsafe speed, gravel flew unto the porch of Dube’s store. Bonnie and Clyde were finally on the right road to MacGregor – no thanks to “Votie’s” incorrect road directions.  On that Christmas Day of 1933, thank God – Clyde Barrow ALMOST shot “Votie”! I remember well Grandfather dying in the Christian faith at age 71.  He no doubt must have realized how a gracious God had preserved him from an untimely death at age 55. Sad to say, a number of people in central Texas were not so fortunate.  They did indeed die at the hands of Bonnie and Clyde. My brother Charles made me aware of this whole episode. My uncle Edwin, “Votie’s” youngest son, and Mr. Elmo Winkler Sr. gave me much information about this event. Both emphasized that Bonnie and Clyde were a mean and vicious criminal pair.  Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were killed by law enforcement officers  in Louisiana on May 23, 1934. Vignette # 3 My parents now lived on the Lucy Winkler rent-farm, only two miles instead of six miles from The Grove. The tin-roofed four-room  (plus loft) farm house was nestled on the East side of a gigantic oak – a live oak tree. It took three people with fingers touching to encircle the short stubby trunk of this ancient oak. I was born in that little farm house December 20, 1930. How I treasure the letter my father wrote Dr. McCauley in Moody – some 12 miles away about mother expecting. Here is a copy of that letter and the kindly response the country Doctor wrote on the back of Papa’s letter. I also treasure the envelope it came in – with its first class postage stamp of two cents.       “The Grove  Oct 14 – 1930        Tex.       Dr. Mc.Cauley           Moody, Tex.    Dear Sir    Want to ask you if    you can help me out.    in an confinemet(sic) case    Will be 9 months 7 days    Dezember(sic) 17th last Child    it last 9 Mo 16 days    I am still on the same    place where I have been    in March 1929 at C. A. Winkler    Cash Money’s ready for you    please let me know if I can    depend on you          respectfully yours        C. B. Hohle    (over)      The Grove     (above written   Tex” at a slant by Dr. McCauley) Then on the reverse side is Dr. E. R. McCauley’s reply, written in ink pen – while Papa’s was written in pencil. Here is that response:    Dear Mr. Hohle:-    I will be glad to    help you out in    your case of confinement    So call me when    you need(darkly scribbled over another word) me any    time and I will come.              Your friend             Dr. E. R. McCauley” Inside the envelope I also discovered a cancelled check for $35 drawn on the PLANTERS STATE BANK of The Grove. It was dated on my Birthday, “Dec. 20 1930 Pay to the Order of ER. McCauley.” I was the baby that was born 3 days after mother’s prediction – with a blue complexion.  And with good reason – the umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck, choking me. It was my first of several close brushes with an early grave throughout my life.  God has been so gracious to me in giving me nearly 59 years to the present. My second brush came at age 2 when I had a severe case of whooping cough (could there be a non-severe case?).  Once more I turned blue and stopped breathing. Papa was already out the front yard gate to walk across the pasture that surrounded our home, and over a field of corn, to his brother Alvin’s farm home.  There he could phone a funeral home.  Suddenly he heard the sweet shout of Mama (in German):  “Come back, he’s breathing again!” Having been born under such circumstances, my parents wasted no time in bringing me to that blessed washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit: Baptism. So it was that God received me into His blessed covenant of grace in Christ Jesus.  On Christmas Day, 1930, Pastor Boerger cascaded three handfuls of water over my head as he said, “Elmer Martin Hohle, Ich Taufe Dich im Namen des Vaters, und des Sohnes, und des heiligen Geistes.”  My godparents were B. J. Luehrs (the parochial school teacher at St. Paul Lutheran Church), Uncle Edwin Symm, Aunt Mrs. Frieda (Oswald – three of my mother’s brothers married a Frieda) Symm, Cousin Louise Hobratschk (who married Dr. E. O. Bradfield), and Uncle Emil Hohle. A slightly large building – the barn with loft – stood 100 feet to the northeast of our home. West of the barn was a small hen house.  Behind the barn stood the outhouse. Ours did not have the inevitable `quarter moon’ sawed into the door. Ours was only a `single seater’, whereas some affluent farmers had double and triple seaters – with a small hole especially for children.  I never had any fear of falling through our single adult sized one, but how I hated sitting on that seat on those cold winter days when the cold north wind of a `blue norther’ whistled up through that hole! Instead of soft, cuddly tissue, you tore a page from last year’s Wards or Sears mail order catalog. Instead of a pulling a flush handle, you simply scooped up from a bucket a tin can full of cooking stove ashes, and sprinkled them down the hole. However, the essence of my childhood consists mostly of pleasant memories! Vignette #4 It was Christmas Eve 1935. Four days before I had my 5th Birthday.  Papa (C. B. Hohle), Mama (Martha `nee Symm), Edith (now 13), Charles (11), Lydia (9), Gilbert (almost 7), and I – went gone to Christmas Eve Children’s service at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, The Grove. By dirt road, church was only two miles away. We drove in the Model-A Ford Papa bought about the time I was born. Oscar Hobratschk, son of my Aunt Selma, had painted it a few months before – a shiny black enamel color. We worshiped the holy family’s Child, born in Bethlehem nearly twenty centuries before, in that gothic-styled church that had such a magnificent bell high up in the tall steeple. My four siblings all had a part in children’s recitations and carol singing, since they all attended the congregation’s parochial and one-room school. Teacher Henry Leimer sat behind the reed organ at the front of the church as he quizzed the children about the Nativity. I sat with Mama on the epistle side (the woman’s side) of the church. Papa sat with the men on the gospel side, and in the back pew since he was one of the three elders. Later he would bring by the “Klingelbeutel” – a black velveteen bag on the end of a long stick. At the bottom of the bag a little bell to forewarn the worshiper in the far end of a pew to dig in his pocket for a coin or two. It was quite a ding-a-ling bag! It seemingly always drizzled on Christmas Eve. As we came out of church, I remember seeing the dark, starry night.  The Hohle family went home with five excited children. First we stood on the front porch while Papa shot off a few Roman candles, rockets and fire-crackers. Then into the house while my heart pounded inside my “new” hand-me-down (from brother Gilbert) go-to-church shirt and coat.

Earlier that afternoon we children were sent to the barn to schuck corn for the horses and hogs. I only dabbled at the task at hand. Then when I cut one of my tiny fingers on a rough piece of cornhusk, a tear filled plea for sympathy to my oldest sister, Edith, enabled me to “goof off”, look through a crack in the corn crib in time to see Papa carry, what looked like a cedar tree, into the house. We were advised that the Christkind might be bringing some presents that night.  We did not get to go into our room that afternoon and evening. I knew something unusual was about to happen, but I didn’t know what. So, after smelling what I recognized as burning matches and melting candle wax, Papa and Mama finally invited us back into our room. I was over-awed at the sight. There in the corner was “der Weinachstbaum” all aglow with candles of varied colors, reflecting gloriously on a few ornaments and countless icicles.  “Elmer, you are first… look under the tree right here!” Oh My!  There on the splintered floor stood a tiny cardboard barn surrounded with tiny rubber horses and cows – and lo, to one side a little metal windmill, with a fan and rudder that actually turned when you blew on it. I thought my heart would burst with glee as I squealed and ran towards the first Christmas present I can remember. Even now as I recall this, eyes brim with tears at the sweet memory of it all.   That night and again the next day, my father, in his deep and serious voice reminded all of us that our greater joy was that “Jesu Christ, unser Heiland” was born to save us from sin and death and give us “ein herrlichen heimat in Himmel.” To this day, I vividly remember that Christmas and cherish the memory so deeply! (I still have the wheel of that windmill!)  Vignette #5 I remember very little of my life at age four. But I do remember going with the family to Giddings, Texas for the funeral of uncle Gerhardt – Papa’s oldest sibling. Traveling that approximate 100 miles at about 35 – 45 mph seemed like an eternity. I remember very little about Giddings:  The big cotton gin in town which was so much larger than Wolf’s gin in The Grove; crying myself to sleep that night in the strange surroundings of Uncle Henry Bamsch’s home. The next day I remember only my first sight of a coffin at  Immanuel Lutheran Church and the barely visible forehead of what must have been the mortal remains of uncle Gerhardt.  Uncle Gehardt’s home is still being lived in as of today (1989 AD). This was my first remembrance of an encounter with the stark reality of human death; also my first of Papa’s habitual and firm exhortation at the death of any Christian, namely, that we need not cry – because “Christus hat us erlöst und ist auferstanden von Todt. Der Gestorbner seine Seele ist jezt mit Jesus im Himmel.”  About three years later I discovered that grief will out at the death of a loved one. Mutter Mueller was the grand dame of the Henry Winkler household which domiciled four generations at once, including cousin Frances. When Mama would go visit her sister, my Aunt Lena, Mutter Mueller would see to it that Frances and I got cookies. I loved that crinkled-faced old woman who always spoke kindly in a cracked voice. She was a genuine pioneer woman. I remember the story told about her, back-then a mile-away, neighbor, Mrs. Stayton. One day Mr. Stayton went to town, miles away on horseback, to get supplies.  Hostile Indians still roamed around the area at that time. All alone in her log cabin, she noticed something outside the lone window. Cautiously peeking out, she discovered to her horror that an Indian brave, with tomahawk in hand, was crouching beneath that window. At the time she was cooking lye soap in the kettle hanging over the fire in the hearth.  With adrenalin flowing and severely burning her hands, she grabbed the kettle of boiling soap and poured it out the window on the back of the brave. She never heard such hollering and screaming before as the Indian ran wildly off into the woods. It was the only Indian she ever saw on their farm after that! Now, back to my beginning thought and Mrs. Mueller.  When she died in her 90’s in December 1938, many people came to the large Henry Winkler home for the first of the three funeral services – the other two would be at the church and at the cemetery.  It was that afternoon in the yard on the west side. I stood there with all the men folks in the unseasonably warm sunshine. It was the first time of many that I heard my Father take the lead in singing acapella that powerful German hymn: “We thank you dear Lord Jesus Christ; That you for us did die! And have through your precious blood, Made us right and just before God.”  Of course, in German the verse has majestic rhyme and rhythm. Suddenly I found myself overwhelmed with sadness. I firmly believed with all my heart that Papa was right when he told us we need not cry, because she was in the very presence of Christ, her Savior.  However, with her death I felt a part of my heart torn from me. No longer would I be able to sit in her lap, see her smile and hand me a cookie. Suddenly I felt a hot tear streaming down  my  right cheek.  I could  have  cried  bucket fuls.  Nevertheless, with my forefinger I hastily brushed the tear away and `Spartaned up’, lest the grown men in that yard see me cry. You NEED NOT weep for me when I die – for to be with Christ is far better! However, as I discovered that day, tears are a vital “steam valve” through which our grief can escape. Vignette # 6A Another memory I have at my age four will help explain why all through my childhood I had the burning desire to be a rodeo performer, eager to ride any livestock that could buck. It all began one fine summer evening when brother “Charlie” was riding papa’s favorite plow-horse – Travis.  Travis was a beautiful chestnut gelding with a white star. Charles had ridden Travis to turn off the windmill. Our well was about 150 yards down a slight hill to the east of our home. As he came back to the corral, I was sitting on the top rail, idly pulling the bark from the fresh “cedar”(juniper) pole. As he paralleled Travis to the fence he asked me, “Wanna ride?” Agilely I pounced on behind Charlie on top of the broad back of this saddle-less but gentle horse.  “Now”, said Charlie, “you mustn’t hold on to me, lest I fall off.” My short and tiny legs were spread out over the wide part of Travis’ back like a modern era cheerleader doing a split.  “Giddap” said Charlie.  Travis began a slow trot.  My itty bitty bottom bounced like a drop of cold water on a hot skillet.  By putting my hands palms down behind me, I managed to stay on. But soon I yelled for Charlie to stop the horse. He did so.  “Ich will am Fohrne reitten,” said I. So, back to the fence, and we switched places.  “Are you ready?” I asked in German. Even then I possessed the stocky, muscular legs I had inherited from my mother.  I now clamped them down like a vise behind the horse’s narrower shoulders, clutched a handful of mane with my left fist and slapped the reins over his left flank with my right hand. This whole episode came flooding back to me two decades ago when I witnessed my first live quarterhorse race at Ruidosa Downs in New Mexico. “And They’re OFF” came the announcers voice over the P A system. Charlie and I were off at a full gallop, Charlie nearly slide off the rear before he quickly got his hands around my then SLIM belly. I was squealing with glee, Charlie was hanging on for dear life. When he yelled “whoa”, Travis, tired from pulling a plow all day, came to a rapid stop.  Charlie quickly slipped off. Whereupon, I whipped the rein ends over his neck and was off at a full gallop…down to the well and back. However, I was already a practiced rider before this event. You see, Charlie would ride calves in the cow pen while the cows where in the pasture grazing. One morning he helped me get on one of the smaller baby calves. My surcingle was the small rope with which Mama tied off the calf from the cow after the calf had sucked enough for the cow to let down her milk – then Mama would milk the cow. Well, I rode many times – always until the calf would give up OR throw me into a bed of cow manure, always smelly, usually dry, but sometimes fresh and wet. Sister Edith had just finished sweeping the house one summer morning when I walked in covered with demeanor and smell of a fallen cowboy. In a wrath filled voice she chased me out of the house with her broom.  That’s when I learned, at age four, that my short stocky legs enabled me to run rather rapidly whenever adrenalin flowed! Papa and Mama would always take us to the July rodeo that was hosted by Mr. Austin Doolittle at the The Grove Rodeo grounds one and a half miles west of our house.  Incidentally, at this writing, Austin Doolittle still rides horses on a ranch near Katy, Texas. He must be about 92 years old. Mr. Doolittle had his rodeo underwritten by the town ginner, Mr. G. E. Wolf and by the general store owner and operator, Mr. W. A. Dube.  He paid top prize money and thus attracted outstanding cowboys to his rodeo. I would get so excited whenever they rode the bucking broncos and the Brahma bulls. My toes would barely touch the foot rest in the west (and shaded) stands.  In the excitement my legs would rapidly and uncontrollably bounce up and down. I rode little calves at home, but I was horrified when the cowhands would rope those little creatures, yank them to the ground, and tie three of their feet together. Although that is one of the most essential functions in cattle ranching, to this day, calf roping is my least favorite sport. But what fun the grand finale. Doolittle’s rodeo area had ten chutes. At the end of the performance, ten mules, graded by size, would be driven into the chutes and belled. Ten brave cowboys each mounted the mule they had drawn. Then all at once all ten gates were opened. Never since have I witnessed such madhouse and flurry of bucking activity as then ensued. The last rider to remain aboard would win the riding contest. The first to go would be the cowboy on the smallest mule who would usually buck with a spinning motion. The winner would usually be the cowboy on the largest mule, approximately 18 hands high. One day Miss Lucy, our landlady, brought some hand me down clothes to Mama for Gilbert and me to wear. Included was a tiny pair of black cowboy boots that fit me perfectly for about six months. Although I usually rode barefooted, it was the only pair of cowboy boots I ever possessed. All they did was to intensify my desire to be a rodeo cowboy – riding those Brahma bulls! I openly discussed my desire to be a rodeo rider with my father and mother throughout my childhood and early teens. It gave them both an opportunity to instill in me values about choosing a career. They stressed to me the importance of choosing a life’s work that would be of most service to my Lord and to my fellowman.  They encouraged me to rather seek a career in church work, like being a pastor. And while sometimes at age five and six I did line up my sister’s few dolls while I stood before them in the attic behind an apple box and preached some stem winding sermons – I never for a moment wanted to be a pastor. I wanted to be a rancher or a dairyman…if I couldn’t ride in rodeos. However my desire to be a rodeo rider came to an abrupt halt around Christmas of 1944. We were by this time living on the Coon’s farm which Papa had bought at the end of 1938.  Brother Charlie was in the army and about to go overseas to fight in Okinawa.  He was excused from helping Gilbert and I in helping Papa do the barnyard chores on this crisp, clear December Sunday morning.  Instead he was picking and eating pecans under a tree below the hill behind the barn.  I had just finished milking the cows (about five, my usual chores). Papa was feeding the horses.  Gilbert had somehow finished his a little early.  Edith was working in Temple for the Voelter family and Lydia was in the house helping Mama. Gilbert loved to rope cattle. I loved to ride them. “Rosie”, a Jersey cow – dry at the time – was the only cow or steer that I had been unsuccessful in riding. Many a time she had thrown me after only a few bucks with her front feet horizontally high in the air and ole’ Elmer was sailing in the opposite direction of where her hooves were pointing (Jim Shoulders could not have ridden that skinny cow for any eight seconds). Gilbert yelled from below the hill where Charlie was picking pecans,  “Look what I’ve roped for you, Elmer. You want to ride her?”  I had propitiously just finished milking my last cow and was in the act of releasing the calf to suck out what I had left in the udder (ala Boaz/Esther). I untied the “calf-rope” from the cow pen fence post, and yelled back, “Be right there!”  I hung the bucket of milk on a nail on the barn rafter and ran down the gently sloping hill, put the surcingle around her belly. Charlie held this muhly jersey by her ears as I mounted.  Off in the distance I heard a dog barking as I nodded my head.  Gilbert released the rope and Charlie let go of her ears. “AND THEY’RE OFF!” Rosie headed straight for the barn, bucking sharply as usual.  I had recently reached puberty, and although still wiry and small for my age, I did have added strength. I anticipated Rosie’s every feint and buck beautifully. I rode her 25 yards by now and could hear my brothers yelling encouragement in the background – intended for me and not the cow I hoped. I was truly in fine form and had now ridden her for 50 yards – wow what a record, I was thinking to myself as I noticed my father out of the corner of my eye. All the yelling made him come out from behind the horse shed. I expected to see him shaking his fist because by now he demanded some maturity from me and totally disapproved of my riding cows and steers as bucking animals. However, I am told he merely stood and watched intently, with hands on his hip. Never in rodeo history could there have been such a magnificent ride.  I was approaching 75 yards.  Instinctively I  was anticipating Rosie to fling her front legs to the left and in a split second decision I braced myself accordingly. Whereupon in even less time that tough bovine bowed her head, did a double feint and tossed her legs to the right…and I found  myself testing the theory if man can fly without wings. My brothers assured me it was only a second or two later – but I had no sense of time as I sat up in a pile of grass burrs and saw green spots and a warped world. I shook my head and dizzily arose to see my father doubled over in laughter like I have never seen him before…or since. Later in church that morning, as I sat in the balcony (I had been confirmed the previous March 13 on Palm Sunday), I couldn’t concentrate too well on Pastor Scaer’s sermon.  However, I did send heavenward a prayer of thanksgiving, polished off by the Holy Spirit, for God sparing me serious injury….and FOR KNOCKING SOME SENSE INTO MY HEAD! Thus ended my desire to be a rodeo cowboy. Vignette #6B I have so many happy memories of the first six years of my life spent on Miss Lucy’s rent-farm home. The home was centered in a sloping meadow of about 25 acres. In the spring time I would walk up the gentle slope to the West, lie down amidst all kind of wild flowers that hosted many species of lovely butterflies. My body was bathed by the warming rays of the mid-morning sun. As I inhaled the unpolluted and fragrant air, the fluffy, fleecy clouds  overhead  slowly wended their way northward.  My imagination saw many animals in those soaring shapes in the sky. Back at the house Mama would have two wash tubs filled with water – one had lye soap and a rub board in it, the other had “bluing”.  Papa would be planting cotton in the field north of the house.  Mama was doing the laundry (in 1936 Papa sold enough produce to buy Mama a hand cranked washing machine).  After she finished rinsing the clothes, she would leave the water in the tub for me. I got out some cellophane dolls, an inch in length, that came with new toothbrushes. I made a ladder out of clothes pins and attached it to the side of the tub.  Then I would have the little dolls dive into the tub and have them climb back up the ladder. I got my home-sewn cotton shirt so very wet.  Mama came back from the line, took off my shirt, ran it through both tubs, and hung it on the line. My other weekday shirt was already on the line, and the third shirt was my Sunday shirt.  Hence, I played the rest of the morning in my overalls with its slightly wet bib – without a shirt. One Easter I really got wet. Papa would always load us in the wagon and take us down to MacThiglum Creek to indulge in a pagan custom of the Wends – wash in “Bosque hole”. Even when he was in his 70’s, Papa would go down to the Leon river at Easter dawn and have a brief swim in chilly March waters.  Bosque hole was a pool below a small waterfall where we would swim in the summer time – about a mile from our house. I learned to swim dog paddle by using Mama’s homemade life preserver. It consisted of two empty, tightly-lidded, gallon molasses buckets placed inside a flour sack. I would place the sack under my chest, with a bucket slipped behind each arm pit. However, on this particular morning I had not yet learned how to swim.  I was romping through the tall grass on the top of the creek bank. As I came upon a small spring-fed brook that gurgled down the embankment, Charlie was ahead of me and jumped across it. I tried to jump across and fell directly into the stream. I was starting to slide into the creek’s waters and screamed loudly.  In an instant I appreciated how St. Peter felt when Jesus reached out to him as he sank into the sea of Galilee  – Charlie’s strong hand grabbed me and pulled me out dripping like a wet puppy. Mama proceeded to take off my wet clothes. I was crying because I didn’t have any other clothes. Mama said she had some, to wit, her wool sweater which she wrapped around my shivering five year old body.  On the way home Papa stopped the wagon to chat with Miss Lucy as we passed her stately home on top of the hill. I was so embarrassed that I crouched down behind the side boards of the wagon.  But she asked where I was. Mama told her what had happened. Miss Lucy peered over the side boards of the wagon to greet me as I blushed in shame and clutched Mama’s sweater tightly around me. Another Spring day the family was hoeing corn that was already in tassel. I wandered along aimlessly until I came to a place where the last rainfall had washed some silt into a depression. I sat down and played in the fine black dirt. I put some into my mouth and discovered a taste I’d never experienced before – or since.  After some time I heard my family calling to me to go home for lunch.  The thick green leaves totally blocked my view in every direction.  I was lost in the corn field! I panicked and began to cry, but then had the presence of mind to walk across the rows until I came into the rows planted with seedling cotton. Then I saw the model A Ford parked on the south end of the field.  What a sense of relief. The prodigal son found his way back. On still another occasion we were in the field north of the house.  We were gathering a bumper crop of kohlrabi on the upward slope next to Miss Lucy’s house. Charlie had to go to the bathroom.  He walked the approximate 400 feet to our outhouse located behind the barn but in plain view of our vantage point.  Suddenly we heard him yelling at the top of his lungs. There was brother Charlie at age 11 standing on the roof of the outhouse with his arms waving to us in panic. As he was about to sit down he had glanced down the hole. There lay a monstrous sized “chicken” snake. To this day I don’t know how he managed to get on the roof – but adrenalin makes people “rise” to the occasion. There were further happy times as Uncle Oswald’s came over for homemade ice cream on many summer evenings. They lived on Mrs. Ida’s farm over the next hill to the Southeast. Mama would cook up a good custard and often put in some fresh peaches. Papa had gone to The Grove for a 50 pound block of ice from Mr. Dube’s cold storage. I even got to turn the freezer handle some, but when the cream began to thicken it became too difficult for me. It almost tasted as good as the ice cream cones at the church picnic.  We children lined up at the booth with several nickels in our pockets (nickel per cone). The booth consisted of a plank nailed between two of the oak trees on the church grounds.  Mr. Elmo Winkler would scoop out the cream from canisters in thick bags packed with dry ice. One picnic we had to wait for an hour for the ice cream truck to arrive from Brenham, Texas. But it was well worth the wait for such a taste treat. Many years later I moved my family to Austin, Texas. My wife served vanilla ice cream for dessert.  I went into ecstasy at the taste and explained to my family that it tasted like the ice cream of those church picnics. Looking down at the carton I saw the words: “Blue Belle Homemade Vanilla, BRENHAM, Texas! The Raleigh and Watkins spice salesmen would come by with their wares several times a year. Mama liked Mr. Alison best because he didn’t try high pressure. I liked him best because he always had a little trinket for me. Papa liked his black pepper.  It had a nice grayish appearance and really spiced up Papa’s pork sausage!  He would also buy the necessary ingredients to make homemade root beer and ginger ale for us children. He also made an occasional batch of home brew beer.  Once a batch had the bottle caps “a poppin” in the smoke house in the middle of the night.   Papa  and uncle Oswald  would  exchange  samples.  Occasionally my father would give me a few sips with repeated warnings about alcohol abuse and its dangers. But, I liked the ginger ale because the tiny bubbles would tingle up my nostrils. Something I did not like was eating those turnips, but my parents insisted I eat them. We were living in The Great Depression, but since my industrious parents lived on a farm, our family never went hungry – even if at times it meant eating turnips and greens with chunks of fatty pork it them. Mama was a good cook and could  make every dish delicious.  As an adult I  deeply appreciated her turnips. Her forte was turkey. She could have a turkey from chopping block to the table post haste – bulging with her homemade dressing. Incidentally, our turkeys ran wild and we would have to go hunt them in the woods east of the house on occasion to bring them in at night. Their food was insects and grasshoppers.  Once a large spider had pulled the leg of one of the hatchlings down its hole. I watched in amazement as Charlie pulled its leg free. I remember Mama and Papa taking me along on a trip one day when the others were in school. We drove in the Model A to Copperas Cove to visit Mr. John Teinert, a Wendish patriarch and family friend. Mama had spent her childhood there, though born in Fedor in Lee County; Papa had been born in Serbin. As we came out of Gatesville we crested a hill and I saw a vast vista of land.  I traveled that road a second time at age 57. As I crested the hill this memory flooded back over me again. On another occasion we drove to Bland so Papa and Mama could vote in the Presidential election.  Papa, in four successive elections, never once voted for FDR. (And I wonder why I grew up to become a Republican!) In their old age, after I told the county Republican chairman of their voting habits, my parents were sent a courtesy invitation to the inauguration of Texas’ first Republican governor since Reconstruction days. One final memory from Miss Lucy’s place. Gilbert and I were not yet in school. Mama had told us to bring in some kindling and fire wood so she could cook Papa and us lunch.  Following Gilbert’s lead, the two of us went and played out by the barn where Papa was painting the wagon wheels, instead.  When the three of us came in for lunch, Mama informed Papa of our disobedience.  Papa’s righteous wrath (he was hungry)  was unfurled as he reached behind the door for a small leather strap that came to a sharp point. Justice was quickly meted out.  I put my hands over my bottom to protect it and received two welts on my right forearm. As we repentantly went to quickly do the chore, we came by Papa’s can of red wagon paint. I snickered as I took a stick and painted a streak of red “blood” over my two barely visible welts. As I marched stoically to the stove with an armful of kindling, I made sure that Papa saw my “bloody” wrist.  When he and Mama burst out in hearty laughter, I knew I had been forgiven. That day planted in my heart the resolve that seeing Papa smile benignly when we Honored Father and Mother far outweighed the painful consequences of rebellion and disobedience. God is truly gracious and through the instrumentality of my parents He provided well for us. I suppose that’s why my childhood memories are such a treasure to me. Vignette #6C Miss Lucy used to put her aged mother in the back seat of her nice sedan automobile and drive her around in our pasture.  Her mother had become senile and kept begging her daughter to take her back to her native Germany. As she drove her through our pasture she would tell her mother that they were on the way back to Germany.  Then after a while forgetfulness would become a benign benefactor. Whereupon Miss Lucy would stop by our house for a brief visit. On one such visit she informed my parents we would have to move by February of 1937.  Her brother had purchased a tractor and desired to farm additional land.  His farm adjoined ours to the north. I was heart-broken at the news. In the meantime, Uncle Oswald made a bold move and purchased a river bottom farm. He was moving there simultaneously.  So in January of 1937 we loaded wagons and moved our few household possessions over the hill to Mrs. Ida’s place. My utopia came to an end.  The home of my birth would slowly deteriorate to its present remnant condition, although the ancient oak majestically shades what’s left of that house to this present day. The previous September I began the first grade in our one room, one teacher school, St. Paul Lutheran Parochial school.  Mr. Henry Leimer had a reputation for being a strict teacher. He had a massive shock of red hair on his head.  I was rather fearful of the man for the first few weeks of school. One noon recess ten year old Leonard, with a bit of malicious intent, lined me up directly in front of one of the north windows of the school.  He handed me a baseball and told me to practice for a game of “Andy Over.”  I protested that I could never throw the ball over the roof.  He kept urging me, saying I could. I threw with all the strength I could muster and watched in horror as the ball crashed through the top window pane. Leonard laughed and said he would tattle to teacher on me. I was so frightened. After the opening afternoon prayer, I attempted to muster the courage to go up to teacher’s desk to confess – but a grinning Leonard brushed past me and whispered something to Teacher Leimer. “Elmer, did you break a window pane in the school house?” the teacher asked in a stern voice. Speaking German at home, I’d never heard the word “pane” before. With quivering lips and tears brimming from my sad eyes, I blurted out: “I didn’t break the pane – I only broke the glass!”  Mr. Leimer’s stern countenance instantly converted into a smiling, gentle face as the entire student body of some 25 children laughed. I assumed I would not receive a dreaded spanking. I was instructed by Mr. Leimer to bring a quarter to pay for the “pane”. I was spared the other pain. Since we lived on Mrs. Ida’s place now, we had an extra mile to walk home from school. Gilbert and I would trot diagonally across the field on the last 400 yards… it was good training for some of the jogging I did in adulthood.  On rainy days Papa would drive us to school. Once he picked us up with the surrey because he knew the fording place on MacThiglum Creek would be flooded.  Papa had hitched his most reliable team – Travis, my favorite horse, and Tobe, a large and strong mule. Horses and mules could go where Model A Fords could not. The water came up high enough to touch Travis’ belly. I was sitting in the back seat between Edith and Lydia. My legs were too short to reach the curved floorboard.  But I raised them some more when a small amount of the flooding stream came gurgling over the floorboard as my sisters raised their feet to keep their shoes dry. I was not frightened at the ordeal, felt secure, and thought it so much fun. Travis and Tobe steadily pulled us through and out on the other side, as Papa spoke constant encouragement to the experienced span. However, the previous Fall I was shaking with fright the afternoon Uncle Oswald had picked us up after school on a rainy afternoon and attempted to cross the ford in his ’34 Chevrolet sedan. The water was only about a foot deep, but rising rapidly.  Near the other side the fan hit the water and sprayed it onto the spark plugs. The engine died!  After attempting unsuccessfully to crank it, Uncle Oswald did a clever thing.  He put the car in second gear, left the ignition key off, and stepped on the starter. Ever so slowly the car crept forward until we were safely out of the water. I held my breath for that agonizing minute as I empathetically leaned forward. One summer evening Papa instructed Gilbert and me to go to the corn crib and shuck some more corn to feed the horses.  I easily succumbed to Gilbert’s attractive suggestion that we first go play while there was still some daylight. We went about 50 yards from the horse pen to play by the straw stack. Soon Papa was approaching, removing his belt from his trousers. We knew we were in for it and began to run around the large straw stack.  Papa was in hot pursuit, his long legs making big, lumbering strides (Papa was 6’1″). Our tiny legs were moving much more rapidly.  We made two circles and I looked over my shoulder and caught a brief glimpse of Papa’s right shoe sole only a few feet behind us. As we ran, Gilbert and I discussed the futility of our desperate situation. Before Gilbert reached puberty, I could run slightly faster than he. I took off at a tangent straight for the barn. Gilbert was right behind me. Papa caught up with Gilbert just as he reached the corn crib door. With a strong admonition he gave Gilbert a few swats.  By this time I was shucking corn like a boy possessed. He turned to me in the now semi dark barn and said to me in German: “That applies to you, also.” Whereupon he almost gently brushed my bottom with his belt. It was the last time my father found it necessary to administer corporal punishment on me. One summer, in the late afternoon, the skies turned black with vicious, swirling clouds. Papa and Mama scurried to finish the evening chores.  Edith was instructed to go into our four-room bungalow home and close all the windows. I went with her.  I stood on the front porch and looked toward the northwest. Not in my entire life to date have I ever seen such ominous clouds.  I was terrified. I felt we would all be blown away. I ran into Charlie, Gilbert, and my bedroom, sat down on my bed and aloud but softly prayed the Lord’s Prayer in German.  I had every confidence that God was going to blow us all away to heaven. But His mighty arm spared us during the ensuing hail and rain storm. It was at this age that I had learned how to read German in school.  I loved to sing praises to our God.  Frequently after suppertime in the winter I would have no homework.  While the others did theirs, I would ask Papa and Mama to sing hymns with me out of their two little black German hymn books.  I sang lustily and eagerly. I’m grateful my parents made me bi-lingual. In adulthood I had the privilege of acquiring knowledge of Latin, Greek and Hebrew. And now in my disability, I learning to read and sing hymns in the ancient Sorbian slavic language of my fathers. The following February, on a Saturday, Papa was out in the field next to the house, plowing. A dry “Norther” was howling and Charlie was outside sawing more firewood with a buck saw.  Mama was baking bread in the kitchen stove. She stoked high the fire in our heater stove. Edith and Lydia were embroidering. Gilbert and I were playing with a game we had gotten for Christmas.  Suddenly Papa burst through the kitchen door. In an agitated voice he asked Mama if she was burning “keen” (pieces of pine lumber). When she replied negatively. “Dan ist unseres Haus an Feuer!” Gilbert and I were quickly instructed to run up the lane to Mrs. Ida’s house – about 400 feet – to tell her.  Papa ran into the yard to pull water from our shallow well.  Edith immediately did what Papa had instructed her to do if ever our house caught on fire: She ran to the big ward robe, grabbed a small, locked, metal box. She ran out of the house with it, into the freshly plowed field. Inexplicably, she heaved the box as far as she could fling it. Unknown to us, someone had wallpapered over an unused flue vent on the opposite side of our heater vent. It started an attic fire directly above the big ward robe that stood nearly to the ceiling. In a few more minutes our little home would have burned up like a tinder box. But Papa, standing on a chair, with his bare fingers bent the nail that held up the attic lid.  Mama handed him a bucket of water and then another. The fire was out. In the meantime, Gilbert and I breathlessly reached Mrs. Ida’s home.  “Our house is on fire” was our greeting to her and her daughters, Lucille and Lillian. “Quick, get into the car”, she said.  But I had already turned around and was running back to our house in a pair of house shoes I had received for Christmas.  I know Miss Ida drove her sedan as fast as she could – but I beat her back to the house. Today headlines would read: “Eight-year- old lad wins race with ’36 Olds.” Most of the burning took place directly on top of the ward robe.  I still possess the five-cent cigar box that was singed on its edge. Papa’s biggest loss was the only memento he had from his father – his Sunday-best felt hat. Only the inside lining remained. Papa was dejected about that, but glad that he had saved the house.  He also was proud that Edith had rescued the metal box, for it contained his biggest material possession – an army bonus certificate for serving in World War I in France. It was worth $500 in cash. That Fall he took it and Mama to Temple one day.  When they came home, we children had just finished doing the chores. At supper Papa announced that we would soon move again – he had put his army bonus down as down payment on the run-down Coon farm. It was located on the Leon river bottom,  adjoining uncle Oswald’s farm. We were all excited. So early in 1939 the wagons were loaded again.  Mr. Herman Melcher was one of the kind people who helped. He loaded up his wagon with the corn Gilbert and I hadn’t shucked yet. Papa told me to ride along to show him the way. Herman had an old mule and a young colt he was “breaking in” for a team. The wagon had no breaks.  When we came to “Carlisle’s Hill” that leads into the Leon river valley, I said: “Mr. Melcher, I can jump off and tie up one of the back wheels”(a precaution I had observed my Father take in such situations).  “Naw, why bother,” he said and proceeded down the steep hill, pulling hard on the teams reins.  By the time we reached bottom, the wild colt’s collar was up by its ears and the team was at full trot. Another in a series of frightening experiences in my young life! God’s holy angels were yet to do more in protecting me in later life. Vignette # 7 A year after I quit being a “rodeo cowboy” an event occurred that was worse than being gored by a Brahma bull. It caused a series of events that left lasting impressions on my outlook on life. It also created a time of crises and testing for my parents that purified their faith into pure gold. Through it all the Lord used my parents to be twin towers of comfort, strength and inspiration to me. This event also began on a clear and crisp December morning. However, I must first relate some prior episodes of injury and illness which God used to prepare me for this event.  It far exceeded the first major pain I experienced when I tripped in the summer of 1936 on the roots of that gigantic oak under which I was born. My left forearm bore the brunt of my fall.  Mama in her quiet and efficient manner ripped off four short slats from an apple box and made a splint on my arm and put in a sling for several days. It far outmatched the discomfort I vaguely remember having at age 3 when I had scarlet fever. Beside my discomfort I do remember clutching at the vertical iron rods of my baby bed while wildly wailing and weeping. My first experience of a traumatic accident that required the care of a physician happened the Spring of 1935.  Papa was plowing the garden with the sweep stock.  My shoeless feet happily hopped in the newly plowed furrows behind Papa.  The fresh smelling earth would soon nurture Mama’s plantings to feed us vegetables for another year – including the turnips I disliked so much. Suddenly I stepped on a piece of glass buried in the dirt.  Once more I experienced excruciating pain, plus profuse bleeding.  Mama stopped the bleeding. She couldn’t stop the pain.  Soon it was suppertime and I refused to eat, complaining about stinging. So Papa and Mama probed with a needle, looking for a piece of glass lodged in my foot. They found none.  The pain persisted – as did my crying from pain. Whereupon the whole family boarded the Model A Ford – ’29 model year – and rode to “Votie” and “Mutta’s” house(my mother’s parents) in The Grove. My siblings were dropped off; Papa, Mama, and I continued the dozen or so miles to Moody to hopefully find Dr. McCauley.  All I remember of the visit was the hot pain of a needle as Dr. McCauley probed on the bottom of my foot. I was on my back and cried some more from pain. Through the salty tears I saw a high ceiling light. It was my first view of an indoor electric light.  The high ceiling was metal and had flower designs stamped in it. Dr. McCauley found no glass particle. He gave me something for pain, and I fell asleep on the way back to The Grove. Then at age 13 my lymph node in my left groin became infected.  I had my second visit to Dr. McCauley. He prescribed a salve called “Kaola.” After a few days the swelling and infection only became more pronounced. So did the pain. Now my parents took me to a prominent hospital in Temple to see a doctor there. “Dr. C” took one look and said, “I must operate soon.” I was admitted to the hospital – my first admission of many that were to follow in the ensuing years. “Ray” came into my room immediately after the nurse took my temperature.  He held a shaving mug with a brush in it, and a straight razor. His task was to shave my pubic area since it was adjacent to the inflamed lymph node. He took one look at my peachy fuzz, shook his head, and then crushed every ounce of machismo in my being by saying:  “Ah, why bother?” and walked out. Once in the operating room, the doctor administered an injection next to the inflamed node. Hot lava would have been a welcome relief! Suddenly I felt the red hot sting of his scalpel making a two inch incision. Oh the sweet relief of the release of pent up pressure! But then the doctor began mashing this most sensitive spot with his hands – and kept on mashing for what must have been at least seven minutes. This is where my unending adoration for nurses began. Miss Terry was holding my right hand. The beads of pain’s perspiration popped out on my forehead, and tears welled from both my eyes. Brother Charles had always urged me when hurt while playing to “be tough.” Miss Terry squeezed my hand with hers and patted me on the arm with the other while she spoke words of encouragement. Her surgical mask hid most of her face but could not hide those compassionate blue eyes. The ridge in the fabric revealed that her mouth was smiling.  My mouth, contorted in a wincing expression, weakly smiled back at her.  After the doctor squeezed out a pint of “corruption” (as he termed it) I found myself in another room. I had a new roommate – it was “VOTIE!” He had just been admitted for treatment of the early stages of the cancer that took his life about four years later.  I was delighted to be in the same room with him but did not like the times he endured intense pain. He in turn was still the practical joker, to wit: Each day Miss Miller, a cherubic nurse with natural frizzy blond hair, came in to dress the incision on my loin. Having to remove my pajama bottom was horribly embarrassing for this shy country boy. (The ten day stay did much to turn me into a person who knows few strangers.) After doing so, Miss Miller would immediately take a small two inch square gauze bandage with a pair of forceps and gingerly lay it on my shriveled manhood. (All machismo in my being had totally evaporated)  Then she would remove the taped bandage from my two inch incision, take a methiolate soaked swab and cleanse the wound. On this particular day she accidentally spilled some excess methiolate by the wound. Gravity took its course as the icy cold liquid slowly oozed down to my at-the-time raw bottom.  That moment ranks in the top ten of my lifetime painful moments.  Sucking in my breath through clenched teeth and with perspiration on my brow, I heard the distressed voice of Miss Miller:  “Oh, Elmer, honey, did I hurt your wound? I’m so sorry!”  She kept repeating her pleading question. As the fiery sensation began to abate somewhat, I assured her everything was all right. After she left the room, I told “Votie” what had actually caused my pain – methiolate oozing down on an irritated and inflamed anus spells a-g-o-n-y!  Thereupon I found it necessary to use the bed pan – I was too bashful (at that time) to allow a nurse to assist me.  Upon removing it, I began to panic for fear that I was passing huge amounts of blood. “Votie” immediately reassured me that it was the result of the cooked beets we had been served in a previous “soft diet” meal. With curved stem pipe in mouth, he did not stop chuckling – until Miss Miller returned to our room. It was practical joke time again – time to give wrong directions to MacGregor. He spilled the beans about both episodes to our nurse, and laughed most heartily.  I hid my face under my sheet. I would just as soon have stood nude in front of the Queen of England. I was so very embarrassed.  I felt Miss Miller pat me on the shoulder as she said kind words to me. Similar to Psalm 130, I went from depths of despair to complete restoration. About two years later, I unwittingly played a cruel “joke” on “Votie.”  I made a statement about hospital procedure that was truly  correct.  “Votie” disputed my statement.  I  politely retracted. But Papa had firsthand knowledge from a nurse and a doctor that I was correct in what I said. Once Papa had firsthand knowledge that favored an injured underdog, he would face up to lions or devils – ala St. Paul and Martin Luther.  He “withstood” Votie “to the face.”  “Votie” argued with Papa – somewhat irrationally.  I once more entered the fray and sided with my father. Thereafter I detected an icy aloofness by “Votie” towards  me.  My heart ached for the  previous  congenial relationship. Sometime later “Votie” lay dying. I went with my mother to see him. He was living with his son Uncle Oswald and “Tante” Frieda.  (Mama had two other brothers who married Frieda’s, too).  I waited for the moment to be alone with him. Then I blurted out something about how I meant my statement, and how under certain circumstances he could have been right. He merely grunted and took a puff from his pipe. I turned my back and faced his ancient dresser. On it was his ten-gallon hat that he wore everywhere he went. I placed it on my size seven head. The hat fit me perfectly.  I turned and faced “Votie.” Propped up in his death-bed, he gave me a kindly, sincere smile which I will always cherish.  “Der bekommt Dich,” he said in a soft voice. The hostility between us was over from that moment on.  From then on, I began to note how “Votie” let his life in Christ shine through in every attitude and word. I conveyed to Mama the incident with the hat. After “Votie” died several months later, he had few possessions of this world’s goods. His sons and daughters each took something for a memento.  Mama, as the oldest sibling, was asked to choose first.  She chose his hat. When she came home, she walked into the house holding the hat. She came to where I stood, handed me the hat and said(in German): “I want you to have this.” I have it to this day and – although a little small because of my big head – wear it on very, very special occasions. Miss Terry and Miss Miller stand for me as the epitome of compassionate nurses; my grandfather’s hat stands as a symbol of Christ Jesus’ forgiveness reconciling a grandfather with his grandson. Vignette # 8 Now, back to that clear, crisp, December morning.  Papa usually drove Gilbert and me the two miles to Keys’ store where we would board the school bus for the additional eight miles to Moody High School in Moody. (We were always privileged to walk the two miles home after school). At about the fifth farmhouse on the route, the school bully boarded the bus. I was still a small, wiry youngster, and he liked to pick on me. Although not much taller, he was very muscular. As he walked down the bus isle, he looked away from me. I in turn looked out the left window as I sat in an aisle-seat in the middle of the bus. As he walked past my seat, he suddenly turned toward me.  With his knuckled right fist he struck a full swinging, vicious blow on the side of my right arm, directly between my elbow and shoulder.  His cruel fist found only skin and bone. I did not cry out but winced in excruciating pain. Tears filled my eyes as immediately an ugly, blue knot – the size of a goose egg  – welled up on my arm.  Mr. Shipp, our kindly bus driver, observed all this happen in his oversized mirror. At the time I thought the tongue lashing he gave the bully was adequate punishment for his cruel deed. My arm hurt so badly that I could not write in school that day. Much worse would yet befall me. The swelling went down in a few days. We went to church (a regular habit in our household) the Sunday before Christmas.  I sat in the most rear and elevated pew in St. Paul Lutheran Church’s balcony – close to the bell rope that dangled from a high ceiling.  Pastor Scaer began to preach an Advent sermon about the Coming of Christ. Suddenly I saw green spots dizzily dancing somewhere between my pupils and pastor. I felt nauseous, light-headed. No one noticed as I, with unsteady gait, descended the balcony stairs into the narthex, went out the front door, to lie down in the back seat of our model A Ford.  My head was pounding and my right upper arm was feeling warm. I began to shiver, suffering from chills. The church service seemed to last an interminable length.  Finally I heard the congregation begin to sing a beautiful Lutheran chorale – I knew the pastor’s sermon was finally over.  Little did I realize that in less than a dozen years I would, as a seminary student, preach my first sermon from that pulpit. But that morning must have influenced the fact that I seldom, in 37 years of preaching since that time, have preached sermons longer than 15 to 17 minutes. Finally the membership exited the church. After the church visiting, Mama was always the first to the car.  Upon apprising my situation, she hastily gathered my father and siblings to the car. We went home and I was put to bed. Our 90 year old home had the “dog trot” closed in, making it into a three bedroom, parlor-dining (dog trot portion), and kitchen home.  We three boys had two double beds in the high-ceiling, southeast room. It also contained a mirrored dresser and the wood heater.  Between the two beds stood a two tiered end table.  Our old Zenith radio, which Papa purchased from uncle Edwin when he connected to the new REA electric line, graced the top shelf.  The bottom shelf supported a six-volt automobile battery which powered the radio. That afternoon I was lying in Gilbert’s and my bed and listened to WOAI, San Antonio. The air force troops at Randolph field were fielding a team against some other football team. (I was infatuated with football). Listening to the game took my mind off of my ill health. Suddenly I screamed, and my mother came running from the kitchen. I felt a sensation that can best be described as a red hot sword being pierced through my right arm. The piercing pain abated in a few seconds. But every ten minutes or so it would re-occur for the remainder of the afternoon. In the meantime, my frantic parents tried every home remedy they could muster to alleviate my pain and suffering. In addition, they comforted me with various Christian assurances. I in turn reached for one of the prayer books I received from my godparents at my confirmation.  By nightfall my arm was very swollen and red – hot with fever. It was not a fun Sunday night! By morning my arm was beet-red and swollen the size of my muscular thigh. My exhausted parents took me to Doctor “C” again. X-rays were hastily taken and I was immediately hospitalized in the basement floor in the closest room to the nurses’ station.  The doctor’s diagnosis: “We don’t what it is – something around the bone, but not in the bone.  We think its rheumatic fever.” I was given endless amounts of Salicylate tablets and  a penicillin shot every 3 hours around the clock. My temperature was soaring, and the nurses sponge bathed me frequently with rubbing alcohol to keep the temperature down.  But that night it reached 104.5 degrees – despite their best efforts. I became delirious – I was told later. I vaguely remember frantic nurses and doctors hovering over me. They were sponging my naked body with isopropyl alcohol in an attempt to drive down my temperature.  Then in the early morning hours they finally got the temperature down somewhat. I fell asleep and had a horrid nightmare of my falling off a high cliff. As I helplessly tumbled down, I dreamt  I saw many, mean Brahma bulls below with sharp, long horns eagerly waiting to gore me. At that moment one nurse was taking my pulse. Horrified, she quickly brought in an Intern. I awoke. My pulse rate dropped dramatically back to a more normal rate.  The expression on their face betrayed their fear that I was about to go into cardiac arrest. Mama stayed by my bedside, while Papa went home to look after my siblings and help with the many necessary farm chores.  Brother Charlie had just returned from Korea (WWII had ended while he fought in Okinawa). Edith was home trying to get ready for her wedding in a few weeks, along with Lydia and Gilbert. My health did not improve. On day three of my hospitalization, Papa brought my siblings by to see me very briefly. They each in turned  walked by my bedside with grief  stricken  faces. As each in turn clasped my left hand and said endearing words, it dawned on me: My brothers and sisters have been told that I was about to die – they were coming to say goodbye before I left this mortal life!  And, I was well aware that young lads did die. In my previous hospitalization, my young friend Winfred Winkler was hospitalized down the hall and died of leukemia. When I was “thirty something”, I was guest preacher at St. Paul’s Church for their Mission Festival. I became very ill with a flu virus and preached the second (afternoon) sermon with a fever.  That night my brother-in-law Edmund took me to see a doctor. The doctor gave me a penicillin shot that reacted allergically.  By morning I WANTED TO DIE and prayed God to take me. Years later I performed a marriage in Seguin, Texas and ate some contaminated food at the reception as another virus and ear infection were simultaneously stalking my body. The three held a summit meeting in my head at 2:00 am that morning. Stumbling dizzily into the bath room I saw my face in the mirror. My complexion was that of a bleached but weathered piece of canvas.  On this occasion I did NOT want to die. But, I was convinced in my heart that God was loading a bus load for heaven, and I was the first passenger aboard. Here at age 15, I was indeed ready to die and be with my Savior – if God wanted that. The day before had been my birthday. It had been a great life. However, I was the only person in the room who felt that God was not yet ready for me to fully experience the ultimate life and resurrection which is through and with Jesus Christ. That Christmas Day was dreary back home. Mama, who even in her 70’s could have delicious turkey and dressing on the table in a minimum of time, was at my bedside. Papa was shuttling back and forth to Temple. Their Christmas dinner consisted of bread, pickles, and smoked (cold) sausage from the smokehouse.  (As I write these words, my current family physician has me on a liquid diet – the foregoing three foods make my mouth water). The day after Christmas, my doctor saw the swelling was receding. He dismissed me from the hospital with orders to take heavy dosages of the sodium salicylate tablets. I would not miss the every three hour, round-the-clock, penicillin shots!  I was very weak, but overjoyed to be home with my family for a belated Christmas.  Now Papa and Mama could continue with the wedding preparations for their oldest daughter! It was scheduled to be celebrated in about two weeks. I was eagerly anticipating being one of the groomsmen.  I had recently received a “new” hand-me- down, dark blue, pin-striped, single-breasted Sunday suit that I planned to wear in the wedding. I had high hopes that my arm would heal as rapidly as it had become infected. Little did I realize that this was only the end of the Beginning! THE LORD’S PRAYER (in German) Vater Unser, der du bist im Himmel. Geheiliget werde dein Name.  Dein Reich komme. Dein Wille geschehe, wie im Himmel, also auch auf Erden.  Unser taglich Brod gib uns heute. Und vergib uns unsere Schuld, als wir vergeben unsern Schuldigern.  Und furhe uns nicht in Versuchung. Sondern erlose uns von dem Uebel.  Denn dein ist das Reich, und die Kraft, und die Herrlichkeit in Ewigkeit, AMEN. Vignette # 9 Mixing cement and gravel by hand, my family had recently poured a concrete floor in our larger of two hen houses – the one next to the windmill and cattle trough. Mama would soon be getting her eggs back from the Temple hatchery in the form of many Anaconda baby chicks. As always, these chickens were a vital cog in our families survival system.  About cotton chopping time  the cockerels  would near two pounds in size, and it marked the end time of having to eat canned beef and dried, smoked pork sausage out of the smokehouse. We got our first taste of fresh fried chicken – fried to perfection in hog lard. Mama would keep the pullets and receive from them the fruit of good breakfasts, especially when served with head sausage and molasses.  The remaining eggs would be saved in the cool cellar until it was time to take the weekly trip to Uncle Edwin’s general store in The Grove. Those eggs would usually pay for most of our staple items, sometimes there was money left over which was applied to our running tab. Each fall after the cotton crop was sold, Papa would “settle up” with the grocer.  The remainder of our groceries were grown (to be eaten fresh or canned) in our one acre garden plot. Now that I was home from the hospital, the family sprang into a flurry of nuptial preparations. Sister Edith was to marry Edmund Winkler in about ten days. My brothers were assigned to clean out the brooder hen house thoroughly. The small wood heater that was to keep the chicks warm through the cold winter was  hastily installed because a human would soon use this as sick room during the wedding celebration.  I sob with nostalgic gratitude and appreciation now on thinking back at how my parents practiced ultra compassion and concern when one of their children were ill. Papa slaughtered the fated steer. He engaged the services of Elmo Winkler to help barbecue the beef and some pork, too.  Papa was delighted to carry on the Wendish tradition of a big wedding celebration at the bride’s farm home. Mama made oodles of her county-renowned noodles. My father and I would fight infidels for the opportunity to eat them.  In the 1970’s I had the privilege on two successive years on a summer Sunday to partake of a potluck dinner at St. Paul’s church.  As usual, there were about 10 pots of noodles on the table alongside the remaining bounties of food. My mother was sitting with some other ladies by west wall of the hall on both occasions.  Each time I surveyed the plethora of noodles, pointed my finger at a particular pot, caught my mother’s eye, and see her nod that I had indeed chosen her pot. Those noodles were always sliced so thin, and had a rich, brothy appearance. Of course Mama did far more than just make noodles.  At least half the congregation would have to be fed the equivalent of two meals.  Happily the bride’s parents no longer held three  day celebrations as did my ancestors. In all the preparations I was too ill and weak to help. But I kept reassuring Edith I would be able to be in the wedding. The day of the wedding arrived.  Sister Edith looked beautiful in her white wedding dress and veil. I kept to myself the knowledge that I was beginning to feel badly, again.  Cousin Irmgard Hobratschk was the bridesmaid I was to escort. My right arm was in a sling. But for the wedding processional I took it off and hooked my right thumb into the button of my single-breasted suit coat. As it came our turn to march down the aisle, I felt very shaky.  Instead of escorting Irmgard, I took my left hand and desperately clutched her right elbow for support all the way down to the altar. Several years later I would stand before the same altar as best- man for my cousins’ wedding (“Poochie” and Irene).  The brides baby brother was ring bearer and sat in a little chair with the ring on a little pillow. He fell asleep – the ring fell on the floor and began rolling toward the furnace grate. The best man lunged to the floor with the move of a split end making a diving catch of a touchdown pass. I scooped up the ring two inches from the grate. It was only by the grace of God that I did not fall face down on the floor at the same location during Edith’s wedding ceremony.  At the recessional Irmgard marched on the opposite side of the aisle and held my arm to keep me from falling. The wedding feast began. My brothers built a fire in the brooder house stove and settled me onto a bunk bed.  My sister Lydia brought me a plate of barbecue, noodles and all the trimmings.  There just isn’t any better barbecue than The Grove barbecue.  But I wasn’t very hungry. Cousin Poochie spent time with me, as did others.  My fever was coming back. My arm was swelling again. After everyone had gone home, my parents put me in their bed. I had a restless night and my worried parents tended to me.  By morning sodium salicylate tablets were no longer helping and my arm was beet red. I was rushed back to the hospital.  X-rays were taken. The doctors diagnosis was, “We still don’t know what it is – but whatever it is, it is now IN the bone.”  The next morning the nurses wheeled me up to the top (4th) floor to my doctor’s examining room. There my parents and I were greeted by three doctors. Dr. “T” was a silver haired kindly doctor.  Dr. “H” was a gruff speaking, chain smoking doctor with a great sense of humor. They began discussing with my doctor and parents the various options.  Amputation was high on the list.  I began shaking my head sideways in disbelief. Dr. “H” caught my eye, turned to the two other doctors and said firmly,  “I say we operate and see if we can’t save this boy’s arm.”  They all agreed, and I was wheeled back to my room.  The surgery was scheduled for the following morning. The nurses were kind and sweet, my mother was compassionate and comforting.  My father became the man with the beautiful feet as he brought me God’s message of peace. He was to me a prophet for Christ.  He accompanied me as the orderlies wheeled me to surgery. As we got into the elevator he turned to me and spoke to me in German with his strong, firm voice: “Elmer, you realize you are a sinner, don’t you?” “I do,” I replied. “Well,” he answered, I want you to be firmly reassured that Jesus Christ died for you and atoned for all your sins. You are totally forgiven. Put all your trust in HIM. Christ will do what’s best for you. If I don’t see you after the operation, I’ll see you in heaven.”  “Yes, Papa,” said I as he touched me with his hand – a rare display of open affection by my father. Then he tenderly recited the hymn verse he and Mama had taught me as a bedtime prayer. I weakly mouthed the German words with him:   “Jesus, Your blood and righteousness are my smock and garment of honor. When I enter heaven, I will be enabled to stand before God because I am arrayed in these garments.” May I always be so well prepared for my death as I was that day.  I have throughout my sick-bed ministry comforted a many a Christian saint with the thoughts of that verse. Many years later I would see Papa, as an old man in his eighties, beautifully comfort Mama before her serious surgery. From memory he quoted beautiful Gospel oriented Scripture passages – one after the other – like stringing precious pearls together. Papa – for a 3rd grade education – was quite a tri-lingual theologian. When he finished, he gently patted Mama on the head. My parents seldom showed their emotions openly…unlike their youngest son who wears his heart on his sleeve. As the elevator doors opened, I was wheeled toward the operating room. I caught a final glimpse of my father as he brushed a tear from his eye. Vignette #10 Inside the operating room where about six masked doctors and nurses.  Once more to reassure me I saw the familiar upper face of Miss Terry.  Her kind words put me somewhat at ease.  An intern doctor put a mask over my face and told me to breathe deeply.  My last memory was of the smell of ether as the huge overhead light began to blurr. I awoke groggily. I was in my room. Nurses and my mother were hovering over me at my bed. I was extremely nauseous and very thirsty (I was not on an I V). The intense pressure in my right humerus was gone. The pain was less, too. But I felt a stinging and burning sensation the length of my bicep. The nurse allowed me a small sip of water. Immediately I regurgitated. I repeated this cycle for the next hour until my nausea was gone. Finally I could keep down the water which I so desperately craved. I was surprised at the huge bandage on my arm. I slept much.  I always awoke hungry. I was told I could not have anything but water. When the doctor came in he announced to my parents that I had osteomyelitis. In explanation he said, “Your sons bone is decayed on the inside – from joint to joint.” Later I would be informed that during the surgery the doctor was going to drill holes in my bone to allow drainage of the infection. At the first try he discovered my bone was soft like mush.  Thereupon he simply punched the holes as one would stick a needle into soft cheese. At 4:00 am the next morning I was awakened by the night nurse.  “Time to dress your wound,” she said. Blood had oozed through the gauze pads. Slowly she began to cut with her scissor from my elbow to the shoulder. It must have been easier to remove Lazarus’ grave clothes when Jesus raised him from the dead.  The bandages were stuck to the total outer edges of my incision because of dried blood. More agony as she tried to pull the bandages loose, layer by layer. Finally she gradually uncovered the wound. I looked at my arm and was stunned with disbelief.  My bicep was pushed towards my chest. Next to it was a gaping 10 inch incision that was packed 4 inches wide with medicated gauze.  A total of five huge sutures were at the ends of the incision – two at the elbow end and three at the shoulder end. Out of the packing oozed a greenish colored infectious substance. Then she took a pair of forceps and slowly pulled at the packing to keep it from the bone. More agony! They say bones have no feelings.  Wrong! Psalm 22 has more meaning for me since then. This first bandage change set the tone for the next two years of my life. For the first 48 hours after the surgery I was denied all food and nourishment. I would have eagerly given up the every three hour penicillin shot that I received in exchange for food – any food.  I dreamt constantly of food and had visions of juicy chunks of beef dripping on the coals of a barbecue pit. I told nurse Marek about my dreams. She reassured me that I would receive food “soon.” The first food I received was a bowl of that which I detested the most – mushroom soup. But I was so hungry! Unsteadily with my left hand I managed a spoonful into my mouth. As the mushrooms descended my throat, my esophagus rebelled and it came back into my mouth. However, I was so hungry that I quickly swallowed once more the hated mushroom soup. Since that day I have never again been prejudiced against any food. I will zestfully eat any properly prepared food! For the next five weeks my arm was bandaged daily. More packing was pulled out each time. The incision slowly closed as massive scar tissue was forming a wide scar directly over my bone. Penicillin shots were injected every three hours into my buttocks. Like a trained seal, I turned over automatically in the middle of the night when it was shot time. My arm was not hurting very much anymore.  I fell in love with all my nurses, some more than others.  I would miss my daily bath administered by them once I got home. I ate voraciously. I spurted up in height to my present 5′ 10″.  When I got home, brother Gilbert remarked as I came through the front yard gate that I had grown as tall as he.  Once in the house, I gingerly removed my right arm from its sling and put on one of my short sleeve shirts. I was chagrined to find that my left humerus was one and one-half inches longer than my right.  The mushy, infected bone had stopped growing. My father took me back every other day to have my arm dressed by the doctor.  After about six weeks, the wound had only a tiny opening and was draining very little. Then almost imperceptibly the inside of my arm began getting red, swelling, and painful to touch. Suddenly I was back in surgery. Doctor “C” had planned the use of a local anesthesia. However, when he touched the sore red underside with a swab, I yelped in pain.  Whereupon he said those words I came to appreciate as synonymous with freedom from Post-op nausea:  “Give him some Sodium Pentothal.” The switch to my consciousness was flipped off instantly. 45 minutes later my eyes popped open in my room with instantaneous full consciousness, with no nausea! But, oh! the throbbing pain I felt in my arm at every heartbeat. Soon I was groggy as I felt the effect of a shot of (not morphine this time) a new one called “Codeine.” At the first dressing I looked at my arm and saw the old incision packed open again, plus a new incision on the underside with a miniature garden hose sticking out both sides. At that moment I was praying, “Lord, I don’t know what you have in store for me, but I need more strength from you to endure this.” The doctor said to my parents, “Penicillin is not the miracle drug we thought it would be.” But the every three hour shots continued. And the pastor came again to commune me. He left me with a devotional book which I read with regularity.  He also continued to press me to consider becoming a pastor.  He even suggested that maybe God was sending me this affliction as a course correction, since I always rebelled at the thought of studying for the pastoral ministry. After he left I prayed silently to my God: “Lord, You sent Your Son to die for me and save me for eternity. In thanks, I want to live my life for you.  Do with me what you will, but I WILL NOT try to bargain with you EVER: `If you make me well, I will become a pastor.'” I never wanted to be a pastor. However, later in my life God formed this giant “fish” known as the Divine Call, swallowed me up in it, and spit me out upon four congregations. At the time, however, my thoughts were more centered on just what the Lord was going to do with my arm. Vignette # 11 During following weeks, as my condition once more improved, I wandered the halls, visited at the nurses station, and was allowed to watch an Intern suture up an inebriated soldier who had been in an automobile accident. My room was directly under the maternity ward. When I inquired about the screaming women’s voices, I was informed they were mothers-to-be in labor.  I gradually decided that I wanted to be a doctor – one who would not sew up the cuts on drunks, but one who would ease the pain of those suffering women. Uncle Edwin brought me model airplane kits from a Temple hobby shop. My first project was a balsa-tissue glider with a six foot wing span.  Trying to work on a hospital lap tray was not conducive towards getting all the parts properly aligned.  Many months later it crashed on its first launch. It all served the purpose to make me adept at assembling things that come in a box. After a little over six weeks, I was allowed to go home once more.  My father would bring me in several times a week for the dressing of my draining, dangling arm. On one occasion I came in with Mrs. Enis who was a beautician in Temple. Since I had to spend the day, I used fifty cents to buy myself a delicious chicken salad plate for lunch at the Hawn Coffee Shop.  Then I used my remaining quarter to see my first color movie in the Arcadia Theater: “Lassie, Come Home.” This 15 year old country boy fell madly in love with that gorgeous 14 year old beauty, Elizabeth Taylor. After about six weeks at home, I found myself back for another surgery. The arm had worsened once more. The doctor would go in and open up the incisions once more, “scrape the bone”, and I would again be in the hospital for a month or so. Then back home for a month or so. This cycle repeated itself twice more. After that my arm was almost completely healed on the outside, but not inwardly. Suddenly my father brought me back because the redness seemed to indicate that the “Osteo” was spreading into my shoulder. The two of us waited in the exam room for a lengthy period.  The doctor was not coming in, it seemed. Finally Miss Terry, who was working in the clinic that day brought in a young red-headed resident Doctor whom I liked very much. He, in a hushed tone told my father that Dr. “C” was just sitting in his office. Then he said, “Please don’t tell anyone here that I said this, but please take your son to John Sealy Hospital and see a Dr. Eggars.” I had seen my father angry before. But never had I seen him filled with such righteous indignation as he grabbed my good arm and hastily escorted me to the elevator and out of the hospital.  As I was hurried down the corridor, I caught a glimpse of my doctor sitting at his desk with his face buried in his hands, totally defeated and dejected. Doubts began to torment me if any doctor would ever be able to cure my disease. John Sealy Hospital was about 300 miles away. In desperation my father drove across town to his niece Louise. She was married to a renowned urologist, Dr. E. O. Bradfield. “Oh, uncle Ben, they have marvelous bone specialists over at the hospital where he practices. I’ve been hoping you would bring Elmer over to Scott and White Hospital.”  Rays of hope dimly dawned in the back of my mind.  The optimism was warranted, for this was slowly to become the beginning of the end. Vignette #12 In 1947 Scott and White hospital consisted of a multi-storied building plus many other smaller buildings and re-modeled former residences.  It was sprawled out over several blocks of south Temple. My favorite nickname for it was “Sit and Wait.”  Before I ever got to see Dr. Macey, my father and I spent a day and a half going from one building to the other as I underwent all kinds of tests and exams. “Now, go to desk 88,” the receptionist finally told me. My infection seemed to be ever more creeping into my collar bone. Finally I was confronted by a gentle-voiced man who reminded me of the Hollywood actor Ray Milland. It was Dr. Macey. He had previously practiced at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He greeted me with a friendly smile, walked up to me a laid his hands ever so gently on my arm.  His soft touch made me feel that this man knew what he was about. Recently the medical community had introduced penicillin in a 24 hour injection. Dr. Macey had me injected with one immediately.  Then he gave me novel instruction. Go back home for now, wrap your arm in hot wet towels, and put hot water bottles over it.  For the past 18 months my arm hurt almost constantly.  Finally something gave me some degree of pain relief! The following Sunday morning my father took me to the emergency room because my shoulder seemed grossly inflamed and hurt me terribly. Dr. Macey’s assistant, Dr. Thomas, came from his home, consulted by phone with his tutor, and then caused me some more pain.  He sprayed something cold on my shoulder. I felt a hot streak as his steely sharp scalpel scratched across my shoulder.  Thereupon he proceeded to squeeze out with his rubber gloved fingers a pint of “yukky”, infectious corruption. Was this to be more of the same with added cruelty to a cowering teenager?  No, the hot, wet towels had done their task. In a few days I was finally admitted to a hospital ward that used to be someone’s living room. There were two extraordinary cute nurses on this ward who tended to me. I fell madly in love with both of them.  At least there was a bright spot.  Dr. Macey monitored my condition, taking X-rays every other day.  On the day he had promised to do surgery he came to my bedside, felt of my arm with his superbly professional touch (You could have blindfolded me in total silence and I could have told you when Dr. Macey was touching my arm). “Elma,” he said, “it’s not `ripe’ yet. We’ll have `money in the bank’ if we wait another week.” Then he ordered the continuance of the hot packs and those suspended-in-peanut-oil, burning penicillin shots.  At least they were given only once a day!  After a week I was taken to X-ray and then to the cast room where they placed my torso in a cast from my neck to the waist.  What is this?  I pondered the question. No one gave me an answer.  The next morning I found myself in surgery – a routine to which I had become accustomed.  The anesthetist stood behind and asked, “For how long?” “Make it for at least 45 minutes, Doctor,” came Macey’s reply. It was the last I remembered until I was sharply awakened by a breath of cold air. The orderlies and nurses were wheeling me down the sidewalk to my ward building. It was early November, and Bell County was hit by an early frost that morning. It was good to be alive. The morning was so crisp and beautiful.  I felt a warming ray of mid-morning sunshine strike my face.  Somewhat groggily I turned my head to the right and was surprised at the sight. There was a heavy cast bulk over my entire arm with a board brace at a 45 degree angle from the waist to the elbow.  My humerus was extended at shoulder level, with my hand at a 90 degree angel from the elbow. With the exception of my neck, head, and left arm, my upper torso was in a rigid cast.  This cocoon would remain unopened for 1 month. In the meantime the osteo wound drained into the massive amounts of gauze bandages inside the cast. After a few weeks, even my beloved parents didn’t like to come close to me.  Maybe that’s why I was dismissed from the hospital so quickly.  Dr. Macey had waited for a thin sliver of new bone growing from the shoulder and the elbow to kiss in the center and then sprang into action with this surgery. That was the “ripening” he had awaited. Then with the surgery he cleaned out all the old bone thoroughly until not a bit of infectious old bone remained. In the meantime, brother Charles had finished his action in the Pacific theater. In brush woods on Okinawa he received a grenade shrapnel in his side. Fortunately, his grenade in turn destroyed the Japanese officer who threw at Charlie. I was impressed with the long Japanese saber he brought home. I was also impressed with his acquired prowess as a softball pitcher. In the army he established a 27-2 game record, with two no-hit-no run games.  Gilbert was afraid to catch his swift pitches. Dr. Macey must have wondered why my cast was so broken in spots over my chest.  That cast was great protection when I missed catching one of Charlie’s fast dropping pitches. I would then toss the ball in the air, shake off the glove from my left hand, and then toss the ball back to Charlie for another pitch. It trained me to become a competent catcher (using a first-baseman’s mitt) and helped me become somewhat ambidextrous. After the six weeks had expired, I was back and Macey sawed a hole into the top part of the cast on the arm. I saw nurses turn pale with nausea as the stalwart doctor took forceps and gingerly pulled away much of the putrid infectious-drainage-soaked gauze.  My, by now, well-trained nose informed me not much fresh drainage was coming from the wound anymore. But the doctor only loosened the gauze packing inside the long incision, but he did pull out the tube that ran through from the underside incision. Then he quickly piled on fresh gauze packing and tightly wrapped shut my cast. “See you back in six weeks, Elma.”  The next time he completely removed the cast and quickly pulled out all the packing from the long incision. For a brief second I caught a glimpse of white, healthy bone. Quickly red blood (no longer any greenish-yellow, infectious drainage) gushed over the bone.  I became faint. But finally my ordeal was coming to an end.  I would be home for Christmas, this time with no fear of having to come back for more surgery. The Lord had used Dr. Macey to perform an Ezekiel style miracle of making a dead bone alive again. Many years later his son would do a marvelous surgery on my mother and give her the gift of life on earth for another dozen years.  Dr. Macey always wanted to close up all the scars on my arm. But Papa said, “No, I’ve seen it flare up again so many times, let’s wait.”  Dr. Macey died of a heart attack about two years later. I was sad. Jacob limped the rest of his life after the angel of the Lord wrestled with him. Jacob never forgot that angel! I still carry the deep scars of all those surgeries – many are mental, some are solidly seared into my soul.  I will never forget the great grace of God in providing me with doctors, nurses, and hospitals… but especially for Dr. Macey and my parents and supportive family throughout this prolonged illness. 


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A Lament in the Midst of My Dilemna

A “Poem” that flowed forth from my typewriter, in Odessa’s parsonage, on Saturday afternoon, November 18, 1967, when my ‘morrow’s sermon – after hours and days of work, study & meditation – consisted of a blank sheet of paper!

                                 A LAMENT IN MIDST OF MY DILEMMA

Help me, O God, off the horns of my dilemma!

I cry unto Thee every day, O my God.

Is there no relief, My Savior?

                The horns viciously pierce my side,

                My internal organs churn and tighten

                In agony over my nervous tension.

O God, I have sought Thy will and counsel,

Help me, O God, to see clearly the path I am to walk.

                O My God, I would serve Thee with unstinting loyalty.

                Please, may it not be in midst of sorrowful bitterness.

                My antagonists are unwittingly grinding me to dust.

But why, O God, must I endure the affliction of being

Frustrated in doing the task

Which should be my greatest joy???

                Why, O Creator,

                Who has confiscated me for Your noble service,

                Who has touched the hot purging coal to my lips,

                Who has given me the Good News to herald,

                Must my lips prove to be so dumb because

                My pen fails to flourish with the remembrance of Your Spirit?

O God, I can no longer bear the pain and the bitter agony of such frustration…

O Thou God of my undeserved salvation:  Show me a way out!

                My whole being screams out its fervent protest

                At the torture of my seismic sermonic

                Mental block.

Why, when my hands eagerly quiver to unleash

The artistic desire and talent You have implanted within them

Must I wait amidst this dilemma

To artistically pour out my heart at Your feet?

                O God, for the sake of your forgiving Christ

                Saw off the horns of my dilemma;

                Show me Your way,

                And, grant me not relief, but hope;

                Not a bed of ease, but satisfaction in doing that

                For which You have fashioned me.

For you see, my Lord,

You have molded my mind to be

That of a homiletically-misfit theologian,

But – and for this I sing my thanks to You –

You formed me in my mother’s womb

With the soul and heart of an artist.

Copyright by Rev Dr Elmer M. Hohle.

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Pansies in August

On August 9, 1967 at 816 East 18th St. in Odessa, Texas, I was sitting at the kitchen table of the parsonage with a heavy-laden heart, for some antagonistic members were attempting to subvert our pastoral ministry.  As I looked out the window, I saw some pansies blooming under three sapling live oaks – all of which I had planted that spring in that arid soil.  It was my first ever attempt at composing “poetry” of sorts:

Lo, a pansy blooms in August

                Amidst the broiling sun.

I look from my kitchen window

                And count the fragile blossoms

                                One by one.

 

“We’ve been well watered

                The whole summer through!” …

I hear them chant.

                “The tender branches

Of three young oaks

                Have given us shameless shade

Against August’s noon-day sun,”

                Exalt the pansies.

 

“But why, you purple-faced gnomes,

                Have you not withered

As did your brothers?

                For it is August

And the broiling sun

                Should have driven you

The way of all flesh …

                Long ago!”

 

The Spring is gone,

                The summer’s hot.

And lo, a pansy blooms in August!

The fragile faces

                Smile up at me and cry:

“Thanks for the water!”

                And I reply:

“Only God can make you grow

                And only He can sustain you.”

 

Lo, a pansy blooms in August …

How much more shall God not grant

                Me His forgiveness

Won by His Son

                Who withered in the broiling

Sun long ago

                So that I might live,

Miraculously, freely!

 

Lo, a pansy blooms in August.

                So, God, sustain me too,

And guide me!

Copyright by Rev Dr Elmer M. Hohle.

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The Spreewald Wedding

Mato Kosyk was born in Werben in 1853 and died in America in 1940.  At first a railway worker and later a Lutheran pastor, he became a leading Lower Wendish poet.  He immigrated to America and concerned himself until his death with the Wendish immigrants to the country.  He penned the famous Lower Wendish epics The Treason of Margrave Gero and A Wendish Wedding in the Spreewald , and numerous shorter Lower Wendish poems. The middle school in Briesen is named after Kosyk. – translated by Charles Wukasch

Kosyk won a name for himself with his hexametrical written idyllic of “The Wendish Wedding in the Spreewald”, where he lovingly and warmly portrays in three songs the life of Wendish farmers.

George Adam, 1900 From: “Hartmut Zwahr: “The People of My Country.”  VEB Publishing House,  Bautzen 1984. Page 312

The Wendish (Sorbian) Wedding in Spreewald

 PART  I

The eve-of-the-wedding at the home of the bridegroom

The thoughts of the father and the mother

The father

Joy is giving me wings.  With joy I am young again, even though I also have a head of hair that is beginning to grow gray.  My veins are pulsating stronger; the fire of youth warms me up; new smooth skin and strength stream through the years of age.  My heart warmly feels the beauty and splendor of our earth.  My spirit soars heavenward, driven by happy excitement.  Peace of soul, you are the treasure above all earthly treasures, you fulfill my wish, it more than ever crowns all my wishes; see the greatest worry is gone, has disappeared from me, very soon this will be witnessed by the Word of the heavenly covenant.  It is happiness, nothing but happiness, who could ever bring one something more than this?   The world appears different to me, I myself have become different.  I could immediately sing the lusty pieces of youth, like the birds are able to chirp their song in the sky.  I could shed tears, which joyfully glow in my heart.  Thus I am filled with the feeling of inward happiness.

The dowry [or trousseau] for the bride

The narrator

It didn’t take long before things around became lively; immediately a dog, the poodle, barked, the rest followed.  All the wagons of the rich mayor of the village now came driving up, fully loaded with various household effects of the kind Lejna, totally and completely decorated with garlands, enclosed in wickerwork [baskets, etc., fresh flowers and plants.   The yard was full of people.  The men with great care carry and place the furnishings into the residential home, as the men emptied the horse drawn wagons!  And the room was big.  Carefully one carried the treasures to the right place inside and set them down.  Painted bright red, the clothing closet became impressive next to the room’s door; a person could see himself in it, for the color’s brightness shone like a mirror.  In front of the other wall stood the dish cabinet; the wife now lined it up into it with expensive plates and placed them so that the flowery decoration of this could always be seen by an observer.  Chairs stood practically in every corner of the room, firmly put together out of various kinds of hardwood.  Now boxes and chests were dragged into more rooms, all chests were decorated with wreaths and with flowers drawn on them.  The lady of the house could hardly wait to see for herself the linen that was in these chests, and with desire to look at it all piece by piece.  There, in the first chest, she found a big bale of linen, well spun by the mayor’s maids, yet woven by Lejna alone, the beautiful daughter.  Also the second chest held a bundle of linen, where it was white as snow, bleached and folded together.  Now the wife looked at the contents of the remaining boxes brightly and in a good mood, for she found the requirements for the beds.  Tightly stuffed into sacks there came along the feathers, in bed cover and also in pillows in great number; all feather soft from their own geese and chickens.  While the wife still was looking for this and that, with many hands of the coachman [the coachmen unloaded various kinds of kitchen equipment…] were brought in from the last wagon various kinds of kitchen equipment, and they made room for them.  There were earthenware pots, glazed over from inside and out, big ones as well as small ones – and each was necessary for a home.  In addition there also came in a beautiful number of iron pots, which clearly showed what a thoughtful, considerate mind Lejna had.  There followed in tubs, white and clean that of course were old, yet scrubbed clean.  The tub was grabbed and held in iron hoops.  There also appeared new tubs. And in a wash tub, look, there were laid bowls and spoons, straining cloths, stirring spoons, twirling stick, the coffee grinders and knives, big and little dishes [the Sorbian text actually makes clear that it holds not only dishes but also other equipment to be used on the table], whatever belongs in a kitchen, and last but not least yet a butter-tub was brought in.  After all of the boxes were unloaded from the wagon one by one, swallow after swallow of beer and also brandy flowed through their throats as gracious thanks from the busy housewife, along with the dispensing of bread and meat.  Then they hastily went back home, as they had been ordered to do by the mayor.

Discussions by the women on the-eve-of-the-wedding

The mother

I still wish very much that also the young woman might with wisdom hold sway in house and home and not lack in energetic pluck when at times it is appropriate to speak with sharp words; men obviously act shrewdly, they think that this is not necessary, that all advice from wives is empty nagging that is totally unnecessary.   However we experienced housewives know better!  Don’t we too often see right in our own homes how the husband leads and turns everything according to his own head, that he regards his married wife merely as a maid servant?  That however without ceasing drives towards a sad ending.  Blindly the husband rushes ahead and pushes himself into various corners, with power wants to do the impossible – naturally it does not happen.  Thereupon he drinks and guzzles in order to forget the household needs; without purpose, she becomes renewed, becomes twice as strong as she was before; but this is not enough, he blames his spouse for everything, so that the poor lady cries, in vain she weeps and laments.

 One woman

 Still amidst all this the blame could also be laid upon the young woman.  Sometimes there arises a quarrel, a repugnant dislike between the spouses.  This is actually possible even in the weeks of the honeymoon; then however the oversensitive young wife is afraid as well that the entire sky could topple down on her head.  Yet it is not all that bad, for such a small estrangement finally leads the hearts together, binds them closely together, and leads the thoughts of the two upon a common pathway.  Actually thereby the one comes closer to the other.  That’s why the strife in youth is not as bad as a later spat.  The latter gnaws its mark into the most inward bones.

 A second woman

I of course experienced something different and want to tell you about it: You of course know how poverty stricken we came together, having neither spoon or pot found in our house.  Despite all that we were happy at all times, at peace and blessed, for we were led by harmony in all areas of life.  Such a faithful covenant and bond had actually immediately required one to be diligent.  Frugality stepped up, and actually was expeditious and constantly guided us.  Thus heavenly blessings grew up out of the holy covenant.

Late in the evening

The father of the son

Yes, today I hand over the rudder into your hand; nobly turn yourself wherever you can, and wherever you end up, do not toddle like an unwise child at the break of day, for you have the strength for action and the sense for wanting what is necessary.  If of course someday the corrupt world ever pushes you into disorder (for the dangerous swamps misguide into countless ways), and even though distressed, you see no way out from the front or from behind, then don’t lose your head and let it hang down without advice so that that the water with a wild whirlpool does not bury and destroy you.  Lift your head up, only up, to the look at the Source of Light.  Thus you will know exactly where you are, where you are standing, even if you come up short.

 Part II

 In the home of the bride

The narrator

Still on that very same day the Schulz father frequently checked out his large home and examined with open eyes to see to it that everything was properly found to be in its appropriate place and that servant and maid servant were busy at work to motivate the members, to see to it that no stupid cooking-utensils or pots and pans had gossiping women chattering while spinning, as this of course was often done and practiced at a wedding.

The father of the bride

Garland wreaths give a lovely appearance to the spot; you have pretty flowers to choose from in our garden, well cared for up to now by my daughter, Lejna [Lena]: She planted them, watered them, promptly transplanted them and daily watched over their growth so that nothing hindered them, that no bad animal destroy their smart veins.  When then the rose finally was enfolded in Lejna’s hand, my child received it with joyful laughter, with kisses.

Lejna, the bride

Dear mother, this is the house in which you rocked me to sleep in your lap and again woke me from slumber, always with a kiss, as you are gifted with mother love.  Here I then grew up, guided and advised by father and with your protection, with your care, mother.  Here is a person’s greatest blessing, my kind mother, where one gets rocked in the cradle, where one is raised until grown, where one lay in the first dream and with heavenly peace.  When I will see the coachman drive away with the household effects, I know that I soon will have to forever travel away and leave behind what has so sweetly refreshed my heart.

 The father of the bride

  Don’t resist the tears, they sober up the light of your eyes; but don’t grieve forever, for that buries good health.

 Juro, the bridegroom

 Let me carry away half of the heart’s burden.  Nothing can disturb the nearing blessings of tomorrow’s day.

 The thoughts of the parents of the bride

The father

Nothing under the sun endures, nothing remains.  The commandment, which is always testified to, cries out: Accept departure!  Coming and going, going and coming, that is what destiny says; to resign oneself to it without worry, which cannot be called foolishness.  To be happy lightens every departure and manifests itself as wisdom, if the hope for it is thereupon steadfastly founded upon blessing.

The mother

We wives know better the hearts of our daughters; our husbands know better the nature of their sons.  Does anyone know for sure if Lejna still like previously is attracted to Juro, if she perhaps today might not have doubts about everything?  Time marches on differently, and the hours strike differently.  God grant that the coachman does not come back to us, that he does not say “Praise the stranger, but stay at home!’  Now-a-days there often comes to a person’s ears such happenings full of evil and sadness, confusion and tribulation.  Then the one statement drags up another; everyone looks for and gawks for strained relations out of dark gloomy corners, and it dexterously gabbles away so many naughty workings of the mouth word for word, bringing argumentation and strife, heaping lie upon lie.

Advice to the bridegroom

The father of the bride

That I meet you is a good thing.  Many things still move my heart that will be of benefit to you as well as teaching you something.  Don’t live in a dream world as if there is nothing more to learn, like when a cocky self-assured man always tries to stand on his own two feet; no, for as long as a man strives, he must allow himself to be properly taught.  May the bond of unity steadfastly guard the two of you in every situation; with one heart and mind fulfill your duties, a blessed reward then at last will crown the strenuous exertion of your labors.  Each part has its activity, its duty for every hour.  If one delays, and does not promptly and properly tackle the task, the other person grabs hold to help and despite the exhortation.  But a sour face is actually the beginning of being repugnant.  Work is our destined skill and simultaneously is the sparing of our existence.  What wants to conceive cleanliness has to be clean itself; so then may diligent obedience always bring you into sweating: If you eat bread without sweating, then you will become a miserable daytime thief.  Steadfastly keep things in order.  Let that be your command as well as your guiding plumb line.  Never squander your time; if you don’t have anything to do with your hands, do something with your brains.  Whatever is wholesome and good, research it, minutely investigate it, appraise it, try it out, and select the best.  In the evening think about the first thing that needs to be done in the morning, for the farmer’s banner flaps only through patient, enduring labor.  With acceptance of customs and activity learn to know people and know them through their spoken words; for these are the windows into a person’s inward thoughts.  Many are inwardly filled with poison with outward hypocritical innocence.  Believe me, a haughty proud person brags about his foolish actions.  He can be sure that the hour is lying in wait to see to it that sooner or later he’ll get what’s coming to him.  For all haughty pride fails and eventually stumbles.  Discipline yourself!  Denounce the evil of the world, for you are of course to stand and live as a role model to your own.  Once again: Discipline yourself!  That calls for success and good health; turmoil at home deceives, and it invites the hubbub of filling one’s glass to the brim.   Stay far away from places where loud boozers guzzle it down; also occasional visits can easily become a habit.  Drunkards tear down what the brave housewife has set up.  Listen to the old people, my son, their talk is rich with learned experience.

PART III

At early dawn

The narrator

Before the new day had yet arisen with its morning redness, everyone was already wide awake there at the big farmer’s home; agile quick hands were working on what was awaiting them today.  Immediately there arrived wagons at the roomy home.  Wedding guests stepped out in order to set their feet into the house.  In addition there came on horseback to the home all the young men.  Also with a lightening bright sword the [Hochzeitsbitter] Wedding Guest Inviter was at his station..  He had the power and authority to guide the conduct of a wedding.  Every guest had to listen to what he said.  Also two bridesmaids stepped down and the bridegroom’s brother (all of them being unmarried, as the custom and practice required) along with the wedding guest inviter with bold Wendish horses.  The head of the household kindly welcomed the guests, and the bridegroom did so likewise, followed by the house wife.  The wedding inviter invited them all to eat and drink.  After the guests had consumed the food and drink, the wedding inviter stood up and said the following words:

The wedding inviter

Friends, now that we have been satisfied, let us finish our snacking, and let us travel to the bride whom we have to properly recruit/woo, for the ample time to go court her lasts only for so long; the mother could ply us with sharp words.  Also others are capable of holding us up with roguish tongues.

In the home of the bride

The narrator

As the festive train all of a sudden came near to the Schulz’s, the wedding inviter sent as messenger the bride’s best man, for him to deliver the message that soon the bridegroom would arrive.  Within a short time the wagon train stood at the home of the Schulz’s, as young and old stomped down with their shoe soles shouting out.  Into the spacious house hosts of people came pouring in.  But inside the festive room already were sitting a great number of guests, with serene and lusty voices smartly chit-chatting with joyfulness.  And look, there also sat the bride, dressed up, at the end of the table.  However over her face there was of course tossed a veil.  At her side was the mother (who here had to give the directions).  A little later the Wedding Inviter stepped into the room. His greeting was kind and valiant:  He now wanted to woo the bride.

The wedding inviter

I am a servant of my master, who is virtuous, well-behaved and noble.  I am not asking for your food and drink, even though it is found to be magnificent here in these surroundings.  So then I come here to win you over for my master, for he has chosen you and has sent me to come get you.

The narrator

Praise be to the mother, she had for the longest had tried to refuse the bride!  A wrapped up picture appeared, requested by the mother.  As the wedding inviter showed the wife the picture of the bridegroom, she herself said: No, that is not the right one.  The guests broke out with laughter and began to wittily joke about it. – With the Schulz’s the wedding guests stepped into the chamber room.  Each one with fullness of joy shook the hand of the Wedding Inviter.  And the bridesmaids cried out: The Wedding Inviter, the bride!  For he with glory had overcome the refusing tongue of the mother.  She however cunningly backed off: He still had to redeem the bride for his master and sprinkle the table with silver coins.  Quickly the wedding inviter tossed the money upon the table’s four corners and onto the middle of the table.  The mother, well pleased, took the coins.

The Wedding

The narrator

 Thereupon he immediately escorted the proper bride out of the room.  Upon a wink by the mother, the bridesmaids began, in that they now were to attach cloths in front of the coats of the wedding guests, alike in beauty, also alike in color.  So then they pinned a small festive bunch of flowers on the left side of their chests: pinning on red ribbons with glorious flowers.  However the bridegroom’s bunch of flowers consisted of green flowers and of white ones; there was to be found no red flowers or ribbons on him.  See, the bride is standing by ready, nothing red on her dress and head-dress, and she is holding a long, snow-white cloth in her hands, with its artful creased frills falling down all the way to the ground.  Now the Wedding Inviter ordered all the guests to climb unto wagon and horse in order to drive to the church.

The wedding inviter

 Blessed is the house where such joyful wedding laughter resounds!  Let no one thoughtlessly break up this eternally binding ‘tying of the knot’.  For its strength is able to squeeze itself through the body into the heart’s blood.  Indeed this bond bestows harmony, however with its duties it then becomes harsh.

Sun and shadows take turns during the course of a day.  So likewise the laughter does not stay far away from the sadness.  There still comes like a thief in the night – practically unnoticed – many a tribulation, grief and sorrow.

Guests, we all want to affectionately bend forward our heart to the bridegroom and likewise to the bride.  We want to wish them much good fortune at all times!

The narrator

So spoke the Wedding Inviter and then he gave a quick signal for the music to begin playing; he himself jumped into the head of the festive train. Behind him one saw the bridegroom and the witnesses to the marriage trotting behind.  Behind them the brothers, each one ran to their horses.  Behind the riders, one’s eyes saw the wheels of the wagons.  From the first wagon rang the sound of music for entertainment, in the front of the second wagon was the mother, behind her the bride in the middle between the bridesmaids; in the back sat two bride servants.  Wedding guests found places in the remaining wagons.  Shortly in between one saw the trains stop at God’s house; in pairs they all walked into it for a festive action.  Soon afterwards one walked back out after the completion of the marriage service.

The festive meal in the house of the bride

The narrator

As the Reverend Pastor and the Cantor showed up with measured steps, the Wedding Inviter invited all the many guests to the table, and they lined up pair by pair as they had previously done in the church.  On one side sat the young men together with those who through their rank of office had to wait in line, while the Pastor and the Cantor sat at the other end.  Eagerly all the guests spooned up the luscious foods and poured beer with whiskey and then whiskey with beer.  Our Reverend Pastor did not participate in the eating and drinking and for a while observed the circular motion of the heartily eating of the good dinner feast.  This however to the disappointment of the Reverend Cantor – who was smacking his lips over the aroma of the roasted meat, in that he did not want to begin eating first, but instead wanted to reserve this honor for his higher ministerial brother.  When they all with good conversations had then eaten until they were full, a bowl with salt was passed around the table and a second one with water; the guests gave their mites into them.  The first bowl was to reward the labor of the lady who cooked the meal, and the other was remuneration for the weary work of the woman who washed the dishes.  Not only in the room however was there gratifying celebration; no, also outside in the yard by a host of village children, also for the poor there fell off some for celebrating from the dinner-table.  Immediately music was sounding forth from the persons blowing brass instruments, and the wedding guests deserted the room in pairs in order to enter into the bar-room to dance with the musicians.  Also the spiritual Reverend broke away with others to go home; older people stayed back in the house of the Schulz’s, for they wanted to chit-chat about keeping on farming.  Also the young couple stayed in the house with decorous conversation, he still had to obtain his secret fortune with dignity.   Nor could he desecrate the seriousness of the day by going out to seek pleasure.

On the third day

The narrator

When after the darkness of night the friendly sun began to shine, everything that moved was called to work.  Yet to the wedding quite joyful clanging sounds called out anew, and they were heard by the guests, who all too gladly came to the houses of the Schulz’s as well as the other farmers.  Suitors, this day serene clothing were allowed by custom.  Instead of the strict rules, the bride could again show red.  As one with shinning bright clothes gathered oneself by the Schulz’s, the Wedding Inviter told the young newlyweds and the guests that one should quickly want to now go into the homes of other farmers, where one could now still think about celebrating the wedding some more.  There the young wife was welcomed by everyone.  But already the dance now pulled  the new couple to the pub; once again the people whirled around in the seventh heaven, sheer joy and desire shouted for joy from every face.  Later the Wedding Inviter ordered a pause to the dancing, so that one did not amidst the tumult pass up eating lunch.  In the afternoon the guests continued to dance some more but now the long train was led by the young people.  The festival style of dressing decorated the young lady, the bride’s cap fell off, and the head cloth was pinned pale red to the ground.  The beginning of the first dance belonged to the bridal pair that very smartly turned about and around with great gyrations.  As the wedding happily came to an end towards midnight, the Wedding Inviter shouted out to bring it to an end and to saunter up to the farmer’s yard to eat an evening meal, in order to strengthen oneself with food and drink.  Then the Wedding Inviter stood up and said the following:

The wedding inviter

Behind us now are the hours of the wedding, its sounds have rushed away.  Joyfully we came, joyfully we go back.  With the married couple we take away the constant anxious feelings that our wishes for their good luck and blessings become reality!  A good night heartily came to an end from departing lips, and then the tired guests hurried home for sweet sleep.  As an afterthought the young couple stood in a cleaned up house.  So then, like a blessed dream it all at once came to them that they no longer were in the rushing tumult of the Festival; instead everything was a hushed silence.

“Behold, the golden star of good luck shines upon me;

Who knows if not perhaps in the wink of an eye!

I will get her [apparently a young girl, the next bride] and stride into battle.”

© Translation by the Rev. Dr. Elmer M. Hohle for free use by the TEXAS WENDISH HERITAGE SOCIETY, Serbin, Texas.

Tante Hohle

As a child I remember Uncle Adolph Hohle from Houston and his next door neighbor and half-brother Ernest Bamsch, coming to visit their respective half and step-brother, C. B. (Ben) Hohle (my father), the son of Maria nee Bamsch Hohle at The Grove, Texas. On numerous of these summer visits they would bring along their mother, Agnes nee Krause Bamsch Hohle, who was my father’s step-mother.

 In my early childhood I was always over-awed by this tall woman with the wire eyeglasses. In later childhood and in my early teens, I grew to love Grosmutter Hohle. She was the only grandparent I ever knew from my father’s side of the family. In later years her height lessened because of the seeming effects of osteo-porosis, but no doubt also because of the difficult pioneer days in Serbin in the Johann Hohle household where my widowed grandfather brought in his second wife and former sister-in-law, Agnes Bamsch and all her Bamsch children. Then she conceived and bore two more sons.   

In the year 1990 I was given a copy of a letter written by the Rev. H. T. Kilian, dated 13 March 1907 in which he made a Scriptural defense for having officiated at the marriage of my Grandfather Johann Hohle Jr and Grandmother Agnes. Some person wished to marry his aunt and Kilian forbade it. Then Kilian was accused by this person of having performed two invalid marriages, including Grandfather’s. In this somewhat bristling letter Pastor Kilian responds valiantly:  “Now concerning the marriage of Johann Hohle:  His marriage is thoroughly proper and is permitted by the Word of God. Johann Hohle’s first wife was a Maria Bamsch and her brother, Ernst Bamsch, was married to Johann Hohle’s present wife. Both Bamschs died and Johann Hohle thereupon took for his wife Agnes nee Krause who was the surviving widow of Ernst Bamsch and I performed the ceremony.”    After presenting lengthy logic about how they were not “flesh of flesh,” but second degree in-laws, he concludes, “namely, the marriage of Johann Hohle and the Agnes constitutes a proper, God-allowed union.”   

I always sensed in my father a loving closeness to his full-brother and sister, Alvin and Selma (who was married to Andrew Hobratschk). I remember the funeral of his oldest brother, Gerhardt, when I was four. They frequently conversed in the language I could not understand – Wendish – instead of the usual German. This closeness also manifested itself with his half-brother Emil, who lived in our community of The Grove, as well as with Uncle Adolph of Houston.    This loving warmth was also evident towards my Bamsch uncles, but with an added twist of joviality that I feel came from having been playmate cousins prior to becoming step-brothers. Papa and Grandmother Agnes Hohle also had a good rapport. It was one not so much of step-mother and step-son, rather, it was that of a loving, doting aunt and a nephew who held her in high esteem.   

Back in 1855 my Great Grandfather Johann Hohle Sr purchased 95 acres of land between Giddings and Serbin for which he paid $1 per acre. He built a log home on it. My father was born in this log house with the dirt floor on 8 September 1887. When he was a little boy, his mother died. Soon he had a new “mother” – Agnes. My father told me that in later years she had to sell the farm to pay for her doctor and medical expenses – unfortunately for her, the two oil wells discovered on the farm in the 1970’s came in too late. Hence she was homeless in her late years and spent much of her time in the homes of her sons Ernst and Adolph. However, she would also come spend time in her other children’s home including ours.    On these almost annual visits, I found Grandmother Agnes to be friendly and smiling, quick to giggle and laugh. I remember her spending several days with us once when I was about 10 or 11. Whenever my mother might be busy in the kitchen, she and Papa sat on the back porch and conversed in Wendish. Sometimes they would sing Wendish hymns from memory. My father had a deep bass voice and she had a high pitched soprano voice. Her voice might on occasion be slightly raspy, but musically the notes were clear and pure as the tone from a crystal bell.   

My last remembrance was when she was walking poorly, hunched over, with the aid of a cane. Her strong ankles and lower calves stuck out from her billowing, long skirt. They looked bluish to me. In thinking back I realize she suffered from poor circulation in her legs. She wore only house shoes on her feet. One ankle was lightly bandaged. It was a summer afternoon. She asked me to go down to the river and get her some mussel shells (we were living along the Leon River). I went down to a gravel shoal and felt among the smooth stones until I found a few mussel shells. I brought them to her. In the twilight of that summer evening, I watched in fascination as she practiced some strange folk-medicine.    First she ground two of the shells together to make a fine powder. Her wire glasses were perched on the end of her nose, her thin, but long white hair was tied in a tight little bun on the back of her head. Looking over the glasses, she looked at me, smiled broadly with an almost toothless grin and said in German, “Now I’m going to ‘doctor’ my wound.”  Whereupon she unwrapped the bandage from her ankle, exposing a deep hole in the front of her ankle bone. It was about the circumference of a thin pencil. It didn’t appear to be inflamed much, nor was it draining. Painstakingly she began to sift the shell powder into the hole until it was filled.    She liked to tease me in good humor. I loved to hear her sing those Wendish hymns. She was my closest encounter with my Wendish/Sorbian roots. She was to me an example of Christian faith and love. Through faith in Christ she now resides with the saints in the eternal kingdom of God’s glory.

This vignette is printed with the written permission of Elmer Hohle.

Na Szwedzen Reformaziona

A translation from the original Wendish by Rev. Dr. Elmer M. Hohle of Rev. Jan Kilian’s liturgical Collects for the Epistle and the Gospel for the Lutheran church’s ecclesiastical observance on October 31.

It has been a longstanding wish of Pastor Hohle that he be granted permission to pray this prayer in St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Serbin in a worship service before he dies.  May he be granted this wish.  To God be the glory.

ON THE FESTIVAL OF THE REFORMATION

Collect for the Epistle

Pastor:  Let us pray; I shall build My church,

Response (by congregation): And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Pastor:  Let us pray to God:

             Lord God, heavenly Father, in Your Word You have revealed Yourself to us that You have set our Lord Jesus Christ upon the throne to judge the antichrist as the man of sin.  And, You also restored to life the child that was dead.  You then also overcame this evil source so that finally Your godly servant [Tr. note: a.k.a. Luther] with his brilliant mind revived and renewed the church.  So, to You be all the glory.  By Your Word You overcame the opposition to Your kingdom.  And, it was by Your might and power that the opportunity was provided for us to hear Your voice.  We thank You so much that You through the voice of this Your servant Luther at the same time also severed us from the fallen antichrist and led us out from the kingdom of evil.  And, we petition You, grant us the protection of Your wisdom.  Protect us also from our cozy, convenient, crooked ways by guiding us away from not preparing ourselves against falling away from the actual truth and lamely clinging to the words from Your Spirit’s mouth.  For it is they that spread the message of the Gospel from His Book.  Unto You by Whom we have the life to come through Your Son Jesus Christ now be all the glory forever.  Grant this through Your Son Jesus Christ, Amen.

Collect for the Gospel.

Pastor:  Let us pray; Fear not, you little flock,

Response:  For Your Father is with you, to you He gives the kingdom.

Pastor: Let us pray:

             We give thanks to You, our gracious God and Father, that You reconciled us to You by having mercy upon us, and that You through the blessed patriarch Luther You brought us to the light of Your holiness.  Your blessed Word pronounces us just and cleansed by its proclamation.  And above all else, You give to us wisdom and knowledge to guard against idolatry and to be faithful.  And, we plead with You to grant us good health.  Reign in us through Your Holy Spirit so that we uphold in its truth the Book of the Good News.  With worshipful adoration we come to You for life.  And bestow upon us the comfort of a blessed end and salvation at our death.  Through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord.  Amen. 

 Summons to Pray

 Prayer for the communicant

Pastor:  Respond to our prayer with Your kind mercy that is new every morning, to embrace our need for absolution, and bring us to Your blessed Table.

We pray: God, You are rich in mercy to us.  Bestow upon us all the gift of Your Holy Spirit so that we do what is pleasing to Your will.  Thus may we also as worthy guests approach to be filled with Your fullness.  And, let no one partake of this Holy Supper to his judgment, or through unrepentant and evil deeds receive the body and blood of our Lord to his condemnation.  Grant that we may seize by faith and cherish Your assurance that You forgive our sins, comfort our conscience, and let us be grounded and established by Your Spirit to generously partake of Your fullness.  And, grant us open eyes and ears so that we walk on the new path of Your way as You bring us to daily repentance.  Thus You lighten our burdens and love us.  Provide us faith and godliness and all that pertains to increasing in them.  At the same time from henceforth keep us in the true faith; guide our souls to see Your salvation and the good Lord at our life’s end.  Grant this to us for Jesus sake.  Amen.

(Copyright by translator, the Rev. Dr. Elmer M. Hohle, for future publication as the dedicatory tribute to Jan Kilian in the translator’s translation of Vol. I of Scholae Pietatis by Johann Gerhard.  Publisher: CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF LUTHERAN ORTHODOXY, Malone, TX.) 

(Permission granted for the use of the above by Texas District LC—MS congregations for celebrating its 100th Anniversary as a District, in memory of the Kilian-led migration of the Wends to Serbin, Texas)  

(Used here with permission of Rev. Dr. Elmer Hohle.  To God alone be the glory.)