Religious Persecutions and Its Tragedies

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for May 16, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

“No one should be in fear in a house of worship,” tweeted Vice-President Pence after the tragic shooting in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. This terrible attack involving a Jewish house of worship came on the heels of tragic bombings of Christian churches in the Philippines in 2019 and a fatal attack on a mosque in New Zealand.

            Just a few days ago, six people were killed in an attack on a Catholic church in Burkino Faso, in West Africa. Christian churches have been under attack for some time now all over the world. In 2019, worldwide, 1,266 Christian churches were attacked, and 4,136 Christians killed for their faith. Most of you probably remember that 26 Christians were killed in a Baptist church in Texas in 2017, so these fatal attacks have not just been on Catholics, but on different denominations of Christianity, as well as on synagogues and mosques. This is a alarming commentary on the 21st Century, isn’t it?

            One of the most horrible acts of violence against Christians in 2018 did not take place in a church but on a beach, when 20 Coptic Christians were beheaded in Libya for their faith. For the beheading, they were handcuffed and dressed in prison uniforms. Such things are as horrifying as the persecution against Christians by the Romans in New Testament times.

            The Coptic Christian (Orthodox) church is considered one of the oldest Christian churches, if not THE oldest, in the history of Christianity. It began in Egypt, and it is believed, based on non-Biblical historical sources, that the Apostle Mark was the evangelist who brought Christianity to Egypt, and it spread to other parts of Africa, including Ethiopia (where the ancient Coptic Orthodox Church now has many members and is very active). The first Christian converts no doubt where Jews living in Egypt. In fact, it was in Alexandria, where the Septuagint, the first Greek translation of the Jewish Bible was made. There were waves of anti-Jewish violence for many years in the region, and Greeks and pagans of all kinds made no distinction between Jews and Christians (they considered Christianity a sect of Judaism).

            Based on non-Scriptural sources, it is believed by some historians that Saint Mark was martyred, that is, killed defending the faith, during these outbreaks of Jewish persecution. When you try to connect the dots in the history of Christianity in Egypt and the rest of Africa, you cannot help but remember that Joseph and Mary fled with the Christ Child to Egypt. And you cannot help but wonder if this bringing the Savior of the world to Egypt did not in some way plant the first seed of Christianity in a non-Christian area.

            Today, it is a fact that there are more Christians in Africa than in any other continent in the world (Africa is a continent, not a country). Religious scholars report that while there is a huge rise in the Christian population in Africa, there is a steady decline of Christianity in Europe, the United Kingdom showing the largest decline. Why is this so? No doubt the fact that one of the oldest Christian groups in the world has been there for a long time, but also because of the many Christian missionaries who served in Africa over many years. Christian scholars predict that by 2060, the number of Christians in Africa will double, while declining on other continents. The old concept that Christianity grows and thrives where it encounters the most persecution may be a valid idea.

            Back in the old days when I was a youngster attending Sunday School, I remember being shocked and horrified when my Sunday School teacher told us about how the Roman emperors would imprison, torture and kill Christians (who would hide in the catacombs), and how emperors like Nero would feed some innocent believers to the lions and pour oil on others and light them as human torches. It was hard to believe, but we were happy we were not living in such an era. I pray that the many tragic events today do not presage a return to those times.

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Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor.

Having Two Remarkable “Fathers”

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for April 25, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

My father-in-law, A. B. Davis, was a remarkable man. Many of you knew him, because he visited us quite frequently here in East Bernard and spent the last years of his life living in Wharton, attending St. John Lutheran Church regularly. He loved kumquats, and members of our church is Wallis would bring him bags of kumquats. After my father, Max Spitzenberger, died, “B,” as he was called by his friends, and I grew very close, and he became my “adopted” father. Both B and my father Max were the kindest, gentlest, most generous human beings you could ever know, and I feel very blessed to have had both of them as fathers, mentors and friends.

            My father Max was very perceptive, insightful, and intelligent, but, having had to quit school in the third grade to work the farm when his father died, he never learned to read very well, and never read books. But he could design and build barns better than anyone else in the county and was greatly recognized for his work as a railroad section foreman. My father-in-law B, was also very perceptive, insightful, and intelligent, but, unlike my father Max, he was a graduate of Tulane, devoured huge numbers of books and magazines, and had a beautiful Victorian writing style. He had a poetic way of expressing things in writing, such as describing the leaves falling in the Fall as “autumnal witherings.” So, you can understand why, as a poet, I felt such a strong affinity to him. My father Max was a poet, too, though not one who writes poetry, but one who loved to roam the woods and appreciate all of God’s creation and creatures, — once he tenderly showed me, with tears in his eyes, a nest of baby rabbits. And, once when there was a rare snowfall in Dime Box, he got late to work so that he could share its beauty with my brother and me. Yes, he, too was a poet.

            My father-in-law B was an engineer, a superb mathematician, and an avid student of science and technology. No doubt that is the reason he served as the Assistant Director of the Army Corps of Engineers in Galveston for many years, not only planning, designing, and executing the blueprints in field work, but also writing up some of the most well written technical reports you will ever read anywhere. No doubt that is why he was chosen to write up reports for the ongoing plans to extend the incredible Galveston Seawall. He also wrote the much read “History of the Galveston Seawall,” which was published by the Southwest Research Institute and Texas A & M Research Foundation in 1951.

            The city of Galveston was certainly mindful of the need for storm protection, especially after the incredible destruction of the 1900 hurricane. But even before that tragic event, they were deeply concerned when the 1886 storm totally obliterated Indianola, knowing it could happen to Galveston. With an elevation of 8.7 feet above the level of the Gulf, Broadway was then the highest point on the island. Determined to prevent future disasters, the Corps of Engineers designed and built a seawall, and after surveying damage of each new hurricane, the wall was improved; after some years, and much study, it was extended. So this was not a quick, easy project, but a very difficult one, and one that took years of planning and work.

            At what point during the years of improving and extending the seawall my father-in-law brought his brilliant expertise into the story, I don’t know, but I have seen pictures of the giant steel frames built in 1920, into which concrete was poured, for one of the wall extensions, so I have a good idea of what an enormous undertaking the wall and its improvements and extensions was. Reading about the history of the wall and seeing the photographs of its construction over the years makes me proud to be the son-in-law of A. B. Davis, just as remembering the joy of being raised by such a loving, caring, and gentle father like Daddy Max makes me feel doubly blessed.

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Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor.

The Nebraska Flooding, Like Other Natural Disasters, Is A time To Help Others

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for April 11, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

           The historic devastation of Hurricane Harvey began for Houston on August 17, 2017, and more or less ended on September 3, 2017, though there are still homes and businesses not rebuilt. The total cost was 125 billion dollars. The historic devastation of the flooding in Nebraska got underway on March 14, 2019, continued for many days, and the state has still not recovered from the disaster. The cost of the Nebraska flooding is estimated at 1.3 billion dollars. Because our Houston disaster was more costly, we tend to underestimate the horrific experience the folks in the “Cornhuskers State” have just undergone.

            One of the tragedies of Nebraska is that many farmers and ranchers there say they are wiped out, and though their family has been farming for generations, they fear they will have to give up the way of life they know and love. This is a chilling thought when you consider the fact that Nebraska, a state since 1867, has some of our nation’s best ranchland and farmland, and we rely on their crops to supply our needs. Normally, Nebraska has warm summers, dry winters, moderate humidity, and lots of sunshine, so this great flood is rare and bizarre, with dams and levees having been breached and bridges and thoroughfares literally washed away!

            Nebraska cities were turned into islands, towns were inundated, as rivers like the Platte and the Elkhorn, went on rampages, not only from the rain, but also from the massive snow melts that flowed into the rivers and streams. While Alaska has the most bodies of water, Nebraska has more miles of rivers than any other State in the United States. It’s kind of ironic that the Oto Indian word, “Nebrathka,” means “flat water,” and most of the time its waterways and rivers are “flat” water. Just this one bizarre exception. And although Nebraska has many lighthouses, it has no oceans or gulfs. Whenever a person thinks of Nebraska, they never think of raging flood waters . . . this is a new view of the peacefully rural state, where lovers of rural life always dreamed of having a homestead.

            You see, normally, Nebraska gets about 27 inches of rain per year, which is under the national average of 30 inches, and it gets around 28 inches of snow per year, which is only slightly above the national average. Thus is it quite shocking to find that three-fourths of Nebraska’s 93 counties have had to declare an emergency, with 440 million dollars in crop losses and another 400 million in cattle losses (according to the Associated Press). It was the worst flooding Vice-President Pence had ever seen in his life. The view of the flooded areas of Nebraska from outer space was startling.

            The “good” in people came out during this catastrophe. Neighbors helped neighbors everywhere, people risking their lives to save others and help livestock survive. Farmers from other states drove truckloads of hay to places where cattle where starving. Banks and other organizations donated money to flood relief, and many restaurants and stores donated a percent of their proceeds to help victims. The Nebraska Farm Bureau launched a disaster Relief Fund. Churches took in homeless victims, providing them shelter and food. And many disaster relief agencies went into action.

            Some of those agencies were LCMS World Relief and Human Care Disaster Response, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Catholic Social Services, Lutheran Family Services, and many others. Much aid is still needed. If any of you feel moved to contribute money to help the flood victims of Nebraska, you may give to LCMS World Relief and Human Care Disaster Response, the American Red Cross, and the Salvation Army, or any of the other relief groups. During any time of a great emergency, Americans should consider helping others.

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Ray Spitzenberger, a retired teacher and pastor, is the author of It Must Be the Noodles.

Warda by John Schmidt. Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt, 21 Oct 1909.

Warda

Werten Leser!

                Ich muß doch wieder ein paar Zeilen einsenden, somit ich nicht ganz in Vergessenheit gerathe.

                Gegenwärtig ist e shier sehr trocken, und infolge dessen macht sich der Wassermangel recht fühlber. Möchte es doch bald regen. – Sie Baumwollernte ist wohl nun bald drendet, und ist dieselbige stellenweise etwas besser und stellenweise wieder schlechter als letztes Jahr.

                Unser Kitchinim der im Sommer von Blitz beschädigt wurde und reparirt werden mutzit, ist nun wieder fertig. Die Kosten für denselben sind $225.00.

               Diese Motze schien die Wardaer Mädchen das Wanderfieber ergriffen zu haben, den sie verstogen wie die wilden Hause. Die Frls. Maria u. Lena Domaschk sowie Frl. Emma Bittner gingen nach Austin, Frl. Martha Kubitz u. Theresa Domaschk gingen nach Brenham, um dort Dienstellen anzunehmen, während Frl. Emma Rothmann nach Port Arthur ging um gleichfalls dort in Dienst zu treten, ihr Vater Herr Ernst Rothmann de geschäftshalper dort zu tun hatte, begleitete sie hin. Hoffentlich gefällt es nun allen recht gut, sonst — — —

                Doch so, genug für dismal.

                Mit Gruß an all Leser.

                                John Schmidt

Transliterated by Weldon Mersiovsky