December 7, 1933 – Give Thanks to the Lord, For He Is Good, and His Mercy Endures Forever

This article written in German by Rev. Gotthilf Birkmann and translated by Ray Martens first appeared in the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt on 7 December 1933.

The annual Thanksgiving Day will be past when these lines appear before the reader, but to encourage giving thanks to God is always timely, for, as St. Paul writes to Christians, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” [I Thess. 5:18]

The greatest gifts are those which are spiritual and heavenly, that is, the fact that, through faith in our Savior Jesus Christ, we have a gracious God and forgiveness and the sure hope of an eternal, blessed life with our God and Savior after this life.

Earthly goods are a model of those heavenly blessings. The bread that we eat reminds us of the word of the Lord, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If a man eats of this bread, he will live forever.” [John 6:51] And the water that we drink is a portrayal of the living water which springs up to eternal life. And so it is that with every earthly gift and joy there is a hint of the real joys and gifts which we shall have in heaven. Therefore, the Christian properly finds joy in his life on earth and in those things which God has given him here. It is as the hymn says:

Methinks it is so pleasant here,
All things so beautiful appear
In this our poor world even;
What will it be when earth we leave,
And at is golden gates receive
Glad welcome into heaven?

[The unidentified translator has not translated the German literally, but he has captured the thought and preserved the poetic character of the verse. The source is the ninth of fifteen stanzas of a hymn (not appearing in Lutheran hymnals in America, German or English) which was among the almost 150 written by Paul Gerhardt in the17th century.]

In this article, I want to tell something more about the gifts and assets which we enjoyed also in my congregation at Fedor. I certainly do not mean to imply that we were favored more than others. Just like Fedor, so also in other places in our county and in Thorndale, to where so many of our people moved, and in still other places, without a doubt, there was even more to harvest and to enjoy than among us. But I am of the opinion that it is not the amount of possessions or the rich yield of the fields that brings happiness, but, instead, contentment combined with godliness, as the Apostle writes, “Godliness with contentment is great gain. . . . If we have food and clothing, let us be content with that.” [I Timothy 6:6, 8] And we had food and clothing, and not a few had much more than that. In the 1880’s a number of new immigrants came from Germany, some from Austria, into my congregation at Fedor. Almost none of them had means enough for themselves, or, if they did have some means, only a small amount. They bought land in our area, chopped down the trees and so gradually cleared the land, planted corn and cotton, gradually procured a herd of cattle and fattened some hogs, cooked syrup from their sugar cane, and did other things which the other people here did. What happened? After ten or fifteen years, they paid off their debt and became free people on their own ground and land.

Certainly, they lived simply, making do in small quarters with cornbread and bacon and potatoes and the like. Post oak trees provided the wood for their modest houses. One drove the trunks to the sawmill, which most often was connected to a gin, where boards and beams along with whatever else was needed for building were cut. The woods naturally also provided the necessary firewood, and, oh, how much wood was needlessly burned while clearing the land and making it tillable for preparing fields.

There were also some farmers in that area who did not fence their fields with rails from the woods, but, instead, with brush and undergrowth out of which they made what were called “brush fences.” During my first years in Fedor, there was no barbed wire as yet, and, therefore, one had to split rails for fencing the field, or, as stated above, be content with brush fences, which, however, often were disregarded by cattle or even by wild animals, such as deer. It was not usual, but I do know of some examples in which deer simply ignored such a small hindrance as a brush fence and ate up the farmer’s corn and sweet potatoes.

It is true that our immigrants from the fatherland did not find everything here like that to which they were accustomed, but, on the whole, what was here pleased them more when they became a little more used to it. Overseas they seldom had meat in the pot, but here they could have plenty of meat, sausage, and the like every day. Overseas they had more fruit, but here in Texas grew such beautiful, juicy, big watermelons—what a joy they were for young and old if the boys brought back a wagon load of watermelons from the field. If I arrived at the houses of people in my congregation during July about the time of the afternoon during which the entire household rested for a few hours, ordinarily I would be served such a delicacy.

And in the fall, instead of watermelons, there were muskmelons [cantaloupes], out of which a dish is prepared which many enjoy using as a side dish. In Germany, earlier, potatoes were available, the kind we call Irish potatoes, but, in this country, there were also sweet potatoes, among them the colossal sized ones, called [ ], and then also those almost exclusively called yams.

“No, we did not have it as good over there,” people say almost universally. Corn, as a rule, is highly rated in Fedor, even if not always in the same amount. I know of only one totally bad harvest in Fedor, as corn is concerned, and that in 1917, the first year that our country had entered the World War. Just then one paid a dollar and a half for a bushel of corn, while previously one never needed to pay more than fifty cents for it. Sometimes only twenty-five cents.

Now I would like to report something about how it always made me happy when, at the time of cotton picking in the fall, the fully loaded wagons would pass by my home one after the other. That was an interesting time, bringing new life to our Fedor community and its people. The wagons were very tall and were loaded from the top, with the result that we could already see the white cotton from a distance. A loaded cotton wagon such as that probably stood eight or ten feet tall, with the driver sitting up on top urging his team of horses to speed up, for it was worth something to get ahead of other wagons because each wanted to be at the gin as soon as possible. There they would bang into the sides of doors barely large enough, and I always wondered how they could cope with that great weight so forcefully (1,600 pounds without the weight of the wagon). If you went to the gin, often you saw a dozen or more wagons that had to wait, and, in order to talk and have a refreshing drink, they went to the nearby Jatzlau store, where they then had time to visit with each other and for once to have a really thorough discussion about every possible thing. The gins were not fast in the old days, and so a whole day could go by before your turn came. Some brought their cotton already at night so that it would be the first to be ginned the next day. In this case, they took their horses home at night and came back the next day to take home their seeds and bales. Ginning cotton was such a new and strange experience for many visitors from the north who were staying with me that they lingered at the gin for hours, and probably the wives too challenged themselves to see this curious thing for once.

I do not need to carry on any longer to show that also our Fedor area experienced what is written, namely, that he (the Lord) fills everything that lives there with pleasure, as it says in the hymn:

He has pledged always to feed us,
Body, soul, to keep, to nourish.

[Lines from the first stanza of “We All Believe in One True God,” a musical setting of the creed written by Martin Luther]

In our time, one hears much complaining and grumbling, but there was not much less complaining in times gone by. Things are good now in comparison with the times of our fathers, especially if we think of the families who emigrated with the Rev. Joh. Kilian. They first had to establish a home for themselves in the wilderness, then immediately endured dry and lean years, then lived through the time of the bloody Civil War, 1861-65, and the difficult conditions after the war, which had thrown the whole nation into poverty.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures forever.

Rev. G. Birkmann, em.
Hufsmith, Texas