May 12, 1938 – We Are Here as Pilgrims, Our Homeland is Above

This article by Rev. G. Birkmann, Pastor Emeritus, first appeared in the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt on May 12, 1938. It was translated from German by Ray Martens.

I remember fondly my time in Fedor, my work and my ministry, which St. Paul called a noble task in I Timothy 3[:1], “Whoever desires the office of a bishop, desires a noble task.” And how friendly I was treated all around and helped so that I would maintain my courage and cheerfulness. I experienced much joy with those who were mine in the Fedor congregation, and I am grateful for that.

Certainly there was no lack of sobering experiences and dark days. Among these I count especially deaths in the congregation, which hit hard, not just me, but many others as well, especially the relatives. I want to name only those examples which occurred in my earlier years in ministry and which have remained in my memory. It is not at all my intent to mention all who died at the time, for that would make for a long list—at that time, fifty and more years ago, we had relatively many burials and especially much sickness among small children.

My first task in Fedor was presiding at the burial of the wife of father Andr. Symank, who died after a lengthy illness on the very day that I was ordained in Fedor. She left behind, her husband, three sons, and the same number of daughters. The oldest daughter was married to Ernst Lehmann, and the two oldest sons married soon thereafter. The two youngest children of the deceased mother Symank were still in school.

During the first year of my activity in Fedor, a father Kunze died, a man whose daughter was married to Heinrich Schneider (a blacksmith) and who died soon thereafter. And Kunze had two sons, John Kunze, who would still be known by many, and Ernst, who doubtlessly still lives in Warda. This father Kunze was a dear man who had come with his family from Germany not long before and then lived, when I first got to know him, with his two sons over toward Lincoln, about four miles from our church. One time he stayed with me over the noon hour in order to attend an afternoon meeting. There were a number of other elderly people with me, and they enjoyed themselves very much. Kunze said that he would never have experienced being entertained by a pastor in Germany.

That was in 1877. In the same year, the death of a young girl took place, a daughter of Traugott Patschke, who was snatched away by a high fever. This event moved everyone deeply, especially her young friends, both boys and girls, who saw in this how brief a person’s life can be and how quickly one can be snatched away. But she died as a Christian, and who dies thus dies well.

A Mr. Wolf died in the summer of 1878. I think Wilhelm was his first name. He was a farmer and operated a gin on Bluff Creek, as Rev. Proft identified him when he entered into the church records Wolf’s marriage to his (Proft’s) sister, the widow Gruetzner. Wolf had been married already before, perhaps twice, and, after the deaths of those wives, he took the widow Gruetzner as his helpmeet. She had a child from her first marriage, August Gruetzner, who later became widely known. In her second marriage, the one to Mr. Wm. Wolf, God gave her twins, a boy and a girl. The father found much joy in these twins. Once I saw him at a social gathering holding both children on his lap, one on his right knee and the other on his left, sitting that way for hours while his good wife made herself useful in the kitchen. He had, if I am not mistaken, what is called a “mule gin.” Exactly what that is I cannot describe—my readers will surely understand better than I. Wolf died in the middle of the summer after suffering for a short time with an inflammation of the lungs.

In February of the nest year, we had to carry another gin operator to his grave, Ernst Winkler, who had reached the age of only twenty-seven, and who had been a strong, healthy man. His problem was an inflammation of the windpipe, probably caused by the work he had to do under conditions in the gin hardly better than those of the aforementioned Wolf. I was called at night when he was gravely ill. He was fully conscious and received the consolation of absolution and the Holy Eucharist. His death grieved especially his widow and their three still little children: Herman, Karl, and Emma. His death was also a significant loss for our congregation at a time when the congregation had barely more than thirty members.

On the same day as we gave Winkler his last procession, an elderly Mr. Zieschang died, a man who had come from Serbin, where he had married a widow Paulick, and then settled on the West Yegua. John Schubert had as his wife the daughter of the widow Paulick, and that young couple, if I remember correctly, lived for a short time in one and the same house with the named Zieschang. He had hardly established himself when he was called from this life. On the Sunday following, only two days after Winkler’s burial, I held a commemorative address for both Zieschang and Winkler. [No embalming in Fedor back then. Burial typically took place the day after death, and the counterpart to what today is a funeral occurred as a part of the following Sunday’s service.]

I remember very little about Zieschang, but I had become well acquainted with Winkler as he drove me to the place of his brother, Wilhelm Winkler, in what is now The Grove in Coryell County a year before his end. Winkler (Ernst) was still young, but well trained and experienced. He had driven cotton to Mexico during the time of the Civil War and had seen many other dangers and hardships.

The following three years, 1879 to 1882, I served Zion congregation in Dallas, still very small at the time. Acts of ministry such as baptisms, marriages, and funerals did not come up or occur very often for us, yet, I want to mention here two occasions which I remember. The first is the funeral of the wife of the Rev. Andreas Baepler, who at the time was a pastor in Mobile, Alabama, but who previously, already in 1874 and 1875, had served as a missionary in Dallas. In Dallas he had married Josephine Ax, a daughter of one of his members. When she became ill, she was brought from Mobile to her parents in Dallas, and died there after some time. She was given Christian burial in a cemetery near her parent’s house at Garland. There were many Americans [i.e., non-German-speaking people] nearby, and Baepler himself addressed some words to them after I held my German address.

In Dallas there was an English-speaking undertaker who had a female employee in his business who was Danish and Lutheran by birth. Mr. Smith, the undertaker, asked me to bury this friend of his as he gave good witness to the fact that she had held firm to her Lutheran faith. The funeral was to take place in a few hours and, to be sure, in English. I had never conducted a funeral in this language, and, yet, I could not decline this invitation. When we conducted the usual devotion in Mr. Smith’s house and the casket was closed, the dear friend cried more over the death of his Danish helper that I had ever seen a man cry. And he was not weak, an otherwise very solid, fine, and distinguished man. It was like when David cried for his friend Jonathon.

In 1883 I was back in my Fedor congregation. Toward the end of the year, something happened among us which was among the most difficult and most frightening that I have ever experienced. That was the murder of our neighbors and shopkeepers, Keuffel and his assistant Mros. Both were shot by a robber or “desperado,” who, apparently in a drunken state, demanded their money. When Keuffel leaned down to open the drawer, he received a shot in the face, and his assistant, who tried to get away, was also shot. A third person also in the store, a boy, escaped. Both victims of this crime lie in our Fedor cemetery. I held a devotion for them in the house of the widow Keuffel as they both lay in their caskets and spoke from the Word of God what was offered to me by our dear Lord. The laments and complaints were many, and the whole area was very moved and grieved by this event. We waited in vain for the punishment of the guilty party—a trial was held, but without result.

The year 1884

            The year 1884 brought the death of old man Drosche, the father of Emil Drosche and of several other sons who did not belong to us, while Ernst, the oldest, was a very willing and helpful member of our congregation—he had often worked in the construction of our needed buildings, church, school, and residences for the pastor and the teacher. Father Drosche, about whose departure I am speaking here, came from Serbin with his wife and lived with their son Ernst.

            Also the mother of our Johann Wuensche died around this time. She lived in a special little hut next to the home of her son. For a time, her husband, Christoph Wuensche, was also in Fedor, and he made himself of use to me by working in my little parsonage garden and had planted peach and other fruit trees near me already during my first time here, around 1878. Later he lived again in Serbin with his other son, Andreas Wuensche, on Sandy Creek. He died there, but his wife stayed in Fedor until her end in 1884. She lived to be eighty-four years old.

            An altogether unexpected death was that of the father of Gustav Mann. He had come from Germany not long before with his wife and both his sons (Gustav and Christian, now married to a Schneider). At the time he died, he lived where the Melchers live now—I knew him well, but could not regularly visit with him. On a Sunday morning, I received the message that he had died during the night. He had suffered a violent pain in his body when a severe attack of some abdominal disease created much distress for him, and soon his strength was consumed. He was a widely esteemed, friendly man. His widow, who later married father Geier, outlived her first husband by forty years.

            An Andreas Handrick died in the fall of 1884. His place was about four miles from our church, toward Lincoln. He was not a relative of the Andreas Handrick who was the son-in-law of the elderly Krautschick. Teacher Schleier accompanied me to get the corpse on a farm wagon which Ernst Weiser (son-in-law of Jakob Moerbe) drove to the house. It was a slow trip through the sand and, naturally, we moved along only step by step. Soon it became afternoon and I had to deliver a mission festival sermon for Rev. Buchschacher in Warda the next day, and so still had to ride about twenty miles to get there.

            So father Handrick lies buried in our congregation’s cemetery in Fedor. Yet, no one can say where his grave is, for he has no stone or other marker. A grandchild of his would like to place a stone in remembrance of his grandfather, but where is the grave?

The year 1886

In January, Johann Krautschick got sick with pneumonia and expired after a few days, and he, the only son of his parents, about twenty-three years old.

            Only a few weeks later, the wife of Mr. Nutschan died while giving birth. At the time, I was at a meeting of the Southern District of our synod in Serbin, and was called home in order to conduct the burial the next day, on Sunday. I preached in the morning, as usual and in the afternoon delivered the burial message. The baby of the deceased was taken in as a foster child by Mrs. Andreas Pillack and was faithfully raised by her. In his baptism he received the name Heinrich.

            Only a few months later, another extremely sad event happened when Hermann Krueger was shot. He was the oldest of eight sons of Karl Krueger in our congregation. That was another task for me that I could not avoid, namely, finding words of comfort for the deeply shaken parents and sisters and brothers.

            If I remember correctly, it was in the same year during the summer that a disease killed Hermann’s youngest brother, only about three years old. And still another brother, Heinrich Krueger, was gravely injured by a falling limb in the woods where he was cutting down trees. The limb hit him on the head, and Heinrich died because of that during the night.

            On the day that I buried Krueger’s youngest child, I still had to go to the area of McDade, where an Eschberger whom I knew was to be taken to his grave. (Forgive me if I mention difficult situations which beset me. For, if one has to travel in great heat three or four hours, and that on rough roads or deep sand, and then one is still expected to make an edifying address, that is really stamped on your memory.) The neighbors had gathered and were surprised that the pastor was not yet there. They did not know that he had to deal with a corpse in his own congregation that morning and already had an abundant amount to do for hours and all such.

            During this summer I had to bury a man in Lexington who was a Dane whom I had known earlier in that area. His name was Molbeck, a leather worker, whose relatives probably still live in Lexington. He enjoyed fishing in his free time, and, on one such pleasurable occasion, he fell from a boat into the water and caught such a bad cold that it killed him a week later. Those who then buried him were not Danish people—almost all of them had left the area—but they were Germans who befriended him because he was a friendly, pleasant man.

            Often during the years that I preached there, 1885 to 1891, children who died there were brought from Thorndale to Fedor, doubtlessly because there was not yet a Lutheran cemetery in Thorndale. Otto Urban brought his little son, about three years old, who was planted in the heavenly garden. What joy he and his wife had with this little boy that now they had to surrender to the earth here in Fedor. Also Johann Lehmann and his wife, a Gruellich daughter, allowed a child to be buried here in Fedor.

            At the beginning of 1889, the congregation expanded its cemetery eastward and established new rows of graves, one for adults, another for children who were still quite small or of school age. [No family plots in this cemetery.] The first grave of the adults was that of Helene, the daughter of August Benovsky and his wife, confirmed just a year earlier. Father Benovsky then later came regularly a number of times a year to keep the gravesite perfectly in order and decorated with flowers and plants. In the row of children, first came a child of that time’s Teacher Rohde.

The year 1890

Soon after the beginning of the year, the wife of our board member [Vorsteher] Hermann Urban, Anna née Melde died while giving birth. Six of her children are still living, three sons and three daughters. As far as I know, the seventh, which cost the mother her life, died soon after her.

Around Pentecost we buried Mr. Karl Dube, for many years our chairman and lector, who had to suffer from cancer for a long time. He had lived in Fedor since 1873 and, like Hermann Urban, also had had a large family. One son, the Rev. Wilhelm Dube, died ten years ago in El Paso, another, Gerhard, lives in La Pryor, and others live some here in Lee County, some in McAllen, and several in Cisco. Our Karl Dube, about whom I am reporting here, was one of those men who from the time of its beginning had done much for our congregation and, along with that, was quite gifted and trained and exemplary in conduct.

The departure of a daughter of Ernst Drosche also occurred in 1890, a young lady who was snatched away, as were others before her, in her maiden years.

This list became long, and I am not half through. I would like to say more about each of these, but this will have to do. The Scriptures say, [Proverbs 10:7] ”The memory of the righteous will be a blessing,” and [Psalm 116:15] “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”