Chapel address given virtually at EMS on September 18, 2020.Hello, my EMS friends, my name is Don Clymer. I retired several years ago from teaching Spanish and other things just up the hill at EMU. Previous to that, I worked with Virginia Mennonite Conference and Missions, which is also located close to you. My daughter and her husband both graduated from EMS as did my son. In fact, my son Mattias, is on the alumni board of EMS. I also had several nieces and nephews graduate from here. My wife and I have been fans of your touring choir for many years, even before our children sang in it. In fact, when my son was in the choir, we spent several days with them in Switzerland during their European tour. My wife is from Switzerland and both of my children are Swiss citizens as well.
Speaking of Switzerland, the roots of my family lie there. Most of you, if not ALL of you, are from families of immigrants as well. Our families came here from every part of the globe. We have been cut off from the roots of our family tree, and because of this, many of us have a longing to find out where we belong. And to whom we belong. After I married a Swiss woman, I was quite interested in knowing more about where my family had come from since we were always told that we were either from Swiss or German background. I had a longing to know this link to my past, to belong to somewhere. So, I started to do some research.
I discovered that Thoman Klymer, the earliest ancestor that I could find, was born around 1536 in Montbeliard, France. That’s a long time ago! Over 480 years ago. This was right near the beginning of the Reformation and the establishment of the Protestant Church. Thoman became a Protestant in France. They were called Huguenots. The French government didn’t take too keenly to the Protestant movement, so Thoman Klymer had to flee for his life, so he fled to Affoltern am Albis in Switzerland, where his great-great grandson, my immigrant ancestor, Valentine Klemmer, (Klemmer and Klymer have been interchanged throughout the centuries) was born in 1665. Somewhere around 1685, he became an Anabaptist. Now it was his turn to have to flee for his life! Something in my background makes me a bit of a radical! He fled to Germany for about 20 years then immigrated to the USA in 1717. More than 300 years ago!
Finding all this information made me feel like I belong! I belong to a family tribe that goes back to at least 1560! I also belong to the Anabaptist/Mennonite faith, which for me stretches back 340 years. My longing to belong has been satisfied! However, if you only stick to your tribe, you exclude a lot of people! They feel unwelcome in your presence!
I got abruptly kicked out of my tribes when I went to Honduras for two years as a 19-year old to serve in voluntary service with the Mennonite Church. When I got there, I felt completely alien, like I didn’t belong! I recently had a book published about my two years there.
When I first arrived, I didn’t know the language, I didn’t know all the cultural nuances, and I felt like a duck out of water. I made plenty of cultural mistakes, but, as the years went by, I began to feel more at home, if not ever completely. My language improved, I made many friendships with Hondurans, and I began to really love the food.
As I developed closer friendships with Hondurans, I discovered that the way I viewed the world, and many of the assumptions that I made about faith and life, were not understood the same way as Hondurans. I had a very arrogant view of my country and how blessed by God we were for all the wealth and material blessings we had.
However, they pointed out to me that much of the wealth of the USA came thorough exploitation of Honduran and other Latin American people and their natural resources. In Honduras it was bananas. We typically pay under a dollar for a pound of bananas in the US. In order for them to be so cheap for us, workers slave in the hot tropical sun in the fields for a mere 2 US dollars a day. While thousands of acres of the best land are planted with bananas, people in the villages surrounding these plantations are malnourished. Was my blessing their curse?
In Harrisonburg, I have met many Hondurans living here. We immediately connect with each other when they hear about my time in their homeland. Most of them are here to improve their economic situation. However, they don’t really feel connected to the wider culture that surrounds them here. They often feel hateful stares and racial slurs thrown at them. They certainly don’t feel like they belong. So, they stick together in their neighborhoods seldom mixing with the broader community.
Many of those in the white majority here in the US think that our country belongs only to certain groups of people from Europe, and our language is English. These people haven’t studied their history very well. The first city found in the USA was St. Augustine, Florida in 1565 as a Spanish-speaking settlement. Pretty interesting that that date is about the same date as my earliest discovered ancestor was born.
By the time the first British colony was founded in 1607 in Jamestown, there were Spanish missions already established in all of the southwest from Texas to California and north to Oregon, as well as in Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana. Spanish was already spoken in a large area of the United States before English got a toehold. Today, after Mexico, the United States is the second largest Spanish-speaking country in the world!
My longing for belonging took me from my sheltered life to Switzerland, Germany and then to Honduras. I developed skills in culture and language in each of these places. In addition, my Mennonite tribe has been extended to belong in all of these countries. I have found where I belong and then opened my tribes to others different from me. I have been truly blessed, but not in the way I had originally thought.
Where do you belong? Where do you long to belong? Will you include those who don’t speak and look like you as well?