Sunday, December 9, 2018

The God of Surprises

Several years ago, while leading a group of EMU students on a Cross-cultural program to Guatemala, I was walking along the street when I met a young woman carrying a baby in her arms. She looked worried. By her dress, I judged her to be quite poor. Since my pace was a bit faster than hers, I soon passed her. I had gone no more than 10 steps past her when I discovered a wad of bills lying on the sidewalk. I bent over and picked up the bills without counting them. There was no one around, either on the sidewalk or in the nearby houses. Without thinking about it much, I turned around and handed the bills to the poor young woman behind me. “Who knows where they came from,” I said flippantly. Her face brightened up with joy, and she responded to me with a beautiful smile that completely covered her face. Without hesitating for an instant and without the slightest doubt in her mind she responded, “from God.” The poor young mother had received a surprise from God. Not only had she received a surprise from God, but she had to be astute enough to recognize that the surprise she had received was from God.

Well, this God that became flesh and moved into our neighborhood, is a God of surprises. A God who does the unexpected, the unforeseen. Unfortunately, because he is a God of surprises, many people do not recognize what he has done! They might call it a coincidence, or a chance happening. But for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, the presence of God in these surprises will be recognized and affirmed.

Jesus’ birth narrative in Luke chapter 2 contains quite a few surprises. First the shepherds encounter with the baby, and then two more obscure stories of when Jesus is presented in the temple by his parents and how Simeon and Anna responded to their encounter with the Word made flesh. All of these characters have extraordinary powers of vision and hearing. In spite of being marginal people in their society, the shepherds had eyes to see the surprises that God had in store for the people of Israel. Simeon and Anna, in spite of being old, also had eyes to see God’s surprises.

The birth narrative in in Luke is what we mostly think of when we think of Christmas. This story of the shepherds in Luke and the story about the wise men in Matthew are so well known and sentimentalized that we miss the surprises that are contained in them. We also ignore other portions of the birth narrative that surround the story that we know. We are blind to the “upside down” way God works among us. We have closed our eyes and covered our ears to the radical and surprising message that these scriptures contain.

Let’s start with the shepherds. They are not exactly princes. One would suppose that the Master of the Universe, the God Almighty, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, would be accompanied by an escort of kings and princes and other high officials of the royal courts of the earth awaiting the announcement of the arrival of a new king, the son of the almighty God. One would also suppose that there would be thousands of soldiers mounted on the finest of horses waiting for the announcement of the arrival of the son of the King of Kings.

But it was nothing like that at all. The shepherds, probably the most despicable of all human beings of that time, were the ones who received the announcement of the birth of the King of the Heavens. The shepherds were rough and crude men of the country side. They were compared to slaves. They didn’t have any civil rights. They worked hard leading the sheep and goats hither and yon to find places to eat and drink. At night they had to be alert to protect their flocks not only from wild animals but also from thieves.

When these humble and uneducated men received the message from an angel, they responded immediately. We are all familiar with the story of how they went and found Mary and Joseph and the baby in the manger. After finding the God-child, they imitated the heavenly host of angels glorifying and praising God because all had taken place as they had told them.

But, what are the surprises that we find in the story of the shepherds? As already mentioned, the announcement of the birth of the son of God was given to despised and course men. It was not given to the customary officials in the majority of societies; neither to princes, kings or soldiers. Where were the roman officials? Nor was the message given to the people with the best religious education. Where were the rabbis, the Pharisees, the men who knew the law and those with the best possible education? Nor was the message given to the wealthy. Where were the Chief Priests, the Sadducees, the large land owners and other wealthy people of the time? They were completely absent.

I am convinced that the announcement was available to anyone who had eyes to see and ears to hear it. But only the shepherds had their hearts ready to receive it. That’s the way it is. The humble and the meek will inherit the Kingdom of God because they are neither blind or deaf. What a surprise! God reveals the most important message of all time to a group of vagabond shepherds because they were ready to receive it.

After Jesus was several days old his parents took him to the temple in Jerusalem to fulfill some ritual laws of the Jews. At the temple we find an old man named Simeon who was waiting to die. He was probably suffering from some debilitating disease, or perhaps he was so advanced in age that he was fed up with life and he wanted to die. But he had received a promise long ago from the Holy Spirit that he wouldn’t die until he met the Messiah. From what we read of him in the scripture, there is little doubt that this old man was very devout.

Immediately upon seeing the young Jesus, he recognized him to be the Messiah, the promised one of God for the salvation of the people of Israel and all the nations of the world. Right there he took the baby Jesus in his arms and blessed him and said, “my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” After blessing both Mary and Joseph as well, he said some surprising things. “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” What he was saying, is that the message Jesus would bring would be so surprising that it would cause divisions, arguments and fights. Doesn’t sound like the kind of glory or revelation we normally think of.

Aside from that statement of division, what are the surprises we find in the story of Simeon? Who were the officials in the temple when Mary, Joseph and Jesus arrived to consecrate their first-born? Weren’t there priests to perform the rites and the ceremonies? Weren’t there any Sadducees to supervise the comings and goings of the people of the temple? Weren’t there any Pharisees to be sure that all the peculiarities of the law were obeyed? Weren’t there any Rabbis there to teach the about the wisdom of the Jews? Weren’t there any scribes to conserve this historic moment n the life of the people of Israel? Weren’t they the religious people of the time? I wonder, why didn’t THEY recognize the Messiah?

I am convinced that the ability to recognize the Messiah was available to anyone who had eyes to see and ears to hear. But only a pious old man had a heart ready to understand the message. The humble and the meek will inherit the Kingdom of God because they are neither blind nor deaf. What a surprise! God reveals the most important message of all times to an old man ready to finish his walk on earth.

At the same time in the temple there was an old woman named Anna. She had served God for many years with fasting and prayer. She was an 84-year old widow who was also a prophetess. Somehow or other, when I think of her, I think that she must have been like the many beggars I have seen over the years surrounding the huge churches in the cities of Latin America. Dressed in old rags, very poor, but with a certain dignity because of her pious activities. But I also imagine that the people who passed her by ignored her, or avoided looking at her directly, either because she was very poor, or because they thought she was crazy uttering her prophesies. How often have we passed by a homeless person, or someone ranting, denying their personhood by ignoring them or avoiding them?

But this old widow, like the shepherds and Simeon, recognized the Son of God, the Messiah. She announced to everyone within earshot that she had seen the Messiah. Do you think the sellers there in the Temple Square paid any attention to her? You know, the ones who were selling animals for the ritual sacrifices of the Jews? Do you think that the many visitors who came and went through the temple courts from scattered Jewish villages paid any attention to her? Do you think the pious gentile god-fearers who were always present in the courts of Jewish temples and synagogues paid any attention to her?

I am sure that the ability to recognize the Messiah was available to anyone who had eyes to see and ears to hear. But only an old widow had a heart ready to understand the message. The humble and the meek will inherit the Kingdom of God because they are neither blind nor deaf. What a surprise! God reveals the most important message of all times to a poor old widow whom many considered crazy because of her prophesizing.

So, what do some crusty shepherds, a dying old man and a crazy old prophetess have to do with us today? Perhaps like many of the characters who passed through the three stories from Luke 2 that I shared, your own eyes have become blind and your own ears have become deaf to the recognizing the Messiah as a person or receive his message. What are you doing to prepare your hearts so that you will have eyes to see and ears to hear when Christ comes? Are you ready to see the unexpected, the surprising message that the Master of the Universe has for you? Are you ready to acknowledge the presence of God every minute of the day, every day of the week? When something unexpected happens, even something so simple as finding a wad of bills on the sidewalk, are you ready to proclaim God’s providence to the world? To the people who missed the Messiah in these stories, Jesus later said “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them. But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.”

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Unexpected Christian hospitality

Origionally published in The Mennonite, July 2013. 

“We don’t have any money to give you,” the pastor said to the strange man who approached him in a busy bus station in the northern part of Mexico City. “But we can provide you with lodging at our church and invite you to present your case to the members to see how they respond.”

Pastor Victor who welcomed
 Abram to his congregation
My wife and I were meeting Victor, the pastor of a small Mennonite congregation dwarfed among some 22 million people inhabiting Mexico City. We were with a group of 18 students from Eastern Mennonite University (EMU), Harrisonburg, Va. Victor’s church was hosting us for a week of working, worshiping and playing together.
The stranger spotted a Christian fish symbol on Victor’s T-shirt and figured he would be more approachable than others in the crowded bus station. Slowly his story unfolded. His name was Abram, and he was on the way back to his family in Guatemala from the United States. He was completely broke when he arrived in Mexico City and was asking for money to buy a ticket home and for a meal to eat on the way.
Abram had been working in Charlottesville, Va., as a painter. He had entered the United States without papers and had numerous jobs in various cities until he finally settled in Charlottesville. He was doing well at his job but got into a bad crowd and spent most of his money partying and in general misbehavior. In desperation, he returned to the faith of his childhood, began attending a Latino church and recommitted his life to Jesus.
Just as he was beginning to turn his life around and make some economic strides, he received a call from his family in Guatemala. He was urgently needed back home to help resolve some family issues. He was really torn between family obligations and his newfound hope with steady employment and a changed lifestyle.
Going back to Guatemala would probably mean never being able to return to the United States again; the risks of crossing the border without papers were too high. To ignore the pleas of his family went completely against his cultural sensibilities, so he decided to return to Guatemala, throwing away all his dreams of a better life.
He returned over land, mostly by bus. Somewhere along the way, all his money was stolen, and he ended up in a church-run refugee shelter in a U.S.-Mexico border town. By helping out around the shelter and with some donations from good people along the way, he was able to scrape together enough to buy a bus ticket to Mexico City. This is where his story coincided with ours.
To a person, our group had a great deal of trouble believing Abram’s story. We figured he was pulling a major con job and was using the benevolence of a Christian brother with a fish symbol on his T-shirt to beg for money. Victor, on the other hand, did not bat an eyelash. He extended his invitation and promised to take up an offering for him with no guarantees on how much it would be. So Abram climbed on board the back of a pickup with a half-dozen students from our group to ride with us to the church of our destination.
It was remarkable enough that Victor offered this stranger hospitality at all. But his church was in the process of hosting 18 students and their two leaders for a week and was struggling financially to make their church budget reach. Didn’t they have enough to do? Wouldn’t the money raised to give to Abram be better used for the needs of the church? Weren’t there other churches that could see to Abram’s needs? These seem to be questions that were going through our American minds. I doubt any of them occurred to Victor, who lovingly invited Abram to accompany us on our adventure.
“Share with the Lord’s people who are in need,” says Romans 12:13, then continues, “Practice hospitality.” In 1 Peter 4:9 we are admonished to “offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” Victor embodied the essence of both these verses. Our troop of American sojourners was the ones doing the grumbling. What is it about our culture that makes us so suspicious? Why is it so difficult for most of us to extend the biblically mandated hospitality to strangers?
“Scripture is replete with references to … the stranger,” writes W. David Buschart in his book Exploring Protestant Traditions: An Invitation to Theological Hospitality (IVP Academic, 2006). These references include a clear call to offer hospitality to the stranger. “Hospitality extends the embrace of welcome,” he writes. “Christian hospitality extends the embrace of Christ’s welcome.” We are called to offer hospitality to the stranger because of what God has done for us. In turn, the hospitality we offer is from God.
“When faced by a stranger, those who extend the embrace of hospitality have a keen awareness of God’s hospitality toward them,” writes Buschart. “Furthermore, this hospitality includes not only a sense of who they are (namely strangers) and what God has done (embraced them) but also an awareness that what they have to offer in hospitality is ultimately from God.” Hospitality reaffirms our relationship to others and to God.
In spite of our initial skepticism, Abram soon endeared himself to our group. He ate meals with us at the church, worshiped with the congregation during several services and helped with the church’s painting project. The coincidences were many. We had just been in Guatemala, the country to which he wanted to return. He had lived in Charlottesville, just over the mountains from where our students studied at EMU. He was a painter whose skills were needed at that particular time in the church. The better we got to know him, the more our skeptical attitudes faded away. When the special offering for Abram was received during the Wednesday evening service, most of our group walked forward to add their pesos to the love gift.
Although there was much less distrust among the Mexican Mennonites at the church than in our group as a whole, they, too, raised some questions when the special offering for Abram was announced. Victor, whose only motivation was Christian love, had a ready answer for the skeptics: “What he does with the money is on his conscience,” he said. “We were asked to extend Christian hospitality to a stranger, so we did what Jesus would have done.” Human motives are seldom completely pure. Extending hospitality in Jesus’ name is.
A small offering basket for Abram was placed at the front of the church along with the normal offering basket during the Wednesday evening ser­vice. The money received for him was placed in an envelope and given to him after the service, no questions asked, no conditions imposed. According to the pastor who saw that he got to the bus station the next morning, the money Abram received was just enough to cover his bus trip and a meal along the way—exactly what he had asked for, no more, no less. He disappeared on to the bus in the early hours of the day, never to be heard from again.
Our group learned a valuable lesson in Christian hospitality during our time with pastor Victor’s church in Prensa Nacional, a working-class neighborhood in northwestern Mexico City. The church almost unquestioningly took Abram in and offered him what they had in spite of few resources of their own. Through the church’s acceptance of Abram, and through exposing us to Christian hospitality at its best, our group learned to love a suspicious stranger and learned to respond to that love without expecting anything in return. We also experienced God’s love in action. Abram responded to our hospitality, and new friendships were forged through this encounter that will be forever etched in the minds of those of us who were there to experience it.
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers,” states Hebrews 13:2, “for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” For all we know, Abram was an angel.
Don Clymer teaches Spanish and humanities at Eastern Mennonite University, 
Harrisonburg, Va., and leads cross-cultural seminars to Guatemala and Mexico. He also serves on the Pastoral Care Team at Lindale Mennonite Church where he is a member.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

A New Creation

A lesson on not judging someone based on outward appearances

(This article originally appeared in The Mennonite April 1, 2014)
“I love Americans,” Pedro announced to the small group gathered for the Wednesday evening Bible study. “I love your music, your language, your people.”
Pedro2My wife, Esther, and I were leading a group of 18 students from Eastern Mennonite University (EMU), Harrisonburg, Va., and were visiting a small Mennonite congregation on the north side of sprawling Mexico City. They were hosting us during Holy Week for a time of working, worshiping and playing together.
I was immediately put off by Pedro’s announcement. His speech was slurred, his eyes glazed over, and he wore beads around his neck and on his wrists while stuffing white ear buds in his ears. Often I had been accosted by similar statements and people in my years of learning and serving in Latin America. What was his agenda? He had to have one, I assumed, because he was too effusive, and I was pretty sure he was inebriated.
The following day the church had planned a day for the group of us to enjoy the many activities available in Chapultepec Park in central Mexico City. There were museums, a zoo, a castle, rowboats and an amusement park, to name a few. We were to divide into groups and chose our activity. At the end of the Bible study, the pastor asked for a show of hands of those who were willing and able to accompany us for the excursion. Pedro was the first one to raise his hand.
After a wonderfully harrowing ride navigating Mexico City’s public transportation system with a walk, two bus transfers and the metro, we emerged out of the bowels of the subway system into the bright, crisp air of the park. Five students along with Esther and me, chose the zoo. So did Pedro. Probably with the same misgivings about Pedro that I had, the five students hurriedly dashed off to the entrance of the zoo, disappearing among the multitudes. Esther and I were stuck with Pedro. Three hours until we were to reunite with the rest of the group for the next activity. Three hours with Pedro. I dreaded every minute.
The human tendency is to prejudge someone by their outward appearance. This is where the word “prejudice” comes from. We decide what someone is like by their race, their age, their sex or any of a number of other factors without bothering to get to know them. My prejudgment of Pedro was that he was a drunk and would be a difficult person to relate to because he “had an agenda” and probably wanted something from me. I didn’t want to be bothered by him. By prejudging him before getting to know him, I denied his God-image and likeness. By so doing, I reduced him to something less than human.
I was not the only one to prejudge Pedro. “I made a quick judgment about him as being someone I did not want to relate to, and I did not want anything to do with him,” wrote one of my students in her journal. “I was judging him for what I saw and the little I knew of him.” Because of the scene at the Bible study, I’m sure many of our students felt the same way.
God knows our tendency to judge a person by how they look on the outside, so when Samuel was looking for a king to replace Saul, God warned him: “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 NIV).
Israel had already been fooled by a tall and handsome Saul, the man who had the stereotypical physique of a king but the heart of a pagan. Even in spite of this disaster, Samuel looked for these same qualities in the sons of Jesse. He had to be straightened out by God. What is in one’s heart is more important than the way one looks.
Paul, in acknowledging his own prejudices before he had an encounter with the Risen Christ, writes in 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 (CEV), “We are careful not to judge people by what they seem to be,” or, as The Message puts it, “by what they have or how they look.” I certainly judged Pedro by the way he seemed to be and the way he looked, I didn’t look at his heart.
As Esther, Pedro and I proceeded through the zoo, Pedro wanted to know the English name of every animal we came across. We became friendlier as the day wore on, enjoying his unbounded, childlike enthusiasm for all the animals and their English equivalents.
We decided to leave the zoo and have lunch together. As we ate, he told us his long, torturous story. He was studying biology at the university when he got into a bad crowd and started doing drugs. Up to that point he was doing well enough that he had several offers to continue his academic career in graduate studies or to work with some government agencies; offers that would have set him financially for life.
The deeper he got into the drug scene, however, the more distracted he became from his studies. It wasn’t long until he had to live on the streets full-time to support his habit. He dropped out of school and had never returned. What had been a promising career was left shattered on the rubbish heap beside a pile of syringes. He tried to earn a living selling candy and chewing gum from a portable stand he carried through his neighborhood.
After many failed rehabilitation programs, he wandered into an evangelical church and accepted Christ. He had been clean for over a year when we met him. “The only thing that saved me was Christ,” he testified. Because of his abuse of all sorts of drugs, his brain was fried. This explained his slurred speech and his halting behavior—making us jump to the conclusion that he was drunk.
The passage from 2 Corinthians 5 continues, “Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. The past is forgotten, and everything is new.” Other versions call this a “new creation.” In spite of his outward appearance, Pedro was a new creation. He had a new heart. Before I got to know his story, I could only see his outward appearance.
Pedro accompanied our entourage from EMU everywhere we went. As the week wore on, he endeared himself not only to Esther and me but to all the students. When we went to see the reenactment of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion in his gang-infested neighborhood on Good Friday, Pedro led the way. Everywhere people greeted him.
Since we were with him, in spite of sticking out like sore gringo thumbs, we felt safe and in good hands. He was the first to give out specially prepared invitations to attend his church in his neighborhood. His own transformed life was an even more powerful testimony to his old friends.
“As I started to hear his story, I started to understand him more and not have a total fear of him,” wrote the same student. “His story is a powerful [one] and shows what Jesus can do in people’s lives. I wish I hadn’t judged Pedro so quickly.” Another student gave Pedro his English-Spanish Bible. Pedro’s face radiated his gratitude. We were slowly beginning to see his heart, to see his God-image, to see his new creation.
When we left Mexico some three weeks after our time with this fascinating and hospitable Mennonite church, Pedro was among the people to show up at the airport to bid us farewell. Many of the church members brought parting gifts. Pedro brought his candy stand and passed out candies to the group with his huge, toothless smile.
Our final church service together was Easter Sunday. During that service, we circulated around all the members of the church greeting them with the phrase, “Christ is risen,” to which the other responded, “He is risen indeed.” When I came to Pedro and looked him directly in his eyes, an emotion came over me, and I said to him, “Christ is risen, and I see him in your face.” This was the same face that I had rejected just a few days earlier. Without hesitation, he replied, “Yes, I was dead and now I am alive. I have risen from the dead like Christ.” I could not hold back the tears as I hugged him. Pedro was a new creation. So was I.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Horsch-ing Around Kraichgau, Germany

The house my Horst (Horsch) ancestors lived in 250 years ago

My mother was born a Horst, descendent of immigrant Jakob Horst who arrived in Pennsylvania in 1767 on the ship Minerva. As with so many other surnames of Swiss and German heritage, there are many variations; Horsch, Hürsch, Hursch, Horst, Hürst and Hurst. My immigrant ancestor’s family was Horst in Switzerland, Horsch in Germany, and returned to Horst in the USA.

Jakob Horst (Horsch) was born in 1734 in Mauer, in the Kraichgau region of Germany. Like so many other Anabaptists, Jakob’s grandfather, also named Jakob, moved from Switzerland to Germany during severe persecution of the Swiss government in the 17th century. There were two great regions of Anabaptist migration to Germany—one to the Palatinate (see my ancestor Valentine Klemmer) which is west of the Rhine River, and the other to Kraichgau, located east of the Rhine River near Heidelberg and south of the Neckar River.
Heidelberg on the Neckar River

Several years ago, I visited some friends in the town of Bammental, Germany, directly in the Kraichgau region of Germany. Little did I know, that over the hill and around the bend, only three miles from where I was, lay the town of Mauer and the “Hof” where my ancestor Jakob Horsch lived and farmed with his family.

During my year in Switzerland, I was asked to give a presentation about my Swiss heritage, and I came across an article by Clarke Hess on “‘Poor’ Jacob Horst, 1767 Immigrant.” This was a meticulously researched article on my ancestor, including information on his family origins in Switzerland.  When I looked up “Mauer” on Google Maps, I discovered that it was right next to Bammental, where I had visited only a few months earlier. I could have kicked myself for not knowing this before my visit. I hoped I would have a chance to return to visit my friend and the village of my ancestors.

The image of the "Horsthof" I had from
the Hess article to search Google Earth

The image of the Horsthof I found on
Google Earth before I went

The chance came in September 2018. In the meantime, I tried to find the exact location of the “Horsthof.” In the article on “Poor Jacob Horst,” there was an image taken of this Hof. I contacted the Hess to get a more precise location. He didn’t have an exact address, only that it was “close to the cemetery” in Mauer. I scoured Google Earth all around the cemetery to try to locate the place before going there. Hess helped me by forwarding some better images from a more recent visit of his. I found what I thought looked like the buildings of the Hof and took a screen shot. I sent this to Hess, and he confirmed that he thought this was indeed the Hof in question. Armed with this information, I headed to visit my friends in Bammental. 

The morning of my visit to Mauer was bright and sunny. My host and I arrived at the cemetery in under 10 minutes, passing an Aldi’s store on the way. Hard to imagine my ancestor rumbling along this stretch of road on a horse or in a horse-drawn carriage. The cemetery was on a hill at the north edge of town. It didn’t take long to identify the Hof that I had captured an image of from Google Earth. We scrambled down the stairs from the cemetery to the street.

The entrance showing the name of the Baron and
the new use of the former Horsthof

The Horst Hof, which had been owned by the German Baron Göler von Ravensburg for several centuries, probably including the time my ancestor lived there, was now totally renovated and turned into a retirement community with a nursing home. The family of my ancestor was poor and were tenant farmers on this property. 

I could hardly wait to talk to someone about my relationship to the Hof. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as I had planned. The only people with whom I came in contact were very protective of the patients housed in the former barn of my ancestor and weren’t interested in my family history from 250 years ago. My host explained to me that German law is very protective of the privacy of individuals. I wrote more about this “misadventure” in a blog.

The land around Mauer where my Horst relatives farmed.
At least I was able to smell the air, and soak in the atmosphere of my ancestors who lived in Mauer. I was filled with awe to see an actual place attached to my history. 

In the meantime, my host explained to me that there were still many Mennonites in Germany named Horsch. Most of them had moved farther east to Bavaria. In fact, one established a farm implement company in Schwandorf, Bavaria, with branches in many parts of the world, including the USA. I decided to see if any of the Horsches had connections to my family from Mauer.

South German Mennonite Fall Conference attendees
During my stay in Germany, I was able to attend a church-wide Fall Conference of the South German Mennonite Church. I asked my hosts to introduce me to any Horsch present. The first one was the son of the founder of the farm implement company and the current CEO. He was thin of average height and immaculately dressed with a winsome smile and slicked-back, black hair. He looked like a Horst cousin of mine (well, sorta!) and seemed to be making connections with numerous people at the convention. When I asked him if he knew of any family connection to Mauer, he immediately said that there were none. However, he did introduce me to another Horsch at the conference who he thought might know.

I approached the second Horsch, an elderly gentleman who looked just like my grandfather Horst (just kidding!). He was short and stocky, with a thick batch of gray hair on the sides and balding on the top. He wore thick-framed black glasses. Once again, he said that he didn’t know, but that his son was interested in this and might have some information for me. He gave me his phone number.

The next day I called the number I was given, and was able to talk to Johannes Horsch, who was on his tractor at the time doing chores around his farm. Being on the phone, I couldn’t see if he resembled any Horst relative of mine, but we exchanged email addresses for future reference. He was the friendliest of the Horsch contacts, and I am hoping he can make a connection with a Horsch family with ties to Mauer.

Horsch-ing around Kraichgau for a few days, and then visiting the Palatinate, two of the main areas of Swiss Anabaptist migrations for another few days, was an eventful and fun-filled week. The highlight of the week was attending the South German Mennonite Conference and making many new and former connections beyond my ancestors. Since most of them, like me, have connections in Switzerland, I’m probably related to few of them.

The Horschhof as it appears today