A lovely surprise awaited me on the fourth floor of Paul and Andrea Aeschlimann's home, high on the Bucholterberg in the Canton of Bern, in the fall of 2002. Yet it was a surprise for which my stay in the home of Hans and Margrit Rüegsegger had already partially prepared me. Very silently, with shy smiles, more and more people -- numerous families with teen-age and smaller children -- appeared in the attic meeting room. All the women, with uncut hair, modest clothing and no jewellery sat on one side. All the men and boys, mountain dairy farmers looking uncomfortable in their good clothes, on the other.
My surprise was the singing. Strong. Majestic. With glorious a capella harmony, but not loud. I had never heard anything so beautiful. The entire group sang, then all the Dads with their solemn red-cheeked sons, too shy to look at us, stood together and sang some more.
The preaching was earnest and simple. Out the front windows of the upper room (where a door opened onto a narrow balcony) we looked far down and across a wide green valley bathed in the morning light. Beyond Lake Thun and Interlaken on the far side of the valley stood the snow-crowned Berner Alps, the Jungfrau, the Gletscherhorn, the Bärgli Stein and all the rest in a splendour that already seemed part of a new world to come.
But who were these people? Some "lost remnant" perhaps, of the Anabaptists that used to live in these villages?
Yes and no. Paul Aeschlimann is of Anabaptist background, quite likely a relative of mine through my own Eschleman ancestors that fled from here in the 1700s. But it was no flesh and blood connection we felt this morning in the attic, at Heimenschwand.
During the night at the huge Rüegsegger home, where we slept in a low ceilinged room above the farm implements and cow stables, the hay mow overhead, and Margrit's cheery rooms out front, we heard the whole story. Around the time of World War One, they told us, a young man from the village came home from a drinking bout and met God. Kneeling down in the stable he promised God he would never drink again, and he would go tell all the world about him.
That is what happened. People got converted by the dozens. Both Reformed and Anabaptist people in the valley, and many who had never cared about God or the church before. Everywhere they began to meet in their homes. They taught only what the Bible said. They baptised new believers. They never joined any denomination and to this day they still meet in homes here and there throughout Switzerland, down through Tyrol and into the Drau Valley of Austria.
"We call ourselves Christians," Hans and Margrit told me. And they gave me a writing "Der Weg dem Lamme Nach" (The Lamb's Way) they thought I should translate to English for the people in America. . . .
This was neither the first nor the last time I have gotten these signals from Switzerland. Every so often we meet a family, or hear of a some hidden root of faith here or there in the Alpine regions of Zürich and Bern. We hear from the Thürgau and from St Gallen, even from far down in the Italian south (some day I may write more about that). About a year ago someone wrote from the St. Chrischona community at Basel wanting to be on our mailing list.
This week I was handed a letter written by Daniel Huegli, president of the Huegli Tech Engine and Genset Control company of Langenthal, Bern, who (through a third party) read what I posted last week. Among other things he wrote:
When I read the letters (from the bishops in Tirol), I instantly see the message from Christ telling us to be aware of the wolf in sheep’s fur!
We should be careful taking up a dialogue with other religions than the Christian one as Satan has many smart ways to show his face without us even noticing that he is pulling the strings. . . . Currently in Switzerland some are objecting to building mosques with minarets. . . . But it is becoming dangerous to do that here, not in terms of being threatened physically, but for being looked at as being intolerant.
Recently a Catholic Church in Kanton Aargau had an open door celebration together with an Islamic Temple in order to demonstrate publicly what tolerance means. Exactly this is where I can see that Satan had made a brilliant move convincing all the visitors who went to that open door celebration that it is possible that Islam and Christians and I am explicitly using the word Christians instead of Catholics can live side by side and accept each other.
What rubbish is that! Islam has no forgiveness in their Koran and it clearly states in their book that all non-believers need to be converted otherwise executed! Where is the tolerance which the Catholic Church is preaching?
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"The more things change," we often say, "the more they stay the same."
I am not sure what all is happening in Switzerland now. Neither have I kept up contact with the Rüegseggers and the Aeschlimanns. But I do know that standing up for Christ -- the REAL Christ, like he really was -- will never become a popular or politically correct thing to do. Nor will we, who are serious about following the Lamb, ever find ourselves walking with the crowd. The narrow way is too steep, and often lonely. But the comrades we find on it cheer our hearts and nourish our souls like the music of the mountain farmers in the upper room at Heimenschwand.
Let us pray for the believers of Switzerland today.