The Wroxeter meetinghouse in Ontario, Canada, is where I met with my brother David, my sister Nancy (whose husband, Menno Brubacher, is the bishop there), and a very large number of my cousins, my surviving uncle and aunt, and a host of childhood friends a week ago.
Mild winter weather, grey skies and the icy snow-packed roads of southern Ontario welcomed me back home after nearly thirty years of not having lived in Canada. Almost as if time had stood still I sat beside David during the meeting. Only we now found our place on the old men's bench alongside the high pulpit where the ministers stand to speak. When I was a little boy, David, my brother in his older teens, always had me during meeting because my Dad sat with the ministers. Now my cousin Jesse, who worked for us during 1970, the year we had all the lightning and so many barns burned, took the main text. The epistle of Jude. He spoke on modesty, deliberation (Eingezogenheit he called it) and how we should not rush into making all sorts of changes without thinking of the possible consequences.
Far across the meetinghouse, up by the window on the back row of the young boys' sector, I saw my fifteen-year-old son, Justin, sitting with his cousins Jonathan Hoover and Peter Brubacher. Like yesterday I sat there too. Justin, an engineering apprentice, is a student of the Australian Technical College at Burnie. Jonathan and Peter haul manure during the winter with the heavy team and sleigh. Their faces are ruddy and their arms strong from cutting firewood in the Canadian bush with the cross-cut saw and axe.
Following a full afternoon in my sister's house, a large ring of men on chairs around the kitchen stove, the room crowded with women and young people in the background, we had another great meal and a new collection of friends at David's place, just north of the village of Gorrie. Our common past, the present with all its challenges, and the future -- hanging before us with so much we do not know -- all came up for review. Amos Sherk, the young minister who had taken such an interest in us while we were in our early teens, sat with us all evening. He brought me a copy of the complete records of our church from 1917 to the present. Far beyond that, or anything we talked about during this lovely evening together, I sensed how deeply he, and all the people of the community from which I come, still care about us, love us, and pray for us -- like always. Time has dimmed nothing. In fact, the closer we draw to the brink of eternity, the brighter shines the reality of all we have talked about, struggled for, hoped, or known. When we rose to go out and hitch up the horses to leave, Amos told me, "Peter, the only hope I have when I stand before the judgement seat of Christ, is in his mercy and in his blood once shed for me. If you hope in the same and walk with him in everthing you know, I firmly hope we shall meet again at the end of time."
I hope so too.
After leaving my brother's farm I picked up my two sons, Christopher and Justin, and Joseph Wurtz, at Levi Brubachers' place northeast of Gorrie. Dozens of parked steel-tyred buggies stood about the unlit farmyard in the gently falling snow. Inside, around the light of two coal-oil lamps, the young people crowded around a long table, boys on one side, girls in large white head coverings and black capes on the other -- just like always. Singing from the Philharmonia Sacra.
For me, it was coming home.
One day later found us in south-central Pennsylvania. Another place where I have lived and loved much, the wide Susquehanna, the snow-covered wooded hills, stately farmhouses amid apple orchards on aimlessly winding roads.
Edsel and Jennifer Burdge not only took us in for a great evening of fellowship and friendly interchange. He presented me with his landmark history, Building on the Gospel Foundation, the story of the Mennonites in the Cumberland Valley. John D. and Patricia Martin, David and Deborah Bercot, Dean and Tanya Taylor, Karlin and Joanne High, Mike Atnip, Elam Weaver, Marvin Wadel, Dallas Martin, Harvey Reiff, Justin Stauffer and many others appeared during the evening. So many earnest friends, so serious about following Jesus. Friends of the kind one can "keep right on going where we left off" years ago. Once again our hearts were warmed and our spirits lifted.
Once again it was coming home.
But the highlight of our trip -- after a brief stop with my sister and husband, John and Velina Showalter, near Hagerstown, Maryland -- was at Elmendorf in Minnesota. What crowds in the dining hall, and in our brothers and sisters' houses every evening! What a joy to be back in the community we called home for so many years. To add to this, we got company from Canada, from Wisconsin and Pennsylvania during our time there. My Elmendorf high-school students have grown up. So many new couples and families, I could not keep track of all the babies' names. Our own granddaughter accepted us at once and provided us with no end of joy. I even got to help catch pigs (a twice-weekly event) several times and to work one day in the mill.
In every way, our visit to the Elmendorf Hutterite community was coming home.
But we also stopped over in Mexico.
South on the stunning coastal highway into Baja California. Mountainous sea-scapes, we found a place to sleep at La Salina, the only hotel in town. The owner, attending us from behind the bar, looked dubious. "My roof just collapsed," he said, "in the big storms we've been having. All the rooms are wrecked but one, and we stored the furniture we rescued in that one. Go have a look."
We climbed the outside stairway and found about what we expected. But we were tired and Oscar, the young cook began to get us some food. Eating in the bar-room got noisier and noisier, until the lights blinked out. Then it got really loud. Someone found matches and candles. The cook finished our meal with the light of a torch. We showered in the dark (no hot water) and the sea roared outside in a moonless night.
Frightful rubbish and construction without signs on small roads, millions crowded into Tijuana slums. Sandbag fortresses on the road with teenage recruits cradling machine guns, cheerfully greeting us in spite of many casualties since Mexico has employed 30,000 troops to curb escalating drug wars in the region.
Thirty years ago we came to Mexico, bought land, and set up housekeeping for the first time. The great mountains, the desert, shocking roads with little to keep one from plunging to blue depths 300 metres below -- nothing has changed.
Even the burritos, the flautas, the chiles rellenos we got, have lost none of their appeal!
What gracious people the Mexicans (in spite of their human shortcomings) really are! How ready to love, to live and let live!
Once again, coming back to Latin America, to the language and culture to which we gave ourselves for twenty years, was coming home in a deep way. One cannot have become part of so much, during so many important years of one's life, without remaining permanently a part of it.
But when we crossed the Equator again, back over the jungle-clad islands of Kiribati and Vanuatu, back to Australia, a great wave of home-coming sentiment hit us from the other side. Through our shared window in the 747, Justin and I peered down at the green mountains of New Caledonia, little plots of farmed land on mountain clearings, tiny houses set on precipitous trails. Sydney, Melbourne, and finally after one night and two days of flying (during which we missed Sunday altogether) we greeted our five children still at home, with all the brothers and sisters of our home community in Tasmania. What a great joy and relief!
An hour after we got back, Jason and Melody Kauffman with three of their children, from Queensland, along with Raymond Fisher and Jay Miller from America (Raymond visited us years ago in Costa Rica) stopped in with Willi and Erna Martens to see us. Two days later we had an important visit from the government -- a visit that couldn't have gone better. And now, for this weekend we are planning a baptism.
Back in harness and home at last? Home at all?
You know, the longer I live (and we have lived in six countries in all four hemispheres) the more I feel at home -- or not at home -- wherever I go, because all of the earth is the same. All of us humans are so much more alike than we are different. All of us share the great needs of our generation, the tragedy of our manifold divisions, the reality that none of us can keep what we have, or stay here for any great length of time.
May we fight for our place in new heavens and a new earth where righteousness dwells. May we, with Jesus' help, bring as many with us as we possibly can, until we meet, at our journey's end, in the land where we always longed to be. "Home is the sailor, home from the sea. And the hunter home from the hill. . . ."
P.S. The sketches above were not done with any artistic illusions. I did them, while waiting in airports on the way home, because my family and friends in Canada (Orthodox Mennonite) do not appreciate the use of cameras.
Rocky Cape Christian Community
19509 Bass Highway
Detention River, Tasmania 7321