Peter Hoover: Radical Anabaptists Today - Part 5

Radical Anabaptists Today: Part 5

Revival among the Amish

Five years after the church at Le Roy got started, word came of a spiritual breakthrough among the Amish of Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Seven families - Kauffmans, Lapps, Bylers and Eshes found new life in Christ. A minister, Melvin Kauffman, with his brother Leroy and family, along with David Lapps, moved to Michigan and joined the Le Roy church. The Eshes (who recently got killed in a bad accident in Kentucky) moved to North Carolina.

A year later, in 1987, another wave of renewal hit the Amish community in Snyder County, Pennsylvania. Some of the Amish, including preacher Amos Troyer and deacon Danny Troyer welcomed it. Others did not and opposed it. A committee, including bishop Elmo Stoll from Canada, came in and put the renewal-minded families under the ban (meaning they would be shunned). Harry Wanner, still a close friend of the Troyers (from whom he and Grace had bought their farm twenty years earlier), responded to their call for help and spent six months teaching and counseling in Snyder County.

With three families from Franklin County (Emanuel Lapps, Sam and Joe Bylers), the Troyers from Snyder County eventually founded a new community at Ghent, Kentucky. Joe Tindall, an eager convert from Bedford, Pennsylvania, joined them. For a while they worked with a congregation under bishop Robert Bates at Mt. Hermon, Kentucky. Then some moved to Hestand, Kentucky, under the direction of Simon Beachy from Lobelville (Cane Creek), Tennessee, while the rest, with Denny Kenaston's help, joined Charity Christian Fellowship.

Stirrings at Home

While Harry Wanner (ordained bishop in 1990 by Mose Miller from Peniel Fellowship) travelled and worked among the awakened Amish, other influences, not so welcome, affected his home church at Le Roy, Michigan.

Some time after Harry's son Timothy married a young convert from Chicago, the two of them simply disappeared, leaving nothing but a note explaining why they had gone. Although the family learned of their whereabouts later, their situation did not improve. The young woman left him and married another. Timothy, by now in an evangelical setting, eventually did the same, bringing his aging father an exceptionally keenly-felt grief. Was this the price of doing mission work among the world?

Another convert at Le Roy, Dan Loudon, from a charismatic background, became fast friends of Harry's son Edward, married and living nearby. Over and over Dan kept talking to Edward about the "deeper life" God would give him if he asked for it. "There is more," Dan kept telling him. "Greater victory over sin, more love for souls. . . ." If only Edward would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and start speaking in tongues.

One night while out cooking maple syrup together, Edward finally knelt and Dan laid hands on him, praying for him to receive the gift. Nothing happened. But when Edward walked out, looking up to the stars on the cold spring night it suddenly came, with a rush. He could speak in tongues, and his relationship with the church began to deteriorate. Things moved quickly, and before long Edward served as pastor of a charismatic church in nearby Reed City, Michigan.

Because of the rapid growth of the church at Le Roy, the believers had started a new community at Manton, Michigan, also a farming area, fifty miles to the north. The ministers, Alfred Gingerich and Melvin Kauffman, moved up with David Lapps, Philip Wanners, Thomas and Grace (Wanner) Gingerich. A convert family, Richard Suttons, and others followed.

Things progressed normally until David Lapps expressed a desire to take part in a mission to Poland, under the direction of Peniel Fellowship in Ohio. This brought earnest questions of lifestyle, fellowship, and direction into sharp focus. The churches at Le Roy and Manton continued as horse-and-buggy-driving, radically non-conformed fellowships. The people at Peniel drove cars and seemed to be accommodating themselves more and more to fast-flowing American culture. Which of the two would become the way of the believers in Michigan?

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Some had thought this way. Others had thought that way. At a memorable meeting in November, 1994, everyone shared what they had in mind and sadly, but realistically, concluded, like Paul and Barnabas, that they needed to go their separate ways. David Lapp went off to establish a new Charity-type fellowship at Bear Lake, Michigan. Melvin Kauffmans moved to Philadelphia, New York. Leroy Kauffmans, John Schmuckers and Joe P. Millers moved to Yanceyville, North Carolina. Mahlon Bylers and Richard Suttons moved to Perkins, Oklahoma. Earlier, the Nicky Stoltzfus, Eric Kraly and Joe Troyer families had already moved to Scottsville, Kentucky (the group originally led by Noah Hoover and David Graber in Snyder County, Pennsylvania). The families that remained at Manton chose to fellowship with the Christian Community led by Elmo Stoll. Six of Harry Wanner's married children moved to Tennessee, where the oldest, Christian, had lived for some time. One son, Daniel Wanner, moved with his family to North Carolina. A number of families (including another four pairs of Harry's children) joined the Michigan Amish, while the rest of the families scattered.

Once again, at sixty years of age, with the last of his twenty-four children still going to school, Harry Wanner found himself alone.

Perplexed But Not Cast Down

After the collapse of the church at Le Roy, Harry learned of the Dan Schrock family from Albion, New York, in somewhat similar circumstances. With Dan, he travelled to Wisconsin on a scouting trip and the two men bought farms. At brief intervals the vision of a spiritually-minded, evangelistic church, keeping to the narrow way, resurfaced. But working with the Schrocks did not go well. Harry and Mattie's children, still at home, needed fellowship. Finally, invited by an old friend, Eli Mast, the Wanners moved into the Cane Creek community at Lobelville, Tennessee.

Believers in Christ, the people at Cane Creek, under Lewis Beachy's leadership, had come to call themselves. Established in the early 1970s by minister Paul Lavy from Mammoth Springs, Arkansas, this group had grown into a sizeable fellowship, zealous for the Lord, keeping to the narrow way without explicit rules or high-handed church administration. Driving horses and carriages, but also owning a few vehicles for community use, the group of over forty families welcomed converts from the outside and boldly proclaimed the Way of Christ in Elvis Presley's Tennessee.

For a number of years the Wanners lived and worked with the Believers in Christ at Cane Creek (neighbors to Michael and Debbie Pearl). But in his heart, Harry could not find his place among them, or feel assured the Lord wanted him there. In 2006, he and Mattie with their youngest daughter Martha, moved into an extra house on Joe Troyer's place at Holland, Kentucky.

Like them, Joe and Susie Troyer (she being printer John W. Martin's daughter), had lived in Pilgrimage Valley, Belize. After leaving Le Roy, Michigan, and moving to Scottsville, Kentucky, they had founded the Holland community in fellowship with Elmo Stoll and his community at Cookeville, Tennessee. Now they were back in fellowship with the group under David Hoover and Harry Habegger (the original Hoover-Graber group) that had moved from Snyder County, Pennsylvania, to Kentucky, in 1978.

Thirty-five years, exactly, since the Wanners had left Belize to join that group, but gotten side-tracked along the way. Thirty-five years, numberless adventures later, and who knows, they may not yet be over.

Harry and Mattie, still in reasonable health, continue to live at Holland, Kentucky, today. Still zealous for the Lord, eager to visit with all in whom the light of Christ's Kingdom burns, he now has more time than ever to read the Scriptures, the early writings with which he started his pilgrim journey, and to pray.

Because the Wanners belong to a church fellowship without personal telephones, electricity, or motor vehicles (no combustion engines of any sort), they do not travel much. But they love to read the letters of their children, all of them listed below, their grand-children, and a growing multitude of great-grandchildren. A vast body of descendants, nearly all of whom fear and love the Lord.

1. Christian Wanner lives with his wife Regina (Gottschall) and family at Woodbury, Tennessee, where he leads a small fellowship.

2. Warren and Barbara Wanner (he was ordained minister at Le Roy, Michigan) live with their family at Lewisburg, Tennessee. They belong to the conservative Mennonite Church of Tennessee (Altamont and Lynchburg).

3. Virginia and her husband Ernest Helmuth live with their family at Flemingsburg, Kentucky, Mount Carmel Christian Fellowship (Beachy Amish). They have served as missionaries in Honduras, and a book, Whisper of Wings, was written about them.

4. Harry Wanner Jr. and his wife Mary Anne, live at Marion, Michigan, with their family. They belong to the Amish.

5. Kathy and Henry Yoder live at Beaver Springs, Pennsylvania, where they belong to Shade Mountain Christian Fellowship (Beachy Amish).

6. Edward and Darlene Wanner live with their family at Reed City, Michigan.

7. Philip and Ada Wanner, with their family, live at Rock Springs, Tennessee, and belong to the Tennessee Mennonite Churches.

8. Darlene and Edward Gingerich live at Manton, Michigan, with their family. They belong to the Amish.

9. Timothy lives in Reed City, Michigan.

10. Daniel and Naomi Wanner also live at Rock Springs, where he is a minister among the Tennessee Churches.

11. Rosanna, married to Mark Hershberger, also lives at Rock Springs, Tennessee, with her family, members of the conservative (Tennessee) Mennonite church.

12. Grace, married to Thomas Gingerich, lives at Manton, Michigan, with her family. They are with the Amish.

13. Mary, the baby when the Wanners moved to Belize, married Joseph Gingerich. They also live at Manton, Michigan, with their family and belong to the Amish.

14. David and Catherine Wanner, live at Altamont, Tennessee, with their family and belong to the conservative (Tennessee) Mennonite Church.

15. Faith married David Keeney and lives with her family at Grandin, Missouri, where they belong to the Nationwide Fellowship of conservative Mennonites.

16. Steven and Emilia (Child) Wanner live with their family at Altamont, Tennessee, where he is a deacon in the conservative (Tennessee) Mennonite Church.

17. Jason and Ruth Wanner live with their family at Conneautville, Pennsylvania and belong to the New Order Amish.

18. Nancy with her husband Timothy Wise and family live in Rock Springs, Tennessee and belong to the conservative (Tennessee) Mennonite Church.

19. Martha lives with her parents at Holland, Kentucky. She is a member of the Mt. Olive conservative Mennonite Church, nearby.

20. James and Adrienne Wanner live in the Cane Creek community at Lobelville, Tennessee. They are members of the Believers in Christ.

21. Joseph Wanner married Melissa Dodi (sister to Adrienne) at Cane Creek, this past Sunday, 16 May 2010. They belong to the Believers in Christ.

22. Matthew and Leah Wanner also live at Cane Creek, Lobelville, Tennessee, members of the Believers in Christ.

Many years have passed since the Wanners and our family moved in the same circles. Two weeks ago when I called Harry Wanner Jr.'s place at Marion, Michigan (Junior being about my age), a young boy answered the phone. He sounded a bit breathless, as if he had come running from a distance (being Amish, they have the phone out the end of the lane), but he was polite, somewhat inquisitive, and friendly. I guessed him about the age of my fifteen-year-old son, Justin, and later learned I was correct. When I asked him his name he told me his parents also called him Harry, Harry Wanner III.

Quite a name to live up to.

May the Lord Jesus be your light and strength, Harry Jr.'s Junior, for the next lap of the race. And may he bless you, Harry Sr., with the courage to finish triumphantly what you began in faith and followed through, in the face of great adversities and challenges, for well over fifty years.

Eventhough you may not know it, or understand how it could be true, by your vision and faithful example, by what you dared and did and discovered along the way, you are helping us build a new church community at Rocky Cape in Tasmania.

Thank you,

Peter Hoover

P.S. Thanks also to all members of the Wanner family that contributed to this story. In some cases you did not remember all facts and dates alike, so I went by majority opinion. If anyone else reading this letter has further corrections to make, please let me know. This is a story worth recording accurately.

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Peter Hoover. “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you,” Christ told his followers. And a few fishermen, a tax collector, and a motley group of believers set out to change the world. In fact, they succeeded.

In 16th century Europe, the Anabaptists preaching in cities by night, on back streets, and in secret corners behind rail fences set out to do the very thing the apostles had done. They, too, turned the world of their day upside down. What was the secret of their strength? In this book, Hoover explains what gave the Anabaptists their incredible spiritual strength.

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