On a snowy night, after the fall of communism, I entered the “lost country” of Schlesien (Silesia) for the first time. Crooked little towns with cobbled streets, smoke curling from kitchen chimneys in fenced-in yards with geese and children playing. I knew the names, Mittelwalde, Frankenstein, Habelschwerdt and Glatz. But the children pitching snowballs shouted one to another in a language I could not understand, and the road signs for these towns read Miedzylesie, Zabkowice Ślaskie and Bystrzyca Kłodzka. . . .
Stopping in a tiny guest house in Miedzylesie (Mittelwalde) for something to eat, three young people – two girls and a boy – brought me a little of all they had on hand. Fifteen Zloty for a thresher’s helping of flaki wołowe, fasolka po Bretońsku, and bigos. None of them spoke a word of German, for the old German country of Schlesien exists no more. Only the houses and cobblestones remain. Its people fled, or met violent deaths, shot down or bulldozed into mass graves after the war.
Gone, but far from forgotten. Driving alone through what is now the Polish territory of Śląsk, that winter night, I kept thinking of Eberhard Arnold, Gabriel Ascherham, and Kaspar Schwenkfeld who lived and worked and found Jesus here. I remembered the Moravians fleeing through Silesian mountain forests to freedom. But more than anything, I remembered a boy from Hirschberg in the Riesengebirge (Giant Mountains) along the southern border of Schlesien. A seeker. A finder. A boy that lost all he had to gain what he could not lose -- Peter Ridemann.
Nearly five hundred years after Peter Ridemann left his parents’ home in Schlesien to seek the Kingdom of God, I still benefit, day after day, from the radical choices he made.
The Life of Peter Ridemann
Peter Ridemann, by the time he reached his mid-teens, had grown unusually tall. Der lange Peter (tall Peter) his friends called him. Also during his teen years, he set out as a shoemakers’ apprentice to upper Austria where he met Anabaptist believers, found Life in Christ, got baptised and sent out as a messenger for his Kingdom.
Formally ordained as a servant of the Word in 1529 (twenty-three years old), Peter soon fell into the hands of the police and spent three years in prison. During this time he discovered his God-given ability to write. For his captors he wrote a beautiful testimony of what he believed. He also wrote Wie Mann das Haus Gottes bauen soll und was das Haus Gottes sei (How to Build God’s House and What that House Is).
In 1532 he escaped, fled to Moravia where he joined a believing community in Auspitz led by Jakob Hutter, and married a girl named Katherina. The year following, that community (commonly known as the Hutterites) sent him out again. Once more he fell into the hands of the police, languished in prison four years, and returned the night after a massive raid on Steinabrunn where the police had taken 136 men and boys captive.
Two months later the church community sent him out on another dangerous trip to Germany. Always finding more seekers, encouraging the timid, comforting the lonely and distressed, Peter brought hundreds into the fold. But captured once again he spent this time in prison (two years) writing a detailed confession of what he believed for Philip of Hesse, the ruler who had ordered his arrest.
Making his way back to Moravia for the last time, Peter Ridemann threw all he had into the struggle for unity and spiritual growth in the church community. All for Christ, all for his Kingdom's cause, until another wave of persecution forced the believers to flee or hide in catacombs dug into the hills. Before he died at the age of fifty in Brodske, Slovakia, Peter Ridemann had written three books, a large number of instructive letters to the church, and forty-five hymns.
In another post I will share a small number of translations from the wealth of what Peter Ridemann wrote and left behind. I pray they will bless and encourage you as they have blessed the church community he helped to establish almost five hundred years ago.
Rocky Cape Christian Community
19509 Bass Highway
Detention River, Tasmania 7321