Monday, August 24, 2009

Wenger on European Christians

Earlier this month I blogged about my new book (110 years old) Six months in Bible Lands by A. D. Wenger. Wengers are in my family tree, but I think he's a different branch. I've finished it now, and thoroughly enjoyed reliving the many places we visited this spring on our "Steps of Paul" tour. However, his trip is 14 months, so he sees many places and visits many different Christian churches, missionaries, and particularly Mennonites, when he can find them. Modern Jews and Arabs of Israel probably think Christian pilgrims make too much of "holy" sites (although we bring many tourist dollars), and miss the modern day political and social problems. However, an Iowan doesn't go to D.C. to see samples of corn, so I think it's quite logical to look for Biblical clues about archaeological sites in Israel, Turkey, Egypt and Italy. Wenger's book isn't exactly a travelogue, but more a 550 page evangelism tract. Nothing misses his magnifying glass of a premillenialist, American Mennonite evangelist who was on the cusp of many changes in his church and American society.

He provides some details both about Mennonites and Lutherans, or "evangelicals." After noting the various Mennonites he visited in Germany and Switzerland, he writes:
    "But how did we get to Germany and the adjoining countries from which we came to America? . . . According to history, many centuries before Christ the descendants of Japheth, the third son of Noah, reached central Europe. For many generations they had been pushing westward from their primitive home, thousands of miles away in Asia, to these favored lands (Germany) and had forgotten the God of their old father Noah and turned to be a horde of degraded savages clothed in the skins of animals. They worshipped wooden and metal images, hand-made gods, and offered up human sacrifices. We are not the descendants of the Jews, but of these Gentile barbarians. The early missionaries bore the Gospel of salvation westward and northward from the Holy Land until it reached our forefathers several centuries ago. . . Ever since as early as 150 AD when the Roman Church already began to grow corrupt, there have existed bodies of Christians independent of that church. . . in one continued line such as Marconite Christians, Paulician Christians, Catheroi Christians, Waldensian Christians and Mennonite Christians. . . The faith of the ancient Waldenses was not changed, but because of the prominence of the able minister, Menno Simon [former Catholic priest baptized by and united to Waldenses] others gave them the name Mennonists and later Mennonites. . .

    [Gives history of William Penn inviting Mennonites from Germany, Holland and Switzerland to settle in Pennsylvania, the first arriving in 1683] In our minds let us step back 200 years and take the position of our brethren ancestors in Europe. Three things stare us in the face, severe persecution, recantation of faith or flight to America. We choose the later. We are hundreds of miles from the sea. There are no railway trains to carry us to the vessel, none even in the world. By means of vehicles, horseback or on foot, we pass through many dangers and reach the shore. No great steamship awaits to carry us in safety in a week to Philadelphia or New York. We must take only the ru'e sail crafts of the time and be tossed for months on the merciless waves. At last we set our feet upon a strange land [notes problems with Indians]. . . Many clung to their faith and laid down their lives for Jesus that He might take them up to better realms. Others were too weak to stand the test of their faith. The longing eyes of some never reached our fruitful land. They rest in their deep graves until the sea shall give up its dead. Now, from five to eight generations on both shores await the Resurrection. Others continued to follow the little band that settled at Germantown. They are still coming to our most favored land, especially from Russia. . . The pressure by the European governments to bear arms and to violate other principles of the gospel of Christ has been greater than in our country, hence some of the most faithful and conscientious ones continue to come to enjoy our religious freedom.
He goes on to note how small the European congregations are now, with the two groups separated by a vast ocean are almost completely independent of each other. He is quite distressed at the higher criticism that has taken over many of the European Mennonites, and how the Germans see nothing wrong with vineyards that will turn to alcohol, and their pridefulness in their beautiful farms and livestock.

In almost every country he visits he notes the condition and fashion of women, always mentioning how much better American women live, because in so many societies women were little more than pack animals, and still wearing the family's wealth on their heads or clothing. He compares the deformed, tiny feet of the wealthy Chinese women to the stays in the corsets of high fashion western women deforming internal organs.
    The laboring classes [of Germany] are hard workers, especially the women. You can see them doing all kinds of slavish work, even hauling on the road with ox teams. Nothing appears too hard for the weaker sex. . . On the road I saw an old lady tottering beneath a heavy basket while beside her walked a large, strong man with his hands in his pockets. . . Women are not held in high esteem and as man's equal, especially in rural districts. While her position seems a little degraded and lower than in our country, it is not nearly as low as in Asiatic countries. Men take respectable places and women are pushed aside. . . The Germans are noted for their kindness and hospitality. . . When you retire for the night and again when you meet in the morning you must shake hands with every member of the family. Really I think there is not a friendlier people to be found or a people more ready to do you a favor than the Germans are. . .
He tells the story of Katrina, a child care worker and teacher of young children in Gelsheim. Here he puts in a plug for religious education outside the home, something not popular in many American Christian groups.
    "Her mission is to live for the good of others and for the Lord whom she loves. She appears to be a pious and heavenly-minded soul, fond of prayer and the Scriptures. . . She is a Lutheran, or rather Evangelical [notes she attends a pietist group movement]. . . She calls it "Kleine Kinder Schule." Though a school teacher, yet in one sense she is a farmer, for she allows many others to go to the field by keeping the children. While the parents and the larger children are engaged in household duties and in working in the fields she is taking care of the little ones of the village [50]. . . She entertains them with may beautiful pictures, especially Bible pictures; and with dolls, all kinds of toys, hobby horses, swings, trowels to play in the sand, lines to play driving the horse and apparatus to play post man and many other games. Katrina well knows that children are almost always busy at something. . . who knows how much these plastic minds are shaped and moulded for time and eternity by her teaching and influence. . . I am told 200 such sisters work in the province of Wurtemburg alone. Their work is highly necessary, especially in summer, when the women all work in the fields, and besides the children generally get better training under the care of a Sister than they would get at home. . .
Except for the part about each child having a spiritual spark that needed to be ignited, he could be a disciple of Friedrich Froebel, the German who started the kindergarten idea which was imported to the United States.


Anonymous said...

It is so interesting to read your comments regarding A. D. Wenger's book Around the World in 14 Months. It just so happens that this book has been in our family home for decades. My guess is that it had been passed on down from my grandfather, who was a Mennonite. However, I know of no one in my family who had ever actually read the book. It was not until last week when I became housebound with a cold that I picked up the book and started to read. I was absolutely fascinated because I, too, had taken a trip around the world by myself in 1971 and 1972. I was even more fascinated because I had previously worked for a mission board and had visited some missionary friends in various countries. Then, too, Wenger mentions his visiting with missionaries in India--at the time my own uncle's parents were missionaries there. Wenger speaks of visiting missionaries with the Christian and Missionary Alliance. He describes the orphanage, how it came to be, the famine, etc. He answered many of my questions that had been raised in my mind about my uncle's parents while serving in India. Since I had skipped the beginning of the book in order to get to his travels in India, I am now just about one-fifth of the way through the book but already have learned a great deal and so find it difficult to put the book down.

Thank you for your web-page.

haithabu said...

I appreciate your observations on the book on this and the other forum. As it happens we also have copies of the book passed down in our family, A.D. Wenger being my great grandfather.

A.D. Wenger used to sell the book on his preaching tours in the years after publishing it, using the proceeds to finance his travel costs and to provide money to send back home to my great grandmother, Anna May Lehman Wenger. This likely accounts for its presence in many Mennonite homes of an earlier generation.