Prairie View

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Allergies to Accolades

Matthew Nisly is one of our current Sunday School superintendents.  When it's his turn to lead the opening meditation for our Sunday morning service, I marvel at what he offers us.  This former high school student, who passed through four years of life with us very quietly, without giving many hints of being eager to lead, now gets up in front of several hundred people regularly and speaks profound things eloquently.  Here is a devotional from last month, on the tension between living wholeheartedly here and longing for heaven, our true home.  This morning's devotional is not yet available online, but I'd listen to it again right now if it were.

Matthew is a young husband and father, and an aspiring Bible translator.  Sometime this year, he plans to begin the arduous process of preparing himself academically for such a life work.

As a toddler, Matthew had food allergies that left him miserable much of the time.  I remember hearing his mother say she was tempted to tell his doctor in his office that she was staying "right here, until you figure out what's wrong with him."  At some point, milk and beef were discovered to be his trigger foods for adverse reactions, and he became a much happier child when those were avoided.  

In a family with some "whiz kids,"  Matthew was a plodder--doing one right thing after another, and eventually getting it all done reasonably well.  He became capable through commendable diligence.

As a young adult, Matthew worked in an orphanage in El Salvador for a year or two, and then came home and courted and married Andrea Mast, who had spent the latter years of her childhood with her family in El Salvador.  The only other employment he's ever had, to my knowledge, is working in his father's business, Nisly Trash Service.

Matthew is a role model worth following, for his faithfulness in doing well the mundane things that life requires, for overcoming obstacles with dogged determination, and for seeking to serve others as God directs.  Not every person on their way to greatness travels this route, but I venture a guess that it's a way of few regrets, and some of its benefits are already obvious.  God bless Matthew, Andrea, and little Jamien.

Message From a Song Writer

In an earlier post about the booklet our composition class wrote on the life of Anja Miller, I explained that the title of the booklet came from the song "When We Are Called to Sing Your Praise."  To my great surprise, very soon I got an email from the writer of the words to that song, Mary Keithahn, who is a pastor in Rapid City, South Dakota.  She read the blog post and wants to read the book about Anja's life. I promised to send her a copy.

She also wrote this:

"I have felt that this text is one that is needed in churches, but hoped it wouldn't have to be used often.  Unfortunately, there have been too many occasions in the last 12 years when it has been sung often around the country.  I am glad it provides opportunity for Christians to lament within the context of a worshiping, supportive community."

On this website, I found Mary's picture, and more information about her.  On this website, I found the lyrics, and the suggested tune is the same as "America the Beautiful."  The tune I heard is the familiar traditional English tune called "Kingsfold."  A search in a hymnal's tunes index might turn up other familiar lyrics sung to this tune.  Here is a youtube version of the tune and words we sang at Anja's funeral.  The lyrics appear with the youtube rendition.  

Can you imagine how embarrassing it would be to have used the text of Mary's song in its entirety in our comp booklet without having sought and been granted permission from the copyright holder?  I really wished to be able to publish the lyrics in our booklet, but didn't do so, because I didn't have time to do it ethically--by seeking out the copyright holder and getting the necessary permission.  

December 2013 Letter

Please skip this if you already got one in your church mailbox.  You certainly have my blessing for skipping it for a variety of other reasons also.  It's not funny or even very chipper.  It's real, though, and I prize honesty above image-making.  I have redacted several details for this online version.


Dear Family and Friends,

At the birth of Jesus, the herald-singing angels proclaimed peace on earth and good will toward men.  As Jesus is being born in us, we experience peace, and are able to extend and receive good will, and yet we yearn for a time when peace and good will don’t come with such difficulty, and our praise can be offered in a form other than lament.  After some comments about the song “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” Ravi Zacharias wrote the following:

“I would be remiss if I didn’t say that for some, this has also been a year of the loss of a loved one who left time to enter eternity.  I know that because some were very dear friends to me.  I already miss them.  May our Lord cushion that blow till we enter his presence when He will shine a new light and those losses will be seen as precious treasures, yea, the ultimate heralds that make up the City of God.”

We’re still grieving many separations during the past year.  Through  death, we were separated from Anja Miller, Marian Yoder, and Sheldon Martin, and others.  Marian, especially, was a dear personal friend, and we miss her a great deal.  Geography separates us from others dear to us.  In yet another kind of separation, distance exists because of personal choices.  In the process of downsizing in order to fit our belongings into a smaller house again, we are parting with many things we hate to part with.  They’re only things, of course, but separations nonetheless.  Experiencing the pain of all these separations makes Emmanuel (God with us) more precious than ever.  He will never leave us.

After having experienced severe drought last year, we had some wonderful, timely rains this summer, although part of the summer was very hot and dry.  Our hopes rose right along with all those green and growing things responding to the moisture.

Transition was one of the major themes of our family’s experiences this year.  Each of the Iwashige families moved in 2013.  Now, at the end of the year, Hiromi and I are living again in the house west of Partridge, where we first moved to in 1984.  J and his family live in Bangladesh, Shane and his family live on the farm north of Partridge where I grew up and where Shane spent the last years of his childhood, and Grant and his wife live about a mile southwest of Partridge in a house on a small acreage they purchased this spring.  Because of  moving, we did not plant a market garden this year.

Our grandchildren are a delight to us.  Carson was born to Shane and Dorcas in August, and Grant and Clarissa are expecting a son in January.  Tristan (Shane and Dorcas) turned two in October, and Arwen (J and H) turned one in November.  Another grandchild (J and H) is expected next summer.

Hiromi is still working his retirement job as a cashier at Wal-Mart.  I am in year 10 of teaching at Pilgrim Christian High School.  J and H are still busy studying Bangla, after which J will work again as a software programmer.  Shane is working in concrete construction, direct-marketing beef and pork produced on his small farm, and managing rental properties.  Grant works for Jared Oatney in farming and in a vehicle dealership.

My parents are still able to attend church regularly.  My sister Linda provides a lot of help with personal care for Mom, and with cooking for both of them.  Others of us have begun providing meals on a regular schedule as well.  Dad feels well and has recovered remarkably from his cancer surgery over a year ago.

The sibling migration back to Kansas continues.  I love it!  In the past year, Anthony moved here from Virginia, and Dorcas’ family has  begun making plans to move here as soon as their house sells in North Carolina.  That will still leave Caleb in PA and Clara in OH, away from Kansas.  Carol and Ronald live in eastern Kansas, 3-4 hours away from here.  Besides those already mentioned, Myron, Lowell, and Lois live nearby with their families.  Marcus’ home base is also here in Reno County.

Caleb and his wife Kara, and Carol and her husband Roberto are expecting grandchildren early next year.  That will make seven great-grandchildren for my parents by next summer, if all goes well.

Clara’s husband, Matthew, has recently been diagnosed with cancer.  We invite others to pray with us for him and Clara and their family.

Our church community rejoiced at having been able to purchase the “Elreka” school building where many of us attended.  In the future, Pilgrim Christian High School and Grade School will be combined there.

Thank you for how your friendship enriches our lives.  We wish you well in the coming year, and desire to be together with each of you one day, in the presence of “new light” and “precious treasures,”  as  “ultimate heralds that make up the City of God.”

Hiromi and Miriam Iwashige, by Miriam

Purse Snippets

At school, if I hear something I wish to remember for later, I often write it on a sticky note and stuff the paper into my purse.  As you can imagine, my purse is often not very tidy.  When I cleaned it out recently, I found fragments of conversations I could no longer recall in their entirety, so sometimes the context has to be imagined.  (Feel free to fill in the blanks if you're in the know.)  Here's what I found:


Typing student:  This guy on Facebook had an evil and happy smile at the same time and that's hard to                              do.


Kristi (senior):  I'm not giving biscotti to my favorite freshman--or Travis.

Travis:  So I'm not the favorite of a senior girl?  Not really a burn.


Ruthie:  It was pretty funny.

Travis:  I didn't even laugh on the inside.


Vanessa:  If you can't find a . . .   Nevermind.

Student:  That was a fizzler.

Travis:  The fizzler bar is getting really close to full height.


Jamison:  Francis Flute is the working man in Midsummer Night's Dream.  (Jamison had a part in this play of Shakespeare.)


After the Bible II teacher gave his class an assignment in which they were to practice an injunction from Hebrews--to exhort another.  Younger siblings were off-limits, and several synonyms for exhort had been suggested.  In the kitchen, immediately after the class:

Student:  I urge you not to call me "Texas."

Called out from one side of the room to the other--

Nathan:  I beseech you to leave some coffee for me.

I hope some more serious exhortation went on later.


The "Shark Attack" game is not a favorite part of the computerized typing program in use at school.  Other than that, I'm unsure of the context for this exchange.

Vanessa:  If you're trying to make a treaty with us about the Shark Attack game, it's not gonna work.

Travis:  Treaty.  You make it sound like some really official thing.

Vanessa:  Well, what should I have said?

Travis:  Agreement.  Compromise.

Vanessa:  OK.  It's not gonna work to make a compromise.


I also found this note to myself, apparently to get out of  my head something that was circling endlessly and unproductively.  It's related to downsizing problems connected with last summer's move into a small house.

Need to find a way to--

--Hold on to the memories while releasing the "stuff" related to it.

--Honor the relationships without hanging on to the stuff.

--Honor principles of stewardship without complicating actions unbearably.

I'm fairly impressed with my own wisdom, reading the above note.  It's unfortunately devoid of details on exactly how one goes about doing these things, and for that, I'm unimpressed.  I really need to get into the book Joel kindly ordered and had shipped to me:  Moving On:  A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home--How to get rid of the stuff, keep the memories, maintain the family peace, and get on with your life, by Linda Hetzer and Janet Hulstrand.

Unknown to me, Hiromi recently appealed to our sons for consideration for their mother, who has a lot of memories tied up with her possessions.  He's a keeper, that man.

I've often thought that one of the wonderful things about heaven is being free of having to deal with things.  I don't handle such things well naturally, and when I must deal with them somehow, I pray and grit my teeth, and steel my nerves, and try to think and not cry.  It's tough.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Called to Sing Your Praise

"Called to Sing Your Praise" is the title of a booklet on the life of Anja Miller, a local 18-year-old who died in September 2013.  The booklet was compiled and written as a project of Pilgrim Christian High School's composition class, and will be available for $5.00 on Christmas Day and thereafter.

Here is the introduction to the book:

Many previous community writing projects for the composition class have involved stories about people who have died, but none have ever involved personal grief as fresh as this story about Anja.  All of us heard about her death near the end of an otherwise normal day at school, and most of us felt very far from normal for a long time after that.  Anja was one of us, and her death affected us deeply.

When the idea of writing this story first occurred to us, we cautiously broached the subject with Anja’s parents, LaVerne and Rebecca.  Their response warmed our hearts.  “We are honored and blessed to see you develop this project,” they said.  Furthermore, they told us that they love to talk about Anja, and we need not worry about bothering them with our questions.  They promised to cooperate in whatever way they could.

We had one lengthy personal interview with LaVerne, Rebecca, and John at school.  Later, we spent some time at the family’s home, and, among other things, had the opportunity to see some of Anja’s art projects and 4-H awards, and her music studio.  Looking at these objects associated with Anja prompted memories and stories that helped inform our writing.

The family loaned us other memorabilia–Anja’s 2-inch-thick 4-H Record Book, the memory book the Pilgrim Christian High School students had prepared, copies of papers she wrote for school, printed materials prepared for the funeral, and printouts of files they found on the computer.  The composition class has rarely had access to such a wealth of words written by a person featured in our community writing project.  This is partly a marvel of current technology, but also a testimony to Anja’s and her parents’ diligent, thorough, and orderly habits.

Our interactions with LaVerne and Rebecca accomplished other purposes, besides helping us write this book. Because they shared their journey freely, we saw how grief looks when people turn toward God in their grief instead of away from Him.  We witnessed them turning to others in the church, instead of away from them. We saw forgiveness extended where others erred.  We saw LaVerne and Rebecca’s family blessed in their time of crisis because of relationships they have invested in over many years of service and sacrifice.  Soaking in these understandings was perhaps the most important lesson of this year’s composition class.

In choosing titles for the various sections of this story, we drew on the words of songs, all of which were sung at Anja’s funeral.  The book title is from the song “When We are Called to Sing Your Praise,” which reminds us to praise even when our hearts are filled with pain.  Writing this book represents such an effort, and we pray it accomplishes God’s purposes.

Called to Sing Your Praise also reminds us of what Anja does perfectly now, what she did while she lived among us, what we feel like doing about Anja as we remember her now, and what we and what all people everywhere, in all times and in all circumstances, are called to do:  sing God’s praise.

                                                                                Miriam Iwashige

Special thanks to the following people for their help:

Arlyn, Arthur, and Paul W. Nisly (notes from the funeral)
Heidi Mast, Kimberly Miller, and Seth Yutzy (cover)
Jewel Yoder (youth group memories)
Kathy Hanks (newspaper article)
LaVerne, Rebecca, and John Miller (much time and material)
Lyle Stutzman, Mike Atnip, and Shenandoah Music Camp (Anja’s song)
Michael Jon Nisly (proofreading)
Others who helped with proofreading and cover design

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Fish-eye View

I think I know exactly how a fish feels when it's pulled out from an ice-fishing hole, with a whole new world suddenly spread out in plain sight.  For the fish, though, panic surely ensues, and for me, the panic is all left behind in the world below.  This is the first day of Christmas vacation, after a grueling end to the school semester.

This vacation world and that work world are different in the following ways:

1.  I'm staying in bed beyond 4:00 AM.  True, I did wake up at 5:00 this morning, but I lazily stayed in bed till about 6:30.  Such luxury.  I felt wonderfully rested after about 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep.  My regular getting up time is 5:30.  I couldn't sleep that long, of late, though, and I got up because I was awake anyway, and knew I had lots of work to do.

2.  This morning Hiromi and I worked together to make a breakfast of waffles, bacon, and coffee.  For the past several weeks, Hiromi has usually done breakfast prep solo, while I've been madly finishing up something at the computer or getting dressed or packing my lunch, or making supper preparations.  This, in spite of my regularly getting up almost two hours before Hiromi.

3.  Today I'm actively participating in making plans for Christmas Day with my extended family.  I couldn't think that far before now.

4.  Now I see what needs to be done in my home, and feel eager to get started doing it, instead of "stuffing" that longing, and continuing to live in the midst of clutter, because I've had to hurry on to the next obligation--survival mode here, and other duties outside of home and family.

5.  The freezing rain this morning and the snow predicted for later today and tonight does not inspire dread as it would if I had to drive to school through it.  I'm a little worried, though, at Hiromi's having to go to work this afternoon, coming home after 9:00 PM.

6.  Cooking, which I normally love to do, excites me again, instead of being one more hurdle in already hectic days.

One similarity between work worlds and vacations worlds is the presence of God.  Through all the demands, I find one place of refuge that renews me for whatever awaits.  If my recliner-rocker could tell stories, news of my regular trysts might get out.  I'm not the slightest bit sneaky about the activity that begins there at 5:30 AM, or whenever I first awake, but no one except God sees me.  I like it that way.

Psalm 18:2--The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in Him I will trust; my buckler [shield], and the horn of  my salvation, and my high tower.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

In the News

Today I read in the Hutchinson News that the Kansas State Board of Education declares, in a variance from national standards, that children should learn to write cursive.  Specifically, they should be taught the skill in third grade, and they should be proficient in it by fifth grade.  The latter detail was met with guffaws when I read the short news article out loud to my typing students during break.  Slow learners, if it takes them two years.  I didn't have the heart to point out that, by all appearances, many of the class members haven't learned it very well by ninth grade, despite protestations to the contrary.

I'm proud of Kansas.


Gene Logsdon, the Contrary Farmer, says in a blog post today that China is busily engaged in clearances, a term he borrowed from a history on the same phenomenon in England and Scotland in the 1800s.  Oliver Goldsmith, in his poem, "The Deserted Village," laments this land grab by wealthy oligarchs, who seized the smallholdings of peasants, combining all of the smaller acreages into huge spreads dominated by formidable  castles, where the landowners resided.

In China, the peasants are being moved from their farms into behemoth high-rise apartment buildings in cities, and the government is taking over the land.  They say "that they are only doing what capitalism did in the United States, only faster and more mercifully."

The Chinese assessment of the situation in America is more accurate than I wish it were.   I am unhappy about the control of land by fewer and fewer individuals, although, so far, it is usually individual-capitalist-owned rather than state-owned

I am even more sad about the paucity of interest in "working the  land" by those who have land. Working the land is an act of cooperation with God in provision, and it sets in motion the acquisition of a host of  disciplines and virtues and understandings.  People are diminished without them and enriched with them.  

In my ideal world, almost everyone would have at least a few acres of land on which to produce their own food, and food to sell or share with others.  Am I alone in idealizing this?  If not, what can we do to facilitate interest, at least in our small circles of influence?


Michael Gerson has written some excellent columns recently, as has Chapman Rackaway (a Kansas teacher who is probably not known outside of Kansas).  Without going back to verify the details, I recall some great comments on the contrast between the converted Catholic Kansas Governor Brownback's economic policies and Pope Francis' comments on capitalism and faith.  I also loved Gerson's and Kathleen Parker's take on the pope's comments and positions, and their observations on Limbaugh's paroxysms on the same subject.  

In my own observations, I see some similarity (minor, perhaps) between Mandela, the South African rebel-turned-statesman-and-peacemaker, and Obama.  Both were from the families of African tribal leaders who  served their tribe in a patriarchal role.  This background gave them some innate gravitas, in my estimation.  Less admirably, neither Mandela or Obama's father were monogamous--or at least they each married and then left several wives.  Thankfully, Obama has not followed in their footsteps in this matter.

Mandela clearly came to peaceable ways later rather than sooner.  He was bettered during his long years in prison, and emerged prepared to lead with forgiveness and generosity.  In dismantling apartheid, he took on as his vice-president the last white man who presided over the insufferable system that had long subjugated black South Africans.  Along the way he became well-loved, and now is esteemed on par with Martin Luther King and Mohandas Ghandi.  Desmond TuTu and Kofi Annan, both fellow-Africans and world leaders, collaborated with Mandela as leaders who inspired others and led with grace and courage. 


In the span of a few weeks, I have read Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin, read many news items about the life and death of Nelson Mandela, and heard the story of my Mast "cousins" who owned and abused slaves.   All of this constitutes quite a load of reflection on ethnicity, racism, and other such matters.  I really hate what I see of the injustice visited on blacks by whites.  While I'd certainly like to think that I do not look down on African Americans in any way, I am conscious of the tendency of my own heart to deceive me, and I must simply commit myself to be honest, and to agree with God about whatever He sees in my heart and reveals to me.  

Monday, December 09, 2013

Kinship Revealed

Tonight I met an African American cousin who descended from the same Mast ancestor as I did.  The name of our common ancestor is not known to me or to her, but he was the father of Jacob, John, and Magdalena Mast, who immigrated from Switzerland in 1750.  Our African American cousins are descended from John.  I am descended from Jacob.  Almost all American Troyers are descended from Magdalena, who married Michael Troyer, the immigrant patriarch.  The African American cousin is Sharon Cranford.

Sharon Cranford partnered in writing Kinship Concealed with Dwight E. Roth.  Both authors are or were teachers at Hesston College.  By accident, they discovered that both of them have Mast ancestors, and a quick search in the college library revealed their kinship, as detailed in a Mast family record book written by C. Z. Mast.

Like me, Dwight Roth is descended from Jacob, who became the first Amish bishop ordained in America.  He was apparently a very able young man, and was ordained without the use of the lot.  Jacob Mast is buried near Morgantown, Pennsylvania, near where the Mast homestead is located.

The Masts were Amish when they arrived in Philadephia.  Seven Mast children arrived without their parents, in the company of their uncle.  The children were orphans, and it's possible that originally their parents had also intended to emigrate, but died before they left the old country.  The three remaining Mast daughters have been lost to history.

John soon parted ways with his siblings, and walked eventually to  North Carolina, where he forsook the Amish practices, and his family eventually became associated with the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (later Christian Methodist Episcopal),  No evidence has  been found that John Mast owned slaves, but his son Joseph did. Joseph's son, Reuben, fathered a child by a very young Ghanian slave girl owned by his father.  The mother named her son Charley.

When Charley was six months old, his mother was sold "down south."  Her fate is unknown.  Charley, however, was taken to live, for a few years, in the household of Reuben Mast's brother John Mast III. While he was still preschool age, the Masts decided it was time for him to take up life with other African Americans, and he grew to adulthood in the slave quarters.

Charley's birth father, Reuben, eventually moved to Texas, in 1859.  When he did so, he purchased Charley from his brother John for $1100.00, at a time when the going rate for slaves was $200.00.  Charley had apparently developed into a very capable and valuable young man, and Reuben had to pay dearly for Charley.  (I'm thinking it served him right.)

I'm not sure where the story goes from Texas, but somehow, Charley's great great granddaughter, Sharon Cranford, ended up in Wichita, Kansas.  She has a PhD and is married to a man with a PhD.

Tonight I bought the book Sharon Cranford and Dwight E. Roth wrote together.  They explained, in the meeting we had at Center, that the book contains facts verifiable by written records, records from oral history, and imagination.  The book is written as a historical novel.  I haven't read the book, but I heard tonight that the first and the last sections in the book were written in partnership.  In the middle are two different story lines:  Dwight's family history, and Sharon's family history.

The meeting tonight was Sharon and Dwight's first successful effort to connect with the Mast-Troyer branch of their family.  They made that connection through  my uncle by marriage, Ollie Troyer.  Ollie and Emma hosted Sharon Cranford and her husband and mother (95) and Dwight Roth in their home for a meal this evening, before the meeting.

Sharon's maiden name is Hill.  The Hills came from South Carolina.  Tantalizingly, one of Ollie's sisters has spent most of her adulthood as a mentor to Cindy Sharp,  in Washington, D.C.  Cindy's family's ancestors include Hills from South Carolina.

That's all for now.   Profound reflections, if forthcoming at all, will have to wait for another day.