Prairie View

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Russia Comes to Partridge

Last Wednesday evening Harley Wagler spoke at our church.  He is the affable Mennonite bachelor from Partridge who has spent most of his career teaching in universities in the Slavic world, the majority of that time in Russia, but earlier also in Bulgaria and Yugoslavia.  He comes home during the summer months.  He's in his upper 70s now, but I haven't heard any indications that retirement is on the agenda yet.  Several years ago I heard him explain why he thinks retirement would make no sense for him--at that time, at least. 

Many in the Beachy world knew Harley's uncle Willie Wagler.  He has cousins scattered elsewhere in the Mennonite world--among them Nathan and Harold Miller at Rosedale in the Plain City, OH area, Dr. Norman Miller in Northern Indiana and Dr. Leon Miller in Millersburg, OH.  His sister Ruth shows up regularly with her husband Roman Miller at the Hutchinson farmer's market .

This was the first time that I heard Harley tell the details of how his career path unfolded.  He traces its beginnings to several events in childhood when his family entertained overnight guests.  The first one was a cousin of his father's, John Overholt, who visited when Harley was eight years old.  He spoke of having stood in Red Square in Moscow and, Bible in hand and Lenin's body lying in state nearby, having prayed for the salvation of Russia's people.  The next year Harley gave up his bed so that Peter Deyneka, another visitor who came, could sleep in Harley's bed.  Harley went to the hay mow for the night.  Deyneka established the Slavic Gospel Association, and Harley later worked closely with his son.  I didn't get the name of the third person, but a third influential person spoke at the Free Methodist Church in Hutchinson, and about a dozen Amish buggies full of listeners showed up.  The speaker was a Russian seminary classmate of none other than Josef Stalin.  Obviously the paths of the two men had diverged after seminary.   Stalin eventually became very anti-religious.

Harley pursued Russian studies at the University of Kansas, after having spent several years in voluntary service in Costa Rica.  Then, in what turned out to be a pivotal event, by invitation he presented to the head of the Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities a plan for reaching out to people in the Communist bloc countries (more on that later). Harley was asked afterward to lead out in implementing such an effort.  For the next 32 years he taught many American students who had traveled abroad to study Russian language, culture, etc.   They were Christian young people with a vision for serving the population of their host country.  One class day each week was spent in hands-on work, such as rehabilitating old Eastern Orthodox churches.  The first one they worked on  had been repurposed as a razor blade factory, and then was left in complete disrepair, lacking even a roof.  Loading up six dump trucks of rubble was the first task. 

Harley is still teaching in a Russian university, but he is no longer working for either the "Eastern" Board or for the Council of Christian Colleges, under whose auspices he taught during those years.  Lamentably, declining interest has shuttered these programs. 

The four principles that Harley proposed for the outreach to Eastern bloc countries:

1.  Workers would not go to start churches.  Instead, they would work with existing churches.
2.  Workers would be legitimate, as opposed to working surreptitiously underground.  They would do real work to benefit society.
3.  Workers would report honestly--never hiding their identity as Christians or capitalizing on the drama of their setting or circumstances.
4.  Workers would always identify with a local church community and commit to learning the local language and take instructions from the local church body. 

Harley's "home church" in Russia is a Baptist church.  Although having a far smaller presence than the Eastern Orthodox church in Russia, this group has always been respected for the integrity of its people.  This is the church that absorbed many of the Mennonites after their own church groups had fallen into disarray.  A Baptist seminary offered these displaced people assistance; thus the shift. 

There's more, which I may continue in a later post.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Today's paper contained an article about Vice President Pence having given a speech in downtown Kansas City recently.  On the same trip, he promoted the re-election campaign of Kevin Yoder, who is a Republican U. S. Representative from that area.

As I have it figured out, Kevin Yoder and I had the same Yutzy Great Great Grandfather.  I know that his grandfather, Ora Yoder, and mine, Levi D. Miller, were first cousins.  I also know that Levi's mother's maiden name was Yutzy.  Kevin's father was Wayne, who was "Orrie's" son, I believe.  Our son Grant used to help his employer, Jared Oatney, work Wayne's fields in the Yoder area, which Jared was farming.

I have only one distinct personal memory of contact with Kevin's family.  Kevin's grandmother, "Orrie Edna," spent her final years at Mennonite Friendship Communities (MFC).  As I recall, she lived to be more than 100 years old.  One day when Andrew was the principal at Pilgrim, during the school day we all spent time doing activities with the residents at MFC.  Edna wanted to play Scrabble, and I was delighted to find someone interested in this favorite game of mine.  Hers was the first Deluxe Scrabble board I had ever seen, a gift from her family.  Edna had a sharp mind well into old age.  Maybe playing Scrabble regularly helped keep it that way.

Orrie was known to have great sense of humor.  I can't recall a single example of that right now, but I know I heard my father, uncles, and grandfather quote him, laughing as they did so.  I'm sure that I saw him and knew who he was as a child, but he lived in the Yoder area and our paths didn't cross often.  Edna outlived him by many years.

While I was watering plants and cooking this morning, I thought of several tidbits that I heard my father say about Kevin and my Yutzy ancestors--or relatives of our ancestors at least.  One of them, Reuben Yutzy, was a skilled gunsmith in Holmes County, OH.  Our local Raymond Yutzy (now deceased), paid lots of money to purchase and bring to Kansas a Reuben Yutzy gun when he found it in the possession of someone from Holmes County.  My dad also said that alcohol addiction was a problem in the Yutzy family.  I'm thinking that enthusiasm for guns and alcohol probably wasn't a combination worth bragging about.

I feel the same way about Kevin Yoder's record:  enthusiasm for guns and alcohol is a combination not worth bragging about.  Alcohol was apparently involved in the incident in 2011 when Kevin Yoder made national news for having skinny-dipped in the Sea of Galilee, in the presence of a crowd.  Granted, it was dark, and he apologized afterward, but it was a regrettable 15 minutes of fame nonetheless.

A previous alcohol-related incident occurred in 2009 when  " . . .  Yoder was pulled over for speeding on the K-10 expressway. After passing a field sobriety test, Yoder declined the officer's request to take a roadside Breathalyzer test. The officer cited Yoder for speeding and for refusing to take the breathalyzer test, and then let Yoder drive himself home. In a plea agreement, the speeding charge was dropped. Yoder pleaded guilty to refusing law enforcement's request for a breath test and paid a $165 fine." (Wikipedia)   Obviously,  the gaps in this story are  more problematic than the story itself.

In 2010 the National Rifle Association--Political Victory Fund (NRA--PVF) endorsed Kevin Yoder "because he is a staunch defender of the Second Amendment freedoms of law-abiding gun owners, hunters and sportsmen in Kansas and across America.”
"During his time as a state representative, Yoder supported many pro-gun measures, including voting to prohibit gun confiscation during states of emergency; voting six times for comprehensive Right-to-Carry reform to remove burdensome hurdles, restrictions and excessive fees; voting to prohibit local governments from enacting gun control; and voting for the proposed amendment to the state Constitution making the right to keep and bear arms a fundamental, individual right."  "Yoder’s proven pro-gun record in the Kansas House of Representatives has earned him an “A” rating and endorsement from the NRA-PVF." Link
Depending on how his priorities were ordered, this "proven pro-gun record" might have made the Amish Reuben Yutzy proud.  His Mennonite Grandma Edna?  Probably not so much.  I know it would have  been acutely embarrassing to my Amish grandfather who would have considered it unthinkably unseemly to claim to be nonresistant (think pacifist) and to advocate meanwhile for gun rights.  Truthfully, he would not have campaigned for restrictions either.  He would simply not have made gun matters his business, as long as he could keep a gun for use on butchering day and for dealing with varmints.


Saddling Kevin Yoder with all the "sins" of our common Yutzy ancestors is no more fair than it would be for me to feel obligated to take them on myself.  Neither would it be fair for either of us to lay claim to any of their fame.  On the matter of guns and alcohol, however, I think Kevin Yoder would be well-served to adopt his Kansas grandparents' sensibilities, just as I feel well-served by adopting mine.

Sins, skills, or sensibilities--each of us makes choices that create a record over time.  All who reflect on the record have the right to look for patterns that might be instructive.  When we're able to observe choices and consequences over multiple generations, the potential for identifying patterns expands.  Our determination to avoid pitfalls ought to grow with our understanding of these patterns.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Labor Laws

Because strange things sometimes catch my fancy, I spent time yesterday and today reading up on labor laws. 

Before I started, one mantra echoed in my head:  equal pay for equal work.  I discovered that this is common wording for a summary of  a law enacted in 1963 in the Equal Pay Act which established pay equality for both genders.  In 1964, in the Civil Rights Act, equality was extended across other categories:  race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.  I can't cite the exact law for the next categories, but federal law also forbids discrimination based on disability, age (40 or older), citizenship status, and genetic information. 

Unequal pay based on marital status is against state laws in about half of the states.  This is not addressed in federal labor laws.  Kansas has no state law forbidding pay discrimination based on marital status.  On behalf of my single friends, family, and colleagues, I feel like I maybe should apologize for this oversight in state law.  I hope the state law oversight is not perpetuated in Christian businesses or ministries.


Can  employees be forbidden to discuss compensation with other employees?  Here's what I found:
Employee compensation is a sensitive subject, one that many employers would like to keep secret.
Can an employer in the U.S. create a company policy that prohibits employees from discussing pay rate and salary levels with other employees or (gasp) on social media?
For the most part: no, employers may not prohibit employees from discussing compensation according to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and an April 2014 Executive Order from President Obama.  Link


Hiromi has never been an employer, and he has never worked as an employee in a Mennonite-owned business, so the background for an impression he has is a bit hard to identify.  He believes that some of us who take very seriously the need to be good stewards of our resources are likely to overlook what is equally important--making sure that we use our finances in such a way that those around us are fairly compensated for whatever they offer others.  If one prospers at the expense of others, no amount of careful stewardship on the prospering person's part can atone for having treated others ungenerously.

Hiromi also has a finely-tuned sense for manipulation or controlling behavior.  If employer decisions carried even a faint whiff of such a thing in Hiromi's workplace, he would be standing his ground or looking for the exits right away.  He doesn't see virtue in careful planning if others are not respected in the process. 


What I'd really like to understand is how Christian ethics apply to employer/employee relationships.  These insights can't be acquired only by listening to Hiromi or studying state and federal law.  They come by the Holy Spirit making the Word of God alive in our hearts.  Walling off the category of employer/employee interactions from the rest of our obligations and privileges as members of Christ's kingdom would surely be a grave mistake.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Paul and Clara's Wedding

One week ago today I was present at my youngest sister Clara's wedding in Columbus, Ohio.  She married Paul Stoltzfus from Newburg, Oregon--originally from Chestertown, Maryland.  As is true of most weddings that involve second marriages because of the death of a first spouse, some bittersweetness lurked just beneath the surface, but overall it was easy to share in the joy of the happy couple.

Clara's two adult sons gave their mother away.  Her 10-month-old granddaughter and namesake helped strew flower petals ahead of her entrance, except that I'm not sure that she ever actually dipped into the petal-filled basket that her Aunt Victoria carried, along with little Louise.  My two sisters closest to Clara's age (Lois and Dorcas) served as bridesmaids, along with a bevy of other friends from Ohio.

Clara is a good seamstress, and she had sewed her wedding dress.  It was simple and elegant.  Her bridesmaids all wore capes over their dresses--real capes, tied at the neck and falling loosely to end at the waist.  Clara had selected the navy fabric from a custom-clothes website and gave every bridesmaid freedom to choose whatever style they wanted.  After the first person selected the cape style and shared her choice with the others, one by one, they followed suit, each one selecting the sleeve length and neckline option that pleased them.

Neither Clara nor Paul have any surviving parents.  Each of them, though, has a set of parents-in-law from their first marriage.  Clara's Shrock in-laws were present in full force at the wedding.  They provided the rehearsal dinner for all those involved in the wedding and for relatives who had traveled to Ohio from out-of-state.  Fewer of Paul's in-laws could be present, understandably so because of the long trip from Oregon to Ohio.

Paul's four children all followed their father into the field of psychology, except for one, who is a pre-med student.  The youngest  left for college last fall, and all of them may still be in school.  As is true of Clara and Matthew, Paul and Janette had two boys and two girls born to them.  One daughter is married--as is also true in Clara's case.

Clara's small city yard looks like a showcase garden.  In season are hydrangeas and other sumptuous and extravagant flowers.  Many of these were used as wedding decorations.  Peonies were the other main flower, refrigerated in the bud stage from this year's bloom season.  Lots and lots of flowers were present--big bouquets on every table at the reception, bouquets carried by the bridesmaids, and festooning the arched opening and the steps into the outdoor gazebo where they exchanged vows.  Paul's Quaker pastor married them, and Larry Miller (son of "Hallelujah Ervin," I'm told) spoke during the service.  Larry's family and Matthew and Clara's family attended the same Vineyard church. 

When Clara and Paul took a picture with Clara's siblings, Paul told us that he used to look up to our dad, who never treated him like the "bad boy" that some others thought he was.  "And to think that I'm married to his daughter now. . . "  Later, in speaking of what he found attractive about Clara, Paul said that, besides the fact that she's beautiful, Clara is also intelligent and articulate (I'm so glad we're all agreed).  Seriously, I'm happy that Paul treasures Clara and that he felt that our father treated him with respect. 

Steak and salmon were on the wedding dinner menu, along with various delicious side dishes.  The venue was "The Boat House," which offered a glass-walled reception-room overlook along the Scioto River.

Clara and Paul have a very similar Amish Mennonite background, but have both moved into other social and faith traditions, so the wedding was a mix of familiar and familiar-only-elsewhere traditions.  The bridal couple's dancing entrance to the reception (beautiful, if I may say so), the open bar (drinks available for purchase), the exchange of wedding rings, and the toasts all fall into the latter category.  We have our modest and circumspect counterparts, of course--open mic instead of toasts, for example.  The lovely choral singing by all available and willing nieces and nephews was familiar.  The violin music while people gathered and during the processional and recessional included familiar tunes.  I was sorry though that the only version of "Here Comes the Bride" that I know is the seriously corrupted version that I learned in grade school--not in music class of course.

I did not know Paul before he started dating Clara, but I knew others in his family.  The one I know best is Mary Ellen, married to Mark Beachy, who was a former student of mine in Ohio.  Their daughter, Margretta, is married to another more recent student from here, Tim Yoder.  A sister Lydia was at Calvary Bible School when I was there, and another sister Anna once traveled through Kansas on her way to Belize or Guatemala with her veterinarian husband, Doug Hodgins.  They were on a medical mission to the people in the hinterlands who had no access to medical care.  It turns out that his basic medical skills were a great blessing in that setting.

The reception included an extremely well-done video of Paul and Clara being interviewed separately regarding the relationship that led to their marriage.  The videographer's well-timed juxtaposition of Clara's and Paul's responses provided smiles and chuckles throughout.  I also learned a few things.  I didn't know about the "walks" they took together at Calvary Bible School more than 30 years ago--after they had learned to know each other before then at camp week at Faith Mission Home.  Paul says that he thinks nothing more came of it at that time because he was afraid that he'd never get off the farm if he pursued a relationship with Clara.  I did know that he was determined to go to school and was afraid that marriage would derail that effort.  He married Janette after he had graduated from college, but I believe he earned his graduate degree after that.  Paul and Janette (from Oregon) were introduced by mutual friends, probably while he was at Cedarville University in Ohio and she was at Rosedale Bible College nearby. Paul and Clara's paths simply never crossed after Calvary Bible School--until they "met" again one year ago in the comment section on David Nisly's Facebook wall (a mutual friend/acquaintance) when he posted about the death of his father Daniel (from Kansas).

Soon after that first (recent) introduction, Paul and Clara began talking on the phone daily.  They kept that up, with only three exceptions, ever since.

The only fly in the ointment connected to the wedding was an unwelcome development one week before the wedding.  As Paul told it, he had known for years that he had a minor heart murmur, for which he didn't want the medication the doctor offered.  He's been very active and during most of that time did not experience worrisome symptoms--even with regular five-mile jogs.  Ahead of his wedding, however, he decided that since he was getting married, he should be responsible and get checked out again to see if everything was still the same.  He couldn't do the five-mile things anymore without getting winded.  Remembering that his father died of heart problems gave some impetus to do this.  That was when the bombshell dropped.  The doctor informed Paul that he now had a very seriously defective mitral valve requiring surgery, and he would not clear Paul to fly to his wedding in Ohio.

Paul and Clara consulted with other doctors, who all very noncommittally told them they needed to make whatever decision they felt comfortable with.  Never mind that no "comfortable" option was available.  All things considered, they decided to go ahead with the wedding on schedule, but postpone the Costa Rica honeymoon till later.  Instead, they flew back to Oregon promptly, in time for a doctor's appointment on Wdnesday.  The surgery date had already been set for July 10.  At this first post-wedding appointment, Paul was told that the surgeon would attempt to repair the defective valve, but if, during surgery, that proved to be impossible or inadvisable, the valve might need to be replaced.  So surgery is the next big thing on their newlywed agenda.

For Paul and Clara's family and friends, prayers are on the agenda, for no medical crises now, and for swift recovery after the surgery.


Linda and I traveled to the wedding together, with my nephews Hans and Dietrich having the same flight schedule.  On the way home, Heidi and Kristi and Benji and Janae were on the same flights.  We traveled between the airport and hotel in Columbus in the car that Hans rented.  At this end, we traveled between home and Wichita in the Mast's van.  Traveling with them was a huge benefit.  Renting a car and driving in Columbus is sooo not my or Linda's idea of a good time.

The flight from Columbus to Atlanta on the way home was delayed by storms in Atlanta.  Apparently no flights left Atlanta for quite some time, so when we finally arrived several hours late, the airport was teeming with people, most of whom had their travel plans go awry.  The backed-up flights had begun to move again by the time we got there, but the atmosphere was still a bit panicked and chaotic.

We came upon Arthur and Lillian waiting for the same outbound flight to Wichita as the one we were on, so we chatted with them while we waited.  Traveling with our travel-savvy Mast relatives (from the family that owns Golden Rule Travel) did not get us home faster than otherwise, but it left Linda and me unburdened with having to work out any of the details involved in a travel delay.

An affirmation of that is the words of a lady in Columbus who left her place in the security line ahead of Linda and me to come back to tell us how beautifully peaceful we looked when she saw us earlier--not like all the other people around us.  Affirmations like that are always a nice surprise.  I hope I can remember to offer similar kindness to others when it's appropriate.


Jan Maskil died this past week.  She lived in the Nickerson area and became a friend when she offered to teach ceramics to the children in the Royal Clovers 4H club that our family and other homeschoolers were part of.  All our boys took her classes.

The Maskils were an unchurched family.  We didn't know it at the time, but when she began teaching Amish Mennonite children, she didn't know much about us, and thought we were a cult.  Very soon, however, she claimed us as her "favorites"  among the ceramics students.  She has often attended the special  events in "her kids'" lives--programs, graduations, weddings--and she wanted to be sure that "her kids" sing at her funeral.

After Jan no longer taught ceramics, Lowell's family stayed in contact with the Maskils.  Lowell rented their pasture for his cattle and Christy helped them in the house.  Garden produce found its way from the Miller garden to the Maskil table, and they had asked Lowell to help them build a retirement home--just before they decided that moving to a duplex at MFC actually made more sense.  The floor plan there was almost identical to the one they had sketched out themselves.  They visited occasionally.

Last week my brother Lowell got a phone call from Dan, Jan's husband, who was quite distraught, saying that his wife "wouldn't make it" and asking if they could come see them in the hospital.  They (Lowell, Judy, and Christy) did so, and were able to speak to Jan, who assured them that she was trusting Jesus in this hour of imminent death.  Dan, too, visibly relaxed when they prayed with him and Jan.  Before they left, Dan made it clear that he would welcome their continued involvement as further events unfolded.  "We don't have a church . . ." was one of his wistful comments.

Lowell helped the family make funeral arrangements yesterday.  The service will be on Friday at the Elliot Funeral Chapel.  I don't know a lot of specifics, but Lowell and "her kids" will apparently be involved.

Jan Maskil and I shared a birthday.  She was exactly 13 years older than I.  I'm glad I knew her and even more glad that she learned to know the Father that we Amish Mennonite "cultists" love and follow.  Who knew--all those years ago when 4H was a new venture for us homeschoolers--that walking through that open door would--many steps and friendships and conversations and years later--result in Jan being able to walk through the door of death trusting in Jesus?

Today during share time in church, various friends of Jan's told what they remembered her saying and teaching.  Joe said that she used to emphasize that what was required was the student's best effort, not just something that is "good enough."  Oren remembered that she taught students to say "I forgot . . ." not "my mom forgot . . . "  Shane remembered that she said (or perhaps had posted on her wall) "Your lack of foresight does not constitute an emergency on my part."  This past year in school I used a similar quote for my language arts students, without remembering where I had first seen it.  Now I'm thinking it must have been on the wall in Jan's basement ceramic shop.