This was the day of all the days of our trip that I had most anticipated. Visiting the Anabaptist Cave, or Tauferhole, near Baretswil, Switzerland, was a dream come true.
But there was a catch. Long before our group ever left for Europe, our tour organizer had asked me to share my story of how and why I became Mennonite. Mennonites were some of the most radical of the early Anabaptists during the Protestant Reformation. To be able to share my personal story in that historic, sacred place meant more than I can say. I only knew that I would strive to keep it short and to the point.
We left beautiful Lucerne for the quaint village of Baretswel, Switzerland, where we would meet our local guides at the Reformed Church. Our group enjoyed the scenic morning drive, and after a break of necessity, we followed David and Ruth to where the bus could no longer go.
From there, we hoofed it up the hill through meadows full of wildflowers and marvelous fragrances. We passed dairy cows grazing and huge wood piles curing for next winter’s firing. We regrouped in the shade of the forest near the top of the hill before heading out on the trail to the once-hidden cave.
Once into the woods, the incline lessened. More concerning was the steep drop-off into a ravine created by eons of erosion from a stream flowing from and beneath the cave. Fortunately, a wooden handrail had been erected in recent years at the most dangerous spots.
I quickly explored the deepest reaches of the cave, which were no more than a few hundred feet. Once the entire group assembled, save one who declined the hike for physical reasons, our tour host Ed took over.
We sang a couple of meaningful songs, and another member of our group, a Hospice chaplain in Indiana, shared a meditation. It perfectly set the foundation for my sharing.
To the relief of those who know me, I kept my talk to one type-written page, only once veering from the script. I told about coming of age during the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Though my grandfather had served in World War I and my father in World War II, I had no desire to participate in that political conflict.
The week after I met my wife-to-be, Neva took me to the Sunday church service at Beech Mennonite Church near Louisville, Ohio. The sermon was on nonresistance, one of the primary principles of peace churches, which the Mennonite Church still proclaims.
It was what I was looking for, and I gladly accepted. I joined the church nine months later, just a couple weeks before our marriage. Neva has stood by my side for 51 years through thick and thin. I am forever grateful to the late Wayne North for preaching that subject that drew me into the church.
Following my sharing, we sang some more, had a prayer, and took communion together. Had it not been for our ancestors who believed in nonresistance, adult baptism, and service to others to highlight a few critical points, we would not have been there on that special day. It was indeed a bucket list experience.
All too soon, we walked back down the path to the awaiting bus and bid our new friends goodbye. We were off to Innsbruck, Austria. On the way, we stopped along the Rhine River for a late lunch break.
When I learned that Liechtenstein was just across the river, I climbed the many steps to the river levy to at least grab a quick photo. After descending the stairway, a school group bicycling along the levy stopped to rest. Their observant teacher had them wave to me before we left for Innsbruck.
Our stop in beautiful Innsbruck was all too brief. We walked the cobblestone streets around the Old Town section of the city, viewing markets and the Golden Roof home of Emperor Maximilian.
My wife and I strolled along the Inn River, enjoying the pastel-painted homes. The snow-covered Alps hovering above made it a picture-postcard moment.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2022