Tag Archives: Mennonites

Putting lifelong learning into practice

Old Order Mennonites, Shenandoah Valley

Sunday morning at Pleasant View Old Order Mennonite Church.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Exploring has always been in my blood. Curiosity has coursed through my veins all of my life.

The move from Ohio to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley merely whetted my appetite to become familiar with my new surroundings. A myriad of opportunities abound, either spontaneously or scheduled, to explore this beautiful, historic setting.

The view from Pleasant View Old Order Mennonite Church.

Many of my junkets have been self-started. A lazy afternoon’s drive around the rolling, scenic countryside brings new people and places into my life. The Shenandoah Valley region is rich in history, a personal favorite subject. I needed more.

I joined scores of other retirees who were also eager to still learn a few things in life. James Madison University, located in Harrisonburg, offers a Lifelong Learning Institute to that end.

I just completed my second class, an overview of Mennonites in the valley.
Phil Kniss, the pastor of Park View Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, taught the class. He is an astute student of Mennonite history, so I knew I’d learn a lot.

The first session served as a historical survey of Mennonites, tracing their beginnings to the 16th century Reformation. Because of their steadfast beliefs, many Mennonites endured persecution to the point of martyrdom.

Consequently, many moved from their European homelands to the New World, where they hoped for a new chance to live peaceably. Unfortunately, conflicts followed them right into the 18th century as they settled in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. They tried to live in peace farming the fertile soil, but war found them again.

Armed with that information, class field trips sent us into the lives and history of the many sects of Mennonites in the valley. A small choir enthralled us with their magnificent singing at the local Mennonite high school that is celebrating its 100th year.

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At the Old Order Mennonite elementary school, I flashed back to former Ohio days of living among the Amish with their own private schools. The horse and buggy Old Order Mennonites are spiritual cousins to the Amish.

At the unassuming Old Order Mennonite church, a devoted preacher succinctly explained the scriptural basis for their simple way of living. Like all other Old Order men, he was clean-shaven but spoke Pennsylvania Dutch, an anomaly among his people.

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At the buggy shop, we laughed and learned through the wisdom of the father-son combo that so efficiently ran the business so necessary to the Old Order way of life. The elder’s humor kept us on our toes.

In an Old Order Mennonite home, we gave thanks and feasted on a scrumptious home-cooked meal. The sparkle in our host’s eyes twinkled her delight in our contentment.

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At Bank Mennonite Church, we learned of an orchestrated church split with genuine intent to agreeably disagree on specific theological applications while continuing a parallel spiritual path. Congregates dressed and lived like Conservative Mennonites in Holmes County, Ohio with a notable exception. Again, the men had no beards.

At the final class at Crossroads Heritage Center, we explored a type of living museum. Guides explained pioneer life as we wound through original, relocated old houses and various other buildings.

It was a fitting location for the last class. From high on a hill, the valley played out below us. The city bustled beneath the hot morning sunshine. Yet, the farmland’s still earthy springtime fragrances enveloped us.

From that vantage point, I imagined the struggles, the heartache, the determination and the desire to live their lives in community together through productivity, and finding peace and satisfaction in weaving their daily lives together.

Strangely and marvelously, I felt right at home.

View of the valley from the garden at Crossroads.

© Bruce Stambaugh

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Filed under Amish, architectural photography, column, family, history, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, travel, Virginia, writing

A commitment to community

fullyinvolvedbybrucestambaugh

Fire fully involved the barn in minutes.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The middle-aged man sat in the van watching what he really wanted to do. His physically weak condition didn’t allow him to help rebuild the barn that had burned a month earlier.

I knew this man, and knew his heart was with these good people, people from across the community who came together to help resurrect the barn. My friend’s presence moved me as much as the corporate act of mutual aid that we witnessed.

Though he couldn’t help, my friend wanted to be there for support, for community, to keep the connection with his people. His presence was his help. Everyone knew about the fire that had destroyed the old bank barn. There was nothing firefighters could do that night other than to protect the adjacent buildings, which they did successfully.

Only three days before the barn raising, the clarion call went out, one phone message to another, for help. The result was a swarm of activity that began at sunrise and lasted until the job was nearly completed. This was not only how the community worked. It was the community.

barnraisingbybrucestambaugh

Three hours after the work had begun the barn was fully framed.

My friend knew this. He viewed his vicarious participation as imperative.

He didn’t need to tell me this of course. In our decades of living here in this place, we knew the unwritten, modest code of conduct. When your neighbors need help, help them.

It is the way this community operates, has operated, will operate. It is who we are and how we survive. Without one another, we are nothing. No man is an island indeed.

Old Order and New Order Amish worked side-by-side, hammer by hammer, board by board, with one another. Conservative Mennonites, Mennonites, and probably a few Baptists and Presbyterians were in the mix, too. All hands were on deck, no membership cards needed.

One man served as the coordinator for constructing the structure back into a barn. One body, estimated at about 300 men, women and children, made it happen. The process was beautiful to behold, a community in action.

With the foundation and floor previously completed, the framing of the barn began before sunup. By 8 a.m., the trusses were already being set. No orders needed to be barked. Spontaneous crews simply flowed in precision without cue, and the building arose. It was mind-boggling, astounding and inspiring.

Bearded men, clean-shaven men and teenage boys, proving themselves worthy, massed over the 50 by 60 foot frame. Seated on church benches, youngsters and women, their bonnets bleached whiter by the day’s brightness, watched and waited their turn.

By noon, the siding and roof were nearly completed. Hearty meals of homemade meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, and plenty of side dishes and luscious desserts refueled the crews for the afternoon.

Even the weather cooperated for stepping casually across the peek of the roof. Clear blue sky, no wind to sway the balance, no humidity to dehydrate efficient work all made for perfect construction conditions.

In practicality, such a coordinated effort helped cut the cost of rebuilding for the owner. In a broader sense, such a coordinated effort reaffirmed that in a cooperative community no tragedy is too great to overcome.

Though he couldn’t help lift a board, my friend participated in this most sacred and iconic act. To the passersby who stopped to take photographs, it was a special treat to behold.

For those who knew what really transpired, like my friend, it was much more than a delight. It was communion.

newbarnbybrucestambaugh

By evening work on the main barn had been completed.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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Pre-release special price on Fifty Shades of Grace

I am pleased to announce that I have a chapter in a newly published book, Fifty Shades of Grace, by Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia and Waterloo, Ontario. The book will be released May 1.

fiftyshadesofgraceAs a special introduction, Herald Press is offering a 30% discount on the book until May 9. The book sells for $12.99. To order the book, contact MennoMedia at 800-245-7894 or click this link, MennoMedia.

The book is a collection of true inspirational stories about experiencing God’s grace in the midst of everyday life. Each of the fifty essays explores what grace looks like in action—even in a world jaded by violence and unforgiveness—and how grace can triumph over tragedy, or the daily annoyances of family life.

The chapter I wrote, entitled “Testing my Peace Stance,” tells about accompanying my late father, Richard, on an Honor Flight for World War II veterans. Stories are also included from noted writers Jim Wallis, John Powell, John Perkins, Lovella Schellenberg, Christopher Kennedy Lawford and many others, mostly from the Mennonite/Anabaptist tradition.

In his foreword, Donald Kraybill says, “The stories compel, mesmerize and strike again and again with wonderment for the many colors of God’s lavish love. These contemporary stories of grace all rub against the grain of popular culture. They offer a redemptive counterpoint to the darkness and oppression lurking in the shadows of bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey.” Kraybill, an authority on Anabaptist groups, is a co-author of Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy and author of many other books.

©Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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The extraordinary benefits of a beneficial Saturday

sunrisebybrucestambaugh

Benefit Saturday began with a beautiful sunrise.

By Bruce Stambaugh

This was to be benefit Saturday for my wife and I. I simply couldn’t have projected just how beneficial it would end up being.

Before dawn a delightful aroma wafted across the landscape from the Amish farmstead behind our rural Millersburg, Ohio home. A congregation of people was barbequing chicken on portable grill wagons. A generator cast a harsh, artificial light upon the busy group, creating predawn silhouettes.

The benefit barbeque was for a couple that needed financial assistance due to extreme medical bills. She had cancer, twice. He had had surgery that kept him off of work for six months. To help out, we ordered six quarters of chicken to be picked up after 11 a.m.

mongolianhutbybrucestambaugh

A Mongolian hut is called a ger. (Photo by Kim Kellogg)

That was but one of three different fundraisers in which we participated that day. The first began at 7 a.m. with sausage, ham and pancakes. My wife ate the meat. I ate the pancakes. The breakfast was held to raise money for a mission project in Mongolia. An authentic, completely furnished Mongolian ger, a felt lined hut, had been erected in the church fellowship hall for all to inspect.

As tasty as the food was, the fellowship that buzzed around our table was even better. We reminisced with old friends about how our lives had intersected during the ups and downs of life. Breakfast doesn’t usually come with dessert, but that’s what this conversation ended up being.

Though the chicken cooking was literally in our back yard, we had to pick up our order at a residence a mile up the road. For lunch, Neva and I each downed a quarter of the flavorful hinkel, as the Amish refer to it. We enjoyed the chicken so much I returned to buy more, only to be told that they only had enough to fill the presale orders.

barbequingchickenbybrucestambaugh

Our Amish neighbors hosted the grilling of the barbequed chicken.

I drove back my neighbors’ long graveled lane to where the chicken was being grilled. I got the same answer there, but discovered the full measure of devotion of this gracious act of charity.

More than 80 friends, family and extended family members gathered to do the chicken. A total of four tons or nearly 8,500 quarters of chicken had been barbequed to sell on behalf of this family in need. The charcoal was lit at 5 a.m. The grilling began at 6 a.m. and finished up at 2 p.m. It was an all day deal.

From the looks on the workers faces, they were both elated at the success of their selfless efforts and fatigued from their long hours of hanging around the smoky grill pits. A total of 36 Amish churches helped sell the chicken, and they indeed sold it all. They may have barbequed lots of chicken, but in the process they also cooked up a liberal batch of compassion.

honeytownbybrucestambaugh

The band, Honeytown, performed at a local coffee shop to help raise money for our church youth group.

In the evening, Neva and I headed into town for a concert by a renowned, local quartet. Honeytown sang and played as a fundraiser for our church youth group. The kids were raising funds to attend a church wide conference in Arizona this summer. Only Mennonites would hold a gathering in the desert in July.

Each of these three benefits had a specific purpose, and each achieved success. Love comes in many shapes, sizes, and means, pancakes, barbequed chicken, and inspirational song among them. Though independent of one another, a common purpose and generous acts of human kindness bound the benefits as one.

We had been thrice blessed. Beneath an umbrella of golden sun and cloudless coral sky, this benefit Saturday had truly been extraordinary.

© Bruce Stambaugh

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Carl Maxwell leads a life worth living


By Bruce Stambaugh

Given his many maladies and his age, Carl Maxwell, 77, of Berlin, Ohio, would have every right to simply give up on life. Instead, he has done just the opposite, and many people are the beneficiaries.

The list of all the good Maxwell has done in his life far exceeds his list of illnesses. Kidney dialysis three times a week, congestive heart failure, diabetes, quadruple bypass surgery on his heart, suffering four heart attacks, staph infections and skin cancer head the list.

Maxwell hasn’t let any of that stop him. If anything, they serve as incentives to live life to the fullest everyday. He does so personally and through several community organizations for which he volunteers.

“I love life,” Maxwell said. “I want to do everything I possibly can while I can.”

Carl Maxwell by Bruce Stambaugh

Carl Maxwell

Maxwell has and is doing a lot by any measure. His accomplishments would be impressive for someone in excellent health.

Maxwell was a charter member of the East Holmes Lions Club and is a charter member of the newly established Berlin Lions Club. He served as president of the East Holmes club, and was recently presented the prestigious Melvin Jones Fellow award by Lions Club International.

“I’m especially interested in the sight aspect of Lions Club,” Maxwell said. Lions Clubs collect used eyeglasses and distribute them to needy people around the world.

Maxwell has served as either president or vice president of the East Holmes Fire and EMS District board since its inception in 2000. He is the at large member of the five-member board.

Maxwell, along with his wife of 53 years, Lorene, volunteer at Save and Serve Thrift Shop in Millersburg twice a week.

“On Tuesdays,” Maxwell said, “I cut rages with Paul Roth.” He and Lorene also help out as cashiers on Thursday evenings.

Maxwell has also taught Sunday school at several levels at Berlin Mennonite Church for many years.

“I like people,” Maxwell simply said.

If he did slow down, no one would question his decision. Maxwell goes for kidney dialysis three times a week in Wooster.

“Counting my time on the road,” he said, “each visit takes eight hours.” Maxwell is not complaining about that.

“I didn’t really want to do dialysis,” Maxwell said. “But I got out voted 5-1 on that.” His loving wife and four sons all wanted him to do the treatments. Maxwell drew the line there.

“I had an opportunity for a kidney transplant,” Maxwell said, “but I turned it down.” He said he felt someone younger than him should have a chance at the available kidney. “I couldn’t live with myself if I had taken a kidney that some 20-year old needed,” Maxwell said frankly.

Carl and car by Bruce Stambaugh

Carl Maxwell showed off his salmon and grey 1958 Buick.


Maxwell doesn’t spend all of his time volunteering. He also has some heart-felt hobbies in which he has invested much time and money. Maxwell, who once had 14 antique cars, now has three old cars and a 2002 Corvette, which he calls his “toy.” He occasionally drives it to his dialysis sessions.

At the peak of his car collecting days, Maxwell served for 16 years on the regional board of directors of the Antique Car Collectors of Canton. Maxwell also has the world’s largest collection of Sinclair Oil products and memorabilia, which was featured earlier this year in an international collection magazine. From old gas and oilcans to large advertising signs to refurbished gasoline pumps, Maxwell’s collection is clearly one-of-a-kind. He has gathered items from many states and even other countries.

That extensive collection stems from his life’s work.

Sinclair signs by Bruce Stambaugh

Carl Maxwell has two triple-check Sinclair Oil signs displayed at his barn. He said only a handful remain.


Maxwell worked 36 years for Holmes Oil, which originally distributed Sinclair products. He started as a truck driver, but after six years, he and Maynard Hummel became co-owners of the business. Maxwell sold his half interest in the business after 30 years.

“I have had an unbelievable life,” Maxwell readily shared. He credits two women for those experiences, his wife and his late mother, Edna Weaver Maxwell.

“I owe a lot to others, especially my wife,” he said. “She’s just been amazing.” He said Lorene has been an incredible help to him in his many times of need. Maxwell said he recognizes his physical limits and takes the time to rest so he can continue to keep his busy pace.

“I want to do everything I possibly can,” Maxwell said. “Life is still worth living, and it’s too short to be negative.”

Carl and pumps by Bruce Stambaugh

Carl Maxwell has collected Sinclair Oil signs, cans and even gas pumps.

This article appeared in the July 2, 2012 edition of the Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

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Make shopping thrifty in Ohio’s Amish Country

Thrift store shopper by Bruce Stambaugh

Marlene Burrell of Mineral City, OH shops regularly at the Harvest Thrift Store in Sugarcreek, OH.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Frugal shoppers will find a bonanza in Ohio’s Amish Country. The area is abundant with several well-stocked thrift stores, which is a reflection of Amish and Mennonite values.

The Amish and Mennonite cultures have a reputation for being thrifty. Recycling clothing, house wares and other household items and much more not only fits that image but their theology of service as well. Accordingly, profits from all the area’s thrift stores go to various charities.

Great bargains covering a wide range of items can be found in each thrift store. All resell clean, functional and stylish merchandise for the entire family.

On the eastern edge of Amish Country is the Harvest Thrift Store in Sugarcreek, Ohio. Located at 1019 West Main Street, the Harvest Thrift Store has been in operation for four years. A second store at 102 East Main Street in Wilmot opened last May.

All proceeds go to youth ministries and to local non-profit organizations like Every Women’s House in Wooster. According to store manager Holly Lehigh, 30 to 40 percent of her customers are from out of the area.

“We have some people from out of state who come back three or four times every year,” she said. “They tell me that what they spend on gas they more than make up in the savings of what they buy.”

In Wayne County’s Kidron, MCC Connections offers its items in a pleasant and well-organized atmosphere. Store manager, Bill Ressler, said that a number of tour buses stop at the store on occasion, the most recent from North Carolina. He attributes those visits to the promotion of the store by the Wayne County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

According to Ressler, all proceeds from sales at MCC Connections go to Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), Akron, Pennsylvania. MCC assists peoples around the globe in education, water projects and agricultural initiates, encouraging health, hygiene and sustainability. MCC Connections is located at 4080 Kidron Road, Kidron.

Back in Holmes County in the hub of Amish Country is Berlin, where Share and Care Thrift Store operates on U.S. 62. Share and Care sends 80 percent of its profits to Haiti missions and uses the balance for local needs, such as fire victims and personal disasters.

Day manager Noah Troyer estimated that at least 50 percent of the store’s business is from tourists. He said that amount increases during peak tourist time.

“We have had people here from Arizona and California,” Troyer said.

Millersburg, the county seat, hosts two thriving thrift shops, the internationally known Goodwill Industries, and Save and Serve Thrift Shop. They just happen to be catty corner from one another on South Washington Street at Rodhe Drive.

Like it’s international corporation goals, Goodwill’s objective is to finance the employment of those who need jobs. Store manager, Josh McWilliams, said most of his customers are local residents, though the number of tourists who frequent the store increases seasonally.

“They are mostly looking for down home, Amish-made items,” McWilliams said.

According to Helen Glick, co-manager at Save and Serve, about 25 percent of their customers are from outside the immediate area.

“Our on-going silent auctions seem to attract collectors and others interested in unusual pieces and antiques,” Glick said. A look at the silent auction bid book indicated customers from all across Ohio as well as several from other states.

Eric Raber, co-manager at Save and Serve, credits the community’s continued support for the long-term success of his store. Save and Serve was founded in 1975.

“Even in a down economy, the local people continue to provide us with amazing amounts and quality items to offer at reasonable prices,” Raber said. Like MCC Connections, all of the profits at Save and Serve are sent to MCC. In its 35 years of operation, Save and Serve has sent $3.3 million to MCC to help fund its global projects.

Whether from near or far, bargains galore are sure to be found in the thrift stores in Ohio’s Amish Country. And emblematic of the holiday spirit, all of the profits from sales go to those in need.

Thrifty shoppers by Bruce Stambaugh

Kay Schrock, Mary Hoefer, and Jo Troyer, all of Goshen, IN, and Becky Christophel of Harrisonburg, VA, shopped several Amish Country thrift stores, including Share and Care in Berlin. The three sisters and their mother, Troyer, enjoy their frequent rendezvous' in Ohio's Amish country.

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Waking to the sound of work

pouring the cement for the parking pad

Our neighbors, who own Mast Poured Walls, pour the cement for our parking pad.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I can’t say for sure if the idling engines woke me or if I just happened to notice the noise after a full night’s sleep. No matter. Their steady, pre-dawn purring was merry music to my ears.

Both neighbors across the road own a construction-related business. One pours walls for a living, the other trenches fields and lays pipe.

Their tidy steel buildings sit cattycorner from my home, one to the southeast, and the other to the northeast. On mornings when they work, they often pull out their always-clean vehicles and let them idle before heading out to the job site.

It doesn’t take a financial wizard to guess that their work, like most building related work, has slowed considerably in this extended recession. Though neither has ever complained to me, my neighbors’ patience for work has had to replace actual labor.

This lack of employment has been hard on them, not just financially, but emotionally, too. These men are used to working hard for their daily living. But in this economy, with construction moving at a snail’s pace, regular, substantial work has waned.

Last year was especially uncertain. Too many days their trucks were silent. It may sound funny to say this, but I missed that motorized humming and the occasional sharp clanking of metal against metal as they prepared to head out. I felt their pain.

The expressions on my neighbors’ faces couldn’t hide their concerns. They were frustrated at the lack of work. These are talented men, men who know how to put in a decent day’s work for honest pay.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t just my good neighbors whose jobs had slowed or stopped altogether. It seemed every business took a hit, regardless of occupational focus. In a community where work ethic is king, doing nothing or next to it was absolutely agonizing.

The economic downturn was particularly hard on this community that hosts the world’s largest concentration of Amish and Mennonites. Consequentially, the tourist industry, a major revenue producer for private and governmental institutions alike, tapered off.

It was difficult to see people’s work hours curtailed. A few businesses simply closed for lack of customers. For the first time in a long time, our rural area felt what the rest of the global economy was feeling. And it hurt.

Farmers weren’t immune either. While milk and commodity prices sputtered, operating expenses kept rising. It was a losing proposition.

For these thrifty people with whom I have communed daily for four decades, it wasn’t just about the money. Cash flows were low, and so were their spirits.

These were people who knew how to work, had excellent skills, many self-taught, and labored for a fair wage. They had done so all of their lives, as had their fathers and mothers before them. Work was as much tradition as it was means.

But true to their congenial nature, their heritage and their commitment to faith, family and community, my neighbors in Big Prairie, Nashville, Glenmont, Killbuck, Clark, Farmerstown, Walnut Creek, Winesburg, Mt. Hope, Benton, Holmesville, Millersburg, Berlin and yes, even charming Charm preserved. They skimped along as best they could, and hoped and prayed for the best.

Perhaps we are not completely out of the economic woods yet. But it sure is nice to wake up to the sound of diesel engines running once again. Here’s hoping they keep on purring.

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