Friday, October 24, 2008

The Northkill Amish Settlement

The first Amish Mennonites began migrating to the United States in the eighteenth century, mainly to escape the religious persecution and compulsory military service they faced in Europe. The Northkill area in eastern Pennsylvania was opened for settlement in 1736, and that same year, Melchoir Detweiler and Hans Sieber arrived in Philadelphia on the ship Princess Augusta.

Within a year Sieber had settled along Irish Creek (between Bernville and Centerpoint), which became a sister community to the Northkill settlement, while Detweiler found land along Northkill Creek. The Northkill settlement lay on the edge of the Blue Mountains. At that time this ridge was the legal boundary of European settlement, according to treaties between the British and the Native Americans.

More Amish passengers arrived on the ship Charming Nancy in 1737 and found their way to the Irish Creek and Northkill settlements. These included Jacob Beiler, Christian Burki, Christian Hershberger, Christian Kurtz, Christian Lichti, Jacob Mast, Abraham Miller, Christian Miller, Jacob Miller, Ulrich Spicker, Henry Stehly, and Hans Zimmerman, and their families. The following year the Charming Nancy returned with my ancestor, Jacob Hochstetler, his wife, and 2 young children, among others, to Philadelphia. They were soon established among the earlier arrivals along the Northkill.

During the following decades the Amish continued to settle along the Northkill in increasing numbers. 1742 saw the arrival of Hans Gerber, Hans Gnagi, Jacob Good, Christian Miller, Christian Yoder, Sr., Christian Yoder, Jr., Jacob Yoder, Christian Zook, Johannes Zook, and Moritz Zook. By now the community was large enough to petition the Pennsylvania General Assembly for naturalization rights, which allowed them to purchase land, a right denied Anabaptists in Europe.

In 1744 the families of Christian and Samuel King, Hans Stephen Kurtz, Johannes Snyder, Michael Stuckey, and Yost Yoder expanded the settlement even more. The community welcomed Bishop Jacob Hertzler and his family in 1749, along with the Christian Fisher, Hans Lantz, and Jacob and Joseph Mishler families. Hans Blank, Andreas and Johannes Hooley, John Mast, and Michael Troyer expanded the settlement even more the following year.

According to S. Duane Kauffman in Miffllin County Amish and Mennonite Story, 1791-1991, at its peak the Irish Creek-Northkill community consisted of about 40 Amish families or between 150 and 200 persons, which would have made it the largest Amish settlement in America at that time. In spite of several attacks during the French and Indian War, including the one against my ancestors in 1757, it held that distinction into the 1780s, when it began to decline as families moved farther west in search of better farmland.

Although it existed for a relatively brief period, the Northkill settlement was fundamental in establishing the Amish in North America. It included the forebears of many Amish families, such as the Yoders, Burkeys, Troyers, Hochstetlers, and Hershbergers, and is generally considered to be the mother from which the other eastern Pennsylvania Amish communities sprang.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Taste of New Wine

Ever since finishing the bestselling novel The Shack the other day, I’ve been reflecting on the themes author William P. Young wove through this book. I read that Young isn’t a member of a church, and it occurred to me that more and more often I encounter believers who also have left the organized church. Young says that those who are wounded and damaged cannot find healing there. And in one way or another, all of us fall into that category.

I’ve been a long-time church attender, but in recent years I’ve come to believe that the traditional church—and by that I don’t mean the Body of Christ—is a spent husk. In the centuries since God founded it, the church has wandered far from God’s original purpose. It has added layer upon layer of administrative, organizational, and judicial encrustations, just like all the legalisms the Pharisees of Jesus’ day added to Moses’ Law.

That’s why The Shack, with its unconventional depiction of God and intense discussions of true spirituality, has reached so many people both inside and outside the church. This amazing novel holds more truth than the majority of sermons on a host of Sunday mornings. It offers new wine in fresh wineskins in the same way I’m trying to do through my stories, through One Holy Night, my American Patriot Series, and in my current work-in-progress, Northkill.

No—I’m not trying to do this. God is driving me to do it, just as he’s driving increasing numbers of hungry believers away from what is essentially empty calories so they can feast on true food. That’s why my husband and I also find ourselves pretty much on the outside of the established church. Only authentic spirituality with its total openness to God’s presence results in spiritual power that changes people from the inside out. Only a deep, loving relationship with the Father enables us to love in the same way God does and through that love to bring real heart change to a lost and hurting world.

Organizations are not able to do this. Organizations are by their nature impersonal and inescapably defective because they’re a creation of defective, limited human beings. Organizations cannot reach to the level of the human soul. Only God truly knows each individual’s heart and thus is able to minister true healing. But this is exactly where we humans always go astray. We insist on trying to organize the work of the Holy Spirit of God! We’re deaf to Jesus’ exhortation that the Spirit is like the wind. It moves as God wills and no one can tell where it goes or where it comes from! You can as easily control the wind as you can the true Body of Christ. To attempt to force the Spirit into the channels we think it should follow robs the Church of God’s power and inevitably wreaks destruction by separating human beings from the true Source of all meaning.

Jesus also told us that those who worship the Father must do so in spirit and in truth. Spirit and truth are rarely found in the church today, at least here in the United States. What we find are a multitude of empty activities to keep us busy, along with entertainment to distract us from what’s missing—God’s Spirit and God’s power! Only a relationship with the Creator of the universe can make available to us true love and healing and eternity. Imagine having access to the power Elijah received in 1 Kings 19:8! He ate and drank of the spiritual food given him by the angel, and he ran in its strength for forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God. That same spiritual food is available to all those who serve God!

As I’m writing the stories—truly the vision—that God gives me, I feel that power, that anointing, that breath of the Holy Spirit blowing through me. I pray that these words will reach many readers and accomplish in their hearts and souls everything God wills. They are for his glory, not mine.

As my character Terry says in One Holy Night, “faith isn’t for the times when life is great and everything is going our way. It’s for the times when we’re up against the wall and there aren’t any answers, when it feels like God’s gone AWOL and is nowhere to be found—or at least he isn’t talking to us.”

Have you felt like that recently, my friend? If so, I wish for you that faith that will hold you through the worst life can throw at you and empower you to stand on unshaken rock. If you do not yet know God, or don’t know him in that fullness, I pray you will stop running from the Holy Spirit and allow him to gather you in his arms. Oh, come home to the wholeness and the blessed life God prepared you for from the very foundations of the earth! Drink deep of that Living Water and be healed!

Cross posted on the One Holy Night and American Patriot Series blogs.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Fifth Quinquennial Hochstetler Gathering

Recently I was privileged to present a seminar at the Fifth Quinquennial Hochstetler Family Gathering, held at Bethany Christian School in Goshen, Indiana, on Saturday, August 2, 2008.
This was the first time I’d attended the Gathering, which is hosted every five years by the Jacob Hochstetler Family Association. I've never heard of any families that have a formal organization, so I was kind of amazed when I discovered a few years ago that the Hochstetler family does. The focus of this organization is to promote the heritage of the large and diverse Hochstetler/Hostetler/Hochstedler clan.

I’ve only belonged to JHFA for a few years, so I’m still learning about the extent of the organization’s work and involvements, much of which revolves around genealogical and historical research. However, I’ve already found the quarterly newsletter, edited by Daniel E. Hochstetler, to be a veritable gold mine of helpful information in writing Northkill, the fictional version of our family’s seminal story. Of course, the foundations of my research are the two massive genealogical volumes The Descendents of Jacob Hochstetler (DJH) and The Descendents of Barbara Hochstedler and Christian Stutzman (DBH). Both contain early research done into the history of the immigrant Jacob Hochstetler and his family and include oral traditions and stories passed down from generation to generation.

The Gathering started off on Friday evening at Fair Haven Amish Mennonite Church with a delicious catered dinner, followed by the singing of hymns in German and a presentation by Ervin Stutzman on his experiences in writing his published stories about his mother. The next morning offered a number of workshops related to the history of the 1737 immigrant Jacob Hochstetler, his wife and children, and their descendents as well as the opportunity to work with genealogists to trace individual family trees.

A business meeting of the JHFA and a general meeting followed lunch. A wide variety of research and genealogical books and other materials along with Hochstetler-themed items were available for purchase throughout the day, including prints of the famous painting by artist Sam McCausland of the Indian Tom Lions who was involved in the well-known massacre of several of our family members during the French and Indian War.

My presentation was on writing your family stories as historical fiction, and I decided to turn it into a dialog with participants. In addition to outlining the process of writing Northkill and sharing research materials, I was delighted to hear details of other family member’s work on writing their family stories.

During this day and a half event I became acquainted with relations from all branches of the Hochstetler family I’d never met before and engaged in numerous fascinating conversations. It was a wonderful time of fellowship and sharing our faith and heritage in the heart of Amish country. My husband and I are already looking forward to the next Gathering five years from now!

Photos provided by Daniel L. Hostetler.