Lucy F. Simms

The grave marker for Lucy F. Simms (1856-1934) in the Newtown Cemetery, Harrisonburg, Va. Lucy Simms taught school in Harrisonburg for 58 years without missing a day. Lucy Simms was born into slavery, made her way to Hampton Institute for her training, and then taught three generations of students in Newtown, in the northeast section of Harrisonburg. After reading a new biography about Lucy Simms, I decided to pay my respects to this long-term and highly respected educator.

Working During a Pandemic

I try to light a candle in the darkness whenever I can, even in my work. Perhaps especially in my work. The apostle Peter wrote that we’ve been called out of darkness into God’s wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9). So what’s my work, and what’s this light?

My day job is teaching high school students world history and the Bible. Today, I’ll meet 19 bright and eager juniors in AP World History Modern. It’s the most academic driven course I teach, with a national College Board curriculum. In that world history curriculum, I tell stories of saints, missionaries, and those who spoke for the downtrodden and oppressed. Today I’ll tell the story of Bartolome de Las Casas, a 16th-century Dominican friar who worked in the Caribbean, challenging the Spanish government to stop the brutal enslavement of indigenous peoples and slaves.

My work is also to collaborate and work with the faculty at my high school. These are my friends, my cohorts, and colleagues. They encourage me, give me insights, and help me to laugh at kids and life. Recently I was invited to share a Christmas devotional with the entire K-12 faculty and staff at EMS.

This fall, I worked to help bring a little light to a food pantry near Washington, D.C. Capital Christian Fellowship needed more food boxes, and so the National Honor Society students and sponsors, of which I am one, engineered a food drive to fill 80 boxes. It was fun to see them loaded on a pickup truck and driven to the church.

Another element of my ongoing work is to produce a quarterly journal, Shenandoah Mennonite Historian. The next issue features the Show Towel of a young Mennonite bride from Rockingham County, Va., who made a beautiful work of art for her groom to be. The date on the Show Towel is 1826.

My work, flowing out of the apostle Peter’s writing, is to declare the praises of God, who called me out of darkness into his marvelous light.

My work includes writing a Trissels Mennonite Church bicentennial history book. I spoke recently at a Virginia State historical marker sign dedication at Trissels Road and Route 42, Rockingham County, Va. Seventh generation descendants of the earliest Mennonite settlers to the Linville Creek attended the event on a blustery Sunday afternoon in November 2020. The sign, describing Trissels’ bicentennial, marks the first in a series of celebratory events over the next two years.

A Sacrifice of Praise Album

Cast Down Your Cares, a song by John Michael Talbot, recorded on “A Sacrifice of Praise” album, 1986, by Joy & Elwood Yoder
Holy Spirit Thou Art Welcome, a song written by David Huntsinger and Dottie Rambo, recorded on “A Sacrifice of Praise” album, 1986, by Joy & Elwood Yoder
The Lord is Risen, a song by C. P. Mudd, recorded on “A Sacrifice of Praise” album, 1986, by Joy & Elwood Yoder
We Will Glorify, a song by Twila Paris, recorded on “A Sacrifice of Praise” album, 1986, by Joy & Elwood Yoder
Mary’s Boy Child, by Jester Hairston, recorded and sung by Elwood and Joy Yoder on “A Sacrifice of Praise” album, 1986

The Lord is My Light

On October 20, 2019, I led music at church and we sang “The Lord is My Light,” from Sing the Journey songbook. I like the lyrics of the song and of course, we sang this in the pre-COVID era. Maybe you will learn to like this song as I do.

“The Lord is My Light,” Sing the Journey #97

Rain down your love

For the June 14, 2020, online church service that we attend, I mixed two musical tracks for the congregation. The first song I ever mixed with multiple voices, in this online era, was “Rain Down,” by Jaime Cortez, as found in Sing the Journey songbook, #49. Rain down your love on your people, God of life!

“Rain Down,” from Sing the Journey, #49, with a mix of congregational voices for the June 14, 2020, online service of Zion Mennonite Church, Broadway, Va.

What I learned from teaching online

I Can Do This: On my desk is a generous stack of affirmation cards from my students at the end of a difficult semester of online instruction. Without warning, on-campus classes were suspended, and we went online beginning March 17, 2020. For eleven weeks, I taught five courses, with eighty-five students, in a distance learning environment. I can do this new style of instruction.

I Prefer the Classroom: Education that works mostly requires human interaction and dialogue. While I can teach history and Bible classes online, it’s the classroom setting that drew me to the profession in the first place. I much prefer a live classroom setting where I can encourage, direct, and instruct. History is a series of stories that need to be told through a human voice, not the pixels of an idle screen. I much prefer teaching in-person to online.

The Future Will Not be Like the Past: At the end of this semester, June 7, 2020, it is clear that the future of education will not be like it has been in the past. At our school, we are prepared to teach on campus or online, at a moment’s notice. Education at the high school level has changed fundamentally, such that to say we’ll go back to “normal” won’t work. We don’t know what the future holds, but teachers will still be needed, whether online or in cyberspace.

Teaching history and Bible classes at Eastern Mennonite High School, Harrisonburg, Virginia, March 25, 2020

Cast Out Your Net

“Cast Out Your Net,” an original song by Elwood Yoder, from the 2003 Daphna Creek Gospel Band recording

In Luke 5, we read the story of disciples whom Christ asked to put out into the deep. There, Jesus, told them, they should let down their nets for a catch. When they indeed made a very large catch, they were astonished. We are encouraged to move into the deep water in life, put down our nets, and then acknowledge the one who makes us fishers of people.

Naomi R. Francisco (1935-2020)

When Naomi Francisco got married in 1956, she did not want to be involved in church or anything religious. She did not want to marry anyone who would preach and be active in the church like her father. After several years of marriage, however, and the birth of three sons, Naomi’s husband stopped drinking alcohol and going to clubs to dance the night away. With her husband’s changed life, the Holy Spirit gave Naomi new purpose to fully support his pastoral ministries.

In 1966, Leslie W. Francisco II received ordination in the Virginia Mennonite Conference. Naomi worked actively with Leslie in a Mennonite church plant in Newport News, Virginia. Naomi taught Sunday school and Vacation Bible School, directed the children’s choir, led prayer meetings and women’s activities, and helped in any way needed in the church.

When Nelson Burkholder stepped aside as minister of Calvary Mennonite Church in 1973, Naomi’s husband became the lead minister of the VMC congregation. The church became charismatic, including speaking in tongues, energetic music, weekly altar calls, and testimonies. The church held street meetings in Newport News and grew in numbers, but Leslie Francisco II developed a vision to plant a church near their home in Hampton, some miles away.

Both in Newport News and then at Calvary Community Church in Hampton, Naomi became the spiritual Mother of the congregation. Whether to her growing Francisco family, or the large crowds that came for weekly worship, Naomi was affectionately known as “Grandma” to some and “Mother” to others. Her sparkling eyes, beautiful smile, bubbly personality, hearty laughter, and generous nature warmed the hearts of many. Naomi encouraged many children in the Calvary Christian Academy that met in the church. She came into their classrooms and offices with special treats and words of wisdom for Christian living.

In 1985, Naomi and Leslie moved their ministries to Hampton and established the Calvary Community Church. After Leslie was ordained bishop in the Warwick District of Virginia Conference, the church planter couple traveled to Ames, Iowa, for the 1985 Mennonite Church General Assembly. There, the Mennonite Board of Missions gave Bishop Leslie and Naomi Francisco the James and Rowena Lark award, for their significant work in evangelism and church development. The mantle of leadership at Calvary Community Church in Hampton passed to Naomi’s son Leslie Francisco III in 1986 when her husband’s health forced him to step aside.

At Naomi’s large funeral service at Calvary on February 12, 2020, Naomi’s granddaughter, Calvary Pastor Lesley Francisco McClendon delivered the message. A host of bishops and ministers attended Naomi’s funeral service. Also in attendance were Hampton officials, including the Hampton Mayor and Hampton Councilman Steven Brown, a former minister at Calvary Community Church.

Naomi Francisco was the co-founder of Calvary Community Church, the matriarch of her community, and loved by many. With regional political officials in attendance at Naomi’s funeral, it is not surprising that the Virginia State Senate passed Resolution No. 39, February 27, 2020, that recognized the accomplishments of Naomi Rowe (Taylor) Francisco.

Naomi R. Francisco (1935-2020) Photo from Calvary Community Church

This article published in Pathways, of Virginia Mennonite Conference, Spring 2020 issue, page 13