Fanny Crosby’s great hymn God of Our Strength expresses the Christian’s confidence in divine inspiration and hope for daily living. God’s strength comes to us as the source of life and the fount of love.
In the assurance of God’s love and infilling Holy Spirit, we can draw strength for the living of our lives. God’s power is enthroned above yet available to humans as the very source of our living.
For this strength, we wait on God, our sure defense in whatever life brings our way. God is our fount of love, and may our devotion’s sacred flame awaken our souls to praise God’s name.
God of our strength, on thee we call, God of our hope, our light our all; thy name we praise, they love adore, our rock, our shield, forevermore. This hope in God’s strength is the Christian’s prayer, hope, inspiration, and bedrock assurance.
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.
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.
When the Dry Fork River, W.Va., rose to record levels in
November 1985, the Riverside Mennonite Church flooded, and the church suffered
much damage. Randolph County, W.Va. got over a foot of rain in two days, and the
40-50 Riverside members needed help to clean up and fix their building.
At flood stage, the meetinghouse and parking lot, three miles
north of Harman, W.Va., were in danger of being swept away by the roiling
river. Water came up to the window sills, and the benches floated inside. What
probably saved the building was a large number of trees that floated against
the building and kept the structure intact.
The Shenandoah Valley Mennonite Disaster Service organization
responded immediately, but not until roads were passable were volunteers
allowed to begin cleaning up in the area of Riverside church. After that,
volunteers went to the Harman area to help. Students from EMHS and EMC went out
by the van load to help clean up and fix up. One group of EMHS students pulled piles
of dead turkeys from a field, some of which had already partially decayed.
From 1932-2017, Riverside Mennonite Church had been a part of
the Middle District (later Central) of the Virginia Mennonite Conference. The
Middle District Council authorized a generous donation to help in renovating
and rebuilding. The church ordered new hymnals, new pews, a new rug, replaced
some aluminum siding, and needed significant dozer work on the parking lot. Riverside
pastors Joe Mininger and Woodie Sites waited a month before calling Sunday
morning services again. Volunteers Paul and Nancy Showalter gave substantial
time and energy in leading the renovation efforts.
By August 1987, the church’s renovations were complete, with a new kitchen, Sunday school rooms, and indoor toilets. The building project was finished debt-free, and a celebration service took place at the church on August 30, 1987. A church bulletin from that era carried the banner “Spared for a Purpose.” It took the concerted efforts of MDS resources, local help, community volunteers, and young people from Harrisonburg to help Riverside Mennonite Church recover from the devastating flood of 1985.
In 1952, Samuel O. Weaver’s high
school English teacher insisted that he learn how to diagram a sentence. Sam saw
no need to learn how to diagram a sentence, and he told A. Grace Wenger, his
EMS teacher, that he intended to return to Newport News and milk cows for his
brother. She replied to Sam that he didn’t know where the Lord would call him
and that he should learn how to diagram a sentence. Sam graduated from high
school, college, and earned a Master’s Degree, though sixty-seven years later,
in a 2019 interview, Sam laughed and admitted that he still does not know how
to diagram a sentence!
In spite of not being able to
diagram a sentence, God used Sam in a mighty way during his twelve years as
principal of EMHS, 1969-1981. A. Grace Wenger was right—Sam didn’t know where
God would lead him or in what capacity he would serve the church. It was in the
late 1960s that Sam was called to lead Eastern Mennonite High School as it
sought to become independent from Eastern Mennonite College.
Dr. Myron Augsburger, President of
EMC, needed a high school principal with financial and marketing skills. So he
hired Sam Weaver to head the high school in 1969. To lead the high school, Sam needed
training in education, and he enrolled in a Master’s program at James Madison
University. In the meantime, Weaver relied on dependable teachers already
working at EMHS, like James Rush, David Mumaw, Lois Janzen, Harvey Yoder,
Marvin Miller, Ron Koppenhaver, Gloria Lehman, Esther Augsburger, Sam Strong, and
Vivian Beachy. In 1977, Sam hired Ernest Martin to develop the academic program
at the school. Knowing little about academics, Sam acknowledges that “Ernie
saved my hide,” by establishing increased trust and reputation in the community
for curriculum at the high school.
In the fifteen-year process of
creating an independent high school, Dorothy Shank ably chaired the EMHS Board,
1974-1981. In an era when few women served as leaders in the Mennonite church,
Dorothy prayed about the decision, and then said she would help the school as
the first woman chair of the Board. It was Dorothy, in an interview, who stated
that we all stand on someone else’s shoulders and that it is important to
recognize God’s faithfulness in launching a strong and independent EMHS in the
Eastern Mennonite School began as a
high school in 1917, but it soon added junior college classes. When the junior
college grew into a four-year program and earned accreditation in 1947, it
created an identity problem for the high school. By the early 1960s, with
enrollment growth in the college, visionaries in Virginia Mennonite Conference
got busy and built a separate building for the high school in Park View, first
used in 1964. Over Christmas break in 1963-1964, students and teachers picked
up books from the college library and moved them to the new high school campus
nearby on Parkwood Drive.
A few years after the high school
moved into its new building, the EMC Board wanted the high school division to
support itself, and according to the college’s business office, EMHS was
operating at a deficit. In 1967, according to EMC accounting methods, the high
school deficit was over $69,000. The Executive Committee of the EMC Trustees,
which presided over the high school, asked the high school to balance its
budget within five years. With Sam Weaver at the helm of the high school, the
school reached a balanced budget by 1973. While Sam was the Principal, he gives
credit to people like Daniel Bender, Dwight Wyse, Shirley J. Yoder, and Glendon
Blosser for helping to set the financial ship of the school in good standing.
The years of Sam Weaver’s
leadership at EMHS, 1969-1981, were tumultuous years in the United States, with
the Vietnam War, an era of rebellion and protest for youth, and rising
inflation driven by rising oil prices. Still, students kept coming to EMHS,
from as far away as Pigeon, Michigan, Sarasota, Florida, the Tidewater region
of Virginia, and northeast Ohio. By 1977 the high school had 277 students, with
a waiting list. Sam’s Christian education philosophy relies on ownership of a
student’s education from the home, the church, and the Christian school.
Students tested Sam’s leadership, to be sure, but the school grew in many ways
and earned its charter in 1982.
Dorothy Shank remembers that during
her tenure as Board Chair in the late 1970s she worried when good teachers left
EMHS for other positions. She prayed God would send the school good replacement
teachers. She especially worried when Marvin Miller, an outstanding music
teacher, 1966-1981, left EMHS. “But,” Dorothy rejoiced in the interview, “God
brought in Jay Hartzler,” another exceptional music teacher.
In a 2019 interview with Sam Weaver
and Dorothy Shank, they noted the excellent support for the high school from
Virginia Mennonite Conference churches in the 1970s. Sam visited Districts and
churches and encouraged support. Consequently, churches in Virginia Conference
stepped up and supported their high school, through a Congregational Aid Plan
formulated by Glendon Blosser. Sam notes the way Conference Districts sent
delegates to the Board meetings, like Robert Mast from Chesapeake, Va., and Ike
Oberholtzer from Newport News. In return, the EMHS Touring Choir began a spring
circuit of singing in many of the supporting churches, leading them in worship
Programs and buildings seemed to
spring up in the 1970s, attracting many students to attend. The school built a
new fine arts addition in 1972, and while Dorothy Shank served as Board Chair,
the school added a gymnasium, finished in 1976. In Park School, a former public
school located next door to the high school that EMHS used as early as the
1960s, the high school set up an Industrial Arts program and Art program. The
college set aside rooms for high school students in Maplewood dorm, and to the
present has not charged for the use of Lehman Auditorium for the annual high
Dorothy Shank remembers that the
tone of moving toward separation was tense at times, but by 1982 the two
schools went different directions on amicable terms. And Sam Weaver, the
balding principal who established the financial and church-based foundations
for the school, decided it was time for him to move on. In 2019, an EMHS faculty
member publicly recognized Sam at the annual National Honor Society Induction,
when his granddaughter, Julie Weaver, joined the society. As Principal during
the 1970s, Sam had signed all of the Honor Society documents.
It is not by our power, as Dorothy
asserted, but by God’s grace and faithfulness, that EMHS moved toward
independence from the college in the 1970s. There had been those at the college
who entertained ideas on what to do with the building should the program be
discontinued. With good leadership, EMHS became a viable church school, a
process that began in the 1960s and culminated with a charter in 1982.
In God’s mercy, when I crashed on my bicycle, I fell away
from the busy highway and into the guard rail. On a Saturday ride for exercise,
March 30, 2019, I fell and broke three ribs, bruised a lung, and suffered a
dozen cuts and bruises, but God spared my life. New rumble strips on a familiar
road surprised me and took me down within seconds.
In God’s mercy, the two cars following right behind me both
stopped. One woman whom I didn’t know laid hands on me and prayed aloud, while
the other called 911. Within a minute, a sheriff stopped and kept me propped
between the steel guardrail and his leg to prevent me from falling or
collapsing into the four-lane highway.
In God’s mercy, a former student served as my nurse in the ER
and a doctor whose children I teach reassured me but said it would be 4-6 weeks
until I healed. My ER doc, a very recent medical school grad, thought she saw
7-8 broken ribs and a punctured lung, and with too much trauma for the local
hospital to handle, she sent me by ambulance to UVA Hospital.
In God’s mercy, I received excellent care in Charlottesville,
Va., though on a Saturday night, with the University of Virginia in a March Madness
basketball game, and patients in the ER in much worse shape than me, I waited.
Eighteen difficult hours after the accident, alone in my room, I stopped the
young doc who came on her 8:00 AM shift. I asked for answers and clarity on my
injuries. She halted her usual routine and talked to me, showing me broken
ribs, #6, #8, and #9. I had a bruised lung, she reported, not a punctured lung.
In a revelation of how small the world is, I discovered that my remarkably
skilled first-year resident doc is an older sister to one of my World History students
In God’s mercy, my wife, family, and close church friends have
taken great care of me. I’ve been through intense pain and night-time discouragement
about how I landed in such a helpless predicament. Bones heal, however, and in
God’s miraculous mercy, internal pain slowly subsides.
In God’s mercy, students came to visit me in my living room. From
my sofa, they extended kind words, laughter, and a song that I shall never
forget—their presence, like that of angels, encouraged me to get well so I
could return to my classroom. In God’s mercy, I work at a school with
supportive administrators and colleagues who care about me. Many people rallied
around me in my time of need — these gifts I acknowledge as flowing from God’s
abundant mercy. Seven weeks later, in God’s mercy, I am mostly healed and back
to regular work patterns.
I like Abram’s
response when God offered him a covenant (Genesis 15:1-18). Abram’s fear and
questions grew into faith and led to an elaborate sacrifice. Abram’s openness
to the promptings of God demonstrates how to live into our Lenten journeys. I
had a God appearance years ago in the holy land, though not nearly as dramatic
as Abram’s theophany.
As a young
man, I volunteered for four weeks of work at Nazareth Hospital. I had dropped
out of college after my freshman year, and three Mennonite buddies and I
traveled for six months throughout the Middle East and Europe. We were on our
own with almost no communication home for the entire time.
afternoon at Nazareth Hospital, we Mennonite guys, five British fellows, and
four Arab nurses took a walk to see Mt. Tabor, the traditional site of the
Transfiguration. Young men from the local community confronted us and did not
like seeing single Brits and Americans escorting Arab female nurses on a long
walk. It stirred my anger, and though we got through that uncomfortable event
without incident, it took all of my restraint and nonresistance teachings to
refrain from pushing back.
experienced Holy Spirit transformation while working at the international
Nazareth Hospital, visiting Mennonite missionaries in Israel, taking a trip into
the Sinai, and camping along the Red Sea. I had been seeking God’s leading in
my life, uncertain that I would ever reenroll in my Mennonite college back
home. In the womb of supportive Christian leaders in Israel, travels around the
country, and a revelation I received while camping on the sands of the Red Sea
coast, I was transformed. That revelation of faith pointed me back toward
Virginia to finish college, which I did.
This year, a
day before Ash Wednesday, a student asked me if I had considered giving up
anything for Lent. I hadn’t, though, by that evening, I sensed an inner nudge
to give up recorded music. Giving up my music is a big deal. I listen to music
in my study when I research, write, and grade papers. I turn on the radio in my
Jeep when I drive around town, and I listen to favorite tunes when I exercise.
I’ve given up recorded music for Lent, though not live music; my life has suddenly
turned much quieter and more reflective. It’s through a new lens that I read the
gospel narrative describing how the devil tempted Jesus for forty days in the
wilderness (Luke 4:1-2).
To respond to the promptings of faith, I think, means accepting change, remaining open to new ideas, living into creative possibilities, and taking untraveled paths. It’s exciting to stay open to the promptings of faith, to see what new roads lie ahead, and to receive grace-filled blessings, like God’s covenant offered to Abram so many years ago.