Yesterday I preached the morning sermon at a Mennonite church in Hartville, Ohio. That’s the town where I grew up. They’ve asked me to write a history book about the congregation.
At the end of the worship service, we sang, “We will follow, we will follow Jesus, we will follow everywhere he goes.” A simple Zimbabwean traditional tune, the song gave congregants the chance to affirm our desire to be followers of Christ.
The message was entitled “Called to Remember,” and I used Exodus 17:14 for my thoughts. Moses had been called to write down Israel’s stories in order to remember them.
I won’t soon forget the simple affirmation and conclusion in song after I preached. With instruments and congregational voices, we affirmed that we want to follow Jesus everywhere he goes.
We are One in the Spirit reminds us that as Christians work together in love, they can change and positively impact the world. Written in the 1960s, I first learned the song in the early 1970s. I chose to lead this wonderful song as a congregational response song following the sermon yesterday.
The new Voices Together hymnal editors decided to publish this favorite tune, which is not included in many songbooks. The refrain is the strong part of the melody, in which we express that in our love, others will know Christ.
These are days of continual discernment. At the church where I lead music occasionally, we meet outside for worship during the pandemic. We are deliberating on when and in what ways we can use our sanctuary again for worship. And I noticed that the new hymnal editors used inclusive language in the third verse, an appropriate exercise of updating terminology for a different era than when Peter Scholtes wrote the lyrics in 1966.
Not only in matters of discernment, which are ongoing in every generation for the church, but in our outreach must Christ be known in our love. The verses of this song are in a minor key, but the transition to the refrain flashes a major chord, indicative of the strength in this song’s assertion that the world will know Christ through our love.
At a large family reunion in Montezuma, Georgia, in early August 2021, my relatives sang, “This is the day that the Lord has made.” Over two hundred attended the reunion, and folks from many walks of life knew the lyrics from memory. My paternal family came from numerous U.S. states and several countries in Central and South America.
“This is the day” first emerged in the late 1960s and since then has become a very familiar Scripture song. I sang it as a teenager in church and youth group in the early 1970s. The song has endless variations for singing and is easy to accompany with a guitar.
During a Saturday morning reunion in the red soil of central Georgia, our family reunion members took time to sing songs and listen to a devotional. The chorister chose “this is the day” for the first of four songs that we offered to the Lord from memory.
I may never forget the rich four-part a capella harmonies, the enthusiasm of hearing soprano, alto, tenor, and bass, and the meaning carried from the ancient psalmist to our time. Three millennia after a poet wrote Psalm 118:24, we Yoders in Montezuma, Georgia, confessed our assurance in God’s love and sustaining grace through the familiar lyrics of “this is the day that the Lord has made; let us be glad and rejoice in it.”
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.
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.