College Travelers 1978

In the late 1970s, two EMC roommates from northeast Ohio worked through college using typewriters for their papers, dabbing on white-out for mistakes, and opening a wooden card catalog cabinet in the library to find books. They attended local Mennonite churches during their time in Harrisonburg. Of 1005 undergraduates in 1978, thirty-one percent came from Virginia. EMC sent the roommates to the Mennonite Church Assembly at Estes Park, Colorado, to perform Jesus-people-style folk music with their guitars in a Mennonite youth coffeehouse in the summer of 1977. Sixty-three percent of the men’s classmates at EMC were Mennonite.[1]

The men grew restless, however. One needed a break from academics, and the other resisted the progressive Bible instruction he received at EMC, laced with peace and justice themes that made him uncomfortable and upset. EMC President Augsburger’s global travels were legendary as he spoke in many locations worldwide. In an era of globalization, when people could travel on airlines to distant countries and cultures grew increasingly interconnected, the two young men dropped out of college and, from January to June 1978, traveled through fifteen countries in the Middle East and Europe. With two additional Mennonite men, also of college age and no cell phones or professors with them, they set their traveling itinerary from day to day.[2]

The late seventies were the years of the highest undergraduate enrollment at EMC. Both men were in the May 14, 1980, chapel when Dr. Augsburger was honored by the students for fifteen years as college president. Ordained in the Virginia Conference, Augsburger spoke in many locations in North America and on other continents. Enrollment doubled during this tenure, 1965-1980. In the chapel, Augsburger pulled a rope to conduct a prank the students affectionately set up for him since he had dealt with pranks in chapel during his presidency. Confetti, balloons, and rice cascaded onto the cheering, appreciative, and packed Lehman Auditorium crowd. A student directed a rousing rendition of “606,” a hymn from The Mennonite Hymnal. That chapel may have been one of the high moments of college life at EMC during the twentieth century.

Samuel Augsburger (left), Dave Ramer, Elwood Yoder, and Jesse Martin, Madrid Spain, 1978

But the men could not run from Myron Augsburger even when they dropped out of college. During an era of globalization, Egyptians greeted the men with open arms, seeking to practice their English during negotiations for the Camp David Middle East Peace Accords of 1978. When the men sang in a Baptist choir on Easter Sunday, March 1978, far from Harrisonburg in the Garden Tomb, Jerusalem, Israel, they wore frayed bell-bottom blue jeans, their best flannel shirts, and had grown long hair. Everything they needed to travel with was in the bottom half of their backpacks. In the front row of the Garden Tomb crowd of approximately 2000 observers, the men were surprised to see Dr. Myron Augsburger, with two EMC professors and eighty alums gathered for the program.[3] In the next several years, EMC developed an intercultural program for their students and, in the early ’80s, called their revised curriculum the Global Village.

[1] Samuel Augsburger and Elwood Yoder roomed together at Eastern Mennonite College in the late 1970s. They both graduated from EMC in 1981.

[2] Jesse Martin and David Ramer traveled with Augsburger and Yoder.

[3] Dr. Augsburger traveled with Professors Herbert Swartz, Jay Landis, and a group of alumni from March 21 to April 6, 1978.

Lincoln’s Legacy

Just over four years ago, I served as one of the Eastern Mennonite High School faculty sponsors on a trip with over forty of our seniors to Washington, D.C. For three days in October 2016, students and teachers toured the capital. A highlight of the trip was visiting the Lincoln Memorial, seen here with my students. I like this photo because the future belongs to them. Lincoln called for and wrote about unity in the country, and he wrote that a country divided against itself cannot long stand. While Lincoln had his faults, he nevertheless continues to inspire me to work toward unity in this country.

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.