Travelers on the Road

David Augsburger helped me discover new courage several years ago. Afterward, I understood the Spirit’s presence in our conversation, like an Emmaus road epiphany. David had a remarkable presence when he conversed with me, giving his new friend full attention. As told in the following stories, David walked the mile with three travelers and helped them bear their load in the face of uncertainty, pain, and separation.

1) At the 2019 Mennonite Church USA Convention in Kansas City, Missouri, I saw Dr. Augsburger (1938-2023) in the large delegate assembly hall. I hustled across the room to introduce myself to David. He was friendly, and when I said I was writing a bicentennial history book about the Trissels Mennonite Church, Broadway, Virginia, he fully engaged with me and began telling stories. David’s detailed accounts from fifty-five years earlier came so fast from his incredible memory that I asked him to slow down and give me an interview when I could record his stories.

A year later, during COVID, David came prepared for an hour-long Zoom interview; he was in California, and I was in Virginia. David told me story after story about his formative ministry years in the 1960s as a pastor and radio speaker. He was hired at Trissels Mennonite Church when he was twenty-four, in 1962, serving until 1971. With his low and soothing bass voice and a keen theological mind with the gift of rhetoric, he became the main speaker on The Mennonite Hour radio ministry in 1966, broadcast on over a hundred stations by the end of the ’60s.

After forty-five minutes of listening to David’s pastoral stories, he sensed I was carrying a load of concern in my heart. David encouraged me to talk about being a Mennonite Church USA delegate and the difficulties I was experiencing, and he soon drew upon his professional counseling tools. By the end of the hour, I had been heard, encouraged, blessed, and prayed for. Following the interview, through tears, I realized I had been on the Emmaus road with a traveler who helped me carry the load.

2) In the mid-1960s, Pastor David Augsburger hurried to the house trailer of a depressed and dangerous man who lived near Trissels Mennonite Church. The neighbor occasionally came to church, and David knew the man, but on this day, he sat inside his house with a loaded gun. A neighbor had called Pastor Augsburger, asking if he would help. With a booming voice, David approached the door and announced his arrival. The man inside told him to stay away, but David continued to speak so that he knew David intended to open the door and enter.

When David, about twenty-five, sat down on the sofa in the house, unharmed, he asked why his friend was sitting in the house with a loaded gun. The response was that the man’s wife had left him, and he intended to use the gun on her. At the end of an hour of conversation with David, the man broke down and wept. Then he stood up, took his gun outside, and chopped his gun to pieces. David explained that for this mountain man, his gun was like a right arm, and to destroy it meant a change had taken place. David talked to the man’s wife and got the two together, and he agreed to shape up. David’s courage to open the door and enter, his presence in that house trailer with a loaded gun, his counseling abilities, and his willingness to walk the mile and bear the load defused a dangerous situation.

3) From a man struck with polio early in life, who walked with a limp and a crooked cane, David Augsburger learned that “every person is beautiful in God’s eyes.” David stated that he didn’t learn that truth in seminary but in the bee house of Dan Showalter, the man with polio. Dan tended bee hives at different places around the Trissels Mennonite Church community. One day in 1966, Dan Showalter taught David a lesson he never forgot.

Dan gave David a taste of each kind of honey he raised, and the taste varied depending on where the bees drew their pollen. David learned from the experienced Dan Showalter that each person is unique and special in God’s eyes, just like each variety of sweet honey in Dan’s collection tasted different. But David learned something else that day—that Dan Showalter had a son who had joined the army and was estranged from the Mennonite community. The son had left because of a Mennonite minister who didn’t try to get to know him, so he was gone, in Germany, in the U.S. Army.

David attended the World Congress on Evangelism in 1966, held in Berlin, Germany. David told Dan he wanted to meet his son in the army. When David met the Showalter son at an airport table in Germany, the son began to weep. No pastor had ever cared to get to know him, to find out about his journey, or to walk the mile with him. But in Germany, far from the bee hives of the soldier’s youth, sat David Augsburger, twenty-eight, younger than the Showalter son, and they talked for two hours. David suddenly looked at his watch and realized his airplane would depart in four minutes. They dashed to the gate, and David only made it onto the airplane because Showalter, a U.S. military man, used every advantage he had in Cold War Germany to get David driven by car to the plane, which he boarded.

Like on the Emmaus road, Dr. David Augsburger walked with three travelers, listened to their stories, and helped to carry their load. In God’s eyes, every person is beautiful— a lesson David Augsburger learned in a Rockingham County bee house became his guiding star.