This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written [John 21:24-25].
When you see God’s work, what are you saying? How are you telling that story?
After marrying into the Zehnder family on July 31, 2004, I have learned more about the Zehnder family’s history and lineage. One particular story caught my attention, and I have never forgotten it. It’s the story of how Zach’s great (x6!) Grandpa Johann Zehnder came to the United States from Germany.
The story begins in 1838, when an exhausted pastor named Friederich Wyneken from Fort Wayne, IN, wrote to Germany for help. He had been making mission trips to Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan and wanted to see pastors established in the immigrant communities and to the Native Americans. (Someone in ministry feeling maxed out? What a novel concept!)
The letter worked. A young pastor named Loehe stepped up as missionary pastor to Michigan, taking six single men and four young women with him. These people committed to being part of a missionary congregation in Michigan by serving the Indians and their fellow immigrants by supporting the pastor and by demonstrating a Christian life.
What boldness! What courage! What faithfulness! Surely these young people would need support at home to complete this daring adventure. You would imagine the congregations in Germany, and the Mission Society would be delighted and offer their unconditional support and encouragement.
But it didn’t exactly go that way.
In 1844, The Mission Society of Rosstal, Germany, who responded to Pastor Wyneken’s letter, put the following notes in their minutes:
What the result will be of the intentions of some members of our community to become a part of a mission congregation among the pagan Indians in the state of Michigan, only time will tell. Who knows how many illusions are at play here and how many of these folks are really motivated by sincere motives? In private conversations, they were warned about their dreaming concerning America.
Time will tell?
Illusions? Insincere motives? Warnings in private conversations?
Keep in mind, THESE WERE THE MISSION-MINDED FOLKS. This wasn’t some random uncle or aunt or neighbor. This was the heart of outreach in the church. At best, they were skeptical. At worst, disbelieving naysayers.
Despite the warnings and mistrust, the small group went anyway and arrived at the settlement after months of travel. They called it Frankenmuth, meaning “ the courage of the Franconians.” A second group would arrive less than a year later, including a young couple named Johann and Margaretha Zehnder, their three-year-old Johann Jr., and an infant, Katrine. Johann Zehnder’s family would become prominent in their congregation, politics, the restaurant industry (check out Zehnder’s Chicken Restaurant, who serves more chicken dinners than any single restaurant in the country), and in their communities.
But, what if those young people had listened to the warnings? What if they had started questioning their own motives and illusions? What if the stern warnings of “time will tell,” scared them into backing out?
Before I throw this mission society under the bus, I’ll be the first to raise my hand in the guilty party. I’m not always the first one on the bus to a crazy adventure. Not only that, but when others do step up to do bold things, I am the “what if” gal. Now, everyone needs the “what if” people. After all, the details need to be flushed out. But the problem comes when those questions rise out of pessimism and fear instead of discernment and love.
The bottom line is God is moving. He’s moving at the Asbury Revival. The story is still being written. God is the same God today. He wrote His story through humble witnesses.
- A few shepherds celebrated Jesus’s birth, and we still read about them today.
- Some raggamuffin teenagers followed Jesus’s call, and we still know their names.
- Grieving women appeared at the tomb and were the first to behold His glory.
- A faithful church still lifts high the cross, and a peace that passes all understanding guards their hearts.
He moved in the heart of Pastor Wyneken when he humbly wrote home, asking for help. He moved in the hearts of bold and crazy people, willing to step out. He moved a young couple from their home to a new and foreign land.
Johann Stephan Zehnder was not poor, he was not at odds with the government, avoiding military service, or seeking fame. He went to Frankenmuth, MI, to serve God as a living example of Christianity to the Native Americans.
Not everyone is called to get on that boat like those young people, but you tell a story of God’s goodness daily. The second your heart beat for the first time, your story began. As a Christian, you are writing a story, too. You aren’t just writing your story; you are writing our story. The story of the church. The story has been written since the beginning and continues with you.
Time HAS told. It has told the story of Jesus that carries on here and now: on football fields, from pulpits, in hospital beds, and from jail cells, the gospel is shared. The results are out, and time has told us that Jesus reigns.
The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor [Matthew 11:5].
Challenge: Encourage those called to do brave things. Get behind someone who is doing something really hard, and help. Write down the miracles in your life and tell them to someone. Get up, look up, stand up, and lift up the cross.