We spent the last weekend in the traditional setting of Holmes County Ohio, where over 80% of the whole county’s population belongs to some sort of Anabaptist faith community (Amish, Mennonite, Beachy, etc). This is the first part of our journey, “In pursuit of God stories, stories of community and a good cup of Coffee.” As we begin to lay the vision and plans for The Community Haus, we have found it important to see what is working elsewhere, what God is doing in faith communities across the United States and what do we identify with as a Missional community in Lancaster City. So, while this trip was part of a family trip, to catch up together, it also had a few other perspectives we were looking to gain, through our time there.
Obviously, our work schedules are very different. I work afternoons and nights, while Katie works mornings and afternoons. So we had also looked forward to this community from the perspective of a family, getting to do this journey together. We had chosen Holmes County Ohio for so many reasons. First off, Holmes County is probably one of the most simple and plain senses of the practice of Anabaptist faith communities. Also, Katie also found that she had Mennonite family who settled there before moving further west to the Bluffton Ohio area. We also wanted to see what ‘Anabaptist experiences’ were happening in their area, as we look forward to opening The Local Volk, a project bringing the Anabaptist story to life. What many people also don’t know, is that the Spirit is moving in so many ways in these plainer faith communities. I am constantly coming across stories of Amish individuals experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit, others leaving for a love affair with Jesus and stories of more conservative Mennonites focusing on missionally addressing their urban neighbors. Over all, we were in pursuit of God stories, stories of community and a good cup of Coffee.
We left really early Friday morning, after picking up our car from Enterprise. We took the turnpike for the sheer ease of the trip, traveling with our young daughter. We ended up stopping at the Sideling Hill Pennsylvania Turnpike Rest-Stop to enjoy some fast-food on-the-go, some delicious Popeyes Chicken together. We enjoyed seeing the snow still covering the Mountains of Western Pennsylvania, where it had completely melted back in Lancaster Pennsylvania. Naomi is a real road tripper and didn’t mind the six and half hour drive at all. She enjoyed the tunnels under the Western Mountains. We bypassed Pittsburgh and stopped for a little family walk through The Seven Ranges in Eastern Ohio, along side the Ohio river. Part of the water was frozen and Naomi became truly giddy and overjoyed to see the simplest thing to me, a lonely Canadian goose walking out on the frozen ice. We took the time to throw rocks against the ice and allow Naomi to try a slight traverse with the ice.
Before too long we were back on the road and made it in great time to our hotel in the small community of Walnut Creek Ohio. Walnut Creek is a very plain town – that doesn’t even accurately describe it. We were surprised to learn that there are over eight main sects of the Amish church in that area. It also was surprising that the tourism places, while such such a smaller scale than what we are used to in Lancaster, was rather embraced by the community rather than avoided. We unpacked into the hotel and walked around Walnut Creek, noticing the differences in our living styles and the Amish Buggy and Dress. We ended up eating a beautiful dinner at ‘Der Dutchman of Walnut Creek‘, which was frequented by many other Anabaptist Brethren including Andy Weaver Amish and Swartzentruber Amish. I had some of the most delicious Liver and Onions that I have had in a long time. We also explored their Bakery, coming home with some very thick Chocolate Chip Cookies. As we explored the center of Walnut Creek, we found a ‘misc’ store that calls an abandoned Grocery store home and an Antique Store ran by what I believe were Andy Weaver Amish. Walnut Creek only features Der Dutchman, The Bakery, 3 Primitive/Tourist Stores, 1 Gas Station, Common Grounds Cafe, Rachael’s Bistro, Antique Store, The Misc Goods Store, a Wood crafts store and a Choclate store. Very small. Local tourist stores like Strasburg make this town seem big. Many of it’s side roads were unpaved or packed down stone. We bought Naomi a wooden baby cradle from the Antique store for a whole $5.
Naomi’s first night in the hotel was a little rough, sleeping in a new place was awkward for her. She enjoyed her huge bed and having a TV with cable (We don’t have cable). However, the comfort of mom and dad were needed and after some discussion on vision casting, some playing with her toys – we all passed out in the same bed. In the morning we enjoyed a good breakfast in our hotel, the ‘Inn at Walnut Creek’. We then drove to the Berlin area to see something high on our list to experience and see, ‘Behalt‘. Behalt is the main feature of the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center of Berlin. Behalt is a 10′ by 275′ Circular Mural telling the stories and history of our Anabaptist Heritage. Our tour through the ‘Mural’ was led by a Beachy Amish individual who really knew his history. We also talking to him for a little bit, took the tour and then explored an old Amish School, a historic Barn and watched a movie on the history of the Mennonite and Amish in Holmes County. I could have done without the video, as it was certainly aimed at the English tourist, but I ended up buying a mug and print of this beautiful work of art called ‘Behalt’. We took many pictures, in case you’re interested in seeing it.
After Behalt, we had chosen to explore the even smaller town of Mt Hope, literally just a stone’s throw from Berlin. Mt Hope has a Post Office, a Hardware Store, Mini-Mart and a Livestock Auction. Besides that, it has one of the most authentic places to eat, Mrs. Yoder’s Kitchen. We went in here for lunch and enjoyed a Smorgasbord meal for just $10. Maybe in Tourist season there are more English here, but primarily the patron clientele was all conservative Anabaptist and Amish. We had now had a great cup of coffee and a great idea of what the foundational background was for most of the area and it’s faith communities.
After lunch we explored downtown Berlin, being a tourist and seeing what the stores had to offer. We enjoyed the Share and Care Thrift Store (Mennonite Central Committee), Used Bookstore and the German Village Grocery store the most. The town was very muddy and dirty. We also explored the bigger downtown of Millersburg, which didn’t interest us at all. We went back to the hotel to relax a little and continue some of our discussions with eachother and others, vision casting for The Community Haus and to debrief our ideas. We stopped at Hillcrest Orchard, for our families weakness, unpasteurized Apple Cider and Chex Puppy Chow. We took some time to explore the hillsides and then finally rested at the hotel. We seemed to meet people everywhere we went, but nothing matched the next meeting we would encounter.
As we rested at the hotel for awhile, we had decided to leave the hotel, find somewhere to eat that we could really get into a conversation with some locals. It was at this point, when we were about to sit in our car, I hear someone yell out, ‘Are you the ones we are supposed to meet‘? I had a friend tell me we should try to meet with Nelson, so I had dropped him an email before leaving, but we never heard from him and didn’t have internet in the hotel. However, Nelson waited outside the hotel to meet us (as he was helping a friend with a place to stay, ironically at the same hotel we were in). To give you some background, Nelson is an overtly energetic guy, who left the Amish church in his home town of Shipshewana Indiana. The friend he was helping with a place to stay, who I will not name, had just left and was shunned from an ultra-conservative Amish sect up north. She was in the process of entering life without her Amish community, completely shunned and brutally disowned, however with a deep desire to follow some things the Holy Spirit at done in her lives and madly in love with Jesus, pursuing to find him without the baggage. It was at this point, we knew it was the perfect opportunity for story-time. Actually, we all ended up heading to Mrs Yoder’s again for the night buffet, which included some of my home favorites, chow-chow, hamloaf and more. It wasn’t long to we realized, that even though we were different, we were both driven and had so much similar in our spirit. If you know me, you know I love to hear people’s stories and I love to share mine. As we all engaged in conversation (which Naomi loved them) we were joined in by some neighboring Andy Weaver Amish families sitting around us. A few hour conversation engaged everything from the Kingdom of God, to Lancaster, Sight & Sound and to how the Amish community was juggling their thoughts on Amish Mafia TV Show. It was one of the main highlights of the weekend. Great stories, great ideas of community and great coffee with laughs.
We got gas at the only Gas station in Walnut Creek and on the way back and after a walk around Walnut Grove, finishing our exploration of the Antique store and looking at the horses in the fields and on the road. By this time Naomi and Katie crashed. I hadn’t had cell phone coverage in days, since AT&T has no towers in the area. I ended up driving to New Philadelphia Ohio (17 miles away) for Phone coverage and to buy a new iPhone charger. I was able to answer a few emails, meet a few people in the passing and get my messages.
Sunday morning we packed up and checked out after Breakfast. We took a walking trail around Walnut Creek and then Nelson Miller and his friend, met with us again, and we followed them to Church. We ended up going to Christian Life Mennonite Church in Beach City Ohio, at Nelson’s suggestion. We felt right at home and it reminded us a lot of our time at Dayspring Mennonite Church. Christian Life Mennonite Church is part of the Biblical Mennonite Alliance. We encountered a few people there, including our new friend Joe, who is doing big things through coffee importing. Check out Better Life Coffee, for more information.
After church we continued our engaging conversation at Nelson Miller’s five bedroom farmhouse among the beautiful hills. After a great lunch, we were starting to head home and wanted to stop on the way through Sugarcreek Ohio, which often is nicknamed the ‘Little Switzerland of Ohio’. Sugarcreek is a beautiful small downtown of buildings that resemble the early Canton of Switzerland, whose inhabitants settled in Holmes County because of it’s land, location and resemblance to the country they left.
Naomi had a lot of fun exploring Sugarcreek’s moving Swiss Scenes on Buildings, playing on the Beachy’s wooden train and tasting local cheeses for a snack. After a long day, we made the trek home without problem – enjoying our conversation.
We arrived back rested and actually feeling like we were away longer than we were. We had a time to connect intellectually, but didn’t make a step-by-step plan like we wanted. However, it revamped our thinking process and made us contagiously excited to go-it-again.
And just like when we left California, there is something special about coming home to Lancaster.