Secrets Hidden in our Genealogies – and Christmas

The family names of Jesus – and me.

Her name was Magdalena. Were it not for Magdalena, I would never have been born. Jesus had women like her in His genealogy, too. There is no need for it to bring us shame. Instead, we should look at these secrets hidden – and forgiven – as redemption.

The paparazzi of today would have a hey day with the lineage of Jesus. From the moment of His birth and throughout His ministry, they would have found the secrets of His past. Women who were guilty of adultery, but found redemption, were part of His maternal past: women like Rahab, Tamar, Ruth, and Bathsheba. In addition, these women who were not “church folk”, who functioned as a prostitute, committed adultery, and deceived family, march right in line with the “righteous” folks in His lineage.

There were also men who deceived, lied, committed adultery, and murdered. In addition to the women, these men are listed in that same lopsided, sinful lineup in the genealogy of Christ.  The paparazzi would showcase every bit of tarnish across the world because the information is so easily accessible today. Those stories, drudged up again and again, would now be given such a spin that only the worst could be heard while the story of redemption was shushed. You can be certain there would be no secrets hidden!

Jesus knew His genealogy. He also knew His genealogy did not define who He was. He had no secrets hidden, and that is how He was able to minister and meet the needs of others. His past did not define Who He was or Who He is.

secrets hiddenThe past of my ancestors – and secrets hidden

My family has a few stories of its own. For years, I did not know about these secrets hidden because it was not important that I know. That is because the past was behind us and we were living in today.

We don’t broadcast it loudly, but the stories are there, written and admitted in books that tell the stories of our ancestors. My great-grandmother was the product of fornication.  Magdalena, the women who birthed her, never married. Magdalena’s father, Samuel, repented of his sin as a youth and later connected with his grandchildren even though he never married their grandmother. Samuel became a pillar in the community and patriarch of a large family.A person deemed a pillar in the community, experiences redemption, for certain. It did not mean he could wipe out the wrong he committed. It did, however, mean that forgiveness and redemption is real and our past does not need to define us.

The fact that, growing up, I never heard his family spoken of disparagingly even though I went to school, attended church and participated in community events with his descendants, tells me that forgiveness was genuine. The fact that I did not even know about this transgression tells me it was forgiven. That’s redemption.  

The past is not who we are

There are those of my kin who want to make certain everyone knows the sins of the past. Only, the sins of the past are not mine to proclaim. Others are so embarrassed and full of shame that they don’t want to bear the family name. There are also those   who embrace the ancestors of the past and their mistakes, recognizing that all of us are sinners in need of a Savior. In doing so, we embrace the redemption that followed secrets hidden in shame. 

The wonder of the Christmas season is that God chooses and uses those of us who are imperfect; those who inherited a sin nature like our ancestors. The wonder of Christmas is that redemption comes through imperfect but redeemed women – and men – who move away from their sin and become new creatures of Christ.

Indeed, this is the wonder of Christmas: there is hope for the secrets hidden in our past. There is redemption through the Savior. That’s Christmas!

secrets hidden


David I. Miller, Homecoming, edited by Gertrude Slabach, printed by Lulu Online Publishing, 2012, page 3.


How to Love Your Enemy

love your enemy

love your enemyLoving your enemy

Love is an emotion, but it is also an action of the will. It is not natural to love someone we hate, or someone who hates us. Nor is it natural to do good to someone who has harmed us. Yet, that is what God requires. Loving your enemy is possible and it is do-able.

I know this, not because it is merely an idea, but because it works. Actions of our will bring about the results God desires in us. This I know is true because I have experienced it myself.

It seems that under Old Testament law, it was assumed to be okay to hate one’s enemy. Yet, Exodus gives an example of what one should do concerning an enemy. Jesus gave us a pattern for loving our enemies. When we follow this pattern, we can succeed in loving our enemies.

Who is my enemy?

An enemy is  a person – or a nation – that is actively opposed to someone or something.  An enemy is one who harms or weakens another. There are subtle enemies and there are blatant enemies. Their intent is to take us down – whether it’s by lack of support, by thwarting, lying, or espionage.

Someone who is against you or does not want you to succeed is not a friend; he is an enemy. Learn to recognize your enemies so you can practice doing what Jesus said you should do.

love your enemy
photo by sergio cerrato-italiz

Three things to do so you can love your enemy

Jesus gave specific instructions to His disciples on how to respond to an enemy. Leviticus also gives instructions for those who want to live right. These things are not easy, but they are necessary if you want to follow HIs command to love your enemies..

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus addressed the enemy problem. He gave three things we must do for our enemies. They are not an option. Doing these things will give you a desire to care about your enemy.

  • Love your enemies. This is an action of your will and follows with emotion.
  • Do good to your enemies. Leviticus gives us an example: “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. ”  In writing to the Romans, Paul gave examples of how to treat someone who is our enemy: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.” This is the opposite of what comes naturally to us. Of course it is opposite, because we live in an upside-down kingdom!
  • Pray for your enemies. When we sincerely pray for our enemies, we no longer view them as an enemy, but as someone in need. This is what happens to me when I pray for Putin. I see him as the lost soul that he is.

What not to do

  • Do not carry a grudge or try to retaliate. These are specific instructions for the follower of Jesus.
  • Do not ignore the person even though it would be easier.
  • Do not share your frustrations with other people.

Nixing these ideas or opportunities helps keep your mind clear of wanting to return evil for evil. Loving your enemy involves doing something for the person. It also involves refusing to do evil in response.

The end result

When we follow these principles, we experience freedom, relief, forgiveness, and blessing. Getting there is not easy; sometimes we take three steps forward and two steps back. Yet, it is the worth the struggle and the strain for the triumph.

How have you learned to love your enemy? I’d love to hear from you.


Pinterest Love Your Enemy




How to Say “I’m Sorry” – No Ifs, Ands, or Buts


Sorry, not sorry.

Saying “I’m sorry” can be so hard to do.

It was late Sunday afternoon and the sisters on the playground had been having a great time. One of them did something to upset the other one. Each of them wanted to tell me what the other one had done wrong, and neither was anxious to confess her own wrongdoing. The gentle playground scene changed instantly when the squabble began, and the swings and climbing bars were disbanded because of their rift.

They came to me, each one expecting me to side with her. I pulled out my tricks of years ago and had them both sit in time-out for five minutes. Each one had to contemplate her own wrongdoing and be ready to tell me that first. How much easier it was for each girl to squeal on the other rather than admit what she had done wrong!


It’s in our genetics, and all of us have inherited this gene. I’ve never known a person who thinks it’s easy to ask forgiveness or to admit that they have been wrong.

Sometimes children need adults to help them figure out what they have done wrong. And sometimes, as adults, God uses situations and circumstances to help us figure out where we have been wrong. God has a way of bringing us to our senses.

Jesus tells us how to say “I’m Sorry” in a story

Jesus told the story we know as The Prodigal Son to his disciples and others who were listening. Now I know a parable is just a story, and this parable probably wasn’t based on real people, but it could have been. Jesus took a real-to-life situation in the culture of His day, and He used that story to tell not only about a father’s love, but also the correct way to ask forgiveness when we have been wrong.

Since this was a parable, I know that Jesus could give the story any twist He wanted. He chose the outcome of the story for a purpose. One of those purposes was to show how a person ought to go about asking forgiveness.

The prodigal son

But first, the fascinating story, which you can find in Luke 15:11-32.

Here is a father who has two sons and a bunch of servants. The older son appears to be a good worker and stays focused on the task at hand. The younger son; however, is restless and tired of life on the farm. He decides he is done with this kind of living and asks for his share of the inheritance.


We don’t know a thing about the home life or the dynamics of relationships inside that home. One could assume that the older son was a typical firstborn bossy brother, and the younger son was the spoiled little brother. We do know that the younger son came to his father one day and asked for his share of the inheritance.

He got it, then he left.

Scripture says, “. . . not soon after, he left home.”

We don’t know how long he was gone, but we do know a few things about his life after he left. He did some riotous living. He spent his money, all of it. There was a famine in the land.

The son was suddenly in want. His father was not nearby; his money (and we assume his friends) were gone. He became a hired hand because, after all, he needed money to live.


The reckoning

The farmer who hired him sent him out to feed the pigs. While feeding slop to the pigs, the younger son became so hungry that he considered eating the husks from the corn he was feeding those pigs. He had that “aha” moment. He came to his senses. It looked like Time-Out, for him, had accomplished its purpose.

PIGS on side wallowing

The son realized how far he had come from where he once was. Once the son of a man of wealth, a man who had servants, he, the son, was now a servant.

This son shows us how to admit a wrong, how to ask forgiveness, and how to make restitution. He shows us how to say “I’m sorry.”

Sitting there among the pigs with their slop, he made a decision.


How ridiculous this is, he told himself.  My father’s servants are treated better and are eating better than I am. I will go back, and I will ask to come back home as a servant. I’m going home, and this is what I’m going to say to my father:  I have sinned, and I’m not even worthy to become your son.  Please just let me be one of your hired servants.

Coming home

He made the trip back home. His father rushed out to meet him with arms opened wide. This did not stop the son from his agenda. He said exactly what he planned to say.

The son admitted his wrong:  “I have sinned against Heaven and against you.”

He acknowledged where his wrong had taken him and what he had lost: “I am not worthy . . . ”

The prodigal realized fully what he deserved because of his choices:  “I don’t even deserve being your son.”

He recognized what he lost because of his choices: “Just make me one of your hired servants.”

Sloppy “I’m sorry” ways

sorrySo often, in our sloppy attempts at apologizing, we shift the focus from our wrongdoing to the other person’s – just like the sisters on the playground. We choose words that aren’t really an apology, but rather a way of excusing our behavior.

While it may seem like we are apologizing, our words are empty because they are not sincere and genuine. This prodigal son didn’t do that.

While we might criticize the son for leaving home like he did, we can also recognize what he did right once he came to his senses.

What the son did right

  • He did not blame anyone else. He focused on and admitted his sin rather than dwelling on anyone else’s.  The prodigal did not say, “I’m sorry BUT if you hadn’t done so-and-so, I wouldn’t have. . .”  Or, like one of the playground sisters said to me, “Well, she gave me the fist first, so . . . “
  • The son did not minimize the pain he caused or imply the other party was too sensitive. He did not say, “I’m sorry IF I hurt you . . .”
  • The youngest son admitted what he did was wrong. He did not imply, “It wasn’t a big deal.”
  • The prodigal took responsibility for his wrongdoing and did not  shove it off onto the other person. Nor did he say, “You’re just too sensitive.”
  • He did not blame his past. Nor did he complain, “I had such a lousy home life.”

He made the trip home.

sorryHis father was waiting for him; he saw him and ran to meet him.

And the son stepped up to the plate and acknowledged his wrong. He said exactly what he planned to say before he made that long trip home.

The joy of his father at his return did not negate his responsibility for what he had done.

Jesus’ purpose in the story

I’m not sure exactly why Jesus told this parable. I’m pretty sure one of the reasons was to show us the love of our Heavenly Father, because this parable follows two others that talk about being lost – and being found.

Jesus preceded this story with a discourse on the cost of discipleship, the merit of salt, and the lack of flavor when salt has lost its saltiness. Part of being a true disciple of Jesus is living like He has asked us to live and having such flavor in our lives that it makes others thirsty for Jesus.

If we don’t do that, He says, we can’t be His disciples.

“Oh, and by the way, when you’ve failed at being a disciple; when you have lost your saltiness, this is how you make it right,” He says.

More of the story

There’s more to the story here.

There is the negative response of the older brother who stayed at home and helped keep the family estate running; there is his rejection of the joy and the party that is thrown when his younger brother was reinstated by their father.

Life doesn’t guarantee reinstatement after a confession of wrongdoing. Yet, there is guaranteed reinstatement with Jesus, even if we don’t receive it from family members or those whom we have wronged.

A plan for saying “I’m sorry”

The part I love best about this story is the lessons I learned from this son whose eyes were opened in that pigpen somewhere in another country away from his family. His decision to go back home and his clear plan for asking forgiveness leave me with a guide for the times I have failed and been wrong.

Suppose the person you’ve wronged isn’t near you? Ask God to help you find a way. Plan what you’ll say so that when God puts that person in your path, you’ll  be ready. I know this plan works because I’ve experienced it myself.

Whether we’re adults or children, it’s never easy to ask forgiveness. But having a plan makes taking that first step so much easier.

That evening on the playground, the sisters took turns admitting what they had done wrong. “I am sorry for hitting you,” one said. “It was wrong of me. Will you forgive me?”

There will be more spats down the road when they’ll need to apologize to each other again, just like the rest of us do as adults.

When I’m tempted to ignore the nudge of the Spirit to make things right, I remember the lessons I’ve learned from the once-prodigal son:

  • Admit my wrong.
  • Acknowledge the pain.
  • Ask forgiveness.

When I follow the pattern set out for me by this once-lost son, I, too, can be reinstated. I can also experience the wonder of a restored relationship. And I, like the prodigal son, can know the wholeness of a conscience that is clear and clean. And so can you!

Saying I'm sorry


This post is a re-post from over five years ago. Sometimes I go back and read it myself. You might want to read it again as well. 🙂

Photo attribution:

Forgiveness is ≠ Trust – Lessons from Joseph


Forgiveness ≠ Trust

Forgiveness is not trust. Trust usually comes later, when true restoration takes place. When you forgive someone, it does not mean you trust or respect them. And, while “love covers a multitude of sins,” trust doesn’t. Here’s why.

Forgiveness breaks the chains of pain, anger, bitterness, and revenge. Forgiveness wipes the slate clean for what happened in the past. It does not harbor ill will or attempt to bring up past wrongs. Forgiveness closes the ledger of what is past.

Trust involves believing someone and knowing they are trustworthy. We earn trust by proving ourselves. Trust involves future hope and belief. Trust is based on the past, but it also involves moving forward. We can forgive what is past, yet forgiveness of the past does not mean we trust going forward in that relationship. Trust must be earned.

Joseph, the favored son of Jacob, shows us how to look for trust after forgiveness takes place.

forgiveness is not trustJoseph’s story

Most of us know the story, but here’s a nutshell of what happened.

Joseph was the 11th son of Jacob, and all but one of his brothers were half-brothers. Because Joseph was born to Jacob of his old age and because Joseph’s mother was loved most by Jacob, Joseph was the favorite child. So much so that his father made him a coat of many colors – and no one else got a coat like it.

To top it off, Joseph had dreams of his brothers bowing down to him. He shared those dreams with his brothers (not a smart move, in my opinion.) Joseph also brought a report of ill will to his father about four of his half-brothers, the sons of servants Bilah and Zilpah. He was not at all liked by his brothers, and they were tired of him.

One day his father sent Joseph to check on the brothers. When they saw him coming (how could they miss, even from a distance, because there came that dreamer in that coat?!), they decided to kill him and throw him into a pit. Then, because slave traders traveled through the area at that time, instead of killing him, they sold him to Ishmaelite traders. [The Ishmaelites are descendants of Ishmael, the half-brother of Isaac, Joseph’s grandfather.]

forgiveness is not trustSold as a slave

The Ishmaelites took Joseph to Egypt and sold  him to Potiphar. Joseph was 17 and thought he would never see his family again; nevertheless, Joseph maintained a good attitude. I believe he forgave his brothers. How else did he rise in rank like he did? A bitter person does not a good employee or servant make.

While Joseph enjoyed rank in Potiphar’s house, things went well because the Lord was with him. Soon after, he spent time in prison for a crime he did not commit. He was forgotten by the cupbearer whose dream he interpreted. So many injustices happened to Joseph. I think he kept on forgiving because he did not want to be a prisoner of his own making.

forgiveness is not trustForgiveness is not a choice; it is a command.

Finally, the day came when he was promoted to second-in-command in the nation. Joseph prepared Egypt for seven good years that were to be followed by seven lean years.

When his ten brothers showed up asking for grain, he deliberately spoke to them through an interpreter. Although he recognized them, they did not recognize him, which was to his advantage.

Joseph had the opportunity to pay back for everything they caused him to endure. He didn’t, because he had forgiven them.

Trust is a choice

Yet, he did not trust them, as evidenced by the fact that he hid his identify from them. He had forgiven them, but forgiveness is not trust. Joseph required things of them because he wanted to see what his brothers were like now. Had they changed? Were they sorry for their past deeds? Did they want to be different?

Joseph required these things of them because he wanted to see if their hearts had changed. He wanted to see if he could really trust them. Just because they were brothers from the same father was no guarantee they could be trusted. After all, they did plan to kill  him, and they sold him as a slave. Sure, he is now in a position where he can spare their lives and the life of his father. One would think he would be glad to see them and so anxious to see his father that he would do anything to be reunited. He didn’t, because he did not know if he could trust them. Yes, he had forgiven them, but forgiveness is not trust.

Testing to trust

First, he put all ten brothers in prison for three days, accusing them of being spies, which they denied. When Joseph decided to let them return, he bound Simon and put him in prison while the others traveled back to their father. Joseph told the brothers to return home and not come back without the youngest brother.

In essence, Joseph told them, “If you want to see this brother (Simon) again, you must return with the youngest brother.”

Then he sent them on their way. He also hid the money they have given in their sacks.  Would they return with his youngest brother? Would they return the money? Time would tell. This was another test of their character.

When the brothers returned to their father, they found the money in their sacks and told their father everything that had happened. After the food was gone, he urged them to go back to Egypt for food without Benjamin.

The brothers told Jacob again that they could not return without Benjamin, and they told him why. Reluctantly, Jacob sent the brothers back with Benjamin and with double the portion of money to repay what was put into their sacks.

Joseph had the brothers eat with him. They were seated according to age. Benjamin received five times as much food as the others. Would they resent Benjamin for this? Joseph wanted to find out if they had changed. Once, they resented Joseph for his coat of many colors. Would they resent Benjamin?

More tests because forgiveness is not trust

The next test came when Joseph sent them back and hid a silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. Soon after they headed back toward home with Simon this time, he sent his servants to find the “stolen” cup. The cup was found in Benjamin’s sack, and the servants were instructed to bring Benjamin back with them.

Would the brothers defend Benjamin and beg for his life, or would they abandon him and return home? There was a time when they would not have cared. Would they care? Joseph wanted to know if they were different men.

Judah approached Joseph and offered his life for Benjamin’s. He would stay so Benjamin could go home to their father.

That was when Joseph knew he could trust his brothers. First, he sent everyone out and introduced himself to his brothers. He wept, he hugged them, and he told them they were forgiven.

Joseph provided a home and place for his father, his brothers, and their families. He welcomed them to live in his country where he could provide for them. Indeed, they were changed men.

By this time, Joseph was 37. It had been twenty years since he last saw his father. Because of his brothers, he endured slavery, prison, and being forgotten while enslaved. He had plenty of time to harbor bitterness or to forgive. He chose forgiveness. Joseph also took the time to test his brothers to learn if they were changed men. Had the years hardened them more or did they suffer guilt for their sin?

Joseph did not need anyone to inform him of his brothers’ hearts. He could find out for himself – and he did. He found out by holding back, by testing them, by searching in their responses to see what was in their hearts.

A changed heart brings trust

Trust is restored when you truly know what is in someone’s heart. Joseph recognized that while their hearts were evil the day his brothers sold him into slavery, God meant it for good. Joseph knew God was bigger than slavery, false accusations and prison. He recognized that God sent him ahead to preserve his family and his nation.  Joseph had to forgive because it is a command. He had to trust God for the bigger picture. Yet, that did not mean Joseph had to trust his brothers before he knew their hearts.

If you’re struggling with broken trust, know that God can bring healing and help you forgive. Recognize also that when trust is broken, it can only be restored by a changed and contrite heart.

forgiveness pinterest


The Massacre in My Family History


Source: Pennsylvania Dutch Campsite, Shartlesville, Pennsylvania

Amish among the Indians

The Hochstetler massacre takes place in 1757, but it affects me today. The story has been passed down from generation to generation. The massacre is part of my heritage, my people, and our God.

The Delaware Indians initially lived peacefully with the white settlers who had moved into the area of Berks County, Pennsylvania. Things changed, however, when France and England wanted to control the territories west of the Appalachian mountains. Many native tribes aligned with the French and began to attack settlements, which included killing innocent people.

It is easy to look back a few hundred years and point fingers to ancestors who did it wrong. How much better it is to learn from what was wrong and be thankful for what was right Click To Tweet. We ought not let history repeat itself; but too often, it does.

Artist: Ivan Moon

From apple drying to a house fire

I heard the story of the massacre as a child, when family members mentioned it at reunions and in discussions. Ministers used it as sermon leverage to make a point about the wrong of violence. I learned the story well – the part about a father forbidding his sons (excellent marksmen) to shoot at the Indians outside the house in order to spare the family’s lives.

On the evening of September 19, 1757, the young people of the neighborhood came to the Hochstetler farm to help prepare apples for drying. They stayed until late in the evening, and when everyone was gone, the family retired for the night.

In the middle of the night, the dog’s ferocious barking roused the family.  Young Jacob opened the door to look outside and fell back, hit by a gunshot in the leg. They managed to bar the door before the Indians could force their way inside. Through the windows, the family was able to see a band of about fifteen Indians. The family had guns and ammunition in the house, but Jacob refused to allow his boys to use them.

Refusing to kill – resulting in the massacre

In spite of Joseph and Christian’s desperate pleas, Jacob refused to allow them to take up arms against another human being even to defend their lives in obedience to God’s command not to kill.1

“We do not kill,”  Jacob told his sons. And they didn’t.

Near dawn, the Indians set fire to the house. The family took refuge in the cellar, hoping to escape harm. Next they sprayed cider (stored in the cellar) on the flames, trying to keep the fire at bay. Choking on the thick smoke, they somehow endured the night. At the first light of day and when all was quiet outside, the family decided to climb out the small window in the basement.

There was a young brave, Tom Lyons,2 who lingered in the orchard to gather some of the ripe peaches. He sounded the cry that brought the warriors back. It took longer for Mrs. Hochstetler to get out of the window because she was plump and the opening was small. By that time, the Indians had returned.


The Delaware and Shawnee Indians took Jacob and his son Joseph prisoner. They killed young Jacob and a young daughter (unknown name). It seems the Indians were motivated by a desire for revenge against the mother because they stabbed her through the heart with a butcher knife, a death they considered dishonorable,in the presence of her husband and sons.

Christian was about to be tomahawked as well, but according to family stories, he was spared because of his bright blue eyes.4 I remember hearing about those blue eyes.

The Indians allowed Jacob to pull as many peaches off the trees that he could carry. He gave peaches to his sons, in preparation for their journey to wherever the Indians were taking them on foot. This trek ended up being a 17-day journey5 of approximately 430 miles (with a short trip by boat.6

The Hochstetlers had an older son and daughter, John and Barbara, who were both married with small children and lived nearby. Early the morning after the fire, John secretly watched as his father and brothers were led away. With the help of neighbors, they hurriedly buried their mother and siblings when the Indians were gone. I cannot imagine the horror and sorrow they faced for what seemed an unwarranted massacre.

Would they ever see their father and brothers again? Only time would tell.

John and Barbara heard the stories of their father and brothers after their return home years later. Through the descendants of John, Barbara, Joseph and Christian, the stories of the massacre and subsequent years were passed down and are pretty much the same.

The good

The same peach orchard that kept a young Indian brave back and thus caused him to witness the family’s escape and sound the alarm also spared the life of  the young boys after they were prisoners of the Indians. When Jacob realized that his sons were in line to run the gauntlet, he took some of the peaches from the orchard to the Chief, who spared the boys from running the gauntlet, possibly sparing their lives.

The peaches Jacob was allowed to take with him provided nourishment and hydration for Jacob and his sons. No doubt they saved his sons lives. The peaches came from the orchard Jacob and his family planted, and God used those peaches and that orchard for good.

The father and sons were allowed to be together for their trek northwest. Each night, he prayed with his sons in their German dialect. He told his boys that, no matter what happened, they should remember their names and continue to recite The Lord’s Prayer daily so they would retain their native language.

Jacob was able to escape and return home less than a year after being taken captive. His sons were adopted by Indian families. After considerable negotiations with Indian tribal leaders to secure the return of all the white captives, Joseph was returned to his father in 1763 or 1764. Christian did not come home until late summer 1765.6

Things I ponder about the why behind the massacre

Mrs. Hochstetler was a plump woman. She cared for her family well. Folklore tells us that once she shooed some Indians away when they wanted to take a quilt that was hanging on her line.

Another time she refused to let them have a pie. I’m sure she had plans for that pie, and it wasn’t for them to enjoy.

The stories told indicate that it was soon after that event that a black X was placed on the door of their house. The house was marked. No one knows for certain why, but Indian authorities tells us that the mark was a sign of what was to come. She was going to pay for her unwillingness to share.

I’ve thought about my 7th great-grandmother Hochstetler since then. Had she understood the culture of these natives, her response would likely have been different. As it was, she viewed these savages through the lenses of her culture instead of theirs. In her culture, a person helps others who help themselves. It is rude to demand items belonging to someone else; but giving items to others is considered generous and benevolent on the part of the giver. She did not understand what interpreting through her culture would do to herself and her family. Nor did the Indians understand that their attempts to take her items could be viewed as theft.

What my 7th great-grandmother did right

My 7th great-grandmother did some things right. This world was new to  her; the people (Indians) in her community were foreign to her. Adjustments to a new life, having more children, and working to subdue the land and build a homestead was difficult. Yet she stayed the course.

Her Diligence.

Evidenced by the place they established, she was not one to shirk responsibility and work. By 1739 the family was settled along the Northkill Creek on the eastern edge of the Blue Mountains (now in Berks County, Pennsylvania). They cleared the land, built a log home and farm buildings, and planted several acres of fruit trees. 6 They helped establish the first Amish Mennonite church in America in the Northkill area the following year.7

She worked hard and believed in caring for her family well.  She made quilts and clothing for her family, to provide for them. Her quilts and pies are evidence she was not an idle woman.

Her Courage.

She left her homeland in Alsace, France (near Switzerland and Germany) with her husband and two small children. They sailed on the Charming Nancy and arrived in Philadelphia November 9, 1739. John was three years old and Barbara was older. She left her homeland, her family and friends to move to a new county. I have no clue how difficult that would be, and I don’t want to learn, either.

Her Fortitude.

Four more children were born after their arrival in America. During this time, she helped her husband build their house and work the land. She looked out for her family. I smile when I hear how she shooed Indians away from her pies. I also wince. This woman was set to take care of her family. She didn’t want her attempts thwarted, and I can identify. Yet in doing so, she lost sight of hospitality – and I’ve been guilty of the same.

Her Faith.

It is obvious that she supported her husband’s decision to not kill the Indians. She believed God would provide for them – and even though three of them lost their lives, God did provide. Her faith helped instill in her children the belief in God they maintained even in the difficulty they faced following the massacre. In the years following the massacre, John and  Barbara lived without knowing if their father and brothers were alive. Their faith, instilled by their parents, helped them live without bitterness for what happened. There was no retaliation. Instead, there was acceptance for what happened, and a determination to continue in their faith, trusting God to bring good out of evil.  I claim Barbara as my 6th great-grandmother, and that faith resounds in me today.

What my 7th great-grandmother could have done better

Be neighborly.

As any mother, she wanted to care for her family. Her intent and purpose was to help her husband establish their home and farm, and help in the building of their church. As such, her focus was on her circle of people instead of on the community into which they moved. The Indians were probably not viewed through friendly eyes, and I doubt she made attempts to show hospitality to them or develop friendships with these people so different from her.

Familiarize herself with the local people, including Indians, and their customs.

Her attention was on her family (as well it should have been), but she lost sight of the bigger picture. Perhaps she failed to see her Indian neighbors as folks who needed Jesus as much as she did.

Perhaps their customs and traditions were unknown to her, and learning to know about them was frightening. It’s never comfortable to step outside one’s circle and enter someone else’s, but doing so would have given her a better perspective.

When the Indians asked for her pies, they expected her to give them because their tradition called for someone to give even when they had little to spare. She didn’t understand the damage she did by her refusal. In her thrifty culture, one provided for their own family without expecting handouts. Is it possibly that this colliding of cultures caused her death?

Follow scriptural commands to give. 

Every mama who loves her family becomes a mama bear when people tangle with her cubs. Perhaps she was a mama bear when the Indians wanted her quilts and pies. Her family’s needs were paramount, but perhaps she failed to consider scripture’s command to give to those who ask. Might her giving have paved the way for better relationships?

What I know – looking back at the massacre

  • Two wrongs don’t make a right. We don’t fix things by returning evil for evil. Retaliation is not a way of peace.
  • Bitterness can be passed through generations; so can forgiveness and fortitude. The Hochstetler family did not retaliate or harbor bitterness for the massacre or for being taken captive by the Indians, as evidenced by the stories passed down for generations.
  • The faith of my ancestors and their fortitude is what comes through after all these years following the massacre. They could have chosen retaliation or bitterness, but they didn’t. Instead, they chose to trust the hand of God to help them move forward in healing and hope.
  • While this story gives me pause, I am grateful that the massacre resulted in physical death only and not spiritual death.  My ancestors did not allow this event to annihilate their faith. Therefore their faith, passed down from generation to generation, blesses me.

pinterest massacre

A postscript -after the massacre

The marker near the site of the massacre in Berks County, Pennsylvania.


This house is located near my childhood home. I’ve been in it many times. It was moved here to preserve its story and its history. This is the house John Hochstetler (son of Jacob) built and lived in with his family. “Having lost all but two siblings to Indian attacks in 1784, Hochstetler moved his young family to what is now Springs, PA. He was the first white settler in the area, and he was able, through peaceful ways taught by his faith, to make friends with Indians and build his community along side theirs.” 7


Thanks to Beth Hostetler Mark for her help in getting photos for this post.





6   Ervin R. Stutzman, The Hochstetler Story, 22. Harrisonburg Virginia: Herald Press, 2015), 22.




Stutzman, Ervin. R., The Hochstetler Story, (Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia) 2015.