A Letter from Long Ago

Editor’s Note: This letter arrived in the PiE mailbox recently via an unexpected breach in the space-time continuum. It appears to be authentic—or at least, as authentic as possible, given the circumstances.

June 1557

A letter from Abram and Hadewyck Braun, to our Anabaptist descendants.

Greetings! We’re so pleased and proud of how many of you there are! And we have heard that not all of you have blond hair and blue eyes. That is wonderful news. We so enjoy having a big family and lots of relatives!

It is Sunday afternoon and we are writing to you from our kitchen table here in Pingjum. Hedy is warming some buns on the stove-top and they smell delicious. It’s nice to stay in touch, no? Even if this English is driving us a little verrückt! It might be difficult, but it’s fun to try and think about the world using other people’s thoughts, don’t you think?

We have been hearing about how your world is set up, and all the nice things you have there. If we had telephones like yours we could hear all the news without leaving the fireside! So we find it a little funny that you’d want to make telephones you can walk around with. In the cold, even! Brr.

Well, we wanted to tell you some things about our little gemeinschaft here that maybe you could get excited about. We looked for a word that means the same thing in your language, but this ‘community’ you’re always talking about doesn’t seem like the same thing.

There is a community that means the people who live near you and there is a community that means the people who like the same kind of music you do. Even a community for people who think the same thoughts about politics, or about taking care of the land. How can such a loosey-goosey word have meaning in it?

No, our gemeinschaft means something very specific to us. We meet together twice a week, sometimes more, for worship and sharing. Everyone usually disagrees about what kind of music we should sing together, so we have to sort it out and take turns. During the week we visit each other’s homes so that no one is lonely, the sick are taken care of, and those who are dying always have someone to hold their hand and sing songs with, if they want it.

And when we share together the holy supper, in the silence after our hymn-sing, we feel so strongly that someone special has come to stay with us, an old friend who can wipe up the disagreements and make our little family new again.

Here is something that might be hard for you to imagine in your world, where there is no danger and all the problems have solutions that people are paid to think up. It’s strange for us, but we can imagine why many of you don’t any longer feel the want of a Saviour.

Here where we are, we need daily someone strong and good who can take away the fear that would otherwise overcome us.

Like last winter, we were all meeting for worship in Johann Friesen’s root cellar, when young Klaas comes down the steps all out of breath. Listen, he says, the authorities are coming up the street knocking on doors and looking for secret meetings, so they can haul people away to prison.

Well, we blew out the light and held hands in the dark while Sister Anna prayed in a whisper. We heard heavy boots upstairs and someone knocking loudly at the door, but they went away again. After a while Klaas went up to look and said it was safe to come out. Then several people said that during the quiet they had felt a great peace inside them, like a gentle hand laid over their hearts and a voice saying, All is well, don’t be afraid.

And we knew it was our Lord, because we had read about such things happening to His people in the book of Acts.

You see, this is what people all over the Low Countries are going to prison for and even their earthly deaths. Not for notions about how the world is or should be (although those are important), but because of this living presence in the night, that makes us glad even in the midst of terror and loss.

This is how we know we are living in His time, in the same times as the Bible was written and its great wonders acted out on earth. We wonder if it’s like that for you in your time.

We’ve heard you say your world is changing very fast, and maybe it seems like everything is turning upside down. (Abram says well, we feel the same way about our world!) At such times you have to get together and make difficult decisions. You want to talk about what you’re all about as a family and where you’re headed, together or maybe even splitting up.

Well, we don’t like to be nosy, so we will just say this: be careful how you talk to one another at such times, because wounds within the family happen fast and take a long, long time to heal. We know about this.

We can’t decide things for you. We feel pretty strongly about each person making up their own mind—that’s how our little family came to be, after all! All we can do is share with you what we are about, and what we are looking forward to.

Our faith is not about making the world better. (That’s what the folks over in Münster wanted, and look where it got them!) Our faith is about making ourselves better so that we can all get along together in the next world. In this world we are small and weak, and we get pushed around more often than we would like.

This is why we put so much effort into practicing getting along in this world. Those of us who practice together share a really very simple hope, which is that Jesus, our brother, will come to us again in the flesh as he did before.

When that happens, our earthly deaths and sufferings will be undone, and we will have a new gemeinschaft with everyone who ever died hoping for it. We wouldn’t be living and dying the way we are if this wasn’t at the centre of our hope.

You can see that without Jesus and his promise at the centre of things, what we are doing would be pretty silly. And naturally we want to share this hope, and this goodness we have experienced, with anyone who wants to listen. If we couldn’t talk about Him openly with one another, then where would our hope be?

Now that you’re a big family, it’s still just as important for each grown person to decide on their own what road they will travel. But because you are a family you will have to get along no matter what you decide. And because you are family you should know that we’ll love you no matter what you decide, too.

Well, that is it from the nosy relatives. We would love to hear back from you! Tell us if they have thought up any more ways to use telephones, because we know that’s important where you are. Let us know too if any of you have recently received visions or special dreams, because it’s a blessing when those are shared with the whole family.

Remember, we love you and are proud of how far you’ve come. In the tenderness of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. Peace be upon you.

Hadewyck and Abram



Dylan Siebert studies history in Kitchener, Ontario. He can be reached for comments, corrections, or conversation at desiebert@gmail.com.

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