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Friday, November 17, 2006

Photo of decorative wood hand cart
Decorated wood hand cart on neighbors porch

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"My Hiding Place"

"Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah.  I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you."  (Psalm 32:6-8).

Probably the most fulfilling aspect of this online ministry is the relationship we have developed with persecuted believers.  It's amazing that we live in a very peaceful place but can instantly communicate with believers all over the world through this ministry.  Through the years several readers write us who are in places of persecution and we can then establish a relationship with them both by virtue of the daily messages but also through personal notes of encouragement we send to them. Yesterday we heard from a regular reader who sent a testimony of his experience in persecution in a brutally oppressive country.  I hope to be able to share it with readers, but of course I want to get his permission first and am cautious that any identity might place him in further danger. However I notice that his story is actually referenced on several websites including Open Doors.

We'll share more about our experience yesterday in attending an Amish wedding in a long footnote, but let me illustrate with one custom we experienced that is rooted in their history. At one point in the service we all turned around in our seats and knelt while the bishop read a prayer in German.   It lasted nearly fifteen minutes and was recited in a sing song manner. Immediately following the prayer we arose from the kneeling position, and as our custom would be, turned to again face the front. However we immediately noted that the Amish continued to stand in silence facing the back. Of course we turned around quickly and joined them, not understanding the meaning of this custom.

We later learned that this experience is rooted in a tradition started centuries earlier when the Amish were heavily persecuted.  Though we confirmed with an Amish friend that this tradition originated from their days of persecution we're still uncertain as to what it means.

What a wonderful descriptive phrase is found in the daily Scripture text. The Psalmist declared as he was speaking of God, "You are my hiding place."  Today we can rejoice that the ancient observation of the Psalmist remains a descriptive source of comfort and assurance for all of us.  Today we especially remember our persecuted brethren and pray that they will be filled with an assurance of God's steadfast love and care.

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Today's Prayer:  In the midst of danger and as troubles bring on fear, I find refuge in You, Father, my Fortress and my Deliverer.  You are my hiding place when I seek security and safety from the troubles that surround me.  I am confident in Your protecting and guiding hand as You carefully watch over me all my days and deliver me from all my troubles.  Your songs of deliverance bring a calm and peaceful assurance to my troubled heart.  Your counsel is my guiding light upon a darkened path. Thank You, faithful and loving Father.  Amen.

* Open Doors - A ministry to the persecuted church.

Today's Scripture portion is also the basis of a wonderful book titled "The Hiding Place" written by Corrie ten Boom.

Here's a beautiful sample of a song called "You are my hiding place" that we really enjoy based on today's theme. It turns out that this musician practically lives in our neighborhood and has services in local churches. Here's another outstanding vocal clip by the same artist of "He Leadeth Me" It begins with simple Acapella but the second part has some excellent banjo and fiddle. These songs are off this CD.

Our experience at an Amish wedding

The service actually began at 8:30 AM but it was suggested that we arrive at 10:00 since the service is long and entirely in German.  We walked in through a huge makeshift kitchen where food was being prepared and opened the door into the large barn-like workshop (the bride's father has a business making prefabricated horse barns.)  We were escorted to a seat facing the front and sat together with five other non-Amish guests.  There were about 400 guests present with the men and women seated on opposite sides of the barn facing the center.

The bishop, an older man with a long beard, was giving his message without any sound reinforcement at all. We were unable to understand what he spoke except "amen" and Brooksyne recognized the words of Ruth, "Your people will be my people and your God my God."  Though referenced in another language somehow the repetition of those words came through so she knew what the bishop was saying.  It's quite a challenge to listen to a 90 minute sermon in English, so you can imagine the experience of listening to a foreign language!  The service went on for another 1 ½ after we arrived (which is about as long a service I normally like to attend including singing and preaching I understand!)

Children and babies sat with either parent and overall were outstanding quiet. One small girl must have folded her handkerchief about 100 different ways as she sat quietly next to her mother.  Periodically a parent would have to take a crying baby out. There were lots of babies!

The bride and groom sat in the front also facing each other with the groom having two unmarried men and the bride having two unmarried girls beside her.

The bishop spoke earnestly it seemed but with very little of the inflection and verbal variety we associate with preaching in my customs. I watched for expressions I might be familiar with among the congregation such as a verbal "Amen" or even a nod of agreement but did not see any. The people merely appeared to be respectfully listening with very little emotion on their faces.  And, as you can imagine, there were quite a number (men mostly) who were "resting their eyes" off and on.

I am told the message, which is similar at all Amish weddings, is a recounting of the Biblical stories of weddings and marriages such as Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah and so forth.

After the message there was a brief time when the bride and groom stood up to face the bishop and I assume this was similar to the taking of the vows in our customs.

After this we knelt and had the long prayer I mentioned above. Then several of the men shared what I found out later were testimonies and experiences in marriage with the bride and groom (which I think is a great idea).

They then sang a very slow song in German which I found out later was a wedding song.  The song had 24 stanzas, I believe, and was sung acapella, as is all their songs.

When the service ended an interesting thing happens.  The benches are designed to convert into tables and a group is assigned this task. The team work is outstanding and in a short time the room is transformed into a banquet hall. 

I went to another part of the workshop where all the men gather to wait their turn to eat and struck up a conversation with several of the other Amish guests, who by now had all placed their large black dress hats back on.

I was called in to be seated and joined Brooksyne at a table set for non-Amish guests. We all bowed our heads together and prayed silently. The entire room silences anytime seated guests fill a table and prepare to eat.  So this was repeated many times during the serving of the food; lively chatter grinds to a halt respecting the newly seated group of people. (We never determined ho this worked.)

The food was served family style as both men and women brought out large platters which we passed from one end to the other. The main dish was a delicious stuffing that had pieces of chicken in it. It was very good along with the customary wedding food – and, yes, there was a lot of celery served which is very customary at weddings!

We left at this point thanking the bride's father, who had invited us, as we departed.  But for most of the guests the day would go on with an afternoon hymn sing, the opening of the gifts, another meal and other Amish wedding customs late into the evening hour!

(Here's a photo I took last year from a distance of a farm where a wedding was being held. It only partly shows the extent of the activity as buggies are parked all around the property.)

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Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: New International Version. © 1984 by International Bible Society; NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission; and the King James Version.
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