A Stranger in . . . Goshen

A Stranger in . . . Goshen

Midwestern friendliness has abounded in my week spent here in Hoosier country. Indiana is surely one of the prettiest and most welcoming places in the country.

Fields of rich brown earth, freshly tilled, intermingle with newly-planted fields of the deepest green. Indiana farm-country is a lovely patchwork quilt that stretches straight out to the horizon, as flat and broad as the palm of God’s hand. Solid-looking red brick and white-sided farmhouses stand proudly beside beautiful barns that recall a bygone era. The barns are typically white or red, some with a gambrel roof, others with traditional sloped peaks. Some are weathered to a rustic patina, others newly painted, many with stone foundations.

Road maps for Indiana look like a sheet of graph paper – all straight lines and 90 degree angles – and directions are given in terms of compass points: “Turn east on 1200W, go 10 miles, then head south on County Road 900.” Driving through the state from north to south, along ramrod-straight country roads, I felt a deep nostalgia for my childhood days spent on the farm where I grew up.

Town names in Indiana are fascinating and often challenging to pronounce: Mishawaka, Nappanee, Shipshewana, Wapakoneta and Kokomo (at least the Beach Boys helped us out with that one!) Indiana is also home to Peru, Paris, New Rome, Warsaw, and Versailles (and no, it’s not pronounced THAT way). There’s also an “Elizabethtown” which prompted a fresh round of tears when I saw it on the map.

Along the way, I made stops in half a dozen places, visiting with Brethren sisters and brothers who extended the most generous hospitality to this road-weary traveler. I’ve already written about the speaking events in each of these places, but it was the warm welcome I received from each of my hosts that made this week one of the most special and memorable of my trip.

It started with the friendly reception I received in Elkhart.

From there, Sue and Bruce Grubb Miller in Goshen greeted me like an old friend, though they’d never met me. They provided delicious meals and a peaceful and private bedroom and bath. Being with them refreshed me in body and spirit. Even my van got some much-needed “renewal” in Goshen – Bruce made arrangements for me to get an oil change for the van, and led me to the garage, so I wouldn’t have to try to find it on my own.

A few days later, in Fort Wayne, Brian and Kimberly Flory also welcomed, fed, housed and even entertained a stranger (me, again!), inviting me to accompany them to an excellent play on Saturday evening (The Road to Mecca). Brian had arranged Saturday afternoon’s event with the folks at the Center for NonViolence, and invited me to offer the sermon at both worship services and to lead the adult Sunday school class at Beacon Heights on Sunday morning. While I chatted with people after worship, Kimberly set up a small table in their fellowship area with my books and sold every copy I’d brought in with me. Then she treated me to lunch at the local natural foods co-op before I got on the road to Wabash and she filled a goodie bag for me with granola bars, fruit leather, small boxes of cereal and other wholesome treats for the road.

In Wabash, Kay Gaier also took care of me, body and spirit, with a hearty meal and fellowship time with those who had attended the afternoon event, and two boxes of leftovers to take with me for the road.

On Sunday evening, Kate Eisenbise welcomed me to North Manchester and the charming house where she lives just 2 blocks from the college. What a joy to have a comfortable home base for three nights in a row! Having the opportunity to spend time with Kate and getting to know her better made it extra-special.

Mary Cox, Peace Studies Department Intern at Manchester College, was a great host while I was on campus all day on Monday, and she skillfully arranged my schedule for the day, showed me around, provided free meal tickets, helped me to get set up with Internet access at the library and made it all look effortless.

Also in North Manchester, on Tuesday, Don and Marie Willoughby made sure I was well-fed and otherwise well-cared-for before speaking to the Timbercrest group. And it was Marie’s dedicated (and persistent) efforts over many months that brought that speaking engagement to fruition.

Before I left their home after lunch, Don quietly slid some money across the table to me. “This is for your trip.”

I protested and tried to give it back to him, but Don stopped me.

“Use it to feed your horse,” he said. My puzzled look prompted him to explain. “When Marie and I used to travel a lot, one older gentleman we stayed with would always give us gas money for the car. He explained that in the old days, when visitors would come by way of horse and buggy, the host would always provide food and water for the horses. So, this was his way of carrying on that tradition – and now it’s ours as well.” I blinked back tears at both the story and their generous gesture.

After several wonderful days in the northern part of Indiana, it was time to head south to to Richmond, to visit Bethany Theological Seminary. Elizabeth Keller, Brian Schleeper, Malinda Berry, Scott Holland, Lonnie Valentine and Amy Ritchie welcomed me and made sure it was an enriching and thought-provoking visit. Bethany students Monica and Nick showed me around campus and the Richmond area and took me out for dinner. I got to sample the richness of thought and spirit that thrives at Bethany by sitting in on several classes, including “Christian Ethics” and “Bonhoeffer: War and Peace” and I left Richmond with my spirit refreshed and mind invigorated.

And thus ended a week of blessings and richness in Indiana.

As I crossed the state line into Ohio just a few miles outside of Richmond, I felt a little thrill to know that I was finally back to a state that borders “home.” After visiting an old friend in Dayton, OH, it’ll be on to Cincinnati, where I’ll have my final two speaking engagements of this trip on Saturday and Sunday. After that, I’ll spend a couple of days with my mother and stepfather in Kentucky before making the final long leg of this journey on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Unlike those straight, flat Indiana roads where one can clearly see everything that lies ahead and around you, this journey I’ve been on has been full of twists and turns, bumps in the road, wrong turns, getting lost, stopping to ask for directions and a fair amount of backtracking. I often haven’t had any clear idea of where I was going, what I was doing, whether I was headed in the right direction or what the destination was supposed to be. I’ve tried to keep eyes and mind and heart wide open to God’s leading (MUCH easier said than done!)

And after this trip, I truly have no idea what lies ahead. But then again, five years ago, I never could have foreseen any of what’s happened over the past few years. Besides, if anyone had tried to tell me, I wouldn’t have believed it anyway. So as this part of the larger “journey” winds down, I’m looking around at the surrounding landscape, consulting lots of roadmaps, stopping to ask for directions, checking my compass.

When I get back home, I’ll know I’ll need to take time to once again get my wheels balanced and aligned, fluid levels checked and replenished, and fuel tank refilled. But that, too, is part of the journey and I’m ready . . .

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Where is the road in front of you leading? What might you need to do to be ready for the journey?

Posted by Melanie Tagged as: grace goes to prison book tour

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