The Historical Society
of the Bible Fellowship Church
I was about to hit the print button when I became aware of a marvelous article in the Allentown Morning Call. I simply could not pass up the chance to share it with you. Those of you who remember the hot days and shady places of Mizpah will enjoy the reminiscences of Richard Brunner (no relation with C. H. Brunner). You had better find a camp stool and a quiet place for maximum enjoyment. Thanks to Mr. Brunner and the Allentown Morning Call for the gracious permission to reprint it for your pleasure.
Voices in misty summer air
recall peace of camp meetings
By Richard Kepler Brunner
From the Morning Call, Allentown, Pennsylvania, July 7, 1999
[reprinted by permission of the author and the Morning Call]
EMMAUS – My best friend and I ambled along the pathways between the tents of Mizpah Grove, a Mennonite Brethren in Christ camp meeting ground in East Allentown. We each toted a bundle of newspapers, seeking buyers on their way to the first prayer meeting of the day. It was 7:30 on a radiant summer morning.
Occasionally, a camper gave us a whole nickel to keep. But mostly we received only three pennies. My best friend was 13; I was 10. The month was July. The year, 1936.
On a muggy morning in June 1999, when a wreath of mist cast a halo over the PP&L and caressed the waters of the Lehigh, I drove across the Hamilton Street Bridge in search of Mizpah Grove. I had seen it last in 1939, when the truck carrying our camp furniture (and the two-door zinc-lined ice box), departed for our home in Berks County.
The landmark I now sought was the James Mosser Elementary school, facing South Dauphin Street. Its playground of the 1930s included a dirt softball field with makeshift bases. This was the scene of our Saturday game -- the only afternoon free of tabernacle services. Today that ground has an overlay of anemic-gravy-looking hardtop.
What did I expect to discover after an interval of six decades? Surely not the tabernacle, its three sides open to all weathers. Nor the cafeteria, where my friend and I collected our newspapers. And not the large tent used for morning prayers. Had the rectangular building of washrooms outlasted the years?
The access road into the campground had long ago gone to seed. The straight city street that once led into it had become an elbow that veered upward to a crest and then subsided into a cluster of townhouses. Now, only a narrow footpath remained, strangled by fern and nondescript undergrowth.
As I climbed upward, a series of similar pathways branched off at angles. A sign affixed to a tree warned: "City Property No Dirt Bikes Allowed." A dense thicket engulfed me. Children's voices from the playground below drifted upward into the vagrant wilderness. I chose a path of arm-spread width, which I calculated would bring me to Avenue B or C, where our family of three slept on cots under canvas 60-odd Julys ago.
Instead, I emerged into a wide clearing of buttercups and white-capped clover. Had the tabernacle once stood here, with its rows of wooden benches facing the elevated platform, pulpit, piano, and ungowned choir? Did I really help to lower the tarpaulin side blinds, when rain gusts blew across the grove and into the tabernacle?
Was it really our singing that attracted the fireflies on summer evenings into that sanctuary? And did those girls we called "fast numbers," from Reading and Philadelphia, really "go for" those East Allentown "sharpies"?
Beyond the tabernacle I came upon a rectangle of cement slabbing of brickwork perimeter, which the encroaching forest could not penetrate. The foundation of the washhouse?
Farther downhill I came to a pile of bricks the complexion of those that once surrounded the cafeteria. Were they those bricks?
Standing in the stillness of the misty morning, the names of preachers who once exhorted us to righteousness came back to me. The names A. G. Woodring, F. M. Hottel, P.T. Stengle, and many others of their time, sounded inside my head, spoken by a familiar but unplaced voice.
It is, however, the words of H.B. Musselman, our Presiding Elder, that I remember. H.B. had the spirit of the maverick in him, manifest as a healthy distrust of Washington politicians and their toady bureaucrats, whom he considered lower than viperous Sadducees. This animus showed in his trademark sermon, "No Man Can Serve Two Masters."
We would, he prophesied, see the day when we could neither buy nor sell without a number. The day would come when "Washington eyes" would be present to inspect the contents of a bank safety deposit box -- when opened by a widow, widower, or their children.
In the Great Depression, few of his flock had need of a bank vault. Nonetheless, heads nodded agreement and "Amens" were uttered. At the age of 10 I knew nothing of a Social Security card that one day would number me, and credit cards were an invention of the future -- or, perhaps, of the Devil.
It would be years before I possessed such cards, or required a bank box to hold the treasures of mammon, and all the numbers assigned me by agents of government. But old H. B. was a prophet more real to us than Ezekiel, Hosea or Jeremiah.
Alas, the Mennonite church of that name and its campground live now only in memory, that repository of the past alive in the present. Standing in the silence of the grove on that June morning, I could hear the ringing of the bell that summoned us to worship. I could see the women, in their bright summer cottons, sitting outside their tents, fanning themselves against the heat of the day. And I could hear the voices, after a long silence, singing across the years ...
"Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling ...
calling for you and for me. ...”
"Where he leads me, I will follow ...”
"Just as I am, without one plea ...”
Today, most of those voices of long ago, long ago have been silenced, as has that of my best friend. And yet, on certain summer Sunday evenings, I can hear them -- raised in prayer and song, confessing sins, seeking forgiveness, proclaiming repentance -- in that place we called Mizpah.
For the rest of this issue, I am grateful to Mrs. Betty Knopp of Nyack, New York, who submitted these articles. Betty grew up in Jersey City, New Jersey, where she attended the Gospel Herald Mission. She was later married to Gospel Herald John Knopp. She and her husband were missionaries to Colombia for the Christian and Missionary Alliance. John died there. She continued to serve and raised her children there. She is working for the Public Relations Department at Nyack College and collected these articles while doing research.
The articles are from the Alliance Weekly who has given us permission to reprint them for you. They are of interest because they show the connection between the Mennonite Brethren In Christ and the Christian and Missionary Alliance during the time when the MBC missions program was taking shape. You can see how the C&MA felt about what we were doing. Of particular interest is the memorial to H. L. Weiss, presented the day after his death. In our recollections, he may have been overshadowed by Eusebius Hershey. Through A. B. Simpson, he steps out of the shadows to reveal a very significant ministry. I suggest you prepare a tall cool glass of iced tea and find the nearest shady tree and enjoy hearing what the C&MA thought of the MBC.
Fraternal Cooperation in Missionary Work.
[February 27, 1915]
On Wednesday, January 27th, it was the privilege of the writer (J. D. Williams) to visit the Board of Foreign Missions of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ assembled at Allentown, Pa. He was cordially received by the brethren of the Board, and a profitable conference regarding foreign matters was held in the afternoon. In the evening the Allentown Church, of which Rev. C. H. Brunner is the Pastor, was thrown open for a public meeting and the friends crowded the church, making it necessary to place chairs in the aisles to seat the people. It was indeed a privilege to speak to such an attentive audience largely composed of young people, and the singing was most inspiring.
This Board, representing the Pennsylvania Conference, has been earnestly cooperating with the C. & M. A. for a number of years in spreading the Gospel to the heathen of whom are in Chile, S. A., three in Argentina, and three in West China.
The last Annual Report of this Society give the following interesting account of the beginning of missionary interest among them: “The first congregation of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ (at that time called the Evangelical Mennonites) was organized near Zionsville, Pa., in 1858. For the first twenty-five years from this date there is no record of any offering for Foreign Missions. About this time the few churches then existing fastened two tin boxes at the door, marked “For the Heathen” and “For the Poor,” respectively. That year the contributions for the heathen amounted to $12.64. Thus during the first eight years, up to 1890, the sum of $80.36 accumulated, which was then sent to Rev. A. B. Simpson, of New York, President of the Christian and Missionary Alliance.”
Since that time their interest in Foreign work has been increasing, and from year to year their contributions have been sent with great regularity, until the total amount up to date has reached the sum of $74,000.
Memorial of Rev. H. L. Weiss
By Rev. A. B. Simpson,
at the closing meeting of the Nyack Council, May 28, 1915
[June 19, 1915 pages 185-187]
The providence of God has suddenly added another name to our roll of honor, and I have been asked to say a few informal words of loving testimony to his life and character.
Rev. H. L. Weiss, our beloved missionary in southern Chile, and the superintendent and leader, and indeed the founder of that mission, was called away yesterday morning by sudden hemorrhage of the lungs.
He was born in the year 1867, and at the time of his death was about forty eight years of age, and still in the prime of life.
He was converted early in life and united with the old Mennonite body in the church at Cooperstown not far from his birthplace, Quakertown, Penn. His father still survives him and some other members of his family, and he has left his beloved widow and three children to mourn their great loss.
His first Christian ministry was as a missionary among the Indians of Oklahoma. After several years of service there, he returned east and was engaged for about two years in evangelistic work among the other body of Mennonites. In March, 1897, our dear brother began his missionary work in South America. He landed at Conception with his wife and Mr. Dawson. His first labors were with the German colonists who were quite numerous in southern Chile, and he gathered several congregations. Finally he settled in the city of Valdivia, the principal commercial center of the southern quarter of the republic of Chile, a large, prosperous city, considerably occupied by German residents. His work for a time was limited to the German people, but his great missionary heart reached out to the natives, and he was soon chiefly occupied with missionary work among the heathen population in that neglected land. God greatly blessed him in his missionary work, and today we have a prosperous mission in southern Chile, with a thousand members and a score of churches, and the noblest band of native workers that I have had the privilege of meeting. Last year about two hundred persons were hopefully converted, and nearly half of them united with the churches in baptism.
In 1905 he came home for a furlough and became more intimately known to many of us. But his heart was homesick for Chile, and he told me he never was at rest till he got back. Yesterday morning he said to his wife, "If I had not brought you along, I would have returned immediately to Chile." His heart was with the heathen. The land of his adoption was the only home that he really was attached to. God had made him heart and soul a true missionary.
It was my great privilege to spend about ten days in the company of our dear friend and his family and fellow missionaries some five years ago. It was one of the rare pleasures of my life. The land was so new, the associations unique that it left a lasting and profound impression upon my imagination and my heart. I became intimately acquainted with Mr. Weiss during those days; in fact, I discovered him. He was naturally shy, modest, and retiring, and I had really never known him, nor had I realized the value of this mission. I came home with the profoundest impression of its importance and the vast opportunity that God had given to our Society there and the strong qualities of its leader and his fellow workers.
As we traveled up through the country from Valdivia to Santiago, and then on to Valparaiso, where we spent a little time, he opened his heart very fully to me. He asked me a great many questions about his Christian experience in which he thought I might help. We compared notes. The memory left upon my heart is one full of the sweet savor of Jesus Christ. I have never known a more deeply spiritual man, a man more sensitive in the finest qualities of his heart and life, and more simple and wholly possessed by the Spirit of his Master. He was a man of infinite self-sacrifice. He traveled over the country back and forth in the most economical way, and I can truly say the zeal of the Lord's house literally consumed him. My deepest regret, as I look on his pale face and think of his early death, is the realization that it was brought about through sacrifice, through spending and being spent and pouring himself out without stint upon the altar of love and service for his Master and the world.
He was a great traveler, went all through the land, was beloved by the German people, and received large sums of money from them for their home work and church building so that he almost never asked for anything from the home Board for the development of their mission stations. He went over to Argentine, visited our stations there, and was a great comfort and blessing to our missionaries. One of his great ambitions was to go through Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia among the millions of Indians there in utter neglect and find a special mission field where we could establish a center for those degraded and lost people.
And then he was a man of singular genius along practical lines. His little shop was a perfect revelation to me. He showed me with exquisite delight a great big printing press that he himself had constructed with his own fingers out of old bits of iron he had shaped and joined in the blacksmith shop of the town. Having a printing house of my own, I knew something about this kind of machinery, and when he showed me his work and the ingenuity of its construction, I strongly advised him to bring a model here, for I felt he could compete with the presses here and really make a fortune by turning his ideas into a practical channel. It was not a theory or a toy with him, because he used it for printing his Spanish Evangel which he has constantly sustained and sent out as a message of the gospel to the people of Spanish America. Since then, he had greatly perfected and improved his whole plant until the last copy of his beautiful journal was in the finest style of color printing. He was a man of quiet, practical genius, and in some business walk of life he certainly would have obtained a very high place of recognition.
His health was breaking down for a good while. If we had known fully the situation, we should have brought him back more than a year ago. He did not fully realize it himself. He had one hemorrhage at the beginning of the week here. I pleaded with him the next day to keep quiet and arrange for an immediate rest. He laughed at our anxieties. He told his dear wife all he wanted was a little more work, and he kept on till the last touch came, and the pitcher was broken at the fountain, the overworked heart burst, and the spirit went to God who made it.
What a beautiful monument he has left behind him! What a glorious mission! What a life worth living! Has he died too soon? Surely not. I was reading the other day a little note of Marcus Dods, of Scotland, on that strange verse where Jesus said, "Are there not twelve hours in which men can work? And if a man walk in darkness he stumbleth." That is as Marcus Dods says, if a man outlives his twelve hours, he will be walking in the night, and the added hours will be of no value. God has an allotted span for every life, and the most beautiful ideal of a perfected life is the life that closes when the volume is finished. To me the beauty of dear George Pardington's passing was that he was just ripe. He had had his dream, and God had made it real. He had seen his vision of this beautiful school; he had longed to have his hand upon the wheels and be its director. God gave it to him, and then He took him full-orbed with a completed life, and He did not leave him to fritter out the fragments of life after his real mission was accomplished. So our dear brother's life is a finished life, and there is the memorial in thousands of souls in that great loving parish in the uttermost part of the earth. I found while there that God had given to those people the privilege of really preaching the gospel in "the uttermost part of the earth." Perhaps we have never noticed that Chile is the farthest land in all the world. Punta Arenas is farther from the equator by many degrees than any city in the world, and I used to tell the people down there through the interpreter that God had given them the honor and privilege of being witnesses unto Christ "in the uttermost part of the earth." This was his high honor, and forevermore he shall receive the great reward not only for what has been already accomplished but for the fruit that shall be reproduced from it till time shall be no more.
And for us, beloved, how solemn is the voice of God. How solemnly He speaks to us as He did once before in the calling of Mr. Meminger in the midst of our convention. How again He is calling us in this solemn hour. In yonder assembly room across the way, this text is inscribed upon the clock, as though every tick and every passing touch of the hand seemed to echo it: "Be ye ready also, for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh." Once in Bristol, England, I found these words on a similar ornament in my chamber, and they seem to speak to us tonight,
“Time there was, but it is gone;
Time there is to act upon;
Time there may be, who can tell?
Help us, Lord, to use it well.
To my heart there is no sadness in such a transition and translation. I cannot see the dark side of it for Christ has said, "If a man keep my sayings, he shall never see death." Our brother did not see death, but he saw Jesus, and the vision will never pass away. May it be as true for us:
"When I am to die;
Receive me, I cry;
For Jesus has loved me,
I cannot tell why.
But this I can find,
We two are so joined
That He'll not go to glory
And leave me behind."
And for us, beloved, what a heritage God is multiplying yonder. They are going fast. More than a score have gone from my own ministry in New York in the last few weeks - noble men and women, leaders in the church of Jesus Christ. Oh, how they are gathering homeward! What a majority is there! What a family circle is there! What a home it is becoming! How John Cookman, Henry Wilson, A. J. Gordon, David Lelacheur, Wilbur Meminger, George Pardington, and one hundred and sixty noble missionaries are looking down upon us tonight, hostages for lands where they have left their dust, and calling us to follow and possess them for Him. Seeing then that we "are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us."
Testimonial to Mr. Weiss.
On his leaving Chile for his last furlough, translated from Salud i Vida.
BY SENOR VITAL SANHUEZA.
On the 30th of March, our dear brother and president, Mr. H. L. Weiss, sailed from Valparaiso, for the United States, for a short rest with the hope of regaining his strength, also with the intention of presenting the needs of our work in Chile.
In one way we are saddened, because our brother is the center and shaft of our missionary work. On the other hand we greatly rejoice that he is relieved for a short time from the burden of the work in Chile. And we rejoice the more because he is accompanied by his family. His wife can administer to his needs and care for him on the way as well as in his home country. Our desires and prayers were that our brother would not have to go alone. The Lord answered our prayers and gave even above that which we asked.
For more than three years we have felt that he needed a rest. This was not only our opinion and wish, but also that of the Board in New York. But he had made Chile the land of his adoption, and he loved it as though he were a native; he, the legitimate father of our work, the apostle of our missionary work in Southern Chile, could not separate himself from this work which was the inspiration of his life, the work which he upheld with sobs and sighs. In order to strengthen that work, he gave his own strength, an iron constitution. We do say that he had not the strength to cut loose from the religious organization of which he was the principal artery. But now he is on his way, and in a few weeks will arrive in his native country where he can rejoice among his own and breathe again the air that gave him vigor and strength in his boyhood, and thus re-establish his wornout system.
Rest, noble champion of the truth! Return soon to the country of your fascinating labors, to the country that considers you its own, and that recognizes your efforts as a benefit to her moral culture. Yes, get strong and robust, and return soon to your favorite work, where your fellow laborers, those whom you have formed by your teaching and prayers, those whom you have begotten by the preaching of the word of God, await you. Return, because your place is empty, and we need you. Return, because you are ours, and convey our souls into His presence as you carried them to the crucified Lord. If the Lord tarries, we wish your bones to repose in our humble country; we wish your tomb to be where rest the first fruits of your labors, and where our remains also shall rest to await the day of the glorious redemption of the sons of God. Yes, return, because you are ours and our sons', and no one has a right to deprive us of your fellowship except Him unto whom all belong and to whose orders we do bow our heads in sacred awe.
Brother Weiss, while you are separated from us, our prayers ascend daily to the throne of grace for strength for body, soul, and spirit.
Valdivia, April 1st, 1915.
Words of Testimony and Appreciation.
To Our Alliance Family:
I wish to write a few words to the glory of Him who loved me, and washed me in His own precious blood, who kept me, and bore me on wings of mercy unto this present moment. He who is the all-wise God knows what process to take to purify and make snowy white the upright in heart. "He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness" (Mal. 3:3) As a mother weans her child, so my heavenly Father is weaning me. Long ago I gave up the trifling toys of earth, but I had not yet learned fully to keep a constant gaze on my risen Lord. It pleased Him to afflict me, so that, the smarting of the wound drives me continually to the Great Physician and makes me lean hard on the arm of my Beloved. I realize it is all because He loved me so. "My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him, for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth. If ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards and not sons" (Heb. 12).
Beloved in the Lord, who bore me up on the tidal waves of prayer, who ministered to my needs, who gave me sweet words of consolation in the hour of my sore bereavement, accept my deep gratitude and heartfelt thanks.
Yours in His service,
Mrs. H. L. Weiss.
Quakertown, Pa., June 7th, 1915
Rev. William Gehman
[May 18, 1918 page 110]
Rev. William Gehman passed away to be with the Lord at the ripe age of ninety-one, at his home in Vera Cruz, April 12th. The funeral services were held at Zionsville Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church, April 19th. He was buried in the adjoining cemetery. Presiding Elder H. B. Musselman of Bethlehem, Pa., was assisted by Missionary Elder W. B. Musselman, of Cleveland, Ohio, and Rev. A. E. Funk, of Nyack, conducted the service.
Elder William Gehman, better known as Father Gehman, was the founder of the Pennsylvania Conference of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ. The Mennonite Brethren in Christ are a body of deeply spiritual people, who believe the fourfold gospel, - the old-fashioned thorough conversion, genuine consecration, of life and service to God, the healing of the body through the prayer of faith, at the blessed Hope of the premillennial coming of the Lord, and diligent activity in the evangelization of the world. They are in close spiritual fellowship with the Christian and Missionary Alliance. They have a Board of Foreign Missions which has been in cooperation with the Board of the Christian and Missionary Alliance since the opening of its mission in Chile, South America, through Rev. and Mrs. H. L. Weiss, over twenty years ago. The Chilean work, one of the most successful missions of the Alliance, is peculiarly their work and is almost completely supported by their offerings. The United Mennonite Brethren in Christ Conference supports twenty-two missionaries (a few natives) in connection with the Christian and Missionary Alliance in South America, Asia, and Africa. They have more missionaries in the work in foreign lands than they have pastors at home.
Father Gehman had his days of small beginnings in gospel work, but he rejoiced to see the time when the work he founded reached the ends of the earth. He saw in his own family members of the fourth generation. In the spiritual family of his work there are also those of the fourth and fifth generations, who thank God for his life, ministry, and sacrifice in the Lord. He served the Lord as a minister of the gospel almost seventy years and gave a message in his own church on the last Sunday of his life. He passed away fresh in spirit, abreast with the interests of the younger ministers and the work he organized. He was beloved and respected by his brethren to whom he was truly a father in the Lord. He passed away triumphant in spirit and in the joy of the blessed Hope of the soon coming of the Lord.
[June 30, 1923]
The Mennonite Brethren in Christ will hold 3 summer conventions in Eastern Pennsylvania, the first at Mizpah Grove, Allentown, which is their leading meeting and largest camp ground, where they have a fine equipment of buildings, cottages, tents and an auditorium seating 1,000 people. Two meetings will be held here, one June 30-July 8, and August 18-26. Another will be held at Shamokin July 21-29. The former will be in charge of Presiding Elder H. B. Musselman, and the latter, Presiding Elder W. G. Gehman. The Mennonite Brethren in Christ are in close fellowship with the Alliance, supporting more than 30 of our missionaries in different fields.
[July 7, 1923]
The Mennonite Brethren in Christ are among those who are in the first rank of giving. Their last annual report shows that during 1922, there was contributed per member $7.40 for foreign missions, $9.13 for home work and a total for all church purposes of $59.13, and it should be noted that they have many young people who are members below the wage earning age, which makes the financial showing all the more remarkable, and should be an incentive to others of the Lord’s stewards.
This issue is a little longer than usual. As always, I hope you enjoy what you read and profit from it. As always, I welcome your thoughts and questions and particularly any submissions you would offer.
REMINDER: The meeting of the Historical Society will be held at the Mt Carmel Church on Saturday, October 30, 1999, at 10:00am. Make sure this date is on your calendar. Think about someone with whom to share the treat. We will learn the history of the Mt Carmel Church and of Edgewood Camp Meeting. Details and registration will follow in a couple of weeks.
723 South Providence Road
Wallingford PA 19086