When I moved to Oakland, Md., after my marriage, I immediately felt at home. The people were warm and inclusive, curious and friendly. I loved to see the Amish and Mennonites mix with each other and with the rest of the local community at a level of interaction and openness I hadn’t experienced among other conservative Anabaptists.
With its prosperous farms and productive country people, Oakland seemed haloed by an idyllic charm. I was proud to call it home.
I am still proud to call this community home. But recently I learned something about a local Anabaptist — someone I respected and even admired — that deeply disappointed me. Now I grapple with disillusionment.
I dealt with similar feelings of disillusionment when it came out that Christian Aid Ministries had badly mishandled sexual abuse against Haitian schoolboys, abuse that could have been prevented. CAM had represented to me everything that was best of conservative Anabaptists — generosity, practicality, integrity, a commitment to spreading the gospel.
My disappointment received a second taint more recently when a Mennonite who was supposedly smuggling Bibles to restricted countries was found to have cheated several Anabaptist ministries from millions of dollars smuggled into his own bank account.
And the late Ravi Zacharias, a Christian hero who blended logic and storytelling in a way that made Christianity both attractive and feasible to the demons of doubt that danced through my soul — this hero, too, was felled by the specter of his sexual misconduct that reached back from his grave.
When stories such as these shock my vision like electric sparks, the world feels tarnished, insecure. I wonder if all I’ve believed is a lie.
The truths I’ve spoken of so glowingly — the redemption that is in Christ, the values of love and forgiveness held among conservative Anabaptists — don’t feel so certain.
If these people I trusted could commit sins of such magnitude, is there anyone to trust? Or is everything and everyone just failure and disillusionment and lies?
A verse rings in my mind. “The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19, KJV).
We cannot see all things. The verse offers assurance that there is still a foundation of righteousness, and that God knows his people.
I look at my 2-year-old daughter, her pigtails bobbing beside her head, and wonder what I can give her in a world so tarnished.
I can give her books, love, time, a country lifestyle, a childhood free of fear. But who am I kidding? I can’t really offer her freedom from fear. I can’t even protect her from evil, much as I would like to. The places I think of as safest have not always proved to be so.
When she grows older, she will find the same surprising end of star dreams that I have found.
I think of what my own parents offered me. I can see their imperfections. I can see the flaws and wrongs of the small church I grew up in. Still, they bequeathed to me as best they knew how a bedrock of dependence on God. They offered me Jesus.
And it comes to my mind that in this world of uncertainty and disappointment, the best thing I can offer my daughter is Jesus. Not Mennonite-ism or country life or books or church or education or any of the things I think of as good. I have seen failure in the values and people I counted on most deeply.
Jesus opens a way to holiness. Jesus cannot fail because — how could he? He is beyond this life.
Do we then hold to a pipe dream?
If our faith is a pipe dream — an unattainable hope — it is a powerful one. One that has changed people’s lives, brought healing and hope where desert once was.
Albert Camus once said, “I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn’t, than live my life as if there isn’t and die to find out there is.”
This Christian hope seems at first glance flimsy, but the closer you walk to it, the more you bang your head and your hands against its rough-hewn walls, the sturdier it seems.
The Christian hope is a hope visualized though not yet seen. A hope that rings louder in our hearts — though the world’s heroes may fail us — when we gain private glimpses of God.
Wrong will be made right. Redemption will come. Lift up your heads; it comes near.