Search for Freedom

When I set the table for five – Dad, Mom, Jim and Gene and me – then often someone knocked on the front door. For two weeks it was the same visitor. Charlie Collins, a friend of my brothers, sauntered in asking if we were going to eat. The table was set and the food was being brought to the table. The only thing we could do was to ask Charlie to join us. He did, night after night. We later learned that his hunger drove him in search for an extra meal – and he enjoyed Super-Suppers. Until Mom talked to Charlie’s Mom and they found out what was going on.

Whether the hunger is physical, spiritual, emotional or power, we search for a way to satisfy that hunger. Often there is a search for independent freedom in the teens. Rules, laws, expectations for certain behaviors seemed to cramp my style as a teen. When Mother had a way she wanted me to wash ‘her’ dishes, I announced, “I can hardly wait until I leave so I can do things my way.” Those words came back to haunt me a scant five years later, as I washed dishes, viewed the pile of laundry including a load of cloth diapers, and a house to be cleaned. There I stood in ‘my’ kitchen washing ‘my’ dishes just as Mom had wanted me to do! It was a moment when I realized that she knew more than I thought as a teen.

Freedom. As a teacher I saw the need my classroom of 6th graders felt to be ‘free’. They expressed the need to choose how the rules in the classroom, what they ate at lunch, and how long their recess lasted. One assignment I gave them was to write what freedom meant to them. Their writing rarely exhibited the correlation between responsibility and freedom. Making decisions based on a deeper basis was not in their repertoire. One of the stories I read to the class was about a man who so desired freedom that he stowed away in the wheel casing of a jet. As the plane landed in a free country, he fell onto the pavement of the runway in an almost frozen condition. The desire for freedom was so strong that the man dared death to achieve his dream.

We have an inherent need to be free that is soul-deep. We chaff against the constraints of society, laws, regulations and employers. Freedom is deeper than the country’s laws.

After 82 years I have seen a steady decline in our culture. I have seen a shift from a “Leave it to Beaver” world to a world where anything goes. The lines of right and wrong have been blurred by political correctness and ‘being one of the gang’ has become more important than being a follower of definite rights and wrongs. Everyone has their own interpretation of what is right and wrong. Absolutes are absolutely gone.

When I was young, I learned about the search of my ancestors for the freedom to worship. I reread a pamphlet called Search for Freedom written by Leonhard Sudermann. He chronicled the journey from Prussia to Russia at the invitation of Queen Catherine of Russia. The invitation, in 1786, included religious freedom, freedom from military service, complete control over their own church and school as well as liberal economic inducements, which was codified in 1800. In 1870 some of the special privileges ended in 1870. Then it was time to find another place to live. Nothing stays the same. No small task for the large group of Mennonite families to move on. Would it be a America where they only knew criminals and savage Indians lived? Several men made trips to survey the possibility of America. The decision was finally made that they would go.

My great grandparents, Jacob and Aganetha Suderman were among those who prepared to go to America, after they saw that the new law in 1880 would not be rescinded and curtailed their freedom to worship and live quiet lives. When I read Carolyn Zeisset’s description of the detailed preparations to move, I am filled with admiration. (A Mennonite Heritage) What propelled them forward even when it was so difficult, it must have seemed impossible. They sold their farm, then paid taxes to be free to leave Russia. A passport cost $80 for the family ( written in Russian, German, French and Italian) and ship/train passage for the family was $300.

Proverbs 3:5, 6 says it all, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not on your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.

In our day of easy access to ‘fast food’ on a trip, they prepared food for a month’s travel for a family of eight. It consisted of toasted zweibach, raw ground pork and coffee. Some added a few more items. A month of this one menu for all the family must have been the height of monotony in our world. My Grandpa Suderman was born in November 23, 1874, and was 5 years old when he traveled with his family to this country.

The first part of the journey was in May 15, 1879, traveling by train to Antwerp, Belgium. At Antwerp the family joined 714 other Mennonites to board the steamer, Switzerland, of the Red Star Line, owned by the Quakers. They landed in Philadelphia June 24th. Forty-two families went on to Kansas, arriving in June 28th.

They lived with other families until they found a sod house. Jacob found a job that netted him 50 cents a day. He was able to buy 48 pounds of flour for one day’s pay, which he carried home on his shoulders to feed his family. A new baby was added. In 1882, Diptheria wreaked its havoc on the families, and one of the little Suderman baby died.

Did they feel depression or discouragement? When survival is of primary importance, there is no time for thinking of self. Jacob and Aganetha lived in Kansas and latter owned land and began farming. They raised their family to trust God. They came to this country trusting God with their very lives. They found the freedom to live in peace and worship the Lord through sacrifice of hard work.

What happened to the dream of freedom since then? Somehow the time-saving inventions have worked against us. We have too much idle time. We search for things we can see and touch, instead of the unseen treasures. Freedom has turned to unrest. Freedom can only be achieved in Jesus. For freedom of the spirit, freedom of the soul can only come through Him. We must hunger and thirst for his righteousness.

The Search for Freedom can create a sacrifice of the status quo. A hard lesson is that there is no status quo, for we live in a changing world. Status quo, rocking on in worldly security is an illusion.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. Psalm 42:1

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Matthew 5:6

I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts. Psalm 119:45

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. II Corinthians 3:17

Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

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