Saturday, January 12, 2008

Ocean Voyage

The Brethren who had their beginnings in Germany in the early 1700s soon began to migrate to America in search of religious freedom. Peter Becker led a small group to America in 1719 and under the leadership of Alexander Mack, a group of 59 families (126 persons) left Rotterdam on July 7, 1729 and landed at Philadelphia September 15, 1729.

Crossing the ocean in those days was perilous and many hardships were endured. The ships were overcrowded, there was no refrigeration and food was often scarce during the trip that lasted some 70 days. Dean Henry in A History of the West Goshen Church 1830-1980, shares an interesting account of one such trip copied from the Brethren's Family Almanac of 1890.

In the year 1730, when our brethren fled from Creyfield to seek asylum from their cruel persecutors in our highly favored America, they embarked from Friesland in a large Flemish vessel with several hundred passengers on board. When about midway on the mighty ocean a tremendous storm arose, so furious and of such long continuance, that all hopes were given up for lost. For the sea became so boisterous that waves were piled upon waves mountain high and threatened every moment to swallow up their frail barge.

The sails being all lowered and much of the merchandise had already been thrown overboard, but all was apparently of no avail, until almost overcome with grief and on the point of despair, the captain happened to come down into the hold of the ship which was occupied by the brethren, (their poverty forbidding them better accommodations) when lo! he beheld the little band of brethren all united together in a company and fervently engaged with singing and praying!

The captain was so struck on beholding their calmness and the pious serenity of their minds, that he was moved to the shedding of tears; but went immediately back again and began to admonish the consternated crew, as he no longer feared being lost - for he found that he had such pious men on board, that the Almighty would not for their sakes permit them to perish in the deep - which inspired them with such confidence in the Almighty's protection, that they soon became calm and composed, the fury of the storm also abated; the sea soon became calm; and the rest of the passage was completed without any further indications of danger.

The storms that face the Brethren today are different than those facing the brethren on the 70-day ocean voyage to America in 1730, but maybe a uniting together in fervent prayer and singing would do us as much good as it did our ancestors in the faith.