Roots & Branches; Leaves & Fruit

The Old Fool wrote “Roots & Branches, a narrative history of the Amish and Mennonites in Southeast United States, 1892-1992.”  He thinks he is sometimes moving among the leaves and fruit.  Like when he was a boy and climbed the big sweet-cherry tree that grew along Lehman Road in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, and ate the sweetest cherries of which God was capable.

This happened when Rachel told him of a conversation she had with Malinda Berry in Puerto Rico.  Malinda is the daughter of Lee Roy Berry.  Each summer, Lee Roy’s mother and family lived in Ohio in Johnson’s camp and worked as migrant laborers in Johnson’s  vegetable fields. The Berry family was befriended by conservative Mennonites 

Each winter the Berrys migrated South and lived in  Johnson Camp near Fruitville, Forida, east of Sarasota and worked  the vegetable fields there. The Berry family was surprised when Truman Yoder appeared at their door to invite them to the Newtown Gospel Chapel, a Mennonite mission in Sarasota.  

Newtown Gospel Chapel

One evening Lee Roy went to a meeting at the chapel determined to confess faith in Jesus, but determined not to become a Mennonite.  He did accept Jesus and he did become a Mennonite.

Lee Roy was an excellent student.  He was disappointed in the schools Sarasota offered  African Americans.  So one day, Truman’s wife, Mildred, and another sister from the church picked up Lee Roy, bought him a suitcase, filled it with new clothes, bought him a bus ticked to Harrisonburg, Virginia, and sent him off into his future.   

Mervin Shirk, Lee Roy’s pastor, and the president of Eastern Mennonite College (University) had negotiated for the young man to be enrolled as a student. He graduated from EMC and did student teaching at Lancaster Mennonite High School where Rachel and Eldon were among his students.  

However, Lee Roy decided that he wanted to be a lawyer more that he wanted to be a teacher and entered and graduated from law school. He opened his law office in Goshen, Indiana.  It so happened that Lee Roy’s daughter, Melinda, and Daniel, Rachel’s son, were in the same class in Goshen College.  Melinda reminded Rachel that  while in college she had played bridge with Daniel in his home.   

When The Old Fool and his wife retired in Goshen they went to Ler Roy Berry’s office where thery met him for the first time and asked him to upgrade a few legal papers for them.  The Old Fool had spent time with Mildred Yoder and learned of Lee Roy”s history at Newtown Gospel Chapel from her.  Now The Old Fool made an appointment to hear the story from Lee Roy himself.  He told The Old Fool that the touch of the Mennonites at Newtown had kept him steady through out life. 

Soon after coming to Goshen, the Old Fool was introduced to New Perspectives on Faith at College Mennonite Church.  He was surprised that one of the first persons he heard lecture was Melinda Berry, a professor at Goshen College who was pursuing a doctor’s degree in theology.     

The story of the Newtown Gospel Chapel  may be read in Roots and Branches.  The Old Fool enjoys the leaves and fruit that grows from the roots and branches described in those first two books.

About Martin Lehman

I was born 92 years ago, the son of a Mennonite pastor and organic gardener in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. At age 10 I was baptized as a member of the Marion Mennonite Church. I own the "Old Fool" moniker because I want to walk the Jesus Way even though the world and much of the church takes me as a fool for doing so. In my life I have moved from being a young conservative to an elderly radical. I tell that story in My Faith Journey posted on my website.
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1 Response to Roots & Branches; Leaves & Fruit

  1. Ira Sollenberger says:

    This is a beautiful story.

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