Shaped by Civilian Public Service

The current series of services at College Mennonite Church are based on Alan Kreider’s thoughts about the way  “patient perseverance ” shaped the first Christians. These services revived memories  of serendipitous events that helped prepare me for service.

Dorm at Grottos CPS Camp, first one on left was mine. I never could do a neat cot

Selective Service  determined that on January 5, 1947 I would enter Civilian Public Service  in the CPS Camp #4, Grottos, Virginia.  From there  I was within easy telephone calling distance from Rhoda who was a student at Eastern Mennonite College. So I called her by phone every morning before going  out on assignment.

Assignments were related to soil conservation.  We tore down old fences and put in new ones to allow contour farming.  The law required a square hole of a prescribed depth exactly on the spot determined by the surveyors. Some holes had to be “dug” through limestone rock with chisel and sledge hammer. I’m sure these menial tasks helped to shape me.

Troup train from Virginia to California

In the fall of 1945 the government moved COs to the west coast to fight forest fires.  I volunteered for fire tower duty.  I took with me my Bible and the church hymnal. My Bible reading focused on the doctrinal section of Paul’s epistle to the Romans.  Though the law of God is perfect, it cannot save anyone because no human can keep it, being ruled as we all are by the law of sin and death.  However, the law of life in Christ Jesus will set us free from the law of sin and death. These insights prepared me to understand Paul when he wrote to the Corinthians, “all things are lawful for me” and repeating it three times.

Mountt Tom Lookout Tower. the highest mountain on which I served.  I needed to prepare my meals with a pressure cooker.

I sang through the hymnal and daily sang such songs as “Teach me oh Lord thy way of Truth”. After leaving the towers I learned that the lyric was written by Edith Witmer  and set to music by Walter Yoder, both Goshen College professors. The prayer of this uniquely Mennonite hymn certainly shaped me for service to come.  Think of me as a young 21 year old as you search the words:


Teach me thy truth O mighty One
From sin, O make me free
Prepare my life to fill its place
in service Lord for thee.

Accept my talents, great or small
Choose thou the path for me
Where I shall labor joyously
In service Lord for thee

Help me to show thy glorious way
That leads in hope to thee
Till other souls their joy shall find
In service Lord for thee.


Grant me thy grace for every task
until thy face I see
Then ever new shall be that joy
In service Lord for thee.

You will find a You Tube version of another hymn that I sang almost daily by clicking here. (Be sure to turn y0ur computer sound on,) You may listen to it and feel the prayers that shaped me.

My next assignment was to the camp in Gulfport, Mississippi. While there the following poetry attributed to Job, an impoverished, painfully sick, forsaken and defensive old man banished to  the community dump, enraptured me. His words were:

Job and wife

Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book!
That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever!
For I know that my redeemer liveth,
and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:
And though after my skin worms destroy this body,
yet in my flesh shall I see God:
Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another.

The phrase “For I know” are Job’s words, not mine. By now you know me well enough to know that I do not claim to know. I may wish for something to be true. If my wish is strong, the wish may evolve into a belief. If a belief becomes strongly enough I may consider it to be worthy of action. If I act as if it were true, I do so by faith.  But, I delude myself if I allow my wishes to evolve into something that I think I know.

You too remember
the events that shaped your life
now grateful for passed



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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