The story I am about to tell you almost didn’t take place. It begins in an attic in Allentown. It takes us to South Africa. It involves many dedicated people and even the latest in technology. It even includes you who read and appreciate this book.
It began when Bethel Bible Fellowship Church of Allentown was assigned a new pastor in 1962. Carl Cassel was the son of a lay leader of the church and the grandson of two pastors. When he moved into the parsonage at 529 North Eighth Street, he did what most of us would do. He began to poke around in the attic. Many things had been stored there throughout the years. In the process of looking about, he discovered three handwritten journals which proved to be the minutes of the Evangelical Mennonite Church from 1859 to 1894. It was the first “almost” of this story. Carl recognized the significance of these books and quickly saw to it that they were brought to the new Historical Committee of the Bible Fellowship Church.
The three books became part of a newly forming archival collection. There wasn’t much at this time. There were a couple of fire resistant cabinets that had been purchased quite cheaply. There were a few other record books that had been spared the attic fate which comes to so many valuable historical records. The fire resistant cabinets were bounced around a bit and came finally to land in a room at Pinebrook Junior College which was located in Stroudsburg with Pinebrook Bible Conference.
It was at this time that Leonard Buck came upon them. Leonard and his wife, Nina, were serving as missionaries in South Africa. Leonard was interested in the history of the Bible Fellowship Church and was engaging in a number of projects to maintain what history we had. He learned of the existence of the books and was finally able to locate them at Pinebrook Bible Conference. David E. Thomann, then director of Pinebrook Bible Conference, confirmed their existence and shared a desire to unlock the secrets that were contained in the m.
The more I thought about this the more excited I became–what could those journals tell us about our beginnings? After I promised Pastor Thomann “my life,” he permitted me to borrow the books. There was no doubt about it, these were the original minutes of the conference. Each page had been hand written; the penmanship of the various scribes ranged from beautiful to, how will we ever decipher this! On some pages the ink had almost faded away. We read names like Gehman, Henning, Shelly, Strawn and Hershey … Lower Milford, Upper Milford, Haycock and Hereford … and lists of moneys received and spent.
It was another “almost.” Once again, a person had seen and recognized the value of these three simple looking books.
Leonard determined to press on. He located a German couple, as Leonard tells it, “real German,” who could do the work of translation. They were Frank and Marta Litty. They lived in a trailer along route 309 in Centre Valley and attended the Bible Fellowship Church of Coopersburg. Mr. Litty was 76 and worked part time at a food market in Mountainville but he agreed to do what he could. Mr. Litty gave himself to the task giving much of his spare time and even working late at night. His translation was recorded in spiral notebooks so that not even one valuable page would be lost. Mrs. Litty helped and even their daughter, Rosemarie Albright, also joined in as time shortened and pressures grew. How grateful we are to the Litty family for their work of love!
The ending of the work of the original translation was not the end of the task. Nina Buck took the spiral notebooks in her hand and headed bravely for her typewriter. Nina completed her work on July 16, 1977. The work was still not done.
About this time, the Historical Committee became aware of the work which Leonard was doing. I contacted Leonard in South Africa and the Committee began to work with him.
In 1980, we all recognized that the value of the minutes would now depend on whether they could be made available to a wider audience. A decision was made to move to publish these minutes. I am not sure any of us understood how much effort and difficulty would lie ahead.
An editorial committee was appointed comprised of Leonard Buck, Daniel Ziegler, Willard Cassel and myself. The purpose of this committee was to review the translation and polish it for presentation. Leonard writes, “At this point a variety of new questions suddenly appeared… How good was the translation? … What did the early fathers mean when they used ‘That’ word or ‘that’ word. Did it mean the same then as it means today? There were discrepancies in some of the accounting. Do we leave it as it was or do we correct it? There were so many questions. The ‘fun’ project was becoming a burden, but the questions were valid and needed to be answered.” My recollections of the meetings of this committee are of long days and brown bag lunches followed by a late dinner and a long trip home. The entire translation was read aloud as a recorder noted corrections in punctuation and spelling and grammar and translation. Eight or nine long days went into the project and finally it was complete. The manuscript was taken up by Mrs. Sandy Reitz who carefully typed the first draft.
It was about this time that Leonard and Nina Buck moved to begin a new work in Carol Stream, Illinois. Our progress began to slow and sputtered to a halt. We did not know what to do and where to go. Some advice from Leonard Gross, archivist of the Mennonite Church, Goshen, Indiana, helped to get us going again. We were steered toward Miss Katia Peterschmitt who checked our translation. The Historical Committee of the Mennonite Church even gave financial assistance to pay for the preparation of our manuscripts.
The work was still not done. There was much fine tuning. Since Leonard Buck was no longer on the scene, I was appointed to be the editor. I took up the task with much joy and some fear. I knew that publication would soon be a reality but I knew there was still a lot of adjusting to be done. It was at this point that we entered the computer age. Mr. Bill White, of Essington, Pennsylvania, offered to type the entire manuscript into the memory banks of my computer. The fine tuning of the text became much easier because of the computer. Yet, it would still be two years before the text would be ready for publishing.
And now you enter the picture. Actually, all of the work has been done with you in mind. Some of you are reading these minutes because you are a part of the Bible Fellowship Church and want to know more about it. Some of you are simply interested in what has happened in our history so that you might better understand your own church. It is for you that we have done this work and to you that we present it. It is our desire that you will hear the heartbeat of our church as it began and that you will feel the pulse of her struggles as she grew. Please read on.
Richard E. Taylor, editor.