September 28, 2016
Christian’s Hope by Ervin Stutzman released by Herald Press
Third novel completes Return to Northkill trilogy
HARRISONBURG, Va., and KITCHENER, Ontario—With Christian’s Hope, author Ervin Stutzman, also executive director of Mennonite Church USA, concludes his Return to Northkill trilogy. Published by Herald Press, this historical novel, set in the 18th century, is a based on a true story of warfare, nonviolence, and moral choice.
The first novel in the series, Jacob’s Choice, describes the historic French and Indian War massacre and aftermath in which an Amish father and two sons were kidnapped and their family killed. Joseph’s Dilemma looks at war and forgiveness through the eyes of a son adopted by his Native American captors. In Christian’s Hope, the second surviving son returns from captivity to find himself no longer at home in Amish culture and questioning his beliefs and identity.
Universal themes emerge in this story from centuries ago, said Stutzman in an interview. Christian Hochstetler faces interfaith questions about culture and the scope of God’s love.
He questions who he is after his unwilling return from his adopted Native American home after eight years away. Is he Amish? Is he Indian? What clothes should he wear? Who is his true family? Which faith does he claim?
The key theme of Christian’s Hope is the question of life’s purpose, Stutzman said. Christian is a young man of 20 who is considering marriage and faith and asking, “What is the purpose for my life? How do I make sense of what has happened to me?”
Stutzman based his trilogy on documented evidence about the Hochstetler family, adding details and dialogue to the known historical facts. In careful consultation with the available documents, Stutzman also considered the legacy of the story and contemporaneous history. “It could have happened this way, based on cultural assumptions of that time,” he said.
Jacob’s Choice, Joseph’s Dilemma, Christian’s Hope: the titles are significant, said Stutzman. “They get at decisions—the way people think and work, what life presents, and how we deal with it.”
Christian’s Hope is available for $14.99 USD from MennoMedia at 800-245-7894 or www.MennoMedia.org, as well as at bookstores. Jacob’s Choice and Joseph’s Dilemma are available at the same price. Jacob’s Choice is also available in an expanded edition featuring maps, family charts, and other historical background for $29.99 USD. Study guides for all three books are available online at the MennoMedia store under “Study Guides.”
High-resolution photo available.
For more information on news release:
Author Interview—Christian’s Hope by Ervin Stutzman
Ervin Stutzman is the author of Christian’s Hope, just released by Herald Press. He also authored the first two books of the Return to Northkill trilogy, Jacob’s Choice and Joseph’s Dilemma, as well as other fiction and nonfiction. He was interviewed by Ardell Stauffer.
Did you start this project knowing it would be a trilogy?
Ervin Stutzman, right, enjoys conversation at an earlier book signing at Gospel Book Store in Berlin, Ohio.
I was planning one book. I had a fiction coach who, after several months, suggested a trilogy. As a result, these stories are much better as a series.
The focus of each book is different. First is the father, Jacob Hochstetler, and his experience of the tragic attack in Pennsylvania—the typical Amish story that is told. I expanded it by looking at what he does within his captivity and when he returns. So the first volume is the settler-centered point of view. Joseph’s Dilemma is set in the Indian village, and it helps us understand the Native American point of view. This third book takes another tack: What was it like to come back to an Amish home after living in an Indian village for eight years? This is the “third-culture kid” point of view that children of mission workers frequently experience as they grow into adulthood.
What first attracted you to this story as a possible novel or novels?
Having heard it as a young adult, seeing it in a genealogy book, hearing there had been skits or plays about it, intrigued me—it’s a family story. I’m related to the progenitor of the Hochstetler family, as are many Swiss-German Mennonites.
What is it about this story, this history, that keeps it known and in circulation among Mennonites and Amish after more than two hundred years?
Because Jacob Hochstetler is an icon for the Amish church. Like the martyr Dirk Willems for the Mennonites, his is a story of nonresistance. It’s a story we tell ourselves, a myth, in that sense: it helps define who we are in relation to our enemies. It’s not always true [of us], of course; that is why it is told.
How much actual history did you have to go on, and how much did you use the fiction writer’s license to expand beyond the facts?
The Jacob Hochstetler Family Association published a small book by Beth Hostetler Mark, Our Flesh and Blood, a documentary history with original documents in German and English. This is the best resource available.
That was a jumping-off point. I followed the basic rule: if documents existed, I make the book true to that. I study other documents for that period. I try to be true to history as we know it, the facts as they’ve come down. It could have happened this way, based on cultural assumptions of that time. A lot is my imagination. This is 900 pages of material based on maybe 50 pages of legacy and maybe 10 pages of documents written at the time.
“Choice,” “Dilemma,” “Hope”—your subtitles describe themes of questioning, choosing, possibilities. Is there a main theme that drives “Christian’s Hope”?
That theme is “hope” because this book is more future-looking. Book 1 makes the point that we as people make a choice to be nonresistant—how Jacob made that choice. Book 2 is about, who is Joseph going to be now that he has been adopted into an Indian tribe? The themes are war and forgiveness. Book 3 is more future-oriented: what Christian had hoped could happen. The titles get at decisions, the way people think and work, what life presents, and how we deal with it.
What’s different about looking back, and reimagining, this 18th-century story from the perspective of the 21st century? Are you just telling history, or are you speaking to modern issues too?
All the themes are universal. What’s the nature of community? How do we deal with people different from us? The books deal with Native Americans and settlers, the meaning of church membership, how clothing brings identity, and family conflict. Jacob is the protagonist in book 1, and the antagonist in book 3, with the theme of what a son and a father hope for. There is sexual abuse, stepfamilies, identity, and forgiveness. People are people in every generation and century. Back then it was the French and Indian War and the follow-up, where there was tremendous change and conflict and a clash of peoples.
You’re a pastor and church leader as well as writer. Does this story address particular Christian questions or themes?
For a pastor, the overarching theme is the sense of purpose. Christian has been with the Indians since age 11; he’s 20 now, looking at “What is the purpose for my life? How do I make sense of what happened to me, and make sense going forward?”
Together with the woman he will marry, he is asking, “What did God intend?” Why would God allow her parents to die, and her to grow up an orphan? Why would God allow Christian to be taken in a raid? These are universal questions, the deepest kind of pastoral questions.
What is God, what kind of God is there? The scope of God’s love—does he love Native Americans? Christian makes his church choice; it is key for him to meet Christian Frederick Post, who was a missionary. This makes it possible for him to convert to Christianity. Post was a man who loved the Indians, worked among them, and didn’t forsake them. This is a huge theme today, as Christians think about Muslims and have interfaith conversations. This was a huge topic in the first church of the New Testament as well. As the writer of Ecclesiastes said, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
Another modern theme shows up here: creation care is important today, which is one of Christian’s concerns. He was taught [as an Indian] to respect all life equally; the Amish he returns to don’t have that understanding at all.
Your book dedication thanks members of your writers group. Did they play a role in shaping this story with you?
Very much so. We’ve worked together several years. I brainstorm with them. They are influential as I read specific aspects of the story, a scene I’ve written. The women in my writers group always have lots to say about the way women are characterized in the story.
Has writing this trilogy whetted your appetite for further fiction writing?
Yes, I think so. I’m drawn to fiction more than ever. This is new for me; I had not imagined this ten years ago. Fiction lets people put themselves in someone else’s shoes for a few hours, and ask themselves, “What would I do if I were there?” I think that happens a little deeper with fiction than with essays, because people get emotionally invested in a story. It enables people to learn new points of view, to see their own life differently, perhaps at a deeper level.
Christian’s Hope and the other books in the Return to Northkill trilogy are available from MennoMedia at 800-245-7894, the MennoMedia webstore, Amazon, and other online sources.
Ardell Stauffer, freelance writer and editor, interviewed author Ervin Stutzman.