Why I wrote Jacob’s Choice

Guest post by Ervin Stutzman, author of the novel, Jacob’s Choice.

There’s hardly a day that went by in the last two years without my musing on Jacob Hochstetler’s story of faith which I portray in Jacob’s Choice. Each day, my mind transported me back more than 250 years in time to witness the immense clash of empires in Penn’s Woods, a conflict which forever altered the social and religious landscape of America.

Historical Marker of Indian attack on Hochstetler familyOn some days, I strolled the foothills of the Blue Mountains where Hochstetler and his family carved a homestead out of the rich forest surrounding the Northkill Creek. On other days, I marched with Hochstetler and his captors through hundreds of miles of dense forest.

Northkill CreekForest and Northkill Creek

Or I smelled the smoke that rose from the cooking fires at the Seneca village of Buckaloons, where Hochstetler was kept as a captive.

Confluence of Brokenstraw Creek and Allegheny River at BuckaloonsConfluence of Brokenstraw Creek and Allegheny River at Buckaloons.

Although Hochstetler’s story is well-known among his more knowledgeable descendants, it deserves a much wider telling. It begs to inspire not only those who share his nonresistant convictions, but also a broader audience that embraces violence as a way to do God’s will.

The founding narratives of our nation beg for significant nuancing and reinterpretation. That’s what James Juhnke and Carol Hunter hoped to accomplish with The Missing Peace: The Search for Nonviolent Alternatives in United States History. I envisioned Jacob’s Choice as a way to show rather than tell how the Amish eschewed violence in the face of war. The publishers and editors at Herald Press heartily embraced this vision, and have done their best to make that possible.

During the surge of interest in Anabaptist origins in the mid-1900s, Mennonite scholars translated dozens of 16th century Anabaptist texts and wrote extensively about that period. Some wrote historical novels about that era. Most recently, Myron Augsburger wrote The Fugitive, the story of Anabaptist reformer Menno Simons. Why so few stories from the 1700s and 1800s? The paucity of historical novels could give the impression that not many faithful Anabaptists lived during that era. Jacob’s Choice was written to help fill that void.

Frankly, I hope to ride the current wave of interest in Amish novels, as explained in Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels by Valerie Weaver-Zercher. Like Weaver-Zercher, I live with considerable ambivalence about the portrayal of the Amish in popular media, so I’ve done my best to write something that tells the story of my Amish forebears with respect and as much accuracy as I could achieve through careful research.

JacobsChoiceAlthough I’m enthralled by Hochstetler’s story, the narrative in Jacob’s Choice draws its ultimate meaning from the larger story of God at work in the world. As in the stories of scripture, the ultimate hero of my book is God, whose visage in made visible to us in the face of Jesus Christ. That story has the power to bring us to our knees in repentance and readiness—like Hochstetler— to make the hard choice to follow Jesus wherever he leads.

(Photos in this blog, except for below, are courtesy of Ervin Stutzman and appear in the hardcover Expanded Edition of Jacob’s Choice along with maps, genealogy, extensive end notes, and more.)

A news release and purchasing information is here.


Ervin Stutzman, author and executive director of Mennonite Church USA, signing books at Gospel Book Store, Berlin, Ohio.



God Still Uses Ink (and More)

Recently, I attended the Pacific South West Mennonite Conference’s (PSWMC) Winter Delegate Session, held at First Mennonite Church, Upland, Calif., one of 21 area conferences in Mennonite Church USA. I spent time visiting churches and donors in advance of the meeting and helped Barbara Eby, resource advocate for the conference,  set up a book table. PSWMC is one of the most diverse of MC USA’s 21 regional bodies.

PacificSouthwestMennoniteConference2More than 11 languages are spoken in Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference

While interacting with customers browsing the book tables I came to know Clifton Carter and to recognize the impact a book can have. Clifton shared his testimony with me. He told me he grew up in Maryland and “got sober” through the ministry of the Church of Christ (Boston Movement) which traces its origins to America’s Second Great Awakening (1790-1870) and the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement. Some claim the Church Of Christ International is a cult, in that it exerts undue influence over its members and brainwashes them. I am not an authority on such matters but trust this brother’s testimony that he was released from his addiction through the church’s ministry.


Clifton Carter, tattoo artist and aspiring Mennonite pastor.

In 2004 Clifton first heard about Anabaptism from one of the church’s pastors, who referred to it as a movement of the Holy Spirit to restore the purity of the early Church. However, Clifton understood from the preacher that the Anabaptist movement had died. He was surprised then to learn more about Anabaptists and discover they are still very much alive in the Mennonite Church and in other forms. He and his mother attended a conservative Mennonite church near his home, where the men and women sit on opposite sides of the sanctuary. He did further research and discovered Mennonite Church USA and Stuart Murray’s book from 2010, The Naked Anabaptist. He pointed to several other MennoMedia books which he has read, is presently reading, or plans to read including: What is an Anabaptist Christian? by Palmer Becker and John Roth’s books on Mennonite faith: Beliefs; Practices; and Stories. However, he confided he doesn’t have any money for books right now.

I joined Clifton for dinner in the church’s basement fellowship hall and learned more about his journey and hopes. He is in touch with PSWMC Conference Minister Dick Davis and is taking steps to become a licensed Mennonite pastor with plans to plant a church in Sacramento, where he lives. I asked Clifton, “How do you support yourself?” He rolled up his shirt sleeve, showed me a tattoo of a Bible near his wrist, and said, “I’m a tattoo artist.” Clifton is eager to learn Mennonite/Anabaptist thinking. He has already read many of MennoMedia’s Herald Press titles and plans to take a series of five classes, taught by leaders in PSWMC, designed to prepare people for pastoral ministry in the Mennonite church.

Reflecting on my time with Clifton, I realize the impact a well-written book can have. In 1958 Herald Press published a book titled God Uses Ink by John A. Hostetler which tells the story of the first fifty years of Mennonite Publishing House which, in 2011, merged with Third Way Media to form MennoMedia. In 1978, Hubert R. Pellman wrote and published the history of Mennonite Broadcasts First 25 Years, the predecessor organization of Third Way Media. I believe God is still using ink, digital signals, film/video, music and a host of faith formation resources to draw people closer to Christ and encourage them to follow Jesus, the Prince of Peace. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy working for MennoMedia and promoting its mission. God is using the products we produce to change people’s lives.

What Mennonite books or films have been particularly influential in your life?
Are you reading any Herald Press books now? If yes, what do you like about them?
Are there books you would recommend to someone exploring the Mennonite faith?

Steve Carpenter Director of Development and Church Relations

Steve Carpenter
Director of Development and Church Relations

Answers and Winners for the First-Ever HP First Lines Quiz

The results are in for the first ever Herald Press first lines quiz. (See this post for the questions.) Thanks to all of you who entered your answers to this quiz. The two randomly chosen winners are: Deanna Risser and Elvesta Hochstedler. Congratulations to Deanna and Elvesta! Each will receive a free copy of a Herald Press book that appeared in the quiz.

And now, for all of you who participated and all of you who didn’t: here are the answers to the first lines quiz. No one except MennoMedia staff got all of the answers correct. But several folks got eight or nine out of ten, which isn’t bad at all. See how you did:

1. Mother eyed me critically as I blew my nose and mopped up the drippings in an overworked hankie.





2. Among the cookbooks on the pantry shelf at home there has always been the little hand-written notebook of recipes.

Mennonite Community Cookbook





3. Brass samovars of sweet, milky tea mark the quarter of Peshawar, Pakistan, that has long been called Qissa Khwani, or the “storytellers’ bazaar.”

Making Friends among the Taliban


4. Ever since I was little, I wanted to be big.






5. Cutting back sounds like a dismal prospect. “Let’s splurge, just this once” appeals more to American and Canadian ears.

More-with-Less Cookbook





6. Thirty-seven percent is a comfortable humidity level, a great batting average if you’re a baseball player. If it’s a grade on a test, it is not . . . so great.

Laughter is Sacred Space





7. I actually killed a cactus once. I mean, really: who kills a cactus?

Ordinary Miracles

(This one was a trick question! Ordinary Miracles releases in March…)




8. It was a mismatch from the start–being born with a nature that just did not fit into my Amish culture.

Bonnet Strings





9. “The Anabaptists are back!” announced an American author a few years ago in a book.

The Naked Anabaptist





10. Anna Stutzman sank into her rocking chair as the last rays of the midsummer sun dimmed on the Kansas horizon.

Tobias of the Amish





So no matter how you did, pat yourself on the back if you participated in this first-ever Herald Press first lines quiz. And resolve to increase your score next time by reading more Herald Press books!

ValerieWeaverZercher Valerie Weaver-Zercher is managing editor of Herald Press trade books.