Mennonite Church USA’s Ervin Stutzman appears on TLC’s Who Do You Think You Are?

April 28, 2016

Joint News Release of Mennonite Church USA and MennoMedia

Reaching way beyond the flock

Mennonite Church USA’s Ervin Stutzman appears on TLC’s Who Do You Think You Are?

ELKHART, Ind. and HARRISONBURG, Va.—On many Sundays, Ervin Stutzman, executive director of Mennonite Church USA, can be found preaching or speaking at Mennonite churches, conference meetings, board meetings, or churchwide conventions and other gatherings.

Ervin R. Stutzman

But on a Sunday evening in April, Stutzman was one of several featured guests on the
TLC network television show Who Do You Think You Are? On the program he meets actor/singer Katey Sagal, perhaps most well known for her role on the Married with Children television show from 1987 to 1997. In the April 17 edition of the TLC program, Sagal is the “celebrity” exploring her family roots. (Update: The complete program is no longer available on YouTube. A short portion with Sagal is shown here but not the portion with Stutzman.)

In addition to his full-time “day job,” Stutzman is a prolific author for Herald Press, the publishing arm of Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada. Herald Press has published Jacob’s Choice and Joseph’s Dilemma, two historical novels in Stutzman’s Return to Northkill trilogy. Stutzman is currently finishing a third and final volume in that series, Christian’s Hope.ChristiansHope

Stutzman’s work on the trilogy is what brought him to the attention of the TLC researchers when they consulted David Weaver-Zercher, professor of American religious history at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, and author/editor of numerous publications on the Amish. Weaver-Zercher, who is married to Stutzman’s Herald Press editor, Valerie Weaver-Zercher, knew of Stutzman’s historical research for the novels and suggested to the producer that TLC contact Stutzman.

Stutzman is one of a handful of current Mennonite historians and researchers the TLC show could have turned to regarding the Amish family of Jacob Hochstetler. The Hochstetlers lived near what is now the unincorporated town of Shartlesville, in upper Berks County, Pennsylvania. Hochstetler is considered a faith hero among the Amish and many Mennonites for his refusal to use guns to defend his family during an attack in 1757. His wife, daughter, and one son were killed in the attack and his home burned; Jacob and two sons were captured.

A researcher for the program first called Stutzman for a telephone interview in August 2015, asking a number of questions about his perspective on the meaning of Jacob’s response to the 1757 attack, and what nonresistance means to Amish and Mennonites today.

After a Skype video interview with Stutzman in December, the producers invited him to appear on the program with a Hochstetler descendant “whose identity they did not reveal to me at that time,” recalled Stutzman.

“I had never watched the show before being asked to participate,” confessed Stutzman. But he checked out Who Do You Think You Are? and was pleasantly impressed.

When Stutzman finally learned who the show would revolve around, he did some quick searching online about Katey Sagal. “The producer only told me that Katey was my seventh cousin. I wasn’t allowed to meet her before the taping began.”

Thus Stutzman did not know Sagal’s own political or religious leanings, “so I had no idea what her reaction would be to Jacob’s refusal to shoot at the Indians when Jacob’s family was under attack,” Stutzman explained. In the program, Sagal is shown reading the historical description of the often-talked about attack in the library in Reading, Pennsylvania, which is the Berks County seat.

Stutzman said he spent several hours with Sagal, about half of which was filmed. “I had the pleasure of answering many of Sagal’s questions in some depth, but only a few minutes of the interview made the final cut,” he said.

To help Stutzman prepare for the interview with Sagal, the producer suggested a number of passages from the Hochstetler genealogy that might be of interest to her, based on their knowledge of Sagal. Stutzman said, “I prepared a number of tentative responses, geared to the questions she might ask.” He said the producer assured him that he was well prepared for the interview, and knew the relevant material “backwards and forwards.”

In the program, Sagal notes that her parents, who lived in Hollywood, California, opposed the Vietnam War in the ’60s and ’70s. As Stutzman watched the segment on TV and learned more of Sagal’s family history, Stutzman said, “I immediately thought of the Vietnam War as being the first major war in which conscientious objection by a diverse group [not just Anabaptist groups] played a major role in bringing the war to an end.” He noted that it also served to move the church from the terminology of nonresistance toward nonviolence.

Stutzman said he was surprised by the openness of the producer and staff to learn about the Amish and Mennonite faith. “Katey was very surprised to meet a distant cousin on the show. She had no idea that she had so many relatives!” he said.

She was also very pleased to discover that her ancestors were peace-loving people, which she expresses in the show. “She had never heard of a Mennonite and knew next to nothing about the Amish,” said Stutzman.


Ervin Stutzman chatting with publisher Russ Eanes and Jane Eanes at Park View Mennonite Church, Harrisonburg.

In addition to writing a trilogy incorporating a great deal of Amish/Mennonite history, Stutzman has written the 424-page volume From Nonresistance to Justice: The Transformation of Mennonite Church Peace Rhetoric, 1908­­2008 and two fictional biographies of his mother and father, Tobias of the Amish and Emma: A Widow Among the Amish, all published by Herald Press.

 Stutzman was born into an Amish home in Kalona, Iowa, and spent most of his childhood in Hutchinson, Kansas. Stutzman says he maintains a huge curiosity about the past, which is his strongest motivation for research. He has learned that “narrative captivates people’s interest in ways that essays cannot.” He is pondering what he will write after his work on the Northkill trilogy is finished at the end of May.

Looking back on the experience, Stutzman is grateful for the opportunity the show gave him. “I consider it an honor to have been asked,” he said.

–Melodie M. Davis

High resolution photos of Stutzman and his forthcoming book available.

For more information on this press release:
Melodie Davis
News manager

Janie Beck Kreider
Director of Communications
Mennonite Church USA

Stutzman’s newest book, Christian’s Hope, is available for preorder from 800-245-7894 or

Is suffering God’s will? Mother of 4-year-old who died explores Christian beliefs

April 13, 2016LordWilling
News release

Is suffering God’s will?
Mother of 4-year-old who died explores widespread Christian beliefs

HARRISONBURG, Va., and KITCHENER, Ont.—Jessica Kelley used to assume, as many Christians do, that everything that happens is part of God’s “design.” Unable to reconcile the idea of a loving God who orchestrates suffering for some mysterious higher purpose, she began an intensive process of Scripture study, wrestling with her understanding of God.

Kelley’s exploration sustained her through her deepest agony: the illness and death of her four-year-old son, Henry. Kelley tells her story in Lord Willing? Wrestling with God’s Role in My Child’s Death (Herald Press, $16.99 paperback, April 26, 2016).

Kelley juxtaposes Henry’s suffering and death from an aggressive brain tumor against the common Christian notion that everything happens according to “God’s perfect plan.” In an intense, provocative dialogue with the traditional Christian view of God’s role in suffering, she presents an alternative grounded in Scripture and the life and teachings of Jesus.

The “blueprint worldview”—the idea that all things transpire according to God’s divine plan—permeates Christian culture, she says. It’s found in the sermons of nationally known preachers, bestselling books, chart-topping songs, influential blogs, and famous speeches. This view says that radical suffering is part of God’s plan—whether from tsunamis, tornados, human trafficking, poverty, or deadly diseases.

Kelley_Jessica2_RGBAccording to Kelley, there are two main versions of this blueprint worldview. In one, God causes everything to happen, even bad things. In the other, bad things aren’t necessarily caused by God, but he specifically allows them to happen for some greater good.

Either understanding of the blueprint worldview would imply that “the horror Henry experienced was simply a display of God’s mysterious wisdom,” Kelley says. Other blueprint explanations for Henry’s suffering included common phrases such as, “A blessing in disguise,” “God’s discipline,” “part of God’s plan to glorify himself.” Kelley notes that these explanations for God’s role in suffering render God’s character mysterious at best and sadistic at worst.

Yet through her wrestling, Kelley came to embrace the thought that God’s heart of self-sacrificial love is fully revealed in the person of Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:3). She notes how Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, cast out demons, and even calmed a violent storm at sea. Kelley realized that when God wrapped himself in flesh he didn’t use his power to afflict or destroy, but rather to bring life “to the full” (John 10:10).

As she compared God’s self-revelation in Jesus to a God who designs humanity’s suffering, Kelley discovered a huge chasm. And during the process of engaging those questions, she found new, more satisfying answers.

She rejected the blueprint worldview and adopted a “warfare worldview.” This view holds that, for now, God doesn’t always get his way and that evil, pain, and suffering are not God’s ideal will for us.

This view attributes evil to wills other than God’s. “Our unique suffering results from any number of infinite variables in this complex universe, many of which lie outside our awareness,” Kelley writes. In this view, God, whose nature and character are love, is at war, continually battling cosmic powers and spiritual forces of evil. “God is good. God battles evil with love. That’s what the cross was all about,” Kelley says.

This new understanding of God’s character allowed Kelley to “fall into God’s loving arms without reservation” when Henry died.

Kelley wishes to share the passion she’s found in this view of God. “When I share the love of Jesus, defeat dissolves and triumph emerges. When I profess the truth that Henry’s death was not sent by God for a mysterious higher purpose, I find strength,” she writes.  Lord Willing? is Kelley’s testimony and she wishes to spread knowledge of God’s great love.

Jessica Kelley is a speaker and writer who blogs at She has degrees in psychology and counseling, and has worked as a school counselor. Born and raised in the South, Jessica lives with her husband and five-year-old daughter in Saint Paul, Minnesota where they attend Woodland Hills church. Greg Boyd, pastor of Woodland Hills, wrote the foreword for the book.

Lord Willing? Wrestling with God’s Role in My Child’s Death is available from MennoMedia at 800-245-7894 or, as well as at bookstores and elsewhere online.

Kelly Hughes
DeChant-Hughes & Assoc. Inc. Public Relations

High resolution photos available.

For more information on this press release:
Melodie Davis
News manager


“Hall of Nations” dedicated for Orie O. Miller at Eastern Mennonite University



New “Orie O. Miller Hall of Nations” in Eastern Mennonite University Commons

It is not every Mennonite who gets a “Hall of Nations”—filled with international flags—named after him or her at a Mennonite college. After all, this particular Mennonite died back in 1977, so his donating days are over, which is usually how you get things named after you.


Of course this particular man, Orie O. Miller, donated many many dollars and even more hours to multiple Mennonite institutions that he helped start, all documented with fascinating detail in the Herald Press biography published last year, My Calling to Fulfill: The Orie O. Miller Story, by historian John E. Sharp.


Biographer John Sharp at dedication service.

Almost one hundred years ago, in 1919, Orie was in the first group of nine Mennonite relief workers who went by ship to help refugees in Syria and Lebanon. This propelled him to later explore how Mennonites could help those suffering in Russia after World War I, and he eventually completed some 100 ocean crossings by boat for relief or mission work (before air travel).

The Orie O. Miller Hall of Nations was dedicated last week at Eastern Mennonite University as part of an Anabaptist Leadership Conference. I did not want to miss the service. Ever since I was a little girl I remembered my Mennonite-deacon-father quoting Orie Miller about this, or telling us how Orie Miller had begun that. Like thousands of others of his World War II Mennonite generation, Dad absorbed and conveyed to us the urgency of upholding and teaching peace as a lifestyle to later generations. Dad served four years in Civilian Public Service, the alternative to military service which Orie helped to establish with the U.S. government, because of deep and true understandings that Jesus would not have wanted them to fight in any war.


Edgar Stoesz, on MCC staff for 33 years, chatting with Dr. Lee M. Yoder after the service

I was not disappointed in the dedicatory gathering. I got to hear folks like Edgar Stoesz, who is one of the few living leaders who actually worked with Orie at Mennonite Central Committee at the Akron Pa. headquarters (their working paths crossed there only one year). MCC of course is one of a string of organizations Orie helped begin. Edgar told stories of the kind former co-workers tell, like the time Edgar grew a mustache. NO one liked Edgar’s mustache, least of all his wife, and eventually Edgar admitted it just didn’t work on him and shaved it off on a business trip. Orie, who was sometimes criticized for being stern or humorless, was speaking with Edgar at Edgar’s desk after he returned from his trip. At the end of the conversation Orie started to walk away and then turned, came back, and said “I had to see whether it was gone, or did I just wish it gone?”

Dr. Lee M. Yoder, former EMU vice president and currently chair of the Anabaptist Center of Religion and Society at EMU gave background on how the idea for an Orie O. Miller Hall of Nations came about. Yoder had worked in several international settings where national flags had been used to not only signal international interest and cooperation, but serve as a welcome and affirmation for persons from around the globe—in this case, learners coming to EMU whether as undergrads, grad students, or Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI) participants.  This hall of colorful flags will certainly be a bright spot of welcome to SPI students and outstanding peaceworkers like eventual Nobel Peace Prize winner Lemayah Gbowee.

Edgar Stoesz gave some advice looking at the example of persons like Orie Miller and Mother Teresa, regarding what one person can do to change the world. If we sometimes wonder about the futility of one person ever doing anything to really make a difference, Edgar encouraged his audience, “Throw back your shoulders and say, ‘I am that person, God helping me.’”



Joe Lapp, former president of EMU, chats with Jerilyn Schrock, marketing manager for Herald Press, at the Anabaptist Leadership Conference book table.


Some of the books on sale at the Anabaptist Leadership Conference included: Overplayed, Changing Lenses, The Spacious Heart, My Calling to Fulfill, Setting the Agenda, Rewilding the Way, Trouble I’ve Seen, the Christians Meeting Muslims series, The Power of All, Fully Engaged, Widening the Circle, Living Thoughtfully Dying Well, Teaching that Transforms, and more.

You can purchase My Calling to Fulfill here.


Those interested in sponsoring additional flags for the Orie Miller Hall of Nations at EMU can check information here or contact Ben Bailey directly.


Melodie Davis, a managing editor at Herald Press, is 2/3 of the way through reading My Calling to Fulfill and plans to give a more thorough review of the book at her blog