HANS AND HEIDI . . . A GIFT IN A FOREIGN LAND
We had arrived in Langnau, Switzerland, in the early afternoon on Saturday, July 7. After we settled into the quaint little hotel—a classic, Swiss Emmental chalet—we decided to walk to the church. It was a lovely, clear day, cerulean sky, warm sun (one could almost taste it); the town is little more than a village, nestled in the valley of the Emme River between steeply rising, verdant hills. The houses all along the way are the Emmental style: a curved soffit above the front door. Incredibly colorful flowers fill the box in just about every window in sight.
We wanted to make sure we could find the church the next morning. We also hoped to find someone there who could tell us how we should dress (not sure why this was such an issue, but the last thing we wanted to do was offend, especially if the dress is really conservative.) The walk to the church took almost half an hour.
I don’t know what I expected but when we first saw the building, I was caught by surprise. We came upon a rather modest, relatively modern-looking building—not the 500-year-old structure that I think occupied my mind’s eye. At the front entrance were some very modern teenagers who had obviously been involved in a youth event that afternoon. They were friendly, they smiled brightly—and they spoke no English. (In case I had not mentioned this before, Swiss German is quite different from “high German”—just a very different regional dialect, sort of like the difference between North Dakota and west Texas. As I said, almost unintelligible.)
Anyway, we found the piano player, rehearsing for Sunday—a really nice, young guy—who spoke pretty good English. We got the information we needed. No dress code, he assured us.
We hiked back to the hotel. After dinner, Mr. Google discovered that there was a Sunday morning bus that appeared to run on Sunday morning. If we caught it, we would arrive just on time for the 9:30 service. The plan was set.
Sunday morning broke with rain pouring down. Even though we will (most likely) ride the bus and not have to walk in the deluge, the prospects are not pleasant. I went out on the little terrace and simply asked God if He might just do with this day what He wanted. We were at His mercy (as always) and that of the local bus schedule, as usual.
A step back: our original Sunday plan (a week ago) had been to go to church, go back to the hotel for lunch, then try to figure out how to get to a local castle that had been used as a prison for Anabaptists. This trip would require, as best as we could tell, train, bus, and a lengthy hike. We had also tried to find a guide who could show us around the castle and the area. As it turned out, not only was a guide pretty expensive but none were available on Sunday. We were leaving the area on Monday morning. So, we decided we were on our own and would make the best of it.
Now, back to the future: as we ate breakfast, the rain slowed to a sprinkle. By the time we got to the bus stop, the rain had all but stopped. Low and behold, the bus came and on time. Now we are on our way.
The bus proceeded to stop at the train station. The driver turned off the engine and got out. Uh-oh . . . should we start walking? The minutes ticked by. We are not going to make it. Then, the driver returns, fires it up and off we go. In 10 minutes we are at our stop. In five more, we are at the church—with enough time to go to the bathroom before the service starts. Yet another miracle. A nice surprise, Karen met a lovely lady in there who greeted her in English—very sweet and welcoming.
I will describe the service in another entry, because it was not only interesting but raised a number of questions in my mind. Suffice it to say, there was indeed no dress code. The crowd seemed pretty relaxed, there was a mix of ages—kinda looked a little like home.
At the end of the service, we were just sort of standing there, uncertain what to do next. Then this diminutive, spry older man came up and addressed us in very good English. He introduced himself as Hans Jützi. Very friendly and engaging, he wanted to know about our travel and why we had come here. When I mentioned our interest in Anabaptist history and that we have come to this little town for the express purpose of visiting this church and going to the castle, he lit up!
He told us that he was a former pastor of the church. He was obviously very invested in the church—he offered to give us a tour of the place. Then he said, “I also give Anabaptist history tours and knew the castle well.” At that point, the woman Karen had met walked up—turns out she is his wife. She had told him before the service started that there were Americans visiting and that he should come find us.
At this point, I notice that Hans and Heidi are having a bit of a side conversation. Then he turns to us and said, “Why don’t you come to our house and have lunch. Then I will take you to the castle and show you around the region.”
After our tour of the church, we squeezed into his car and drove to Shüpbach, the next village over. Heidi almost had lunch ready. We were given the tour of his garden, learned he had been a carpenter, had gone to Bible school/college and had served as what we would call a “bi-vocational” pastor. We learned about their children and wonderful grandchildren. (Their children include teachers, a nurse and one son who is a missionary in Brazil.) Hans is also quite a skilled artist—his medium is watercolor. He had a sizable collection of his works he was preparing for an exhibition in a few weeks.
After we ate, Heidi left for a moment and returned with this incredible linzertort (traditional Swiss pastry shell with berry jam and the cross-hatch design on top—yes, I did get a picture.) She said, “God told me to bake that kuchen two weeks ago and I did not know why until today!” She was funny, with an understated sense of humor. At one point in the lunch conversation, which ranged over many topics, she said that she had an idea about heaven. “The Scripture says we will speak a heavenly language,” she observed, “which will have words no one can understand. That is why we know it will be Swiss German.”
God had planned ahead—not only with the divine kuchen but for this entire episode.
Hans was our personal tour guide, gladly and freely, for the rest of the day. He took us to the prison castle (Trachselwald, which I discussed in another entry). Then he drove us on a tour of the Emmental region. We went through villages where he related various stories. Repeatedly he referred to the Anabaptists who had persevered in suffering in this area. He took us by Hans Haslibacher’s house. He shared many of his own personal thoughts on both the history and the issues Christians and churches face today (I will make another entry on these, also, because they, too, call for some reflection.)
At the end of this long drive, Hans dropped us off at the front door of our hotel.
The day could not have been planned any better. God answered that prayer, I think, before I had uttered it. The weather was marvelous (cool, partly cloudy but no more rain); the places we went were just what we were looking for—a week ago this was nothing more to me than a place name a world away; now it has shape and texture and feeling. We made new friends. We got a first-class tour of the church, castle and the spectacular region. We heard first-hand from the heart of a man of deep faith in Jesus, the same faith as ours, as he reflected on “the bad times”, the modern times, and the questions that persist in all times.
Much of our trip has gone this way. We have been blessed with great weather all along the way. We have been surprised again and again with what we have found. Was this mapped out for us before we even came? However that may work in the providence of God, I am grateful that He seems to have set us on this pilgrimage.
Hans and Heidi Jützi at home in their back yard.
Hans and Heidi in front of their garden.
More of the garden, which Hans put in himself.
Hans' haystack. He cuts his grass, stacks it to dry, and then takes it to his farmer son-in-law to use to feed the cows.
The four of us (Karen, Sarah, Mike, Chuck) with Heidi.