Article: The Impact of a Family Faith Heritage

Is there really such a thing as God honoring a family’s Christian faith commitment into the third and fourth generation? I’m aware that history reveals some families with a remarkable pattern of Christian faith being passed on from generation to generation. Recent events—particularly an article written for Wycliffe Bible Translators about my oldest granddaughter, my son, and me—have forcibly reminded me that I and my family also represent a similar pattern. So to encourage parents, let me tell our story.

One hundred and fifty-five years ago the decision of 18 men in a village in the Ukraine set off a new life movement still reverberating in countries as different as Indonesia, India, Japan, the Congo in Africa, Colombia in South America—in addition to Europe, Canada, and the United States. In that German-speaking community of Mennonites, whose heritage went back through Prussia to The Netherlands, their Christianity had degenerated into churchianity. A Lutheran minister arrived and brought the message of new life in Christ.

At an 1860 meeting of the church 18 men, including my great-grandfather, Peter Stobbe, objected to communion being served to members whose behavior revealed little desire to live a godly life. They were summarily dismissed—and the Mennonite Brethren Church was born, marked by aggressive evangelism. Their insistence that people be born again Christians, with a lifestyle to match that of Jesus, before being given communion, so offended the larger community that social ostracism and persecution erupted.

One of the leaders of this new church headed for St. Petersburgh and eventually gained a land grant in the Caucasian Mountain’s foothills—and along with about 400 my great-grandfather moved his family there. God used the constant witnessing of the believers in this new church movement to eventually bring one-third of the Ukraine’s Mennonites into a personal faith in Christ.

From Russia to Canada

In 1911 my grandfather, John P. Stobbe, son of Peter Stobbe, and a Christian and Bible student, left Russia and brought his family to Saskatchewan, Canada. They eventually moved to British Columbia, but not before the oldest son, my father, Peter J. Stobbe, had traveled to Hillsboro, KS to enter Tabor Academy as a 23-year-old student.

At Tabor Academy my father met my mother, Marie Harder, born in Nebraska of another mission-minded Mennonite Brethren family, who had migrated there from the Ukraine in the early 1870s. Two of my mother’s sisters had married foreign mission minded men, who took them to China for years of evangelism and church building there. One of Mom’s nephews also became a missionary to China, then to Japan.

My father brought my mother from Kansas to British Columbia to join his parent’s growing family, though they made a stop in Los Angeles for one semester of study at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles. I was born soon after they joined my grandparent’s family—as did an increasing number of Stobbe cousins. When the growing Stobbe families moved to Abbotsford, B.C, they settled on four farm acreages within a half mile of the U.S. border.

The Faith Emphasis Expands

That’s when my parents, the Peter J. Stobbe’s nurture of us five children was enhanced by the Stobbe “clan” gatherings at my grandparents. Every anniversary and holiday filled the house with adults and children. Conversation often focused on the new church we had helped build, with several uncles in leadership positions. Singing of hymns, accompanied by musical instruments, filled the air. By the time I was nine I was attending Bible studies on the Letters of Paul at my grandparent’s house. As a teen I began teaching in an outreach Sunday school, participating in evangelistic street meetings. One of my uncles took me to un-evangelized communities to teach in Vacation Bible Schools. As I entered a local Bible Institute my uncle Abe Stobbe would take me along to a church plant to preach at the evening service.

Other Stobbe uncles and aunts modeled mission commitment. One family became missionaries to First Nation Canadians in western Canada, two uncles and aunts moved to northern British Columbia to plant a church for miners, loggers, and reach out to First Nation Canadians. I joined them one summer, working in a mine, participating in church activities and street meetings. One week I read Scripture and prayed about my future. I made my commitment to serve my Lord to the maximum of my ability on a worldwide basis. He has honored that commitment. Laid aside on a hospital bed from a mountain climbing injury, I ordered the seven-lesson The Beginning Christian Writer, which laid the foundation for a 60-year career in article writing, magazine editing, mission promotional writing, curriculum writing, book editing, book writing and publishing,

That commitment to Christ spilled over to cousins, one of whom became a pastor, while some became foreign missionaries. When we had a Stobbe family reunion it was like an extended church service, with lots of music and sharing of what God was doing.

Mission Commitment Reinforced

My educational trajectory took me to the Mennonite Brethren Bible College in Winnipeg. At Christmas of my senior year I joined students from our college and two universities to travel to Intervarsity’s Urbana, IL missionary conference. There God moved me to interview with Kenneth Taylor of Moody Press, not dreaming that six years later he would invite me to become the floor supervisor of the Moody Bookstore. Upon graduation God gave me the job of founding a new denominational weekly publication, aggressively covering the M.B. Church’s foreign mission outreach.

At that point God brought my wife, formerly Rita Langemann, into my life when she entered the music program at the M.B. Bible College. She also came from a Christian home and had been involved in musical mission outreach. A year after our marriage it was our turn to start carrying forward the faith legacy we had received.

As we moved because of new job opportunities we always got deeply involved in a Bible-centered and mission-minded church. In fact, in 1981 we were asked to lead in the formation of a new church in our town, Danbury, CT. What started as six couples became 125 in the first morning service—and is now Walnut Hill Community Church, with 2500 in weekend services and at least five church plants.

In 1977 we helped our daughter Carol attend that year’s Urbana Missions Conference—and it changed her career goals, from music to nursing. Now Carol and Dale’s daughter Becca is attending Biola University, the successor to what my father had attended in 1929.

Our son Gerry attended the 1980 Urbana Missions Convention, and as a result spent a summer doing mission outreach in Austria. Gerry and his wife Lorraine led their family in several mission trips to the Caribbean. Most amazing, their daughter Bethany, our oldest granddaughter, is now working in the marketing department at Wycliffe Bible Translators—after she attended the Urbana Missions Conference in 2012 as a college student. She had studied one semester in London and one in Tanzania, Africa—great preparation for working at Wycliffe.

God said unto the fourth generation—and in the Stobbe family the fifth generation is now living out their faith commitment. And with one granddaughter already married, we look forward to another generation serving the Lord. We have a faithful God!

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