Jim Fitz’s Faith Journey 2-9-10
I grew up on a produce farm in PA, part of a Church of the Brethren where 90% were farmers. I experienced a lot of good community there and this is one of the reasons I have been in living in community for 27 years at Plow Creek. My parents passed on when I was 13 and the care I received from relatives was also a very good community experience.
I was the only one of six brothers to finish HS and college. I went on voter registration drives in the 60’s in the south and protested against the Vietnam War. 1966-69 I spent in Bolivia as a volunteer on a community development team of the church - half North American, half Bolivian, working mainly in agriculture. That really put Latin America on my map; my heart is always half there. In Bolivia, I struggled with whether to burn my draft card, but decided not to because if I did that I would have had to leave Bolivia. I went through two to three years of agnosticism searching for God.
In 1970 I spent two months in Cuba cutting sugar cane for the revolution with some 500 other North Americans in the Vencermos Brigade. There a Cuban Baptist pastor told me how he did not support Fidel, but the people did, so that “if Fidel would ask people to stand on their heads, everyone would.” He had wide support. I saw in Cuba, like nowhere else in Latin America, superior schools and health care. I was a thorn in the side of the Vencermos Brigade, openly questioning the laziness and sleeping around that was going on between Cubans and Americans.
I then bought a farm in WV with my nephew and his wife; we were part of the simple living, back-to-the-land community movement. We had hoped to become a community. I had had a conversion experience at a Church of the Brethren conference upon hearing Tom Skinner preach on church and community. Later, I ran into Julius Belser from Reba Place and asked him how to become a community. He suggested we start by praying. As we were not people who prayed, it did not seem much help.
Our attempt at community soon fell apart and my nephew and family moved back to PA. I began to seek God. One of the pivotal things that happened is that I had a conversation with a revered friend, COB pastor Dave Rittenhouse. In a conversation I told him I would like to believe all that stuff about God, but I said I could not with honesty say I believed it. He said, “Well, don’t try to fool God by saying you believe. But if you want to believe, just ask for it.” This I have been doing ever since.
The 1970's were a faith formative time for me. I did a lot of reading, practiced praying, and did several trips across the Midwest visiting mostly Brethren friends. I even visited Amish in Belize and Honduras. I was nurtured in many ways: through a COB pastor's training course, interactions with many Church of the Brethren people, a group of nuns I prayed regularly with, the COB charismatic movement, 7thday Adventists, Catholics, Baptists, Methodists and even hippies. One of the reasons for my dress and beard is from identifying with COB history. I felt and feel it stands for things I clearly believe (peace, honesty, simplicity, justice). Nurturing by this great variety of people has helped my ability to appreciate and share with people of all faiths and even agnostics and atheists.
I hitch-hiked a lot, and got picked up by a priest going to mass and got started in what ended up as years of attending mass. Lyn and I met when she picked me up hitching to the Catholic Church mass, after which she and her twin daughters came to eat my homegrown squash and beans and tomatoes at my farm seven Sundays in a row. We were married in 1978 by Pastor Dave Rittenhouse, along with the help of the same Catholic priest who picked me up hitching. The wedding was attended by a variety of people from barefoot hippies to my Brethren aunts who wore bonnets and never cut their hair to an uncle who danced a jig at the wedding.
After we were married six months, we moved to New Covenant Fellowship community in Athens, Ohio, where Art and Peggy Gish live. By 1980, after most of the community had left, we moved to Plow Creek community in central Illinois, which we joined in 1984. (We were the only family ever to move there bringing our milking goats along in the
UHaul rental van!) Then I began to help manage Plow Creek Farm. Our two youngest children were born at Plow Creek – Emily in 1980 and Andy in 1986. Plow Creek was a great place to raise our children.
I really enjoyed farming, as I am a farmer at heart. The farm work also gave me connections to local Hispanics that I hired to help on the farm. In the 80’s and 90’s, I headed up the hosting of Central American refugees for Plow Creek that were fleeing civil wars in their countries. I also was in charge of Plow Creek’s relationship with Valle Nuevo, El Salvador - our sister community. Doing this was a very good thing for me. It was great to use my Spanish again and develop relationships with Hispanics. That was a gift. As a result, our family has an affinity with Hispanics, especially those we have had in our home and we have many good memories of those times.
I continued doing the farm management and the outreach above until 2002 when I felt called to do peacemaking with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Colombia. I did this two to three months a year for six years. This time of peacemaking work has been some of the richest of my life spiritually. As one of the CPTers said, 90% of the importance of what we do with our experience in Colombia is what we do with it in North America, because what our government does is the root of many of the problems in Colombia. That moved me into sharing photos of my experiences in Colombia in presentations and at fairs and with whomever would listen, even though at first I was very shy in front of a group. And it seems the Lord has been able to use this farmer to share about peacemaking fairly well, after lots of practice. In 2009, I gave 50 plus talks in PA, NY, CA, IN, OH, IL, WV and OR. I enjoy doing that.
I have gone through quite a bit of depression from the 70’s right up to the present. This continues to be quite challenging, but little by little, it is getting better. For ten years or more I shared weekly with Rich Foss or David Janzen about my struggles. They and other friends have been an invaluable help to me. How we need to learn to share our pain to receive the help God wants to give through brothers and sisters. Developing a disciplined quiet time with God has been a big help to me too. And I am still in process.
It seems all during my life I have been working on my faith journey, with a lot of help via sharing about it with friends and whomever I cross paths with and through reading and the Lord. I have grown in my personal relationship with the Lord. The Lord has brought this farm boy in the COB a long way – from being an agnostic to taking away most of my doubt.
My prayer practices began in the early 70’s after my time of agnosticism. I felt one of the central things about being a Christian was to pray, so what better way to learn than by praying for friends. I did this by going around the world in my imagination and lifting them to Jesus or the light one at a time. And that has evolved into today interceding for several thousand people. I now have their names in a book and I just go down the list for about an hour each day. These are people with whom I‘ve had a good conversation, or whom I sense have a special need, or someone with whom I disagree (for a pleasant surprise, pray for your enemies!), or people who inspired me by their writing, or even groups or people whom in some way I just sense a call to pray for them. Also on this list are self reminders of ongoing personal concerns like depression, ways I need to grow or health. I am still adding to the list.
In the fall of 2008, I was challenged in Eugene Peterson’s introduction to the Message Bible to read through the Bible for the first time. I am up to Samuel and at the same time reading through Ezekiel, Isaiah, Psalms & Corinthians. This immersion into the Bible has brought me to see parallels of my own thoughts and experiences in the lives of the Bible people. I now see the Bible as a gold mine for living, right at our finger tips. A common theme I notice in the Bible is that things happen so that people might realize and know that God cares for us and is actively on our side. And I have come to sense this is one of the main teaching of the Bible. Some of the truths and prayers I read daily as a part of my quiet time are: Psalm 22:27-31: Jeremiah 3:12-15; Micah 6:8; Zechariah 8:12-13; Matthew 5:10; Matthew 28:16-20; John 12:13; Roman14:1; 2 Corinthians 5:15-20; Ephesians 3:20.
I start off my quiet time with series of breathing and meditations exercises I have gleaned from different books. It’s a Meaningful Life: It Just Takes Practice by Bo Lozoff is a very encouraging book with very practical tips on getting started on a disciplined quiet time. I spend 2-3 hours daily in prayer - the time somewhat determined by my wondering mind like it was this morning thinking about writing this. My quiet time is the part of the day I most look forward to.
We left Plow Creek and moved to Chicago so we could be closer to our 3 children and 4 grand kids who live here. I am a novice as part of finding out how Reba Place works and to find out if the Lord is calling me to join Reba Place. So far I have been very impressed on how the common purse has sustained the community over these 50 years and encouraged and challenged as I read Virgil Vogt's Treasure in Heaven.
For more, see my web site letters on prayer and peacemaking. www.jimspeacemaking.org
Thanks for your interest. I always welcome questions.