Building a Legacy
Laying a foundation for many generations
On display in my office at Globe is a simple black and white photograph, a portrait of a distinguished man and his wife. The man’s name is Aaron F. Stoltzfus, his wife is Katie, and their portrait is a constant reminder to me about legacy.
Aaron F. Stoltzfus was born in 1895 on an Amish farm in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He grew up immersed in the time-tested Amish values of hard work, simplicity and faith in God. Aaron eventually married a young Amish girl named Katie. Before long, she gave birth to their first child. And then, his wife and their child were struck down by the influenza virus that ravished the United States in the early 1900s. Both died. Grief stricken, Aaron tried to move on. He lived single for ten years, working odd jobs and following the wheat harvest across the Midwest.
During this time, the Amish religion became too strict and legalistic for Aaron. It contradicted what he read in Scripture, and to his grieving, lonely heart, it lacked the renewing grace of God. After agonizing reflection, he decided to leave the Amish church to join the Mennonites. To an outsider, such a shift may appear simple enough. In truth, the decision forever altered Aaron’s life. For these quaint Christian people, any departure from Amish creed is apostasy. Aaron was immediately ex-communicated. His Amish community, including his family, “shunned” him. He was ignored, abandoned, cast out. Aaron left the Amish church before he turned thirty; until his death sixty years later, most of his family never spoke to him again.
Aaron eventually returned to Lancaster County where in time he met a beautiful young Mennonite girl. Ironically, she too was named Katie. Katie Lapp was thirteen years younger than Aaron, so she was still a teenager when they met. They fell in love, and with her parent’s permission, they married. A few years later, the young couple bought an eighty-five acre dairy farm near Quarryville, Pennsylvania, for which they paid $16,500! In the years following, they had two children, a daughter and a son.
Aaron’s faith in God grew and matured. He was active in his home church. He first served as an elder, and then eventually, while still farming his land, became the pastor. Over the years, his influence grew until he was recognized as a Mennonite Bishop, and given leadership over numerous churches in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. During the course of his career, Aaron helped plant twelve different Mennonite churches in the tri-state area.
Aaron was a well-known Christian leader in Lancaster County’s Mennonite community. He was a positive, outgoing, happy man. He loved God. He loved God’s people. He loved his family. And he loved the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He prayed for many years that one of his children or grandchildren would become a missionary and take the Gospel around the world.
Aaron F. Stoltzfus was my grandfather. His first-born child is my mother. And I was his answer to prayer.
In 1986 Grandpa Stoltzfus passed from this life into heaven in his own home with me and Grandma standing in quiet awe at his bedside. He was ninety-one years old. Fourteen years later, my grandmother, Katie Stoltzfus, went home to be with the Lord. She was ninety-five years old when she died, she outlived all her friends, and still over one hundred and twenty-five people attended her funeral!
I was asked to share a brief eulogy at Grandma’s funeral. As I stood before the crowd at Maple Grove Mennonite Church, I was reminded of legacy. To the gathering of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and many other family members and friends, I said, “My grandparents, Aaron and Katie Stoltzfus, lived their entire lives as a consistent, godly example before me and you. What I am today is a result, not only of my choices, but also of their influence. They prayed for me to follow God’s missionary call, and stood with my family and I as we followed it. In short, they made it easier for me to be a man of God. That is a legacy!”
Now, Beth and I have raised our own children. They are grown, they are married, and they are raising families of their own. I once asked my kids, “Do you know what’s really important to me?” After a few kidding remarks from them I continued, “I tried my best to raise you to be successful adults, and I think I have, but that isn’t enough. I also wanted to lead you to love God and His ways, so that you would raise your children in the same way. I want my grandchildren, yes, even my great-grandchildren, to love and follow God will all their hearts. Then, I’ll will have been a successful parent.”
The challenge for each of us is to build our own legacy – in our families and in the people we lead. The measure of the treasure we carry within us is that it be will passed down to generations, that our example will so inspire people, that they will, by their influence and prayers, pass it forward for generations to come!