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Life in Community

In Remembrance: Johann Christoph Arnold

April 17, 2017 by

“Fight the good fight of the faith.
Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called…” —1 Timothy 6:12

Johann Christoph Arnold “fought the good fight” and was called home to Jesus on Holy Saturday, April 15, 2017 at the age of 76. Brother and friend to all, faithful husband to his wife Verena for almost 51 years, father and “Opa” to many, pastor, senior elder of the Bruderhof Communities, chaplain, author, and speaker, Christoph inspired thousands to believe in Jesus, see their own special worth in God’s eyes, and hope for purpose in life through a message of love and forgiveness as a power to overcome any obstacle and trouble. His language was powerful, mixing humor with simple words to deliver a singular message that cut to the heart of the matter in any audience. A man of deeds over words and a lover of life, he preferred to connect over sausage and beer rather than intellectual discussion.

Johann Christoph and Verena Arnold

His parents, Johann Heinrich and Annemarie Arnold, were members of the Bruderhof, a Christian communal church founded in Germany by his grandfather Eberhard Arnold. Because of religious persecution by the Nazis, his parents fled with other members of their church to England, where Christoph was born during the Battle of Britain on November 14, 1940. In 1942, because of anti-German sentiment, all members of the Bruderhof were forced to emigrate to Paraguay, South America. Here he had a rugged but happy childhood, even as the adults struggled to build home and livelihood in the harsh climate of the disease- and pest-infested jungle.

In 1954, Christoph moved with his family to the Woodcrest community in Rifton, NY, which would be home for the rest of his life. He attended Kingston High School where he learned the English language, ran cross country, and picked up a life-long love of Shakespeare. He graduated from Orange County Community College in 1960 with a degree in business and began working for Community Playthings, the growing business of the Bruderhof, and the Plough Publishing House. On May 22, 1966, he married the love of his life, Verena Meier, beginning a family which would be blessed with eight children.

He was ordained as pastor in 1972, then in 1983 as elder of the Bruderhof, and then served as senior elder from 2001 until his death. Under his leadership and with the blessing of God, the Bruderhof expanded from North America back into Europe and South America, and added communities in Australia as well as many small community houses in urban settings.

Christoph wrote twelve books which have been published in twenty languages on issues he was passionate about such as marriage, family, raising and educating children, forgiveness, death and dying, peace, and faith. He collected many stories from people all over the world to illustrate his message in a practical and down-to-earth manner. Perhaps his most widely read and best-loved book is Why Forgive?

His tireless work for peace through forgiveness and reconciliation was influenced first by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and then by his meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965. This vocation brought him in contact with thousands of people including hundreds of religious and political leaders of good and ill repute throughout the world, often in troubled hotspots of war, conflict, and natural disaster including Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Northern Ireland, Rwanda, Nigeria, Chiapas, Mexico, Paraguay, Cuba, Haiti, and Thailand.

Closest to his heart was the state of the children because of the breakdown of family and social values. Alarmed by the escalating violence after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, Christoph helped found Breaking the Cycle, a program aimed at teaching middle and high-school students, including incarcerated youth, conflict resolution through forgiveness. Speaking alongside New York Police Department Detective Steven McDonald – who forgave the young man who shot and paralyzed him while in the line of duty – as well as former gang members, family members of victims of suicide and drug and alcohol addiction, Christoph’s powerful assemblies addressed life’s problems at their roots: bullying, peer pressure, isolation, loneliness, racism, and intolerance.

Despite all of this, he was never too busy to counsel his own congregations, helping found families, raise children, heal broken marriages, face sickness and crisis bravely, or bury a parent or a child. His advice was always tempered with a healthy dose of humor, which he believed was indispensable in any situation. His flock included many people beyond the Bruderhof community. Especially dear to him were members of Law Enforcement. He served as Chaplain to the Ulster County Sheriff's Office and Ulster County Police Chiefs Association.

Christoph leaves behind his wife of 51 years, Verena Meier Arnold; 7 of their 8 children, Emmy Maria and Michael Blough, Heinrich and Wilma Arnold, Vreneli and Raymond Hofer, Annemarie and Tim Keiderling, Hanna and Chris Rimes, Chris and Estelle Arnold, and Priscilla and Red Zimmerman; and 44 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren. He is predeceased by his granddaughter Stephanie Jean Rimes, who died in 2008 at the age of 1 month, and by his daughter Margrit, married to Reuben Zimmerman, who died in 2015 at the age of 45, also of cancer.

Visiting hours are from 10:00 AM until 2:00 PM on Wednesday, April 19, at the Woodcrest community in Rifton. A public funeral service and interment is scheduled for 9:00 AM, Thursday, April 20, also at the Woodcrest community. Call 845-658-7700 for more information.

Some of his last words were:

“The main thing is that God’s kingdom advances, and if any one of us had the chance to play a little part in it, it’s not because we are great or mighty, but because God is merciful and he’s granting us the possibility to show love. God is the Creator of everything. All he wants in return is that we love and worship him, and most of all Thank Him!” —Johann Christoph Arnold, spoken on Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017.
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  • My heart is heavy since hearing the news of Christoph passing. I remember my short time at Woodcrest and the burial of my son Leon White. Christoph has told some of my story in 2 of his books. What an awesome loss to thousands and maybe millions. Thoughs are with Verena, their family, and the community....

    Candy Lovett
  • I read the book Why Forgive? on a plane ride from Houston to Moscow, and I was weeping the whole time. Thank you, Lord, for such an important voice in our generation. May You use his death like a seed, to raise up many more such voices. Amen ...

    Thomas Cogdell
  • What a full of life to God and humankind he lived. We hope that everyone of us may live a life as dear Christoph lived. He lived a life for others. He taught us the meaning of the peace and life with his books. Yes he is in heaven at promised land. Wait for us dear Christoph , we will meet you there.

    metin erdem
  • Adieu Papa Chief Christoph. Nigerian will miss you. May your soul rest in peace in Jesus name. Amen

    Akan Obot, Nigeria
  • Very beautifully written Heinrich. Your dad will be deeply missed.

    Alice Head