forgiveness • peacemaking • reconciliation
equality • poverty • missions


Education for the Soul of Your Child

June 8, 2018 by

I want my children to achieve and succeed, but they also need a purpose in life and a faith in something greater than their own abilities. Academics and athletics have their importance, but high SAT scores and getting into a great college don’t make you fully human.

Proverbs 22:6 – “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” – indicates there’s some additional education that needs to take place: the development of a child’s soul.

I was fortunate to have an opening for this “school for the soul” when my wife and I traveled with our twelve-year-old son last month to visit some of the locations in central Europe where the early Anabaptist Reformation of the 1500s took place.

Town Hall Rothenburg ob der Tauber GermanyTown Hall, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany

The Anabaptists were courageous men and women – often farmers and tradespeople – who stood up to a powerfully corrupt state church institution by living out straightforward Bible truths. They practiced freely chosen baptism for adults as a symbol of repentance and new life, and many of them lived in community of goods as described in Acts 2 and 4. This audacity brought about a revival that swept from town to town in spite of bloody attempts to repress it.

Escape Route over the Alps Tauferer Ahrntal Italy
Escape route over the Alps, Tauferer Ahrntal, Italy

We walked the same towns and landscapes they did. We saw the secret places where they met, hiked the steep mountain trails where they escaped persecution, and reflected in the humid blackness of the prisons in which they were confined. It’s remarkable how they risked everything, enduring torture and death. What gave them their conviction, and how do I nurture that kind of faith?

At Burg Taufers, a picturesque castle overlooking the Puster Valley in northern Italy, we read the story of an Anabaptist missionary by the name of Hans Kräl, who in 1557 was captured in a nearby town. After being dragged behind a horse up the steep road to the castle, he was interrogated under torture. Refusing to break, he withstood twenty-three months of mockery and imprisonment.

Stairs leading to the Dungeon Burg Taufers  Sand in Taufers Italy
Stairs leading to the dungeon, Burg Taufers. Sand in Taufers, Italy.

We looked down into the blackness of the dungeon where he sat until his clothes rotted away; “not a thread remained except the collar around his neck.” When they hauled him up for a hearing to see if he would recant, the air and light were so painful to him that he was glad when they let him down into the dungeon again.

We sat in the stocks where he was held in the torture chamber, and stood in the room where he was hung by one hand and one foot for thirty-seven weeks “in such a way that he could neither lie down nor sit properly, and he could not stand at all.” (Two quotations from the Chronicle of the Hutterian Brethren, Vol. 1.)

Through it all he never wavered, nor was he concerned for his own wellbeing. Instead he fearlessly called on his torturers to change their own lives, and some eventually grew to respect his courage.

Eventually an order came through from the government in Innsbruck that because he was so stubborn he would be condemned to the galleys ships as a rower, essentially a death sentence. Kräl answered that he would still trust in God, who was present on the sea as much as on the land.

Kräl was then taken out of the dungeon and allowed to go about the castle for two days to learn to walk again, since he was completely crippled. He had been in prison for almost two years; for eighteen months of that time he had not seen the sun.

On the way to the galleys his guard got drunk and Kräl escaped. After making his way back to his church, he continued his missionary work, traveling to the same areas where he had been captured.

Tauferhole Anabaptist Cave  a secret meeting place Wappenswil SwitzerlandTauferhole (Anabaptist Cave) – a secret meeting place. Wappenswil, Switzerland.

I hope that seeing these places and learning about Hans Kräl leaves an impression on my son. I hope that as he forms his own convictions, he finds a strong faith that gives his life purpose and enables him to endure any hardship.

The men and women of the Anabaptist movement valued God above everything else, reminding me of another proverb, another lesson for the school of the soul: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Prov. 9:10).


About the author

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Jason Landsel

Jason lives in upstate New York at the Woodcrest Bruderhof.

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