Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Bible Baked in a Loaf of Bread

My Grandma Personeus was an expressive storyteller. We grandchildren listened with rapt attention as she told stories of her youth.

One day, she showed us a dark blue hardbound book entitled, The Pennsylvania LeFevres, the genealogy of her family dating back to 1510 in France, compiled by her father, George Newton LeFevre. All the lists of names inside reminded me of the genealogies in the Bible, which as a child I usually skipped so I could devour the exciting stories.

Then Grandma showed us a picture of the LeFevre Family Bible and told us the unforgettable story of the Bible baked in a loaf of bread:

The LeFevre Family Bible (1608)
In France, in 1685, nearly one hundred years before the United States declared its independence from Great Britain, Sarah, wife of Abraham LeFevre, baked the family Bible in a loaf of bread.

What a strange thing to do! "Why would she do that?" we asked

The LeFevre family were French Protestants, nicknamed Huguenots in the 16th and 17th centuries. They had enjoyed 87 years of freedom under the famous Edict of Nantes of 1598, which permitted them to hold services and worship the way they pleased.

Then, on October 18, 1685, Catholic King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes. Severe persecution ensued. No one was allowed to read the Word of God for himself or even own a volume of the Holy Scriptures. Huguenots were not allowed to be baptized or to instruct their children in their faith. Their churches and records were destroyed, their property was confiscated, and they were forbidden to emigrate.

The LeFevres lived near Strasbourg, France, in the Alsace-Lorraine region across the Rhine River from Bavaria, Germany. Their family Bible was the Geneva Bible, published in Switzerland in 1608. It was smaller and a great improvement over the ponderous volumes of the Great Bible and Tyndale versions which preceded it. The family placed great value on their forbidden Bible and did not want it to fall into the hands of those who would destroy it.

Abraham and Sarah knew it was just a matter of time before their home would be searched and they could be arrested for their faith and even executed. How could they protect the family Bible? Where could they hide it so the soldiers wouldn't find it?

Sarah must have been a woman of great courage and ingenuity. Perhaps the inspiration came to her one day as she baked bread for the family. If she baked a loaf large enough to contain the Bible, no one would think to look inside a loaf of bread even if it sat in plain sight.

She must have made a really large loaf, for the Geneva Bible was 9 1/4 inches long, 6 1/4 inches wide, and 4 1/2 inches thick.

After kneading the dough to perfection, Sarah wrapped the sacred Book in vellum to protect it from the heat and tucked it in the center. She allowed the dough to rise then placed it in the oven to bake, watching it carefully to be sure the loaf was not overdone. When she withdrew it from the oven, she set the golden loaf on the table to cool.

Abraham gathered their six children around the table and admonished them to guard the Bible carefully. If the worst should happen, they were instructed to grab the loaf of bread with the Bible inside and run to the nearby home of Daniel and Marie Ferree, wealthy Huguenot friends.

Apparently, 16-year-old Isaac wasn't there when the soldiers invaded the LeFevre home and slaughtered the rest of his family. Imagine his horror when he entered his house and discovered their brutalized bodies.

Young Isaac quickly grabbed the large loaf of bread containing the Bible sitting unmolested on the table and ran swiftly toward the home of their Huguenot friends. On the way, a soldier stopped him and grabbed the loaf from his hands. Isaac's heart beat so hard he feared the man would see it pounding and become suspicious.

"Rather a heavy loaf you have there, lad." The man hefted it then flung it back into Isaac's arms. "Here! Take it back. It feels much too doughy for me."

Isaac hugged the loaf and hastened to the Ferree house. He knocked quickly with a prearranged signal--two loud taps and one soft.

The door opened slowly, and Daniel peered into the darkness. Seeing Isaac, he pulled the distraught lad inside.

"Hurry! We must flee!" Isaac sobbed. "They killed my parents and all my brothers and sisters."

That night, Isaac and the Ferree family stole through the darkness, taking only the barest necessities, and fled across the Rhine River into Bavaria, which was primarily Lutheran. There, Isaac stayed with the Ferree family until 1708. Isaac fell in love with the Ferree's daughter, Catherine. They were married in 1704, and their first son was born in Germany. Isaac named him Abraham after his martyred father.

Isaac's father-in-law, Daniel Ferree, died in 1708. His widow, Marie, heard about a proclamation issued by Queen Anne of England inviting suffering Huguenots to come there, but they had also heard of religious liberty in Pennsylvania in America, and that was where they wanted to go.

Upon their arrival in England, Madame Ferree visited William Penn in person. After hearing her misfortunes, he introduced her to Queen Anne, who promised them substantial aid in going to America. William Penn then granted 2,000 acres of land to the Ferree-LeFevre family.

When they arrived in New York, it was winter. The Ferree-LeFevre party proceeded 90 miles up the Hudson River to Esopus (Kingston), where they stayed with Isaac LeFevre's two uncles, Andrew and Simon LeFevre, who had come to America 40 years before. There, a second son was born to Isaac and Catherine.

In the spring of 1712, they left Esopus and traveled overland to Philadelphia, where Penn's commissioners issued to Isaac LeFevre and his brother-in-law, Daniel  Ferree, for the sum of 150 pounds, the deed to the land in what was then Chester County, Pennsylvania (Lancaster County was not organized until 1729).

Deed from William Penn to Isaac LeFevre
As the Huguenot party reached the verge of a hill commanding a view of their land in the Pequea Valley 55 miles west of Philadelphia on a golden September evening, an idyllic woodland scene unfolded below. The trees were beginning to change colors in the forest inhabited by wild beasts with no indication of civilization.  After all their trials of persecution and years of travel, their new home looked so tranquil and delightful that Madame Ferree exclaimed, "Let's call it Paradise!" And that is what the town and township are known as to this day.

Grandma's cousin, Franklin D, LeFevre, holding the LeFevre Bible
Isaac LeFevre carefully preserved his family Bible throughout his journeys. The births of his six children were penned in ink on the first page. The ancient Bible was cherished and handed down through six generations and then given to the Lancaster County Historical Society to preserve for posterity. It is one of the most frequently requested items to be viewed--a symbol of the faith the Huguenots held to be more precious than life itself. It has inspired many of the LeFevre descendants to spend their lives sharing its message around the world.

My grandmother, Florence LeFevre Personeus, a direct descendant of Isaac's firstborn son Abraham, grew up in the 27-room mansion that stood on the tract of land originally deeded to Isaac LeFevre by William Penn, in what is now Strasbourg, Pennsylvania. She spent 65 years as a missionary in Alaska, from 1917-1982. My parents and my husband and I too have followed in the LeFevre footsteps as ministers and writers sharing that gospel message.

The 27-room LeFevre home my maternal grandma grew up in
Throughout the ages, many mighty potentates have tried to destroy the Bible--Alexander the Great, the princes of Egypt and Babylon, the monarchs of Persia and of Greece, the Emperors of Rome, and even European kings, Communists, the Nazis, and other religions, but the Bible still stands. It is estimated that only 1/2 of one percent of all books published will survive seven years, that 800 out of every 1,000 books are forgotten in one year. Yet, the Bible is still the world's best seller.

The story of how God has preserved His Word throughout history is a fascinating one. Psalm 119:89 declares, "Forever, O Lord, Your Word is settled in heaven."


NOTE: This is a longer post than usual, but I am in the process of preparing the manuscript of my third book in my Alaskan Waters trilogy for publication,  Beside Still waters, so I will not be posting for a few weeks. I hope you enjoy this true story of my ancestors and their Bible baked in a loaf of bread.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Four Little Words

As a fledgling writer, I received a rejection of a submission to a magazine. I was disappointed but encouraged to keep trying. The editor had written. "You have a way with words!" I tried again, and he published several of my articles.
I have also come to understand the importance of my words as a parent and a teacher.

Years ago, I came across the story of a young boy, Malcolm, who was terribly insecure and shy. He had few friends and no self-confidence.

His high school English class had been reading To Kill a Mocking Bird. Then the teacher asked the students to write their own chapter that would follow the last chapter of the novel.

Malcolm wrote his chapter and handed it in. More than 30 years later, he could not recall anything special he had written or even what grade his teacher had given him, but he never forgot the four words she wrote in the margin of his paper: "This is good writing."

Those four words changed his life.

Until he read those words, he had no sense of identity and no idea what he would do with his life. After reading those four little words, he went home and wrote a short story, something he had always dreamed of doing but never believed he could do.

That year, he wrote many short stories and always showed them to his teacher to evaluate. Soon, he was named co-editor of his high school newspaper. His confidence grew, and he became a successful professional writer. Malcolm is convinced that none of this would have happened had that teacher not written those four words of encouragement on his paper.

Words can change a life. Words like "You're stupid!" or "Can't you do anything right?" can echo and re-echo in our minds and become self-fulfilling prophecies. So can positive affirmations.

A word fitly spoken is very precious indeed!

How would our family, friends, and coworkers describe our words?

Do our words encourage or put down?

Do we constantly criticize those under our authority without ever praising them?

Would the lasting echoes of our words be to encourage others to be more than they thought they could be--or less?

When we must give criticism, do we couch it liberally in praise?

The Apostle Paul admonished the Ephesians to not "let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs" (4:29, NIV).

Today, let's take a hard listen to our words and ask the Lord to help us to speak only words that are pleasing to Him and a blessing to other.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

He Took My Lickin'

Since Labor Day signals the start of a new school year in many parts of our country, I thought you might enjoy a true school story I heard in church when I was young.

I attended eighth grade in a two-room school in Pelican, located on Chichagof Island in Southeast Alaska about half-way between Juneau and Sitka, accessible only by boat or float plane. A fishing and cannery town, Pelican had a population of about one hundred people in the winter. Grades K-3 occupied one room and 4-8 in the other, taught by a husband and wife team, who lived about the primary classroom.

Pelican, Alaska, in 1953. Photo taken by my uncle C. Byron Personeus
Perhaps that's why I could relate to this true account that took place in an old-fashioned, one-room school in Kentucky and never forgot it. But I think there's an even more important reason why.

Old Pelican Schoolhouse that now serves as City Hall
One by one, several teachers had been driven off by the students' rebelliousness in that old Kentucky school. A new teacher was due to arrive that day.

Jim, a 17-year-old third grader, bragged to the other boys. "We'll run this one off before sundown if he gets bossy."

In their first session, the new teacher said, "If we are going to have a good school, we need to have good rules."

A few of the boys snickered, but they sat up in surprise when the teacher added, ""But I'm not going to make the rules. You are."

One by one, the students volunteered what they thought would be fair rules and set fair penalties for each offense--five to ten hard swats with a large wooden paddle.

The teacher proved to be warm and friendly, firm but fair, and all went well for several weeks. Then one morning, the teacher solemnly told the class that someone had stolen Jim's lunch. To uphold his authority, he knew he had to carry out the penalty, but his heart was heavy.

Deep sobs broke the silence. Little John, timid and frail and loved by all, confessed his guilt. Everyone knew John was poor and often hungry. But the law had been broken, and the penalty must be paid.

As the teacher lifted the paddle, Jim cried out, "Stop! It was my lunch, and I forgive him!"

"That's kind of you, Jim, but you made the rule, and we all agreed on the penalty. I'm sorry, but it must be carried out." He again raised the paddle.

Jim stepped forward. "Then I'll take his lickin'. I can take it better than he can."

With each painful swat Jim received, John felt his own guilt deeper and deeper. When it was over, the teacher wiped his eyes and put his arm around the two boys.

"Class, it was a wonderful thing Jim did. He was innocent, but he volunteered to take John's punishment. That reminds me of how Jesus, the sinless Son of God, voluntarily took our punishment when He died on the Cross for our sins. Jesus took our lickin'."
And that's why I have never forgotten this story. Not because it took placed in a one-room school, but because it illustrates so beautifully what Jesus did for us when He died in our place. He took my lickin'.

"All have sinned," Romans 3:23 tells us. And "the wages of sin is death," according to Romans 6:23. But while we were yet sinners, God in His great love and mercy provided His remedy. Christ, God's innocent Son, stepped down from heaven's glories, lived a sinless life, and died for us (Romans 5:8). Now, through Him, we have eternal life.

Every year as children go back to school, let's remember how Jesus took our lickin' and give Him our eternal thanks and gratitude.

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