The Woodcrest Bruderhof community's Johann Christoph Arnold pens 'Why Children Matter' (video)
IN A CULTURE permeated by the reality of “It’s all about ME!” young people are discouraged from making permanent commitments to each other and starting families.
That’s the assertion of Johann Christoph Arnold, senior pastor of the Woodcrest Bruderhof community in Rifton, who, this month, released the book, “Why Children Matter,” published by Plough Inc., the community’s press.
The Woodcrest Bruderhoff community in Rifton is one of five Bruderhof communities located in the Mid-Hudson Valley, and one of 23 other communities located in New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, and three other continents
In a pre-publication interview with the Daily Freeman, Arnold and his wife, Verena, spoke openly and joyfully about the rewards, and acknowledged the tribulations, and sometimes downright sorrow, that children can bring into people’s lives.
The couple has been married for 46 years and has eight children and 36 grandchildren.
The slim, spiral-bound book has 63 pages and 22 chapters. Every chapter begins with a citation from the Bible that sets its tone. The chapters are short, one to two pages, and readily approachable.
Each chapter considers what, today, might be scorned by some as “old-fashioned values”: discipline, spoiling a child, building character, consideration of others.
When asked about such old-fashioned notions, Arnold threw back his head and laughed heartily.
“Thank you! I consider that a great compliment!” Arnold said. “Maybe I’m an old fart, but we need more of us to get back to sanity,” he said, observing, “The truth never changes. Continued...
“Deep, deep down, we long for time-tested views that we once held precious.”
A graduate of Kingston High School, class of 1959, Arnold is the grandson of Eberhard Arnold, who founded the Bruderhof community in 1920. His grandfather spent the last two years of his life suffering from a leg injury that would lead to his death, while attempting to shepherd his flock to safety just as the Nazis were gaining ascendancy. Nevertheless, he remained active in traveling, lecturing and writing until his death in Darmstadt in 1935.
Arnold was born in 1940 to the German refugee family then living in England. Driven from Germany by the Nazis, his parents and other members of the community fled on foot, by bicycle and bus to England where they regrouped on a farm, facing nightly bombing raids and fears of a German invasion at any time.
However, when the British government determined that all German nationals living in England would be imprisoned, Arnold’s parents and other community members left, braving the submarine infested oceans, for South America.
Arnold grew up in Paraguay, living a simple life, but the community was able to establish hospital care for Paraguayans, orphans and displaced Europeans.
At 14, Arnold moved with his family to New York and it’s been his home since. Arnold, during his teens, determined to dedicate his life to the same vision his parents and grandparents held. It was the ’60s, the time of the Civil Rights Movement, and Arnold marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., visited his home and called him “friend.”
“I saw forgiveness preached and lived powerfully. It impacted me for life,” Arnold said.
Arnold is a fearless critic of contemporary social mores and in demand as a speaker on talk shows and at high schools and colleges. He advocates a consistent reverence for life and opposes violence in any form.
The Arnolds together have offered more than 30 years of family counseling, advising thousands of couples, single women and men, teenagers, inmates and veterans, as well as pastoral care for the terminally ill and their families.
Following the teachings of Jesus, as interpreted by his grandfather, Arnold is senior pastor of the Bruderhof, an international communal movement that practices forgiveness, non-violence, simplicity, service and sharing. Continued...
“Children,” Arnold said about the book, “were always in my heart from the start of our marriage.”
“It’s teamwork,” Verena said, quietly. “Not just proofreading the book, which I did, but everything.”
Arnold said he had been thinking of ways to make the lives of the children of Ulster County better, and got to writing the book. It took him about a year to complete.
“I just let it flow,” Arnold explained. “What made the most sense were the headings above each chapter that organized it.”
Furthermore, Arnold said, his purpose was to encourage families, parents, grandparents and those working with children, to have hope in the future.
“Every community needs children,” Arnold said simply. “Young families today are discouraged, they don’t have the courage to start a family. Yet, it’s something they must do for the nation, for the future.”
Arnold said his personal, religious belief is that families are too isolated.
“Children need to get out, to relate to people, in old age homes, to see that some people are having a hard time of it,” he said. “Children need to see the real world.”
Again professing his faith, Arnold pointed out, “God expects something of us.” He pointed to the life – and – death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “He lived and died for something.”
Children who have every material thing are not necessarily happier, Arnold said. Continued...
“Parents are so busy today they think buying their children ‘things’ is paramount,” he said, shaking his head. Reflecting on his own simple childhood, he said sometimes the less children have, the better off they are.
Arnold said in his visits to Africa, Northern Ireland, Israel, Gaza, Cuba, he witnessed children who had “absolutely” nothing.
“Yet, they were happy. They had a sense of community, that the family was very important,” Arnold said.
“These families related to each other. They invented ways to spend time together,” he said.
“From the time they were in the cradle, one year old, the children knew their parents loved them,” Verena said.
And, time, is so important for children, Arnold said. “Children need free time, time to play, to be children. A child who plays well will grow up to be a thoughtful adult.”
And, every child, Arnold maintained, has a conscience from a very young age.
“Children have a little voice inside them, even from very little, that tells them right from wrong,” he said. “Children must be guided to listen to that voice.”
Asked bluntly, why faith? Why God? Arnold said gently, but firmly, “Every person is created in His image. Without God, we can’t exist. He places in all of us the desire to do good in our lives, to lay down our lives for our fellow man.”
Yet, Arnold said sorrowfully, “God is pushed out of our lives, out of our schools, out of our community gatherings. We can’t use the ‘G’ word or the ‘J’ word in public.”
Arnold said it’s his hope and prayer that Americans will rediscover God and hear his voice again.
“We are a nation built on God. We need to find him again, to put our trust in him. Like the $1 bill says,” he said.
When asked, Arnold then delved delicately and tactfully into what has become a touchy matter for the public face of the Bruderhof community: its insistence on the traditional definition of “family.”
“The ideal ‘family’ for a child is a father and a mother,” Arnold said. “But, that’s the ideal and in the world today that is not always possible. There are many single parents who really try to do the best they can in a hard situation.”
Arnold said he wrote the book for children and children are still his concern.
“Parents need to talk to their children about honoring their fathers and mothers,” Arnold said. “They need to learn to respect authority, and that starts with the father,” he said.
But families, parents need to be encouraged to be there for one another, Arnold said. “Be kind to each other. Hug each other,” he urged. “The children will benefit,” he said.
“Everyone longs for family,” Arnold said. “It’s a universal longing.
“People can do so much by caring. We need to care for our children, they’re our future,” Arnold said. “One kind act – even if we never see the results ourselves – can change a life.”
“Why Children Matter” is available free on the Bruderhof website where it can be downloaded or free copies may be requested.
Visit www.whychildrenmatter.com or email email@example.com or call (845) 658-7752.
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