The apostle as teacher, the apostle as healer
In August of 1742, Count Zinzendorf made his way to Shekomeko along with his daughter Benigna, and Anthony Seiffart. They travelled from Bethlehem through the Blue Mountains (Catskills) passing Minisick and Esopus along the way. During his stay in Shekomeko, the Count was so impressed by the Mahicans’ behavior and devotion to the Cross that he drew up a series of rules which he called “Articles” by which the practice of religious behaviors were to be defined. Article in this document defined the role of John along with three others:
As an apostolic figure for his people, Brother John taught and promoted his understanding of the meaning of the Bible. He performed this task on a fairly regular basis, so far as well can tell, based on the various comments made about his teaching activities. From this image of John we can also conclude that the reason he was provided with “John’s Workshop” at the far end of the crescent shaped village of Shekomeko was that this is where he prophesized, shared his life story, and shared his interpretation of the Book. This is also the place where various social decisions were made by both traditional neophytes and Native American Christian converts. Siince Native American history typically involves many of the decision making processes taking place in meetingssuch as these, this was an important part of the process used by the missionaries to consolidate the follower of Tschoop into a single team of lambs to be led to their Master. No tribal or missions leader was alone responsible for making the most important democratic decisions. For this reason perhaps, the location for John’s Workshop was on the opposing end of the crescent village setting, far away from the Church. To the right of it in the painting, behind the workshop, there was a garden tended to by the brethren, facing either to the south or the east for the most part. A cemetery plot was placed on the North or Northeast border of this village. The main entrance leading towards the Mission house was somewhere along the village’s south edge.
Defining John’s purposes as the missionaries may have seen it, John’s work was meant to be as a preacher and a healer for his people. He servd some sort of social purpose regarding individual and social rights. His purpose was ultimately design with the intentions that he was there to serve his people, not just himself. When it came to individual health-related matters for example, his focus was on spiritual health, not physical health, a common theme for completely Christian forms of healing. How the physical health related to spiritual health in turn could be related to the teachings of the Bible, as John interpreted them to be. When it came to the Indian perspective of local politics, for example, much of the evidence in Loskiel’s book tells us that John was concerned a great deal about the constant threats of everything about him and the Mahicans, ranging from skirmishes and wars, to the growing threats of the French, English and German neighbors, and the growing fears of widespread violence . In order to address this issue to its fullest, John often used his appearances, charm, and charisma to attract listeners whenever he could. At times he even succeeded in changing certain social and political leaders’s minds. We see evidence for this in the following sections pulled from the historical recounts of the Shekomeko mission:
[Loskiel,Vol.2,Ch.1, p. 21. The “fire of the Gospel” in Shekomeko]
[Loskiel, Vol. 2, Ch. 5,p. 77, Reaction by a Minisinck woman]
One of the most importance influences John would have as a “healer” related to his role as the non-aggressor or pacifist in local colonial history. But it is important to keep in mind that this use of the term pacifist refers to a demeanor very different from what we traditionally refer to pacifist behaviors in modern society. John’s role in his community as a ‘pacifist’ was more like that of an opponent to violence in a traditional Christian sense, not at all in an extremist manner. This apologetic thinking was also practiced by other non-conforming religious groups in this region as well, but perhaps due to their upbrining, none really demonstrated it as strongly as this particular Hudson Valley cultural group during the late colonial period. This pacifism was yet another feature so different, that it ultimately resulted in a series of public misunderstandings accompanied by distress due to true threats posed concerning an upcoming war. Even today, such behaviors are often reacted to in disbelief, to such an extent that most people simply ignore this ranting and raving claiming it to be an extremist point of view. In the immediate vicinity of Shekomeko, we find evidence for public unrest with Tschoop’s pacifism in the form of simple arguments ensuing followed by the conjuring up of new tales and exagerated claims of violent potential made by the locals, in particular the Calvinists of the new township around “Reinbeck”.
John’s reaction to the violence was his use of the Bible to stake his claim that these action were opposite of the teachings of Jesus. In his remarks upon violence itself, he stated:
In reaction to two attacks made upon John and the Mahicans by others, Loskiel writes:
[Vol 2, Chap. 5, p. 77]
[Vol 2, Chap. 5, p. 77]
The best evidence for John’s unique charisma, however, was penned on November 6, 1744. On that day, Bishop A.G. Spangenberg was visiting Shekomeko in response to a report sent to him by Count Zinzendorf several weeks earlier. Accompanied by Captain Garrison, as the two of them arrived in Shekomeko, Spangenberg was immediately able to recognize Brother John as he entered the village based on Zinzendorf’s description of John’ unique character:
[Loskiel,Vol. 2,. Chap. 4, p.65. Brethren John]
NOTE: More examples of this documentation appear in the chapters that follow, beginning with ”Evidence”.
John’s stage presence was his most important attribute for the evangelical leader he was about to become. Throughout his presentations his impressions of ‘the Word’, you could see the physical state he was in. To some extent this made John even more of an attraction, but only in the first few minutes, after which it was words that he preached that captured most of your attention. Once you heard John’s interpretation of the Bible, as the words of “an Indian”, you couldn’t help but be impressed by his understanding of the words of the Bible and their meaning. This was perhaps so much the case that personal criticisms would soon have to erupt to balance out one’s own private Calvinist view of these words with John’s more literal, naturalistic impressions that he often gave his listeners.
With John leading the way, in just a year this resulted in the successful invitation of numerous Indians from places immediately adjacent to and at a considerable distance from Shekomeko. According to Loskiel:
[Vol.2, Chap.4, p. 57]
In a number of letters that John penned to religious leaders like Count Zinzendorf and Bishop Spangenberg, we learn about someone who the recipients of these letters very much adored, and had to travel far to in order to meet with personally. Other important people equally influenced by John’s character were the Iroquois anthropologist and Christian leader, and even a local justice who originally experienced significant amounts of prejudice against the cause for such a mission and its people. Be it through religious, social or governing council, John’s purpose very much coincided with the meaning and purpose of the Moravian missions in the wilderness, according to most of this county’s leaders, excluding the local New Yorkers.