North Fork 3

EMHS history teacher compiles 125 years
By Lauren Jefferson

DAPHNA—Historian Elwood Yoder sums up 125 years of Zion Mennonite Church history with two words: hospitality and generosity.
“Zion members have always been willing to support with money, food and a generous spirit,” he said.
His congregational history, three years in the making, will be released at a special event May 23 to mark the church’s 125-year history of service to the local community, the congregation and to “God’s kingdom.”
A history teacher at Eastern Mennonite High School, Yoder has written a Mennnonite history textbook, several other educational texts and a historical novel, but he had never conducted such in-depth research before.
His goal was to tell a rich narrative story about the people of Zion Mennonite Church, Yoder said.
“I wanted to tell the story of people committed to God’s kingdom and God’s church who happened to be Mennonite...I wanted to make it a story of this place that only comes to life when people come in here and are engaged in ministry.”
To tell the story, he delved into the Virginia Mennonite Conference archives at Eastern Mennonite University, used oral histories gathered by church historian James Rush decades earlier and conducted his own interviews.
Yoder acknowledges Rush in his foreword as a “tireless” historian, researcher and assistant to the project. “This was possible because he helped me find documents, set up interviews, run errands, find details, names and photos.”
In keeping with his goal of telling the stories of the families of Zion, Yoder includes hundreds of black and white and color photographs, all of which are captioned and attributed. He put out calls for photos in church bulletins, made enlargements of selected ones and then scrounged for names of the unidentified.
“That one I carried around for months, asking anyone I could,” he said. “I actually had to take it out into the community and find people who were not members of Zion who could identify some of the children.”
Familiarizing himself with the history has made him an expert on Zion’s people.
“I could walk around the cemetery—and no one wants to hear me talk about it—but I know these people and their stories,” he said, laughing.
The research process, he says, has made him a better historian—more aware of the power of interpretation and able to access primary source documents.
He laughed when asked if the project was finished.
“When is a writer ever done writing?” he said.
Now his task, and that of a new committee, will be to market and sell the book.

May 12-18, 2010