Common Threads

Unity in suffering

BLUFFTON, Ohio—Anabaptist martyrs and Africans enslaved in early America may not have much in common, but there is at least one similarity, two Hesston College faculty members stressed Jan. 14 at Bluffton University.

In a forum titled “Common Threads,” Hesston historian John Sharp emphasized that the two groups had a “shared experience of suffering,” which was endured “at the hand of legitimate authorities.”

He told the story of Anabaptist martyr Maeyken Wens, who was persecuted for her beliefs and burned at the stake in 1573. To keep her from addressing the crowds before her execution, the authorities had her tongue screwed down. Afterward, her son retrieved the tongue screw from the ashes in her memory.

Sharp compared Wens’ martyrdom with the story of Harriet Tubman, the African-American slave who escaped her bondage but returned to rescue other slaves.

“Time and time again, this woman would return to the South,” said Sharp about Tubman, who was known as “the Moses of her people.” Her rescue missions were so effective that a $40,000 bounty was placed for her capture—a sum worth $1 million today, the historian added.

Throughout the presentation, Hesston faculty member and artist in residence Tony Brown sang solemn and inspiring gospel music, including “Wade in the Water” and “Ride on King Jesus.”

Sharp and Brown said no group of people should ever be persecuted or treated as less than equal to another. Sharp cited research indicating that 99.9 percent of all human DNA is identical.

At the same time, however, the Hesston colleagues acknowledged that Anabaptist martyrs and enslaves Africans are not the same. “There are many dissimilarities,” Sharp said. “We are not trying to make them equal to each other.”

But there remain similarities in the suffering, Brown noted. “Certainly these two stories are not identical by any means, but there is a common thread,” he said. “Whenever we can make a connection, we’ve moved civilization forward.”