When I first met Jen Baker, I was struck by her passion – passion for God, life, and those at risk in society. She’s a pastor and a writer and a campaigner and a preacher, but I sensed that underneath the labels of what she does, she’s content in her identity as a child of God. I loved reading her contribution today, especially as I’m a fellow Midwesterner with German ancestors. The pioneer spirit is one I’m grateful for in those who settled America, but as Jen says, it doesn’t have to be limited to those who’ve moved country.
If Sting is an Englishman in New York, I’m a girl from Michigan… in London.
It all started when I was 14 years old. ‘It’ refers to an insatiable desire for anything European. If I saw a picture of the Eiffel Tower – I needed it. If I heard any European accent – was mesmerized by it. Feeling out of place became common place, and I knew I had been born for a country not my own.
The transition from one country to another is no small feat, as anyone in this club knows full well.
But my cost has been far less than others I have met – and this blog is dedicated to one of those most treasured heroes.
As an American I grew up learning about the pioneers, spending hours as a kid dreaming of what it would have been like to cross the country in a wagon, and at times wishing I too had lived in a little house on the prairie.
We pledged allegiance to the flag every day in school; acutely aware we were pledging allegiance to a country built on the blood and vision of those who had gone before us, enduring hardships we could never fully understand in our clean-cut, Midwestern worlds. They were real pioneers, and in my mind they were untouchable legends.
I had to move 4,000 miles away to understand one of these ‘legends’ lived amongst my own family.
Elizabeth Doubler was a pioneer. She was also one of the bravest women I’ve ever met. Barely reaching 5 feet 2 inches tall, she carried an unspoken strength and steely determination which stood her far higher than her short stature. The year 1937 saw her waving good-bye to her parents in Neustadt, Germany, at the young age of 26, calmly assuring them she would return in a few short weeks.
She never touched German soil again.
Arriving on the New York shores of America she journeyed west to Ohio, learning to speak English and securing a job as a nurse in a local hospital. Thankfully my grandfather had tonsillitis, or I may not be typing this today!
Whilst she was falling in love and starting a family, those she left behind were falling apart and losing their families. One day her parents and brothers were at their dining room table having dinner, when there was a pounding on the door. Her parents hesitantly opened it, finding themselves eyeballing a gun held in the hands of Hitler’s soldiers.
Her brothers were ordered to pack within 15 minutes, and they ‘enlisted’ in the army that day, never to return home as they lost their lives at war. Post war, my great-grandparents one night were abruptly removed to a detention camp, while their German town suddenly became Polish. Upon their release, they returned home to find their dinner sitting on the table as they left it…rotted.
Elizabeth had two remaining brothers, one on each side of the wall, for 30 years. Her parents, ill from the camp, came to live with her, as did her sister. A few strands of family ties reunited, yet the ache of separation from her brothers would never leave her.
Her experience crossing the ocean was immensely different to mine. My grandmother’s family was destroyed, mine as intact as when I left. She had no communication; I have instant contact day or night.
Vastly different, yet strangely similar. There was always a beautiful, unspoken understanding between us – knowing the pain of separation, yet the joy of adventure.
If I’ve learned anything from my grandmother, I’ve learned to pioneer well.
All of us, in our own way, are pioneers – blazing a trail for those who will come behind.
We don’t need a house on the prairie to bear the name pioneer and we needn’t have crossed an ocean to leave a legacy of love.
We simply need to live well.
Live, as my grandmother did, with conviction, faith, strength, determination, kindness, grace, and generosity. Those values carried with her created a home in America; and those values carried with me, are creating a home in England.
Intangibly linking hands and generations across a vast ocean of separation, as only true home is able to do.
Jen Baker is a Speaker, Author, Anti-Trafficking Director of the charity City Hearts and Associate Pastor of Hope City London. She is passionate about inspiring others and living life to the full. Since 1995 she has ministered within the United States, Africa and Europe. Her preaching challenges and unlocks personal potential within others, equipping them through revelation of the Father’s love and His designed purpose for each one of us. More information can be found at www.jenbaker.co.uk, including information on her books, Unlimited and Untangled.