Some readers have commented that the family story in Among the Original Dwellers is very sad. It is true that my ancestors sacrificed their family for the sake of a higher calling and the ramifications have been felt by their descendents. Yet I cannot help but think that the tragedies of history present to every generation a choice to choose a better path, by learning from the lessons of the past and working through the family pain. My cousin* who wrote in German about her great grandfather (Hans in this excerpt below) tells that despite the sorrow he felt as a child, his parents helped him find his way in an ever-changing world.
* Seele, G. - 2008 - Der eigene Weg: Hans Hahn und seine Freundschaft mit Waldemar Bonsels (The One Way).
Are there not some places where we seem to breathe sadness? - Alexandre Dumas
In March 1894, the Hahn family headed out to Germany on their second furlough. ... Doris packed up all their belongings, not sure if they would return to Lohardaga. She hoped they would, because she had invested so much into the lives of the women and those suffering from leprosy. Much could change in the eighteen months that they would be gone, and they had to be willing to go where they were needed when they returned. Once their accumulated belongings were stored away in a godam (warehouse), she turned her attention to reuniting with her seven children in Germany.
They traveled with one trunk for their travel needs and another trunk full of saris, shawls, brass utensils and other decorative items that would be gifts from India for family, supporters and hosts along the way. Again, they chaperoned a gaggle of missionary children and their luggage, including their rambunctious sons, Heini and Gopa, and toddler daughters, Dorle and Lieble. Each child carried a satchel with their own personal items, toys, books and their own personal
brass cup and plate for the journey. ...
They arrived at the Gutersloh Station on Easter weekend. Waiting on the platform were Johannes and Albert (or Hans and Bertie as they were called by their friends.) Would the parents recognize them? Johannes was a lanky teenager and Albert was taller than when he left home, three earlier. In the beautiful sunshine, among the spring flowers, the boys stood waiting on the platform, their hearts storming with emotions. The boys wondered if their parents would be as odd as the missionaries who visited their school.
Upon seeing his father, hannes thought, his appearance was not so exotic or unkempt as other returning missionaries had been; he seemed a gentleman with the superior assurance of a man who had seen the world. Ferdinand jumped off the train to greet his boys with firm handshakes and pats on the back. He noticed the tightness in their shoulders and the weakness in their hands, so he grabbed their heads and brought them to his chest, hugging them as he rustled their hair.
This annoyed the boys who quickly scrambled up into the train compartment straightening their clothes and hair. They found him perhaps a little too good natured and light hearted.
On entering the compartment, they noticed a woman, who must have been their Mother, dealing with a swarm of strange children. Eventually she rose and smothered them in hugs and kisses, which Johannes resisted and resented. Doris was taken aback by his juvenile behavior. What did she know of the modern teenagers? Gone were their carefree ways and innocent trust.
A darkness had grown in their wounded hearts. After having traveled halfway around the world, far from home, the seven-year-old boys’ sense of adventure quickly dissipated. Their parents’
attempts to prepare them for Germany, had not prepared them for loneliness and strangeness. They succumbed to the efficient orderly piety that folded in around them like grey clouds. Bitterness and
abandonment were planted in their young hearts and minds.
Guilt overwhelmed Doris, seeing them so timid and cold toward her. She realized she had abandoned them, but when they had left Lohardaga, she only thought about how abandoned she felt. Ferdinand had discouraged her from getting overly emotional about their departure. He framed every difficult experience as an exciting adventure. Doris now felt she had sent them off to war and they returned wounded.
They spent Easter together in Bielefeld, but time was too short to undo the harm. Doris insisted they keep their home base nearby in Bielefeld when the children returned to their respective schools. She was desperate for more time to bond with them again. Much would be healed during the summer holiday in Uetersen. She trusted that the Lord would gather and bind up the broken hearted (Psalm 147:3).
That summer, when their eldest son,Theo, visited from America, he confided to his parents that the boys were not thriving in the well-meaning care of the Wuforst family. He confessed that his brothers were only following his poor example, putting up appearances of good behavior while behaving like hooligans.
Unfortunately, the Hahns could not afford alternative arrangements. What family would take four boys, now that Gottfried and Heinrich were also starting school? The delightful Bonsel family, at the Bethel school in Bielefeld, empathized with the family's plight and offered to keep an eye on the boys. The siblings often stayed with them on weekends and holidays, so they could be together while the parents were away.
The parents thought their daughters were less wounded. Perhaps they hid their wounds better. Frieda and Gushie attended the girl’s boarding school in Bielefeld. Dorle and Lieble would not start school for another five years. Louise and Mietze, now in their twenties were eager to return to work in India with their parents.
In May, Ferdinand traveled again to Great Britain to raise support for the Leprosy work in India. While he was there a notable book by Rudyard Kipling hit the bookstands. He bought a copy of The Jungle Book for his children, so they could take turns reading it over the summer to practice their English. He began reading it as he traveled back to Germany. He felt Kipling’s allegorical style captured the issues surrounding race, place and identity.409 Like Mowgli, Ferdinand felt conflict between his German self and the part of himself that identified so intimately with India and the tribal people. He could relate to the song sung by the young boy:
"As Mowgli flies between the beasts and birds, so fly I between
the village and the jungle... These two things fight together in me
as the snakes fight in the spring... I am two Mowglis.”**
Ferdinand recognized that he felt like two persons within one body. He also had seen this tension among the Adivasi Christians, as they struggled with both their identity as Adivasi and as Christian, in an environment that was antagonistic to both. Now for the first time he thought about how much more his children must feel this tension. He hoped Christ would be their anchor in this ever-changing world, while giving them wings to sail above it. But it seemed their wings had been clipped. They struggled to fit in to a European society, that had become more rigid than Ferdinand remembered, and it left an ocean-wide gulf between him and his beloved children. He resolved to provide them with support and the counsel to endure.
When summer holidays began Ferdinand decided to limit his travels so that the family could enjoy the precious and rare occasion to be together in Uetersen, where Doris’ uncle was the only member of the Voss family remaining. ... Ferdinand hoped to plant seeds of encouragement into their impressionable hearts and minds.
** Waterman, Anna - January 2016 - Perceptions of Race in Three Generations of The Jungle Book. A similar language of split or multiple identity can be found in W.E.B. Du Bois’ 1903 theory of double-consciousness, the condition of being raised in a European/ American setting, but African by [descent]: “One ever feels his twoness: an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.