Tour of Midwestern churches recalls faith of pioneers

By Debra Whittington

Religion Columnist

The vastness and the obstacles the pioneers faced was brought home to me recently on a trip to Kansas and Nebraska. The sights, the sounds, and the history made me aware of the hardships faced by those early pioneers. More important though was the fact they brought God with them to the prairie and built stone churches in which to worship Him.

Traveling north in central Kansas we came to a small town named Liebenthal with a church that seemed to reach to the sky. This little town, founded in 1876, was homesteaded by a group of people known as the Volga-Germans. At first they worshipped in homes or outside until a church was built in 1878. They soon outgrew the church and from 1902 to 1905 they constructed the current limestone church.

Even though fire destroyed the wood interiors and the roof twice, the residents wouldn’t give up and rebuilt. Today, the church is still in use and this sentinel on the plains can be seen for miles.

Another church we visited is located in Victoria, Kansas. St. Fidelis Church, dubbed “The Cathedral on the Plains” by William Jennings Bryan stands an impressive 141 feet tall at the two towers. The interior of the church which is 44 feet tall to the ceiling, will seat 1,100 people.

I paused to sit in the front pew and felt such peace. Even though there were many other people in the church at the same time, everyone spoke in whispers and respected those who were praying.

Crossing the plains provided great hardship for the early pioneers who traveled west in hopes of a new and better life. Many died along the way including my own great-great grandfather who is buried somewhere by the Platte River in Nebraska.

The army provided a presence to protect these settlers from Indian attacks. I was made aware of their isolation when we visited Fort Hartsuff in Nebraska and the location where Fort Wallace once stood in Kansas. Visiting those two locations I was overwhelmed at the vastness of the prairie and how it felt as though we were thousands of miles from civilization.

We were the only two visitors on the day we visited these two locations with only the sound of the wind blowing through the prairie grass and the occasional chirping of a bird. At Fort Wallace the sun was setting and I wondered about the travelers who went before me. Did they feel peace at the end of the day knowing the Lord would see them through the night?

Time-to-time and state-to-state, I was reminded of those who went before us. It was their faith and dedication that made the difference in settling the West. I find it important to learn from these pioneers and their faith and to see their great accomplishments along the way. I am sure Romans 8:38, 39 was of great comfort. It states, “…Neither death, nor life…nor things to come…shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

How will our descendants view us? (Unless the Lord returns soon). Will they see us as strong pioneers who never wavered in their faith and endured all hardships? Will we, too, leave lasting legacies of faith for all who come after us? Time will tell.

Debra Whittington is a longtime resident of Tucumcari. Contact her at:

dawhittington@msn.com

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