SERIAL NOVEL: The Black Mennonite (Chapter 23) by Daniel Whyte III with Meriqua Whyte

Chapter 23
The Box

Sunday rolled around. Jacob and Eva had an early morning visitor.

“Rebecca, what brings you here this early on the Lord’s day? Is everyone doing well?” Jacob asked after opening the door.

“Jah. Everyone’s doing well. I stopped by to let you know that Daed is planning on putting you and Eva in The Box beginning this Sunday, and you, Eva, will be banned from Wednesday prayer meetings unless you conform to the dress code. I overheard him telling Mamm about this decision.”

“What was Mamm’s response?” Jacob asked.

“She tried to dissuade him from doing it, but he shut her up severely. She’s distraught over it,” Rebecca said.

“What a way to go into worship service,” Eva said. “So you won’t be surprised, come and see what I had planned on wearing today.”

Eva showed the new dress to Rebecca.

“Wow! It’s beautiful. How it shimmers in the light. Did you design that bow on the front?”

“Yes and no,” Eva said. “When I was in town earlier this past week, I saw a bow on one of the dresses that an Englischer lady was wearing and I kind of pictured it in my mind and tried to sew one similar to it.”

“You have a natural skill for sewing. You could start your own dressmaking business. Oops! I don’t want to put any ideas into your head,” Rebecca said.

“Well, Jacob has already put that idea into my head, and he’s even chosen a name: KEVA, a combination of my and Kezia’s name. It’s interesting that you mention that,” Eva said. “Come see what Mrs. Rothchild gave me.”

Eva showed Rebecca her sewing machine. “With this I could definitely fill orders fast.”

“Wow. You’re in business for real. I’ll be your first customer and I know some of the younger women in the community would order their dresses from you,” Rebecca said, “of course, with a slight twist to the Amish style.” Both ladies laughed.

“And if you need an assistant I’ll be more than happy to help you,” Rebecca said. “Anyway, I’d best be going, and you both prepare yourselves for anything. Daed’s going to deal more harshly with you because you’re family, and as I shared with you earlier, this is an embarrassing time for him.”

“We expected something, Rebecca, but we didn’t quite know what. Thanks for warning us,” Jacob said.

Eva and Rebecca gave each other a hug. “Gott be with you.”

“Jacob,” Eva said after Rebecca pulled away in her buggy, “I just hate to put Mamm through this. I mean, she’s bearing the brunt of it all. She does not deserve to have to go through all this. Why don’t I just go ahead and wear the drab dresses around here and wear the colorful ones when I go into town—out of respect for her?”

“Daed would give you a new name: Hypocrite Eva,” Jacob said with a chuckle. “On a serious note, though, I understand what you are saying. But I think you have to understand that Mamm is standing with us in her own way. She sees that the world is changing and that we cannot remain stagnant and shut up in our own little community as though we are the only ones in the world. You have my word. I won’t stand by and let any harm come to her from Daed or anyone else.”

When Jacob and Eva arrived at the church, Bishop Stoltzfus was waiting for them at the main entrance. He cast a disgusted glance at Eva before requesting that they immediately meet with him and the men in the back room. Bishop Stoltzfus was surprised at how calmly Jacob and Eva responded to his request.

“You have refused to conform with the dress code even after being warned. You’ve left us no other recourse; you’ll both have to sit in The Box and you will not actively participate in any part of the services going forward unless you repent before the church. You will not speak to anyone once you set foot on the church property. If you persist in your rebellion, you will be banned from attending regular church services and any special functions that we may have. If you still persist, you will be ostracized from the entire community.”

After the meeting, Jacob and Eva took their place in The Box. The Box was a compartment at the back of the church set aside for those who refused to conform to the church Ordnung or to the community rules. It signaled the first step to being put out of the church and the community. Neither Jacob nor Eva showed any signs of embarrassment as they took their seats in The Box. As heads turned and eyes met, some exchanged pleasant smiles with them; some sent looks of disgust their way; others simply raised their eyebrows as they could only guess as to why Jacob and Eva Stoltzfus were sitting in The Box. Whispers floated across the room. Ant Maude, not to be hindered by any and who had a mind of her own, approached the two. Her Irish accent rippled across the room.

“Well, how are you two doing on this fine Sunday morning? Ms. Eva, you look mighty lovely in that beautifully designed dress. I like how it shimmers in the light. Whoever designed the dress thought well to place that little bow right in the front. I might enhance my appearance if I were to wear one like that, don’t you think?”

Eva smiled shyly as others in the room who overheard Ant Maude snickered. They all knew what Ant Maude was trying to do. Bishop Stoltzfus had walked up behind Ant Maude and had overheard her words. His austere look and commanding presence soon silenced the giggles. Mamm Stoltzfus took one final look at her son and daughter-in-law before the services started. She respectfully nodded her head as their eyes met but quickly turned her attention to the front as her husband forcefully cleared his throat to get everyone’s attention.

“Some of you,” he said, “well, maybe all of you are probably wondering why Jacob and Eva Stoltzfus are sitting in The Box. I’ll satisfy your curiosity. They are sitting in The Box because they both have refused to obey the dress code Ordnung for our Christian community even after several warnings. Eva Stoltzfus is being rebellious in dressing like the world. Jacob Stoltzfus is being rebellious in not putting his foot down against such rebellion in his haus and thus in the haus of Gott. In fact, he told me he went out and brought the cloth for her dress himself. As long as they refuse to comply, they will sit in The Box for Sunday services. No verbal exchange will take place between them and anyone inside this building or anywhere on the church property. They are banned from attending Wednesday prayer meetings whether we have it here or at one of our hauses. We will not vote on this as a church as the final decision has already been made. Let us pray and proceed with the services.”