Dale Heisey’s memories of Bro Aaron Shank
1. The first time I remember meeting Bro. Aaron was at Numidia Bible School for a ministers' conference. I was a visiting preacher from a Franconia Conference congregation in Vermont. He asked me to write an article about the meeting for the "Testimony" for which he was the editor. (I think this was in November of 1970.) I did that and he published it. Later, I had the privilege of serving on the Eastern Mennonite Publication Board while Bro. Aaron still served as editor of the "Testimony".
2. Bro. Aaron and Sister Marjorie visited in our home only one time that I can remember. It was on a Sunday afternoon. We were remodeling a sow operation at the time and had just poured some concrete the day before. When Bro. Aaron arrived, I was out in the barn tearing concrete forms from the newly poured floor. He walked into the barn and said, "Well, well, the man with six sows and pigs." (6000 pigs.) He said not a word about that particular desecration of the Lord's Day. We had a very pleasant visit and I have not found occasion since to include such activity in our Sunday observance. This is a testimony to the grace and wisdom of a true pastor.
3. Bro. Aaron came from time to time to the Dohner's Mennonite School where I was teaching. Once, before leaving, he invited to out to the cloak room, where he was pacing the floor from one side of the room to the other. "What would you do, Bro. Dale?" And then he mentioned that in one of his congregations he has a Sister who was seen in town without a cape dress. Some who were already somewhat critical of Bro. Aaron told him to take care of this wrong testimony. He told me that he visited with her and she apologized. "Oh, I am not quite used to always using a cape dress. I had to go to town in a hurry and did not think of the dress I was wearing." Bro. Aaron thought this would solve the problem. But soon he got another call. The same Sister was in public again with the wrong kind of dress. Just what does Bro. Aaron plan to do about this? I could sense Bro. Aaron's heart immediately. Others knew exactly what to do with such a woman. But his heart was different. He wanted to know how to minister to her so as to feed her spiritual life as well as to change some of her practice. The woman was of more importance than was her dress. Yet Bro. Aaron wanted to be faithful to the decisions of the Church. He lived constantly with this tension.
4. Once I asked Bro. Aaron to come to the Dohner's Mennonite Church on a Wednesday evening and preach on the 8th letter of Jesus to the Churches, one that would begin with "Unto the angel of the church at Dohner's write...." He came and did that. He included some words of commendation for the congregation and left us with several areas where he felt we could improve. He knew us well enough to be able to do that, yet he appreciated us as well. If Bro. Aaron was anything, he was redemptive.
5. We were living in Costa Rica at the time of Sister Marjorie's illness. Yet, we had the opportunity to visit in the Shank home while she was confined to a wheelchair. She told us in a most pleasant way, with a chuckle in her voice, "The doctor tells me I am fine at the top and at the bottom, but the wires are down in between." (This is mentioned in Bro. Aaron's letter to his children.) Bro. Aaron faced many stressful situations in his ministry and living with such a pleasant woman must have been of great encouragement to him. This was our last visit to the Aaron Shank home.
6. Again, this happened on one of Bro. Aaron's visits to the Dohner's School (now Cedar Run School). The EPMC had decided to "eliminate the radio" which represented a new position for the Church. A minister from one of Bro. Aaron's congregation chose to leave Eastern and he united with a group without this regulation. Bro. Aaron was concerned that many others might leave with him. I said, "They will not leave, Bro. Aaron." He could not understand that and wondered why I could say that. "Bro. Aaron, you feed your members pork chops and gravy and they will stay because they want to hear your messages." And the members stayed. Very few left. I am sure that some of them would have preferred to continue using the radio, but they valued Bro. Aaron more than the morning news.
7. A very touching incident happened one Monday evening in Bro. Aaron's basement. Suzanne and I had left the Eastern Church for a more "conservative" congregational practice five months before. But this arrangement was not working for us. We decided to visit with Bro. Aaron and see if we could come back to the Lebanon District. Sister Marjorie played with our young children on the floor while we visited with Bro. Aaron. He offered this suggestion, "Bro. Dale, you and Bro. Alvin Snyder relate to each other very well. Would you consider attending at Tower City? (This was before the days of the Hegin's Valley congregation.) I answered that this was a kind gesture on his part, but I felt he should tell us where to go. He responded, "In that case, I suggest you return to Dohner's where you had been." The following Sunday, we were again at Dohner's. That was both a pleasant and a healing visit for us.
8. There had been considerable criticism for the Shirksville congregation in the Lebanon District. But one summer they asked me to teach their youth Bible School class. There were some fine students in that class. One evening a young man asked, "The Eastern Church is doing a discipline review. They will probably ask some things of us that we have not agreed upon before. Church membership is voluntary. How can it remain voluntary if they impose on us decision that we would not have made?" So, he asked his teacher this question. I responded by suggesting that we ask the bishop to come the next night and talk with us about this. All the students agreed. So, I called Bro. Aaron and explained the discussion the evening before and urged him to come and visit with the class. "Oh, Bro. Dale. I would love to come but I have another assignment for this evening." That was disappointing because this would have been an excellent opportunity for a bishop to be with the youth of the Church. So, I asked Bro. Lester Martin to come, which he did. He listened to the students and shared some godly wisdom. At the end of the class, the same young man who brought up the subject addressed the class, with Bro. Lester present, with these words. "Well class, if they impose something on us that is not our heart, they are responsible for that. But if we resist and react, we would be more in the wrong than what they are." Those were very holy words from a young man who was a part of this closely observed congregation. The class was a spiritual refreshment for me.
9. Maybe I should not include this incident. I was serving at an all-day-meeting in another state. At the noon intermission, some ministers from outside the Lebanon District were visiting with me, and made this observation: "Bro. Dale, we need you up there in the Lebanon District to needle the ministry." Bro. Aaron learned from me that I had no such calling from God to be a source of agitation to the Lebanon ministry, although I most surely caused them much trouble because of my personal failures. But such attitudes can hardly contribute to peace and harmony within a Brotherhood. There certainly should have been a more spiritual way to honor our Lord's request for oneness within His Body as He expressed it in His intercessory prayer in John 17.
10. One of the most serious rebukes I have ever received in my ministry happened after a message at Rehrersburg on a Sunday night. Bro. Aaron was present, but this challenge came from his sister-in-law, Sister Betsy Shank. I had been asked to speak on child training. Evidently, I was making it sound like I knew how to do this and was impressing the rest to do it well also. As I walked out through the center aisle, the Sister handed me a slip of paper with only a Bible reference written on it. It was I Kings 20:11. I will never forget it. God knew that I needed that admonition and Bro. Aaron probably knew it also. It has changed my attitude towards parents who have faced difficulties in raising their children for Christ and His Church and added some oil in the horn to pour into the troubled lives around us.
11. When we came back to the Dohner congregation (mentioned earlier) I had let my beard grow and this was something new for the church. One Brother evidently said, although not to me, "If Dale is truly repentant for what he has done, he will prove that be shaving that beard." Somehow, I learned that this was causing some unrest. Bro. Aaron and I visited about it. Although he put me under no pressure, I told him that he may present this to the church for their voice and if there is opposition to the beard, I will do something about it. And so it was that a Brother's meeting was planned but was not announced publicly. The Brothers were informed by phone. Someone had forgotten to call me, so I was not at the meeting. Bro. Aaron took this opportunity to present the beard issue in the meeting. What I learned about this Bro. Aaron told me afterwards. When it was opened for discussion, little was said but one Brother stated this, "We did not ask Bro. Dale to start using the beard and it is not in our place to ask him to stop." Bro. Aaron told me that the rest seemed to be satisfied with that and that the issue is settled. I am sure that Bro. Aaron's preference would have been otherwise, but his magnanimous spirit shown through in this experience.
12. There was to be a children's meeting at the Rehrersburg congregation. To do this I called Bro. Aaron and asked for his help. After explaining what I needed him to do he graciously offered his participation. At the designated time, I brought in a recently born lamb. The lesson explained to those present that when someone had sinned, a lamb had to die. There was a table up front representing an altar with a knife lying there also. The children spent a short time playing with the lamb, feeding it a bottle, for the lamb was part of the household. But we told them that the Daddy in the family had sinned and this lamb needed to die for his sin. Bro. Aaron represented the priest who needed to kill and offer the lamb as a sacrifice. Bro. Aaron took the lamb along with the knife to prepare the offering. As he was ready to "slay" this innocent animal, I cried out, "Stop! Do not kill the lamb. Another Lamb has died. Christ has given His life and shed His blood. No more lambs need to die." There was crying across the audience, including among the children. Bro. Aaron put the lamb back down on the floor. All those present will remember the story along with the lesson it taught. But Bro. Aaron received criticism for participating in drama in the church. He called me by phone and we discussed it. He said, "Bro. Dale, not one person present would have objected. The censure came from someone who was not there." I do not know if any other bishop would have helped me in this way that day, but Bro. Aaron wanted to do it. May God bless him for all that he did for me.
13. I was moderating at an all-day-meeting. The session was coming to an end and I went to the pulpit to make some closing remarks. It occurred to me there to lead a song by memory as a fitting conclusion which I undertook to do. But there was problem. I just could not remember the words to finish the stanza. Bro. Aaron was on the platform standing behind me. He came up, stood beside me and had his Bible open to a place where he had written the words of that very song. So, that afternoon, I used Bro. Aaron's Bible as my "hymnbook". You may wonder what the hymn was. I do not remember. It was either "Above the Trembling Elements" or else it was "Sweet the Moments, Rich in Blessing". I was impressed that Bro. Aaron would write such hymnology in his Bible, that he had available the very song that I needed, and that he stepped up and helped me out of an erstwhile embarrassing situation. But, then again, that was the Bro. Aaron that I knew.
In closing these thoughts I want to say that though I was somewhat of a maverick and possible at times difficult to understand and to work with, I never doubted Bro. Aaron's personal interest and respect for my limited and faulty contribution to the church. Something of his gracious spirit and love for the Truth still lives on in the lives of others who may never accomplish for Christ and His Church all that Bro. Aaron did, but the Lamb is Worthy and we are all moved to fall down and worship Him and rejoice to see Him crowned.
D. Eugenio Heisey