Rural Bryant, SD, Presents:
in the Life of Alfred Stadem,"
by Ronald Ginther, Grandson of Alfred and Bergit Stadem
"You show me someone who doesn't know where he's been, and I'll show you someone who doesn't know where he's going."--Bill Gaither quoting, "The Freedom Band" Video.
Gradually, each succeeding, spiritually unfocused generation loses or explains away or discards what the previous generation thought was important to life and faith in God. That is a process well known and almost inescapable. The Bible tells us it took God sending many prophets to suffer and even die, to warn the Jewish people to repent and turn back to God after they abandoned Him and took to other gods and philosophies. Are we any different? Honestly, we have to say we are no different. How can we change this gradual abandonment of God? The Jews always had plenty religion, but that doesn't reverse the fatal trend, nor does it impress God any. He knows if it comes truly from the heart or is merely a good show being put on each Sunday.
How can we turn back to God, if we think we don't need to, that we're all basically good people, that we are all (of course, we exclude real bad people, such as rapists and murderers and bigots) going to heaven, that it couldn't be that good people such as ourselves are all going to be held responsible for our sins and face the judgment of Christ and eternal punishment in hell.
A considerable number of us Stadem descendants are missionaries and ministers in churches, but the falling away is all our doing, sorry to say! There are sins of omission as well as commission, right? What we have all produced (I am speaking to my fellow older generation--anyone aged thirty five and older-- here), is a younger generation who thinks and lives even farther from Jesus than we are presently thinking and living. That is the pitiful trend shown in many surveys of churched young people (the saved and born again ones included), and the trend is always downward, or away from God. We Stadem descendants are part of this generation in secularized America that has abandoned God, though many of us regularly attend church and even are ministers and missionaries in various denominations and missions. Regardless of what we think we are doing is so right and necessary and fruitful, we all share in the downward spiritual spiral of the Stadem relationship. It is ALL OUR RESPONSIBILITY for what is happening and has already happened, whether we are pricked in the heart by the Holy Spirit and take responsibility for it or not. God holds us all responsible, as his Word tells us repeatedly. Those who truly know what the Gospel is, they are most accountable too for what has happened--a hard truth, but it comes straight from the Bible!
Perhaps, just perhaps the following lines of poetry will speak to you-- show you that responsibility again in a way you will take to heart and want to do something about--and preferably soon too! Does it matter to you that so many Stadems are perishing and wandering spiritually, searching in the wrong places for what only Christ can be to them? Does it really bother you? Show it matters by your actions then! Show it the way the Bible tells us to show it--not just in life example, but in word and deed, and the sharing of the old saving Gospel Story. This is really your invitation, perhaps the last you will receive before Christ's Second Coming, who knows? Isn't it high time to change and get back to sharing the Gospel with our loved ones, not just concentrating on our own family or whomever our mission, ministry, or church has given us as our responsibility, excluding everybody else. "Am I my brother's keeper?" a guilty Cain flung back at God his Maker. Yes, he was his brother's keeper, but a very poor one at that! He killed his brother, we know, out of envy and spite and anger, since Abel's sacrifice pleased God whereas Cain's was rejected by God. We too can kill, oh yes, we can kill, by ignoring our brothers and sisters', our cousins and uncles and aunts' spiritual conditions within the wider family relationship, letting them go year after year into apostasy, doubt, untruth, addiction and bondage to Satan. We can look aside as they each stumble toward death and hell, while we and our immediate family are saved or born again and happy as peas in a pod.
The Lord have mercy on us! It is time to change.
Now at last, after much prayer and fasting too, so that this is not so much as my personal view and opinion of things but God's true view and God's true, aching heart being expressed: Written from the viewpoint and experience of a present-time Stadem girl or boy, here is what I hope and pray will speak to you and galvanize you to do something about it:
OUR STADEM GRANDPARENTS' HERITAGE AND LEGACY.
Heritage can be ignored and neglected, we know, and then it is lost. When something like Heritage is lost, it can seldom be retrieved. Heritage is something that must be kept alive, or it will slip away forever into obscurity. When it is gone, it will be regretted deeply, but the loss cannot be made up. We must not let that happen to us! But again, what do we mean by Heritage? Let me say this first: does anyone care today what Grandpa Ginther's politics were? Does anyone care how Grandpa Stadem voted and for whom? Except for idle interest, no one would care to inquire about their respective political stands today. What people would care to know, if whether they were good fathers, good husbands, and had love for their families. What was their character? What kind of men were they? Did they have integrity, or not? What kind of marriages did they have? Did they care for God or not--and how did they serve God, or didn't they? What did they think about salvation--or was it of no concern to them while they lived on this earth what their eternal destiny might be?
Those are some of the questions that would probably still matter today, after fifty years have passed since their deaths, are they not? I know they would be questions I would like the answers to. I do happen, as a grandson of both these men, to know the answers. As for their politics, I have no idea, I would have to guess. And I really wouldn't care what they were, as a matter of fact. But as to the important things, I don't have to guess, I know the facts. You see, these men left legacies, and they still matter, indeed, they matter a lot. This is what we are concerned about, these lasting legacies of our grandparents, who did not merely spend some time on earth, work at this or that occupation and calling, marry his sweetheart and father some children and raise them to adulthood--then retire to the rocker on the porch and one day die as all men do when the heart finally beats its last beat and stops. No, all men do such things, to varying degrees of success or failure.
But what makes our Stadem legacy worth preserving, worth cultivating today, worth celebrating even at the Heritage Center, is that Grandpa Stadem, particularly, left a GOLDEN legacy for us to enrich ourselves with! If you spend any time on the Plain View Farm websites, you will learn the seemingly inexhaustible richness and bountiful diversity of that legacy in the accounts about Alfred Stadem, Bergit his wife, and his children.
Alfred Stadem's legacy was played out in the lives of his wife and children, they were the artist's palette with which his legacy was painted, in all its splendid array of bright colors, appealing, warm hues, beguiling nuances, contrasting shades, and sometimes dark umbers.
We see Alfred Stadem in the round, a strong-spirited, manly but engaging, fully-orbed man, because he was eminently a social, relationship-energizing man, investing his manifold talents and considerable brain and ingenuity and love of God in people around him, starting with his wife and family, then extending out to his neighbors, friends, church and the community of Bryant.
Though he cultivated "separateness," he certainly continued to cultivate sociableness with it! His godliness did not shut him into a closet--just the opposite, it took him out of the closet to reach out to others, even as far as Mexico!
To maintain himself as a man set apart, in the world, but not of it, he deliberately, steadfastly cultivated the look of a humble, common man, with agriculture as his trade--but he was an extraordinary man. I think there are many things that could be called out of the ordinary about him. We know about his auctioneering, his well-digging (using a water wych technique that works "well" today, the well-digging people of of the Bryant-Lake Norden locality have lately informed me!), his serving on a hospital board, his years and years of being Sunday School superintendent, his zealous support of Christian education, his plunging strenuously into mission work in Mexico with his beloved wife for years until his passing, his work promoting the Lutheran Fellowship Meetings and serving as an official on the board while sharing in the Christian Fellowship with great zest, his love of simple fun and frolic on the Farm in bands that he organized and led, his love of beauty and how he worked to beautify the Farm with rows of trees and orchards and even a fish pool, his cultivation of hospitality, so that any guest could come and he drop whatever he was doing and would be a most welcoming host, as long as the guest was on the property--there are many, many aspects to him we cannot even pause to identify here if we want to get to the main point.
Yes, he had a multifaceted life, to be sure, but the aspect that intrigues me most about him, even above his burning faith in God and his zeal for righteous living to the point where he might be criticised for being too straight-laced and demanding of proprieties, was his choosing to be "separate."
Alfred Stadem regarded himself as a practicing disciple of Christ, a Christian pilgrim on this earth, his whole life. As a pilgrim just passing through, not intending to remain on earth's sod (or under it after three score and twenty years), with heaven as his destination, not a grave set in a pleasant grassy plot of the Bryant cemetery, Alfred Stadem determined early on in his young manhood to live a separated, consecrated-to-God life. Life in town was "not what it was cracked up to be," as he put it in the vernacular when describing urban life.
To achieve this and help him live that separated, consecrated Pilgrim way, he married a Christ-loving woman who was of like mind and spirit, another pilgrim who regarded this life as her opportunity to love and serve God and her fellow man, but all with the purpose of spending eternity with the Lord in heaven. She too, then, was a pilgrim.
The material things, consequently, did not dominate Alfred and Bergit. They had material things, to be sure, but the material things did not have Alfred and Bergit and consume them, as they consume so many Americans, and so destructively, in this materialistic, consumerist culture. Money was useful, but it did not really matter very much to Alfred. He wasn't interested or aiming to make a lot of money, then retire. He wanted a godly, productive life, but not in the material sense that most men would reckon a life well lived and profitably spent. Always a pilgrim, Alfred never forgot that everything in life is passing and transitory. He therefore thought it wise not to place much stock in material things, since they weren't going to stick around anyway. Why try to accummulate more and more, when it was all going to slip from your fingers in the end? Wisdom would tell a man to concentrate on more lasting, eternal things, which you were more likely to enjoy forever, since they were not based on shifting earthly dust or sand.
Having determined early on not to live as men commonly did in the urban societies of town and city, he chose to be a farmer by trade as the most amenable way to cultivate his separateness as a pilgrim making his way through life's circumstances to the heavenly city promised all God's true children. He was so talented and such a good worker, he might have tried most anything and made a success of it, even made a respectable pile of money doing it. But no, instead he chose farming (the simplicity of lifestyle, that comes from a small farm operation), and to keep his goal firmly in mind--eternal heaven, not transitory and vain earthly riches--he kept his holdings deliberately modest, even small. Other farmers saved and as soon as they could bought acreages, enlarging their farms whenever possible, always expanding and getting bigger and bigger, with all the complex operations and increased time spent on them that expansion dictated. Alfred did not follow that generally accepted way, he had his own unique course in life, which was keeping separate as a Christian pilgrim from the world and its misdirected ways, as he saw it. He held a steady course as a pilgrim, right to the end. He lived as a pilgrim in this world, and he passed from it a pilgrim.
Have we ignored or forgotten this aspect of Alfred Stadem's legacy, loved ones? Have we turned materialistic, earthly-centered, and live as though his life is all there is for us? A few have seen this other-worldly, pilgrim aspect of Alfred's (which has Scandinavian roots, by the way, in the Christian culture and pious Christian faith and simplified, unostentatious lifestyle of Scandinavians for generations) and followed the same sort of course, of separation from worldly values of getting and getting and spending and spending, while saving to heap up riches, investing and expanding our retirement portfolios, building ever bigger houses and barns, even if they aren't that needed.
But it is only a few of us who have truly followed Alfred Stadem's uncompromising, stalwart, consistent example in this, right? What Alfred Stadem chose is so contrary to the common, contemporary American lifestyle. It smacks even of David Thoreau and his Walden Pond experience (which only lasted a couple years, by the way, whereas Grandpa made his separation last his lifetime). Some of us might say, "It doesn't take all that."
As a young boy I once wrote this limerick: "Much wants more, avoids the poor." Not bad for a young boy! It expresses a philosophy that is completely anti-materialism, does it not? It is expresses the way too that Alfred Stadem lived his life by choice. Why is this important? The Rich Young Ruler in the New Testament came to Jesus, but he went away sorrowful. Why? Jesus asked him to give up his material wealth to the poor (and he was very rich) and follow Him, but he wouldn't, so he could not become a disciple of Jesus. Here he could have become, at Jesus' invitation, one of ther Twelve Apostles, but he gave up his opportunity for material things, things that would all pass away. He gave up eternal life and eternal blessings, for things that would be taken all away from him at death! How tragic!
I know this way of Christian, pilgrim-like separation, of eschewing material values and choosing instead to cultivate the non-material, spiritual realities, is not popular today, it may even seem strange and anti-social to our post-modern secularist mindset--but I love my Grandpa Alfred Stadem for this aspect of his--it makes him a truly worthy man to emulate, in my humble opinion. I inherited somehow some of this disposition, to look upon materialism as a threat, or a hindrance, to more important spiritual values, and felt this way early on in my iife, and have tried to be faithful to this view in my life--even though I did not consciously know it was Grandpa Alfred Stadem who first showed us the way to do it.
Others might look upon him as out of date, out of touch with contemporary society because he was rustic in his lifestyle and even was concerned for souls and their salvation, even thinking him a patriarchal hay seed or country bumpkin, but actually I see him as a very wise man, truly wiser than most men, in choosing to live separate like a pilgrim from this world's obsessive, matrialistic way of life, while remaining always concerned for sinners and their need for Christ's salvation. He spared himself the excesses and griefs of materialism and being enslaved to things. His "simplicity" was actually very much ahead of his times. The most sophisticated financiers and stock market people on Wall Street in New York dream about what Alfred Stadem had! We know, because they tell us so! He was a very happy man, as his pictures indeed reveal--he could be very sober, but he was usually quite genial and good humored. He loved his wife more than anything, except his Lord. She was the sweetest frosting on the cake of his life, but she also was his staple meat and potatoes too--for man cannot live on sweetness alone but has to have real sustenance to keep up his strength and vigor.
To sum up, Grandpa Stadem (unlike the Rich Young Ruler in scripture, who came to Christ but went away sorrowing, unable to become a disciple because he refused to give up his material wealth to the poor) discovered the key to a life worth living (and knew that he had found it) that, faithfully and steadily applied by the God-fearing man of integrity, not only produced happiness and purpose for himself, but left a lasting, valuable impression on those who were privileged to be his family and descendants, not to mention his innumerable friends.
He lived separate, being a Christian pilgrim on this sinful old earth, but remained eminently sociable.
He was of the humble, common man (not a snob or a step up from others) and could relate to anyone regardless of color or culture or educational level, as his Mexican mission support and church work in Mexico proved.
He loved good, wholesome fun and clean humor.
He hated profanity and ungodly habits and Sabbath breaking, but (despite some judgmentalism, which he later repented of) he could reprove those who swore or drank in a way that was conducive to their changing their ways to respect God in their lives.
He was a manly man, he knew what hard work was, and never left it to others to do for him, but remained gentle and a gentleman.
He detested egotism, he avoided the "big I", as he called it.
He was always ready for Christian fellowship--it was so high on his list of values, he would drop essential farm work temporarily to be a host to visiting friends, family, and other guests.
He was a loving father to his many children, a faithful and loving husband to his wife, a friend to sinners, a support of Christian charity in diverse places of need, an evangelist of the soul-saving, life-transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ wherever he could minister in that way.
We might go on and on, and we could, but for limited space. His legacy is indeed golden, and well worth preserving (and it behooves us to be involved in carrying it on in our own lives, I believe, and sharing it with others as well, unless we have something better to do with our remaining days on this passing old earth).--Stadem Grandson, Ronald Ginther
by Ronald Ginther:
Grandpa Alfred Stadem, their son, tells about it in his accounts. He doesn't speak of having to endure horrible, undeserved "hardship", he felt just the opposite about it, he was proud of the experience of being a true pioneer from the sod house era of settlement of Dakota Territory. He stood tall, with such a heritage, not thinking himself deprived and a victim! If today almost all of us live in splendor unimaginable to such Stadem pioneer farm people as these, it ought to give us a sobering pause.
Already mentioned, I composed this limerick: "Much wants more, avoids the poor." How much is enough? How much is too much? What really does it say about our development if we assume or feel we must have at least one if not two luxurious dwellings with multiple rooms no one even lives in, as there is no need to occupy the entire house? Peder and Marie were crammed into a tiny sod dugout--roofed, and their luxurious addition was a wood-framed "lean-to"--a homestead we wouldn't dream of living in today without feeling we had returned to the Stone Age!
Hopefully, no "nuclear winter", the result of some nuclear war erupting in the Middle East that would engulf us eventually, will force us Stadem descendants back into sod dugouts! Honestly, could we take such primitive conditions without complaint or crying out to God that he is unjust? Could we accept such a dwelling thankfully as his provision, his refuge for us in a time of great crisis and distress for our nation? We know that cataclysms have occured in the past that overcame powerful, affluent societies and plunged them into abject poverty and squalor--Germany, even most of Europe, was such a scene due to World War II where millions crept out daily from their holes to scratch in the bombed out ruins of houses and entire cities for canned food or items they could possibly sell for food. Such conditions have afflicted numerous countries due to civil wars, in Africa, Latin America, and Asia--and we have so far escaped--but how much longer?
Major catastrophes can occur at any time, naturally, with mega-earthquakes, tsunamis, crop failures and famine, even volcanic eruptions. Our nation is full of gigantic, potential destructive forces geologists tell us could even split the North American continent from end to end, from the Gulf of Mexico to the far north in Canada's Arctic Circle provinces! Nobody knows when such things might occur, they cannot be known to man--but scientists can study the signs of subterranean stress and upheaval and shifts deep in the earth that indicate major movements may soon occur on the surface of the earth's thin, floating crust.
Having driven the sandy country roads of Kansas, I am certain, lay submerged under a vast inland salt sea at one time--and could again be inundated. I am not going to worry about it though. That is useless, worrying about things that lie only in God's hand and knowledge. We have enough to do, to obey his commandments now, and live according to his Holy Word, the Bible, as the Spirit of God helps and enables us. Yet it is good to pause now and then and reflect, as the Scriptures command, just how pathetically short our days are, and then try to "number them," that is, reflecting that we are like fragile, passing leaves, here for a spring and summer, then blown away in the fall! The places where our houses presently stand, even if we have our names on them, will be stripped and swept clean.
I saw this in Watertown recently. A three-storey house was demolished. The entire lot was swept clean of any sign of that house that once stood so grand and tall on its street. The names of whoever lived there are also swept away. No one cares now who lived there, as the house is gone forever. That is how the Bible wants us to see our place in this world, it is only temporary, and soon we will be gone, together with all our prized possessions, homes, and property, not to mention our reputations and names.
Why preserve anything at all then? Why preserve heritage in the family if all will be swept away? Is it all vanity? Shouldn't we just live for today and forget about tomorrow? No, on the contrary, that is the world's way of dealing with life's transitory condition and our short life spans. If we are wise, we instead preserve our heritage, not to exalt man's reputation and pride of accomplishment but to give glory solely to God. That is the sole justification and reason for preserving our Stadem heritage. Besides, we are being obedient to God's command in many of the Psalms to glorify God, give him the credit for the great things he has done for us as Stadems and Stadem descendants. Isn't that worth it? Every Christian at heart will agree, as every true son and daughter of God will want to give glory to God for all the great things he has done that show his infinite mercy and grace toward His children.
Uff dah! Grandma would say.
Now the sad truth about us is that we are not truly thankful, if we are honest and want to acknowledge the truth. It shows in our attitudes and also our feeble, pallid worship of God in our churches. Children pick up early on their parent's praiseless lifestyles and it seems to their young, tender minds to justify the materialism that is fostered early on in them. They too eagerly become materialists in outlook and behavior. Materialists do not thank God, as they usually credit themselves with their achievements and material success, not as the undeserved blessings from Almighty God that they truly are. The rich man parable that Jesus told, telling how a foolish, rich farmer boasted of the barns he was going to build to contain all his harvested crops, only he dropped dead and that was the end of him!--that describes us to a "t".
As the Bible says, God blesses the ungodly so that they will take stock of all their undeserved material success and turn back to God in repentance. He doesn't punish them with poverty to drive them to accept Him, He blesses them. The problem is that we human beings take the blessings and run from God, and think we achieved everything on our own without Him. Oh, we may give a little lip service at church services to God's blessings in our lives, and sing the Norwegian table prayer to boot, but our lives are not lived in thankfulness to God. True thankfulness is not like that. True thankfulness would inspire us to live holy lives, uncompromised lives that do not flow with the tide of worldly society, pure lives attuned to God and His kingdom--lives that are not constantly seeking after more and more material things to satisfy our carnal, fleshly lusts for things and more and more pleasure. Material things in themselves are neutral, they just exist, but when our heart is centered on them, then they become our gods, displacing God.
Have we become idolators in the Stadem relationship? God knows the true state we are in spiritually. It is a fact we cannot argue with that the plague of materialism grips American society, sucking out its soul and leaving us arrogant and proud in our prosperity, and being part of American society we have not escaped its soul-destroying entanglements.
But we did not start out that way. Our Founding Pilgrim and Puritan Forefathers in America did not start out carnal materialists, though they certainly endeavored to provide for themselves and their families in this strange new land they adopted as God's provision for the propagation of the Gospel. Gradually, materialsm took over their society and their individual lives, and they lost their spiritual fervor and their thankfulness, and the Gospel became a social gospel without any salvation and repentance attached.
This decline into godlessness continued, though at least two Great Awakenings stirred Americans to return repentant to God. We have not seen such Awakening for a long, long time. Instead we have become increasingly materialistic and selfish and self-centered, living to make money and indulge ourselves, supposedly doing it for the family's sake.
This materialistic bent has all but destroyed us as a nation, as the national statistics catalogued yearly in the Congressional Digest portray an unrelenting moral decline that is nothing less than a catastrophe.
Yet with God there is always hope of restoration! We can turn around, if we will repent! We can still repent, as the door of grace is still open to us. That is the Good News. It will not always lie open, but it is open now, today. Let us go in, repent and be changed by the Holy Spirit, friends and loved ones! God welcomes his prodigal sons and daughters with open arms, running out on the public road to gather us back into his household.--Ronald Ginther
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