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Why We Celebrate

posted Sep 26, 2013, 4:14 PM by Shawn Dakin   [ updated Jun 15, 2017, 10:52 AM by Brent Heishman ]

It is 1770. In a cabin, alongside the Big Beaver River in western Pennsylvania the Chief of the Delaware Indians, or more accurately the Chief of the Lenni Lenape, waits to speak with a great teacher. The great teacher is David Zeisberger, a Moravian missionary who just built a new community called Friedensstadt; which means “City of Peace”.  This place is known to the Delaware as Lagundo-Utenunk. Under the auspices of the Moravian Missions, Zeisberger hopes to raise converts from among the Seneca. But today, great chief Netawatawes has come with a heavy heart for his people the Delaware. He hopes both his story and his request will be received with favor by the Moravian Missionary.

You see, in 1759, Netawatawes, also know as Newcomer,  established Gekelmukpechunk as the capital of the Turtle Clan. This new village along the Little Muskingum or the Tuscarawas River as it is now known, is called Newcomerstown by the white trappers and frontiersmen who traveled and hunted in the river valley. Unfortunately the mixture of cultures led to disease and the excessive use of liquor among the chief’s people. This crisis prompted Netawatawes and the other chiefs of the Delaware to travel from the Tuscarawas River Valley to western Pennsylvania seeking a solution for the moral and physical sickness of their people. Among the chiefs is Koquethagechton known by the English as White Eyes. Netawatawes has pinned his hope for the future upon the friendship and goodwill of these white missionaries and their leader David Zeisberger. He is not sure how this meeting will reflect upon him or be regarded by other nations.

Zeisberger is a unique white man, fluent in the language of all six tribes of the Iroquois nation as well as the three dialects of the Delaware clans. For the past twenty five years, when war did not prevent him, he lived in the frontier among people native to this land. It is said that among these people, there are few whom they trust as much as David Zeisberger. Unlike many others, Moravian Missionaries came among the people not with pomp and circumstance but with humility and kindness. They joined the people on the hunt, and freely gave to the needy. In this way, Zeisberger was able to gradually instil the principles of religion into the hearts and minds of the native people. Converts are invited to live in the “City of Peace” where they are assisted in building homes, taught to plant & sow, as well as the simple fabrication of goods. These things but especially the health and prosperity of the converts draws Netawatawes here today.

He comes with an invitation for David Zeisberger to come to Gekelmukpechunk to speak to his people and the white men who are settled there. He hopes that Zeisberger’s words will sound throughout the valley and call his people back to a productive and peaceful life. Netawatawes pled with the missionary to settle in the Tuscarawas Valley so that his people might hear the way of God and be blessed with God’s fortune. His plea so impressed Zeisberger that by early 1771 he agreed to make the trek of one hundred miles through the wilderness from Friedensstadt to Gekelmukpechunk, the village of Newcomer.

As noted by his fellow missionaries and friends John Heckewelder and Benjamin Mortimer, "Zeisberger was fully convinced that his vocation to preach the Gospel to the Indians and spread the kingdom of God was of divine origin, and therefore he sacrificed all vanities of the world, all convenience, and whatever is highly esteemed among men, and took up the mission of his life in strong faith, relying upon the blessing and aid of that Lord whom he served, and with joyous courage, in the midst of scorn, reproach and persecutions.”

Arriving in Gekelmukpechunk on March 14th 1771, Zeisberger immediately went to the lofted cabin of Chief Newcomer. Many eager onlookers from the village gathered to hear the words of this man of God. Standing before those gathered, Netawatawes told his people that he had received the word of God and he explained that his deepest desire is that they too would receive God’s word and in this way become a blessed people. David Zeisberger began to speak. “My friends, we have come to bring you great words and glad tidings, words from our God and your God, news of our redeemer and your redeemer. We have come to tell you that you will be happy if you believe in Jesus Christ who shed his blood and gave his life for you. These are the great words and glad tidings we presented to your friends at Friedensstadt. They received them. They are happy and thank the Savior that he has brought them from darkness into light. Now we bear to you the peace of God. The time is here, the visitation of God your Creator who as a man died for you. You are not any longer to live in darkness without him. For to know him is life and peace. Say not in your hearts these teachings are not for us we were not made to receive them. I tell you Jesus Christ died for me, for you, and for all men. You too are called. You are called to life eternal.” He continued presenting the gospel in such a way as to pluck the heart chords of even the most hardened man. Having studied many years with the people and observing their method of speech both in community and in council, no man was better prepared to bring the message of Christ to this village.

Not all present that day accepted Christ’s story of love and peace, but the gospel trumpet had been sounded in the valley and it still echoes along the banks of Tuscarawas today. The life changing power of Jesus Christ is no less potent today as it was 230 years ago. Today we face many of the same challenges. Physical and moral decay still hinder our communities from living the blessed life Christ longs to give. Perhaps we might benefit from the message of the Moravian Missionary so many years ago. We are no longer to live in darkness without God. Do not say that these teachings are not for you. Jesus Christ died for me, for you, and for all men. To know Christ is to know life and peace.  You too are called. You are called to eternal life.

On Sunday October 8th, Victory Assembly of God in Newcomerstown, will be celebrating the first protestant sermon given west of the Allegheny Mountains at the 6th Annual Delaware Days Festival. The Delaware Days festival is a historically themed outdoor event honoring both the bravery of Moravian missionaries and the faith of the native Delaware people who responded to the call to follow Christ. A dramatic reenactment of David Zeisberger's sermon to Delaware Chief Netawatawes (Newcomer) will be featured along with other historic demonstrations. Many vendors will be present selling crafts and more. We invite you to bring your family for a day of food, music, games, horse drawn wagon rides and fun.