When selling books in Amish communities, I’m often asked if I carry the Martyrs Mirror. This book is very popular in Amish homes today. It is an account of the numerous Anabaptists, spiritual predecessors of the Amish, who perished on account of their faith.
Willems was originally captured in 1569 by ‘papists’ for the crime of following and promoting the idea of rebaptism, a precursor to today’s Amish and Mennonite practice of adult baptism.
Willems ended up imprisoned in a tower near his home in the Netherlands. He later escaped by tying cloth together and shimmying down the walls.
As he fled, a guard saw him and took off in hot pursuit. Coming to a pond covered with thin ice, Willems chanced it and crossed, making it safely to the other side. His pursuer was not so fortunate. The ‘thiefcatcher’ cracked through the ice to plunge into the freezing water below.
Amazingly, instead of making an easy getaway, Willems turned back and rescued the guard from a likely death. He was subsequently recaptured and later burned at the stake.
Apparently for Dirk Willems, to heed the cries of someone in need–even someone who wished him harm–was more important than his own life.
Stories from Anabaptist history like this one color the Amish way of thinking to the present. Could it be that Willems’ example lives on in today’s Amish, as they face present-day mistreatment and misfortunes?
Read the Martyrs Mirror online.
(sources: Mennonite Church USA Archives; Martyrs Mirror, Thieleman J. Van Braght)