Moravian Log Cabin Days

The LORD is my shepherd, even in my Moravian log cabin days

More of “Scripture Signposts for Hiking through Life:

Happy Trails Guided by God’s Word (Volume 1: 20th century)

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

The LORD is my Shepherd; I shall not want. 

Psalm 23:1

And [God] hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation.

Acts 17:26

At the beginning of Psalm 23, Israel’s King David once said, “the LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”  That sentence summarizes a universe full of truth about God’s providential care. 

God takes care of our needs (as opposed to our greeds!), as they occur throughout our lives, and God does so with caring creativity and wise resourcefulness.  And we should be thankful therefor.

In fact, throughout our lives God determines where and when we shall live, on this earth, including the “the times before appointed, and the bounds of [our] habitation” (Acts 17:26).

God chooses where we should live, and when we should live, on this earth.  God owns all of the earth, and—as our Maker—He owns us, too.  So, God has as many options as He chooses—and often God selects options that we would not selected, maybe because we didn’t imagine such options as even existing. 

Would you expect to ever reside, even as a short-term renter, in a log cabin built by pioneering settlers more than 300 years ago?  What about a log cabin built by Moravian Brethren settlers, back in the A.D.1600s?

Some of my ancestors, on my mother’s side, lived in what would later be called “Czechoslovakia”, in parts that were once called Bohemia and Moravia.  (Those parts now belong to the “Czech Republic”, a/k/a “Czechia”.) 

Obviously, God alone should get the glory for all who have been procreated from Czech ancestors, and that fact should never be minimized![1]  Yet, also, it should not be overlooked that God chose to providentially use human ancestors, like some of my Bohemian and Moravian forefathers and foremothers, to do the procreating needed.  (Accordingly, the providential process of generation-after-generation procreation is critical; elsewise you would not be reading any of this!)

A providentially wonderful part of my own family heritage is reported in a family history journal article, as ““Czech into Texas, at Last! From Bohemian Roots, to a Moravian Log Cabin, to the Lone Star State,” České Stopy [Czech Footprints]. 13 (1): 15-22 (spring 2011).  Much of what appears here has already appeared in that history journal article.  Specifically, about a half-year of my college “life” was spent living in a Moravian log cabin, inside a forest of North Carolina, so that half-year illustrates how God provides what is really needed—to live out a particular “chapter” of life on Earth.

            Looking back, what was that half-year like?  Why did I rent that log cabin?

          After completing junior college in Maryland, I needed to transfer to a four–year university, to complete my undergraduate studies. 

Skipping the irrelevant details, I transferred to Wake Forest University in North Carolina, in the fall of AD1980, in the historic “twin cities” of Winston–Salem, with emphasis on the “Salem”.  

          Originally, Salem was a Moravian colony (settled by Moravian Brethren Protestants of the 1600s), located near a site that would eventually be named “Winston”.  The industrial town of Winston grew up and out, eventually enveloping the smaller Moravian settlement of Salem, so the combined metropolitan area became known as “Winston–Salem”, North Carolina.  Tobacco was “king”, there, as the brand-names “Winston” and “Salem” still attest.

          Salem, to this day, has a “historic” Moravian town (located by Salem College) which preserves many of the 17th–century Moravian customs and culture, such as Moravian cuisine, Moravian beeswax candles, the multi-pointed 3-D Moravian Christmas stars, etc.

Moravian building (restored) in Salem, North Carolina

          During part of my time attending Wake Forest University, I drove home to Raleigh (where my wife was employed) on the weekends, but rented a cheap place to live that was within driving distance to the university.  At first this involved living at a trailer park but that proved to be too expensive to continue beyond the first semester. 

So, before the spring of AD1981, due to “student poverty” (if you’ve been there, you know what I mean!), I needed to secure a new form of “student housing”, for my non–weekend lodging.  What I found (and used into the early summer) was certainly “cheap”, but sometimes your “bargain” is not what you expected.

          This new “student housing” turned out to be a 17th–century Moravian log cabin, hidden deep within a wooded outside-of-town property, far from where the U.S. Postal Service delivered mail.

          The dark–brown log cabin was located in a woods five miles from Wake Forest University’s campus, somewhat behind the house of the current owner (who rented it real cheap, but “you get what you paid for”).  This five–mile distance was not flat, and I especially recall two steep hills, because (on days when my car wouldn’t start) I often used a bicycle, unless snow and ice conditions made walking an easier form of travel (which was frequent). 

          Thankfully, there was a McDonald’s located at the midpoint between my log cabin and the university campus, so I routinely bought a bottomless cup of coffee there, as I warmed up and enjoyed the bright interior lighting, which was easier to read by (when doing homework) than was reading by candlelight or firelight.  

The McDonald’s also had running water (for hand-washing), a flush–toilet, and sturdy dining chairs for hours and hours of reading and writing (all the while getting free refills on my coffee).  

Yet, probably best of all (for studying), the McDonald’s had very good interior lighting, for reading and writing.   Half the time my Moravian log cabin’s scintilla of electricity didn’t work (for reasons I still don’t understand), so electric lighting inside the cabin was unavailable about as often as it was available.  Many evenings I did my reading and writing by candlelight and/or by firelight, i.e., reading by the firelight that was emitted by the frenzied dancing of warmth-radiating flames blazing in my fireplace.

fireplace (similar to fireplace inside Moravian log cabin fireplace)

          So, for the spring semester of A.D. 1981, as well as for the summer term of A.D. 1981, a Moravian pioneer’s log cabin was home for me, during week-days.  (On weekends, if my car worked, or if I could get to a Greyhound bus station, I went home to Raleigh, for the weekend, to the apartment where my wife and step-daughter then lived.) 

This arrangement was rather Spartan, on week-days, as will be explained below.  However, it became apparent that this arrangement must change before the fall semester, due to an addition to our family! 

Specifically, during January A.D. 1981, my wife became expecting a baby! 

In time, our son was born in mid-October.  During the final portion of her pregnancy, we needed a new home that was within commuting distance to the university, yet in a city where my wife’s company had an office (so we prayed for an intra-company transfer of her employment). 

Just before the fall semester, we moved to Greensboro (N.C.), which was close enough for me to commute to Winston–Salem (to attend school), and for my wife to work at her new (i.e., transferred) employment, at her company’s Greensboro branch office.  But, meanwhile, during January to September (about half of A.D. 1981), I lived five days a week  in the 17th century log cabin, which was located inside a wooded area too far to receive mail delivery form the U.S. Postal Service.

LOG CABIN WITH TREES (similar to what I lived in for 1/2 year in N.C.)

The log cabin itself was a simple Moravian settler’s cabin:  one room, plus a “loft” (where I found a freshly shed snake-skin, left recently by a very long snake!).  No refrigerator: yet the entire cabin was like a refrigerator, unless a large fire was burning in the fireplace!   One bed.  One chair.  Wood floor.  Two shelves attached to the log walls (one for books, one for food). 

Rudimentary electricity had been added to the cabin, by the cabin’s owner, to allow for only one electric item to use electricity.   (The qualifying word here is “rudimentary”.)  Lots of bugs and spiders.  Especially lots of spiders.  Thankfully, no brown recluses or black widows, though, at least none that I ever encountered!

For example, one could plug in the lamp, to use a light bulb in a lamp (for reading).  Or, one could use the plug for an electric skillet (to heat food).  But not both at the same time. 

Also, “multi-strip” electric–chord devices apparently overloaded the circuit, causing the wee flow of electricity to cease, sometimes for days.   (So forget using a multi–strip.)   So, to heat up food, the lamp’s light-bulb provided light to see, while the light was on. (During wintertime the daylight disappears quickly, so light becomes an important issue). 

After canned food was poured into the electric skillet, I could light a candle.  Then, seeing by the light of the candle, unplug the electric light–powered lamp, and plug in the electric skillet.  After cooking the food, which can be eaten directly from the electric skillet, unplug the skillet, and plug in the lamp.   Or, eat by candlelight.  (Even today I have fond memories of reading my Old Testament Hebrew Bible by candlelight and/or firelight.)

          After eating, use the snow outside to “wash” out the skillet.  (Presumably, if the “dish–cleaning” wasn’t perfect, whatever food germs remained in the skillet, till the next meal, should get cooked to death whenever the skillet was next fully heated up for the “new” food.) 

          The cabin had thick walls of mortared blackish–brown square–cut logs, forming an interior rectangle of about ten feet by twelve feet.   No indoor plumbing!  (No details beyond that  — except I’ll note here that cold, snowy winter nights are not a good time to have urgent digestive issues!)  And, thankfully, for winter weather, the cabin had a very efficient fireplace.  (The woods next to the cabin supplied all of the firewood needed, month after month.) 

In the spring and summer, however, the inside of the cabin was so cool (compared to the outdoor weather) that it felt like the cabin had air conditioning.  Cheese and pimento keeps (unspoiled) for weeks in a cabin life that, without any refrigerator.   It’s amazing how much cheese and pimento (or peanut butter) one can eat, day after day, week after week, month after month, if you have enough saltine crackers to go with it!  (Because I ate so much cheese-and-pimento spread then, I don’t often eat it now.)

pimento and cheese (spread on bread)
SALTINE CRACKERS (which I loved for 60+ years!)
peanut butter on bread (with peanuts)

Prior to the fall semester (of A.D. 1981), however, I gave up my week-day lodgings at the Moravian log cabin, when we rented an apartment in Greensboro (North Carolina), from which I could commute to the university, while my wife worked in Greensboro, so that we would be together during the last months of her pregnancy. 

Surely my college education would have been impossible without my wife working, to put me through school – so she deserves my unending gratitude for this and many other lovingkindnesses to me (over the past three-decades-plus). 

During this time our daughter (my step-daughter, if you want to get “technical”) attended school in Greensboro.  Eventually, in mid-October (of A.D. 1981), not that long after my “Moravian log cabin days” concluded, our energetic native-North Carolinian baby boy was born.

  After Wake Forest University, I attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for my first doctoral program.  Even during that time, however, I kept an eye on Texas (since my wife is a native Texan; need I say more?).  After completing my first doctorate, I accepted a job in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.  In A.D. 1986, our family relocated to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where we have been ever since.

Thus, God chooses–in His wise providence–where we should live, and when we should live, on this earth.[2] 

And, as David said, “the LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”  (Psalm 23:1)

 ><>  JJSJ     


[1] Consider Romans chapter 1 (especially, Romans 1:18-21, which emphasizes the moral obligation of glorifying God as Creator, and the related moral obligation to be grateful for our creaturely lives).  See also Acts 14:17 (explaining how creation itself is proof of our Creator).

[2] An earlier version of this memoir was published as “Czech into Texas, at Last! From Bohemian Roots, to a Moravian Log Cabin, to the Lone Star State,” České Stopy [Czech Footprints]. 13 (1): 15-22 (spring 2011).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s