Imagine a group of people who lived in a country where they enjoyed religious freedom. Then, imagine that the government arbitrarily took their freedom away, and forced these people to abandon their churches, submit to a state church, and cease using their native tongue! Further, they were compelled to change the cultural names of their children to comply with Government standards, and to work only in occupations that were approved by the government. Finally, the government took the land that they had owned for many generations, and they became bondsman to the domineering regime!
Living in Central Europe, the Wends (or Sorbs) were a culture that dated back beyond the 10th Century. The Wends had settled between the Rivers Saale and Mulde in an area now known as Germany, and extended their reach to present day Denmark. In fact, King Waldemar IV of Denmark, who died in 1375, assumed the official title of “King of the Wends” and this title was used by Danish monarchs until 1972. The Wends were basically a Slavic people with a language similar to Polish. When the heavy-handed Prussians took control in 1817, many of the Wends decided to immigrate to Australia and Texas. They were unwilling to give up their spiritual heritage, and were overwhelmed by the dictatorial control. Their search for religious freedom was just like what fueled the American and Texan revolutions.
In the Spring of 1854, the Reverend Jan Kilian was selected to lead an immigration team to Texas. The ship Ben Nevis was secured and in the Fall, about 600 seekers of freedom set out for their new homeland. Almost immediately they experienced a cholera epidemic that killed about 60 travelers, and left many sick. Later, they experienced a shipwreck near Cuba, but were able to continue on. In early December 1854, they landed in Galveston, only to be caught up in an epidemic of yellow fever.
By the time they landed in Texas, most of these pilgrims were financially destitute and in bad health. But their goal was burning in their heart, so they set out on foot and oxcart for Rabbs Creek in what is today Lee County, near Giddings. The trip of 160 miles was difficult and challenging, but eventually they arrived. They bought a league of land (approximately 6000 acres), and set aside 95 acres for a church and school, later called St. Paul’s. After their first log church was built, they began to build their own homes and farms. The town they created was named Serbin. Once settled, it must have seemed like Heaven on earth.
Their first winter was cruel and harsh. Some even dug into the ground to provide a safe place for their family to sleep. But with Spring came fresh resolve, and the Wends began to carve out a new life in Texas. Because the soil was poor for planting, some families moved deeper into the countryside in search of land that had a better potential for crops. But where ever they went, they took their strong faith in Christ and stern tenacity to be faithful to the Scriptures. In 1871, they built the beautiful St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, which remains one of America’s oldest churches that is still having regular services.
Since 1854, the Wends have flourished in South Texas. Today, in the town of Serbin, they have built a beautiful museum with over 3000 artifacts, documents and original log buildings that tell the miraculous story of their survival. Every fourth Sunday in September, there is a special festival featuring their uniquely decorated Easter eggs, and famous egg noodles. They are keeping the story of their valiant forefathers alive for the next generation.
Texas has had many immigrants like the Wends, who deeply desired to live for God. They sought liberty and freedom to kneel before their God, and to live as Believers in their communities. This is their dream. This is their right. This is their privilege. The Bible tells us that God honors people of Faith. “For you have heard my vows, O God; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name” (Psalm 61:5 NET). May we always protect those freedoms, and encourage others to express their faith in God.