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Adin Ballou and The Hopedale Community

By Elisa Davy Pearmain.

I want to tell you the story of Adin Ballou. He was born over two hundred years ago. He grew up to be a peacemaker and a Universalist minister, but he didn't start out wanting to be either.

When Adin was seven years old, he went with his family to watch a company of militia out for a parade. They marched up and down the streets to the fife and drum. They wore colorful uniforms, with swords and guns at the ready. Adin was so excited by the military men! He wanted to keep following them when they left town. He told his dad that when he was older, if there was a call to war, he would join the militia in a heartbeat. But soon he was called in a new direction.

Adin was ten years old when a new minister moved into his town and convinced his whole family to become religious Christians. After that, Adin began to read and study the Bible more than most children his age. One story in the Bible made Adin think about how people treat one another. It was a story where Jesus says if someone slaps you, you should turn peacefully, and offer them your other cheek. That would let them know you would not hurt them, and did not feel angry. Jesus also said if someone steals your coat, you should offer them your shirt, too. Jesus said we need to treat others the way that we want to be treated. He said we must act peaceful to make a peaceful world.

Adin was pretty confused by that lesson in the Bible. "When someone hurts me, I might feel like hurting them back," he thought. "And if someone steals something, I have been taught that they should be punished." But these words of Jesus stayed deep in his heart.

When he was a teenager, Adin had a strange dream. In the dream, his older brother Cyrus, who had died, told Adin he must be a minister. When Adin woke up, he felt very nervous about getting up in front of people and preaching a sermon. But he took that dream seriously.

And it just so happened that the little church in town had no minister during the summer and the people in the congregation took turns preaching. Adin worked up his courage and remembered his dream. One Sunday he stood up, and although his knees were shaking, he announced he would preach the following week.

So he did. The people at his church liked his sermon a lot. After that, Adin began to work as a Christian minister. Becoming a soldier was forgotten.

As Adin grew up, he started to notice some things that forever ended his plan to be a soldier. He noticed when people fought with each other to solve an argument, that didn't help them to be peaceful. He saw when people were punished for fighting, punishment didn't make them more peaceful. He saw when nations used war to solve an argument, that didn't make people more peaceful, either. Adin decided any solution that used violence was not for him. He started to believe that if we really want peace, in our community or in our nation, we must do as Jesus said and love our enemies.

Adin lived during the time when slavery was still allowed in this country. He thought slavery was wrong, and he preached about it. Some of his friends hated slavery, too, but they didn't all love peace as much as Adin did. Sometimes his friends got into fights with people who wanted to keep slavery. One of Adin's friends was killed in a fight with people who supported slavery. This upset Adin. He decided to start a new way of living, called "Christian nonresistance." Christian nonresistance meant people would promise never to be violent to others, even to defend themselves. Many people thought he was crazy, but he felt very sure that this was what Jesus taught.

Adin was thirty-seven years old when he decided it wasn't enough to live peacefully on his own. He wanted to live in a town full of people, all living by the rule of no violence. He hoped a small group of people could show the world a better way to live. With some friends, he bought some land and formed the Hopedale Community in Milford, Massachusetts .

People who believed in Christian nonresistance moved to Hopedale. They were very strict about not hurting others. They tried to live according to Jesus's ideas of peace, to care for the hungry and sick, and to love one another.

Adin and his wife, Lucy, and many other people in Hopedale opened their homes to people who needed a meal or a place to stay. The Hopedale community had a boarding school where many children came to live and learn, including some children who had escaped from being slaves.

Adin was a teacher in the school. One student constantly misbehaved. One day when the boy had been especially naughty, Adin called him to the front of the room. He told the boy it was the usual punishment in most schools for disobedient students to be whipped. Adin got a rod that was used in other schools for whipping children. But Adin said to the boy, "I cannot bear to whip you; perhaps it will do more good if you whip me. At any rate, I have concluded to try it." Adin took off his coat, handed the boy the rod, and told him to whip him for as long as it took to make him a good boy. The boy looked at his teacher, and at the rod, and began to cry. He promised he would not disobey again and gave no further trouble after that.

One of the children in the Hopedale community was Susie Thwang. When she was eight years old, a man came to Hopedale saying he was hungry and sick. He was fed dinner and given some medicine. Then he told the people of Hopedale he was leaving. Late in the night, Susie's friend Lizzie Humphrey heard a noise coming from the downstairs of her house. She woke up her parents, who went down to have a look. In the glow of their lantern, they saw a pair of feet sticking out from under the sofa. Next to the sofa was a bag of things, including candlesticks and dishes the man was planning to steal.

Lizzie's parents sent her to get Adin Ballou and some of the other neighbors. When the neighbors arrived, they lifted up the sofa. They saw the thief was the same man they had fed earlier. Mr. Humphrey asked the man what he was doing there. He said, "I have lost my job. I have no home, no family, and nothing to eat. I thought if I was caught stealing you would put me in jail and they would feed me."

Adin Ballou told the neighbors they should put their faith into practice. They told the man, "You don't have to steal or go to jail. Stay in Hopedale. We will feed you and give you a job." He did stay at Hopedale, and he did not steal again.

The Hopedale Community lasted for fifteen years. During that time, Adin Ballou published a magazine and several books about Christian nonresistance that were read far and wide. Adin Ballou put his faith to into action and pointed us toward a better way to love and care for one another. He continued to write and speak about making a world of peace for the rest of this life. He died in 1890 at the age of eighty-seven.

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Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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