Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

July 31, 2013

Home-grown pastor

Miami County native looks back on 40 years serving as Mennonite minister.

By Carson Gerber MC Weekly
Kokomo Tribune

---- — Over the years, 80-year-old Millard Osborne has lived in Oregon, Texas, Canada, Illinois and Virginia. So what was it that took a farm boy born and raised in Miami County all across North America?

It was a calling to serve as pastor in the Mennonite church.

For more than 40 years, Osborne worked in different positions within the church, known for its historical link with the Amish faith and a hard stance against war.

Now, as a retired pastor living in Harrisonburg, Va., Osborne has written two memoirs chronicling his life in the ministry and growing up in Miami County. His newest, “Rain on My Roof,” was published in 2012.

Osborne shared from his most recent book Sunday at the Howard-Miami Mennonite Church, which his great-great-grandfather helped establish in the 1800s.

Osborne was born at the family farm near Amboy in August 1932 to Pearl and Ed Osborne, who attended the church at 3976 E. 1400 South.

How his parents’ ancestors ended up in Miami County is a story in itself. Osborne said his grandfather was born in North Carolina to Quaker parents.

During the Civil War, the Confederacy began drafting men up to the age of 50. To avoid serving in that army and fighting for a cause he didn’t believe in, his great-grandfather secretly moved the family in 1865 across the mountains into Indiana on the Underground Railroad — a network of secret routes and safe houses used by 19th-century slaves to escape to free states.

They ended up in Richmond, Ind., and eventually moved to the farm near Amboy.

Osborne’s mother’s family came from a staunch Amish community in Ohio. Osborne said his grandfather “got bit by the homestead bug,” and moved out to Kansas, but eventually came back to Indiana and decided to settle in Miami County.

Those ancestral roots eventually produced Osborne, the youngest of 10 children. Osborne said he attended North Grove Elementary — a four-room schoolhouse in the country. It’s since been torn down.

During that time, he said, his routine went something like this: go to school, come home and feed the chickens, collect the eggs, find fuel for the stove, and then listen to radio shows like “The Lone Ranger.”

“My brother and I always had to turn the volume down when the show came on because my mother didn’t like us listening to it,” he said. “She said there was too much shooting and violence.”

He also rode along with his parents to Peru once in awhile. They sold produce from their farm to area residents to make ends meet during the Great Depression.

Then it was on to Clay Township High School, where Osborne graduated in 1950. From there, he decided to attended Goshen College — a prominent Mennonite school — to become a teacher.

“I decided I didn’t want to be a farmer. It was too hard of work,” Osborne said with a laugh. “We used horses to plow and harvest hay, and it was just plain hard work.”

Teaching was an appealing occupation, but Osborne said he quickly gave up that idea.

“I always liked math and science, but unfortunately a school like Clay High School didn’t offer many prep courses for that,” he said. “I soon decided I wasn’t prepared for it. I was in way over my head.”

So he tried his hand at social work, taking classes in psychology and social sciences. But Osborne said friends and family began to nudge him in the direction of becoming a pastor.

One of the biggest influences pushing him into the ministry was his girlfriend, Joyce, whom he met at college and ended up marrying in 1954.

“I thought he would make a good pastor,” Joyce said. “He was outgoing and could easily relate to people. Also, I had an interest in serving somehow.”

With encouragement from friends and family, Osborne said he decided to switch from social work to the seminary.

“This was a job that was still working with people,” he said. “I don’t know, I just felt God leading me in that direction, and I thought I should leave that door open.”

At that time, Osborne said, the Mennonite church was in a period of change. In the past, most congregations would only have pastors who came from that congregation’s membership.

“But me, I got my training, and then said, ‘Here I am,’ “ he said.

Hiring ministers outside of the congregation was a new development within the Mennonite faith, and Osborne was in the vanguard.

But Osborne said progressive thinking came naturally to him, given the Howard-Miami Mennonite Church he grew up in didn’t adhere to the more traditional aspects of the church, like dressing in certain clothes similar to the Amish custom.

“I never felt like I was hemmed in by any church restrictions,” he said.

Osborne graduated with a theology degree in 1955 from Goshen Bible Seminary. His first move? He joined the Voluntary Service with the Mennonite Board of Missions and moved to Mathis, Texas, as an alternative to military service after the Korean War.

In Texas, he and Joyce taught impoverished Mexican-American children to speak English and worked at a maternity hospital in an area with one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country.

Joyce said immigrant women couldn’t go to hospitals, so they often had their babies out in the fields or in the back of trucks.

It was inside the maternity hospital where the couple had their first daughter.

After two years in Texas, the family moved back to Indiana, where Osborne worked as an administrator with the Voluntary Service in Elkhart.

His first pastoral job ended up being on the other side of the country in Lebanon, Ore. He served there for 11 years, then moved to Kansas to work as a Mennonite conference minister — a kind of public relations executive for churches all over the region.

“Those were all good years,” Osborne recalled.

From the plains of mid-America, the family crossed the border into Ontario, Canada, for his next pastoral stint.

“That was kind of a peculiar move, because the government of Canada was a little skeptical of anyone coming up there and taking a job,” he said. “The leadership committee of the church had to assure the government that they had investigated the job and made sure there wasn’t a suitable candidate from Canada.”

The family lived in London, Ontario, for more than five years, and Osborne said they were happy there.

Then it was down to Illinois for another pastoral job in 1987, and out to Charlottesville, Va., in 1994.

Osborne retired from the ministry in 1999, and he and Joyce moved from the city to the mountains near Harrisonburg, Va.

About every two years, Osborne said, he makes it back to Miami County for family reunions or other events. On this most recent trip,he made a point to stop by the coroner’s office in the courthouse to find information on his grandmother, who died in the county.

He didn’t have any luck, he said.

“We love coming back here,” he said. “But it sure is flat compared to the mountains in Virginia.”

Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, or at carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com.