Where in the World is Harley Wagler?


How could a kid growing up with only an eighth-grade education and without electricity could ever become a globe-trotting professor? “I was an Amish boy,” said Wagler of his childhood near Partridge, Kansas. “I went to Partridge Elementary School until the eighth grade and then I worked on the farm.”

Harley Wagler ,  is he in Russia or American now? You tell me where he is, ok?

harley

First, I found this blurb about Harley being in Russia….

Harley Wagler is the former director of the Russian Studies Program. His RSP
Team qualifications include a master’s degree and A.B.D. in his doctoral program in Slavic Languages and Literatures from the University of Kansas. Wagler is fluent in Russian and has spent over 17 years living and teaching in Russia and Eastern Europe. Wagler has given advice to different political leaders throughout Russia and other former-Soviet countries. He regularly presents papers at the International Pushkin festival and he’s considered an expert on Pushkin by Russians and others. “Harley’s so culturally adept, even Russians sometimes forget he’s not a Russian.”

Then I found a sermon by him  in Kansas, where I had gotten to know him years ago at KU:  http://www.plainviewchurch.com/index.htm?http://www.plainviewchurch.com/sermons/others.htm&1

Oh, and here is an earlier sermon: http://www.plainviewchurch.com/index.htm?http://www.plainviewchurch.com/sermons/others.htm&1

Finally, I ran across this story from the HutchNews–but it is 2 years old.

Fresh vegetables, local meats and baked goods are the usual draw to the Reno County Farmer’s Market, but a shopper can come away with much more than ripe cantaloupes.

At a recent Wednesday market, Harley Wagler was helping his sister Ruth and her husband, Roman Miller, at their vegetable booth. He is spending the summer visiting family during a break from his teaching at the University of Nizhnii Novgorod in Russia. For Wagler, the city overlooking the Volga River has become home, but his roots remain in the Reno County soil where he was raised.

A group of kids from the Bluebird Books writing camp came upon Wagler, and his advice to these budding novelists was: Read Fyodor Dostoyevsky, beginning with “Crime and Punishment.”

While that suggestion came from Wagler, a Ph.D professor of comparative Russian/ American literature, it also was coming from the young boy who still lives inside the 72-year-old man.

Intrigued by the professor, I returned to the market on Saturday. Call me a stalker, but there he was, visiting with customers. We sat on the back of Miller’s produce truck and he explained how a kid growing up with only an eighth-grade education and without electricity could ever become a globe-trotting professor.

“I was an Amish boy,” said Wagler of his childhood near Partridge, Kansas. “I went to Partridge Elementary School until the eighth grade and then I worked on the farm.”

That might have been his entire world, had he not been inspired by the librarian who suggested he read “Crime and Punishment.” He began the book and couldn’t put it down. He took it with him to the harvest field. Whenever he had a few minutes he’d read several pages. It was lying on the straw when his uncle Willie Wagler came along and spotted the book. The title said it all to Uncle Willie, a preacher whose leanings were toward the chapters of the Bible.

“He told me, ‘Harley, why can’t you read something worthwhile?’ ”

Little did Uncle Willie realize how paramount that book would become in his nephew’s life, with its topic of exploring the meaning of human existence.

“Dostoyevsky is my favorite author,” Wagler said. “And he is a profoundly Christian author.”

From the ages of 14 through 21, Wagler worked on the family farm. And as he grew older he realized he wanted to leave the Amish order. He wanted to reflect more on the issues of the world and he joined the Mennonite Church. He enrolled in Hutchinson Community College, and from there he went to the University of Kansas, where he earned a master’s degree in English literature. There was another interval in his life when he went to Eastern Europe with the Mennonite mission board. He taught literature, but was searching for the Christian values in novels, poems and drama. In Yugoslavia in the 1970s his goal was to learn the Slovak languages, live among the people, attend their churches and be part of their community. His specialty was speaking both Serbian and Croatian.

He returned to KU and earned his Ph.D in Slovak literature. And by 1993 he arrived at the University of Nizhnii developing a Russian studies program for the Council of Christian Colleges. While the Russian exchange program no longer exists, Wagler remains on the faculty, teaching both comparative literature and philosophy courses.

His life in Russia has a rhythm that involves close friends, students and even the babushkas at the weekly farmers market in Nizhnii. They know him by name and wave him over when they have an herb or tea they know he likes.

Glancing around the Hutchinson market on Saturday, he noted the similarities of frugality and hard work which are present in both worlds. As the summer evolves, regular vendors know their customers. There is a sense of community at the market.

While he lives in a world of classic literature, he still holds dear the simple life.

“I really value what they are doing,” said Wagler of the farmers market. “Living in harmony with nature.”

 

Here are a few more of Harley’s sermons:

Jesus Taught Using Storytelling (7-16-6) – Harley Wagler

Community (7-31-11) – Harley Wagler

Traditions in Russia and at Plainview (7-27-8) – Harley Wagler

Truth & Martyrdom, (7-29-7) – Harley Wagler

This last one is recommended by the historian Thomas Frank.

 

About eslkevin

I am a peace educator who has taken time to teach and work in countries such as the USA, Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, Mexico, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman over the past 4 decades.
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6 Responses to Where in the World is Harley Wagler?

  1. eslkevin says:

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  2. eslkevin says:

    Showalter: Ambassador in Russia
    Oct 8, 2018 by Richard Showalter

    Print Friendly, PDF & Email
    Russia is in the Western news often. War in Ukraine, interference with elections, Trump/Putin jockeying, poisoning of an intelligence agent, sanctions. Is a new Cold War emerging? It’s actually an East/West drama that’s more than 100 years old, beginning perhaps with the Bolshevik Revolution.

    Meanwhile, there’s the more important but less noticed kingdom of God. There are the churches and their leaders and the ordinary millions whose lives and deaths were shaped by the decisions of the great powers of Russia and the West.

    Richard Showalter
    Showalter

    Few are in a better position to interpret this than Harley Wagler. A son of the Kansas plains, he went to Yugoslavia in 1970, Bulgaria in 1980 and then Russia, where he resides and teaches philosophy and literature — in Russian to Russian students — in a state university 300 miles east of Moscow. He has modeled quiet, persistent, hands-on Anabaptist witness for 50 years.

    This summer I met him unexpectedly on a visit to Kansas, where Wagler was finishing a two-month university leave. What followed was a brief, evocative plunge into a major world civilization largely misunderstood in the West.

    After a lifetime in the Slavic world, Wagler is a blend of Amish, Mennonite, Russian Baptist and Orthodox cultural and spiritual streams. Never defined by a single organization, he has nevertheless served quietly and effectively with Rosedale Mennonite Missions, Eastern Mennonite Missions, Mennonite Central Committee and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, always with a single focus.

    “Sure, we Anabaptists have something to teach the Orthodox,” he said. “They can learn from our historic focus on everyday discipleship. But we have a lot to learn from them, too. For example, their worship and prayer. Here in the West, we’re so rational in our approach to God. Orthodox believers go to church with a singular focus to meet God, not by rational analysis but by adoration. They understand that God is beyond human comprehension. They accept the Mystery.”
    He has many deep friendships with Russian Orthodox believers.

    Wagler comes back each summer to Kansas, where he helps his sister with her farm and vegetable market. “I could live here, too,” he said, “but my home is Russia.”

    In the U.S. he is a member of Plainview Mennonite Church near Hutchinson. In Russia, he’s a member of a local Baptist church.

    “Among the three major historical roots of the Russian Baptists, the strongest is that from the Mennonites of Ukraine,” he said. “In the 19th century revival that produced what later became the Mennonite Brethren, Mennonite young people began reaching out to their Slavic neighbors, and many met Jesus. They became Baptists.”

    “In the West we know about the suffering of the evangelical believers during the Soviet era,” he said. “But for every evangelical pastor who was killed or imprisoned during those times, there were scores of Orthodox leaders who suffered the same. Now Russian Christians have been restored to a position of dignity. But they are not controlled by, nor do they control, the government. Each is independent. The vision is for harmony.”

    “Why do so many Western evangelicals become Orthodox?” I asked.

    Wagler replied: “In every worship service the people together say clearly, ‘I believe . . . ’ What if Anabaptists said it that clearly, then lived it?”

    Richard Showalter lives in Irwin, Ohio, and travels in Asia, Africa, the U.S. and beyond as a teacher, preacher, writer and servant.

  3. eslkevin says:

    https://ideaexchange.uakron.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1014&context=amishstudies

    Souls, Cars, and Division: The Amish Mission Movement of the
    1950s and Its Effects on the Amish Community of Partridge,
    Kansas
    Peter D. Miller
    Bethel College*
    North Newton, KS

  4. eslkevin says:

    Russia Comes to Partridge
    Last Wednesday evening Harley Wagler spoke at our church. He is the affable Mennonite bachelor from Partridge who has spent most of his career teaching in universities in the Slavic world, the majority of that time in Russia, but earlier also in Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. He comes home during the summer months. He’s in his upper 70s now, but I haven’t heard any indications that retirement is on the agenda yet. Several years ago I heard him explain why he thinks retirement would make no sense for him–at that time, at least.

    Many in the Beachy world knew Harley’s uncle Willie Wagler. He has cousins scattered elsewhere in the Mennonite world–among them Nathan and Harold Miller at Rosedale in the Plain City, OH area, Dr. Norman Miller in Northern Indiana and Dr. Leon Miller in Millersburg, OH. His sister Ruth shows up regularly with her husband Roman Miller at the Hutchinson farmer’s market .

    This was the first time that I heard Harley tell the details of how his career path unfolded. He traces its beginnings to several events in childhood when his family entertained overnight guests. The first one was a cousin of his father’s, John Overholt, who visited when Harley was eight years old. He spoke of having stood in Red Square in Moscow and, Bible in hand and Lenin’s body lying in state nearby, having prayed for the salvation of Russia’s people. The next year Harley gave up his bed so that Peter Deyneka, another visitor who came, could sleep in Harley’s bed. Harley went to the hay mow for the night. Deyneka established the Slavic Gospel Association, and Harley later worked closely with his son. I didn’t get the name of the third person, but a third influential person spoke at the Free Methodist Church in Hutchinson, and about a dozen Amish buggies full of listeners showed up. The speaker was a Russian seminary classmate of none other than Josef Stalin. Obviously the paths of the two men had diverged after seminary. Stalin eventually became very anti-religious.

    Harley pursued Russian studies at the University of Kansas, after having spent several years in voluntary service in Costa Rica. Then, in what turned out to be a pivotal event, by invitation he presented to the head of the Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities a plan for reaching out to people in the Communist bloc countries (more on that later). Harley was asked afterward to lead out in implementing such an effort. For the next 32 years he taught many American students who had traveled abroad to study Russian language, culture, etc. They were Christian young people with a vision for serving the population of their host country. One class day each week was spent in hands-on work, such as rehabilitating old Eastern Orthodox churches. The first one they worked on had been repurposed as a razor blade factory, and then was left in complete disrepair, lacking even a roof. Loading up six dump trucks of rubble was the first task.

    Harley is still teaching in a Russian university, but he is no longer working for either the “Eastern” Board or for the Council of Christian Colleges, under whose auspices he taught during those years. Lamentably, declining interest has shuttered these programs.

    The four principles that Harley proposed for the outreach to Eastern bloc countries:

    1. Workers would not go to start churches. Instead, they would work with existing churches.
    2. Workers would be legitimate, as opposed to working surreptitiously underground. They would do real work to benefit society.
    3. Workers would report honestly–never hiding their identity as Christians or capitalizing on the drama of their setting or circumstances.
    4. Workers would always identify with a local church community and commit to learning the local language and take instructions from the local church body.

    Harley’s “home church” in Russia is a Baptist church. Although having a far smaller presence than the Eastern Orthodox church in Russia, this group has always been respected for the integrity of its people. This is the church that absorbed many of the Mennonites after their own church groups had fallen into disarray. A Baptist seminary offered these displaced people assistance; thus the shift.

    There’s more, which I may continue in a later post.
    http://miriamiwashige.blogspot.com/2018/07/russia-comes-to-partridge.html

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