The Charming Nancy
Barbara Beiler lay awake, listening to the murmur of her parents’ voices. She could tell that something was wrong. Often she had caught her mother wiping tears away. No longer did her father’s laughter fill their home.
Slowly Barbara turned, careful not to wake her two sisters who shared her bed. She had grown up in the tiny village of Schwarzenburg, nestled in the shadow of what the people of Switzerland called Black Mountain.
Until recently her life had been filled with relatives and school friends. But so many changes seemed to be taking place—changes that one dared not speak of.
The Beiler family’s faith had put them at odds with their country—and some family members. Barbara’s beloved grandparents no longer came to visit. Oftentimes her younger sisters and brother would ask to visit their grandparents. Each request was met with “Not today, little ones, perhaps tomorrow.” Somehow Barbara knew that “tomorrow” would never come.
She thought of how they had stopped going to church with their grandparents, and instead met secretly with other families. Some of her closest friends were no longer allowed to visit her. Neighbors turned their backs when they saw them and whispered and shook their heads.
Movement outside the bedroom interrupted Barbara’s thoughts. The door opened, and her mother silently crossed the room.
Bending down she whispered, “Barbara, wake up your sisters. Tell them not to make a sound. Dress quickly, and come downstairs.”
With fear clutching at her heart 14-year-old Barbara did as she was bidden. Silently she helped Anna and Mary Maria dress, and then hurried down the steps. Her brother, Christian, and 2-year-old Elizabeth were huddled by the doorway. White-faced, the children stared at each other, wondering what was happening.
Their mother, Feronica, hurried into the room and gathered the children into her arms. “Don’t be afraid, my little ones. We are starting on a journey to a new life. God goes with us.”
As she finished speaking, Barbara’s father, Jacob, appeared at their side. He was carrying a large bundle tied to his back. He held his finger to his lips, pushed open the door, and like shadows the family fled into the darkness.
During the days that followed, Barbara’s mind sank into numbness. There was no time for words or thoughts or even fear. All of their energy was taken up in walking mile after mile. They would stop to eat a little of the bread that their father had brought along, sleep for a few hours, and then go back to walking mile after mile after mile.
Barbara knew that at some point they had left Switzerland behind them. They were now in Germany, heading for the Netherlands.
Her parent’s prayers were filled with thankfulness for the safety of each day’s journey and for prayers of continued safety for each new day that lay ahead. Barbara was so tired that she began to feel as though she could not take another step.
The day was warm, and white clouds floated in a blue sky. The air around them was filled with a strange salty, tangy scent. Barbara turned to look at her parents, and in wonderment saw tears flowing down their faces.
“Is it the sea, Jacob?” her mother questioned.
“Yes! Yes!” shouted her father.
“Look, Father. What are those funny little houses?” Christian asked in amazement. In the days ahead they were to learn a little about the windmills that dotted the countryside.
The Netherlands was so different from Switzerland. But Barbara’s unease was put to rest when the people smiled at them as they walked by.
Upon reaching the city of Rotterdam, Barbara wondered if this was their journey’s end. But when questioned, her parents shook their heads and said no, the journey was just beginning.
Jacob, after finding lodging for his family, went down to the harbor. There he found a ship called the Charming Nancy, which in a few weeks’ time was sailing for America. Carefully he counted out some gold coins and paid for their passage.
Soon the Beiler family met others who were also traveling on the Charming Nancy. Friendships were formed, and the group met and held services of praise to their God for bringing them safely to the Netherlands.
Barbara, listening to the talk of the elders, knew that they had given up much for their religious faith. She learned for the first time that it had cost them the right of citizenship in Switzerland. Their names would be taken out of family Bibles and even out of official documents in the village. To their neighbors and families back home, it was as if they had never even existed. But they were leaving everything behind so that they could worship as they pleased.
Barbara felt proud to belong to this group of people. On the faces of those around her was written sadness in leaving behind homeland and family, but there, too, was written a faith that looked to the future.
On June 29, 1737, the Beilers stood on the deck of the Charming Nancy and watched Holland’s shores being left behind.
Barbara, who had fallen in love with the ship’s name, learned to hate it. The ship was dark and crowded. The rolling waves caused sickness as she had never experienced before. The water was foul, and there was very little food. Disease spread among them. Crying, Barbara clung to her mother and asked, “Why did we ever start on this journey? Why didn’t we stay in Switzerland, where we were safe and warm and had plenty of food?”
Her mother held her close to her, and reminded her of all that God had done for them. “God’s Son, Jesus, left a country far more beautiful than Switzerland, my dear daughter. He moved away from His Father to live among people who would hate Him and kill Him. And He did it all for you, Barbara.” She added that His death and His resurrection also paved the way so she could live forever in heaven.
Barbara thought about her mother’s words. After all Jesus had done for her, she too would trust Him to bring them safely to their journey’s end.
The days that followed were hard days. Barbara’s body and soul ached, but she continued to cling steadfastly to her faith. After 83 days at sea, the Charming Nancy sailed into Philadelphia harbor on October 18, 1737. Jacob and Feronica along with all five of their children had survived the trip.
With her head held high and a heart full of thankfulness and courage, Barbara stepped onto the shores of her new home. She did not know what lay ahead of her, but she did know that the God who had led them safely to their journey’s end would continue to lead her.