The 51-Mile Journey
By DANNY MINTON
In 1775 the journey between the Pennsylvanian towns of Ephrata and Valley Forge was a distance of 51 miles. The journey is less than an hour’s drive by today’s standards. For Peter Miller of Ephrata, it would take a little longer since he would walk the distance. It was a journey he didn’t have to take, and no one would blame him for not going, but as he set out on foot that day in 1775, it was a journey he felt compelled to take.
The story begins much earlier when Miller was the pastor of the Reformed Church in Goshenhoppen, Germantown. Peter had started to rebel against the ways of the Reformed Church to the point that he was relieved as a minister, and a man named Michael Wideman replaced Miller as the new pastor. Wideman hated Miller. History says that he would spit in his face, trip him along the road and, supposedly at one time, punch the quiet, humble man of God.
Unlike Miller, Wideman was not a strong patriot for the colonial cause nor overly fond of the British. Wideman ran a tavern on the side, and during a time when British General Howe’s troops were bedding there, they overheard some unkind remarks about the general. The British soldiers tried to seize him, but he escaped through a window. He later sent word that he’d like to speak to Howe to apologize, even offering every service against the colonies he could think of to the British. Howe accepted his request to meet, but when he found out he had made certain unkind remarks, he threw him out of the British camp.
Shortly after, some of General George Washington’s men arrested Wideman and brought him before the general. He was court-martialed, convicted of treason, and his property seized. No one was willing to stand up for the man who had attempted to betray his country.
Peter Miller had walked the 51 miles to see his friend George Washington concerning the fate of Wideman. Miller pleaded on Wideman’s behalf. Washington was unimpressed with his friend’s plea, feeling that Miller was only trying to spare his friend’s life. Contrarily, Washington discovered that Wideman was not a friend but Miller’s “worst enemy,” who had treated him with continual disrespect. Miller, however, had asked himself what Jesus would have done in this case. As a result of wrestling with this question, he had walked 51 miles to stand up for his “worst enemy.”
Washington was impressed with what Miller had done and pardoned Wideman. The two men who had been enemies returned on the road back to Ephrata, not as enemies, but as friends. Many believe that Washington, moved by Peter Miller’s actions, many times in the future showed the same grace in pardoning others.
How far would we walk to save our worst enemy? How far would we walk to show mercy and forgiveness to someone undeserving? I venture to say that most of the time, we sit back and just see what happens and not interfere. How much of Peter Miller would we see in ourselves if we looked closely at our actions?
Reconciliation with someone we have been crossways is one of the most challenging Christian qualities to achieve. Sometimes our pride steps in the way of reaching out. Other times it’s our lack of desire to take that first step to bring us back together. Sometimes instead of standing up, we may find ourselves stepping back and watching as “our enemy” receives what we feel is their due and just reward for how they treated us and others.
People will look at us as Christians, especially if we are leaders, to see how we handle all situations. How will we take it when someone is against us? Will we get angry? Will we ridicule them? Will we treat them with disrespect? Where will our feet lead us on this journey of reconciliation?
A friend once made the statement to me several years ago, “People are watching our feet!” In other words, they want to see where we are going, how we live, and what journey we are traveling to be like Jesus. They are watching our feet, looking for footsteps to follow.
Maybe this one act by Peter Miller, a man who journeyed to meet Washington and free his enemy, impacted what Washington said later. The following year he made the following statement about the captured enemy:
“Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British Army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren who have fallen into their hands.” George Washington, 1776
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are, therefore, Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:18-20
Danny Minton is a former Elder and minister at Southern Hills Church of Christ
I wish I were more like Peter Miller. I find it so very difficult to love my enemies. I often think of the war in Ukraine and the atrocities Putin commits against the people. I know some of the Jews who were imprisoned in concentration camps eventually forgave their persecutors. I don’t know how they did it.