John Mark Zigler’s farm was quite isolated, for it was at the end of a long crooked lane rather than on a main road like most farms. The farm was in the Jordan Township along the Elkhorn Creek, and, as with all the farms in the area, was productive, for it sat on the rich black soil of the Northern Illinois prairie. Farming in the 1800’s was hard work. However, he and his wife, Marietta, had four healthy sons and two daughters to help with all that needed to be done.
John Mark had known hardships over the years for there had been a fifth son, but he died early. That tragedy did not prepare John for the sudden death of his wife, Marietta, in the late 1870’s. John was left with the rigorous work of farm life, the care of his six children, and a broken heart.
During the year of Marietta’s death, two and half states away, another tragedy had unfolded in the town of Grove City, Pennsylvania. A young school teacher named Roxanne McKee had married the local Presbyterian minister, Reverend Beriah Montgomery, and, as was the custom in the day, gave up her teaching position to be a wife. She and her husband had two children. She, too, had come to know hardship for one of her children had died. This did not prepare her for the sudden death of her husband.
John Mark had known Roxanne when he was growing up in Pennsylvania. While visiting his boyhood home, sometime after the death of his wife, he renewed that friendship with Roxanne. As the months passed, they corresponded, and out of convenience, John proposed marriage to Roxanne. She agreed to the proposal on two conditions. The first condition was that she would be allowed to return to Pennsylvania on occasion to visit with her family. The second condition was that John would take her to church every Sunday. Roxanne knew that John was not a Christian, but if he was willing to take her to church then she would leave the rest in God’s hands. He agreed on the two terms, and in September of 1880 John Mark and Roxanne were married in Oak Grove, Pennsylvania.
The marriage was one of necessity, and one of hope. They each needed something the other had. John needed a mother for his children, and a helpmate to run the farm. Roxanne needed the security of marriage and a father for her son, Elton. If, over the years, they could come to love each other that would be fine; if love did not happen, they would just have to make do with each other out of necessity.
When John Mark returned to his farm with his new bride, Roxanne assumed the heavy responsibility of raising John’s motherless family. They quickly settled into the routine of farm life. When the first Sunday arrived after their return, John Mark was true to his promise. He rose early on Sunday and hitched up the buggy, and when Roxanne was ready, they headed down the farm’s lone gravel lane. At the end of the lane, they turned onto the road that would take them to the Sterling Road, and on to the East Jordan Church. The old dobbin trotted along the yellow gravel road at a steady clip and delivered Roxanne to church on time.
The East Jordan Church sat at the bottom of a long gentle hill. When they turned onto the Sterling Road, they could see the little white church in the distant sitting in the mist of well tended farms and fields. Upon arrival at the church, Roxanne stepped down from the buggy, and John Mark said he would be back at noon to pick her up. Roxanne smiled and said thank you, and headed into the church without saying anymore to her new husband. After all, he had lived up to his promise. John grabbed the reins and wheeled the buggy around and began the trek back to the farm. At noon, there was John as promised waiting in front of the church to pick up his new wife.
This process continued for many weeks, but John Mark soon realized that after dropping Roxanne off at the church he would no more arrive back to the farm and start his chores when it was time to take the long buggy ride back to the church for Roxanne. John was not getting his work done. He decided that it was easier to drop Roxanne off and wait for her in the buggy outside of the church. He could nap till church was over, and save himself the second trip. When he told Roxanne of the idea, she simply smiled at him and said that she would see him after church.
At first, John Mark’s plan didn’t work too well. He found that either the rain, the temperature, or the humidity, individually or in combination with each other, prevented him from getting a very comfortable nap, but he stuck with his plan through that first summer. The summer heat finally let up and the fall brought pleasant weather. When the cooler temperatures arrived, John did not mind, for it made waiting in the buggy a little more comfortable, nor did he mind when the first snow flakes began hitting his face. After all, Roxanne still had not said a word to him about his plan.
Winter on the Illinois prairie was brutal. The flat landscape offered no protection from the wind. As that wintry hawk cut across the prairie, it stabbed a person with its cold talons. The temperature often dropped below zero, and the snow drifts piled high. On such a winter’s day, John dropped Roxanne off and parked the buggy to wait, as always Roxanne thanked him for keeping his word and said nothing else. She left her husband sitting in the buggy with the wind slicing him up, and the snow swirling around him. When the wait became unbearable John climbed down from his buggy and headed for the entrance way of the church. He had an idea, and it was a sensible one; he would wait in the vestibule of the church for the services to be over. He would be warm and out of that blasted wind.
In the small farming community, all the farmers knew John Mark, and they had come to know and love his new wife. As the church members entered the church, they stomped the snow from their boots and unwrapped themselves from their heavy winter clothes. They were surprised to see John standing in the church’s vestibule. They greeted him and shook his hand. When they headed into the service, he remained standing in the vestibule.
John felt a little silly standing there in the entryway through the whole service while his wife, who was now pregnant with their first child, and whom he had grown to love, was just sitting a few yards away. John decided that he would go and sit in the pew with his wife.
That was a long winter for John, long enough for John to sit in the pew and hear the word that Jesus loved him. In the year of 1883 there were two births in John Marks family. Roxanne gave birth to a daughter. She named the baby Marietta after John’s first wife, for she had come love her husband and wanted to honor his first wife. The second birth was John Mark. He accepted Jesus Christ as his savior and was born again.
Evangelizing takes time, answers to prayers come slowly, and patience is always needed, but God is always faithful. Roxanne never said a word to John Mark about becoming a Christian; she just went to church and waited for John Mark to join her.