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Ancient mill producing flour during the pandemic: The power of the past to change the present

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Ancient mill producing flour during the pandemic: The power of the past to change the present
Red brick watermill, footbridge over weir, Sturminster Newton, Dorset, England, early autumn.

A one-thousand-year-old water mill in southwest England witnessed the plague in the seventeenth century and the 1918 influenza pandemic. The first mill at the site predated the Norman invasion and was mentioned in a book ordered by William the Conqueror and published in 1086.

The current mill was constructed in 1556, a few years before Queen Elizabeth I took the throne. The United States would not declare their independence from England for another two centuries.

The Sturminster Newton Mill was upgraded in 1904 and operated fully until 1970, when it became museum. Now it normally produces flour just two days a month during the summer months.

However, because of the coronavirus pandemic, this ancient water mill has now produced more than 2,200 pounds of flour in the last few weeks, the same amount it would usually produce in an entire year. The mill’s supervisor told CNN: “We realized that many local shops had no flour in them and people were desperate for it.” A team of volunteer millers is now delivering bags of flour to local shops and bakeries.

The supervisor hopes their work “will boost local shops” and said that “on the whole, everybody seems to be very happy with it.”

I have been privileged to travel to England many times over the years. In fact, I might call myself an “Anglophile.” I love the ancient traditions of this timeless country and greatly admire the perseverance of her people in facing grave adversity. Their resolution in fighting Hitler is just one example of their national fortitude.

But tradition and courage require adaptability and innovation to remain relevant to the needs of the day. We can treasure our history so much that we miss its significance for our current needs and future hopes. Using an ancient water mill to provide flour during a pandemic is one example of the creativity that makes the past the present.

The power of the past to change the present

This impulse to remember where we have been as a guide to where we are going is central to the biblical story.

The book of Deuteronomy contains Moses’ last instructions to the Israelites before his death and their entry into their Promised Land. He encouraged them fifteen times to “remember” where they had been and what they had learned from their Lord and his word.

The prophets consistently called the nation to remember the law of God and to obey it in their present circumstances and challenges. Jesus quoted the Old Testament nearly eighty times as he applied its truth to his followers and their movement. Paul did the same nearly two hundred times.

Like the figures of Scripture, you have a story with your Lord. There have been times in your past when he helped you, healed you, forgave you, provided for you, and led you.

Now, as you face the challenges of the current pandemic, what past experiences with God can you claim for your present needs? Be specific. Identify a fear or problem you are facing, then remember a time your Father helped you with this issue. Know that his character does not change (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8). Claim what he has done as assurance of what he will do.

The Christian song is right: “He didn’t bring us this far to leave us / He didn’t teach us to swim to let us drown / He didn’t build his home in us to move away / He didn’t lift us up to let us down.”

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