“God taught me very quickly, sweetly, and simply – and when needed, harshly – about love”
My name is Abigail Tolrud, and saying that Bethlehem Farm changed my life is an understatement. I arrived in West Virginia with literally five dollars in my pocket and a duffle bag, with my hair in zillions of little braids, because I was crazy enough to think that running water didn’t exist in West Virginia and that I would never be allowed to shower (I thought that braiding my hair would somehow help with not being able to ever wash it). I soon found out that this was insanely wrong. I learned that electricity and water in West Virginia is possible – due to coal. Coal these days often is mined through the process of Mountain Top Removal, which, to make a long story short, is a process where the top of an entire mountain is blown off. Practices like these somehow become socially acceptable because we think that having a lot of money is cool and that health and life and beauty don’t matter. Our society thinks that if we can get what we want quickly, then it must not matter what negative consequences could later follow – which leads me into why I believe God called me to be a Summer Servant. He told me to stop with the petty college drama and stress and worries of forcing myself to have perfect grades – all things that I was letting become top priorities in my life. God taught me very quickly, sweetly, and simply – and when needed, harshly – about love. And when I think about the most valuable thing that I learned at Bethlehem Farm as a Summer Servant, it is no doubt just that – Love.
God taught me that I needed to wake up and pray and be vulnerable and focus on others. God taught me that what we eat matters and what words we say to others can at times affect everyone’s feelings and thoughts. I came to Bethlehem Farm with the mindset that it would be a short break from the “real world” before going to work for a summer camp. Man oh man, did God have other plans for me. One week in I called my boss and quit, and then I called my parents and told them that I was about to put my life and my concerns and my worries aside this summer – for three months. They told me it was too spontaneous and that as adults we can’t give up our lives or put them on pause for the world’s problems. I love my parents and they later understood the journey that I was called by God to take – but the ironic thing about our conversation was, isn’t that the problem? We as a society think that the big problems are just too big. They are too much work. They are too much of a burden. Someone else, some other day, will take care of them.
The thing is, Bethlehem Farm is the real world. It is a real community, because Love matters and love is real. God taught me the power of small actions through many tasks. God whispered in my ear every day reminding me how much I loved kids, as my mornings at Bethlehem Farm were with filled with giggles and smiles, and, when I was lucky, cuddles and hugs from the Fitts children. God reminded me of my vocation to work with children. God screamed in my ear, “Sustainability matters!” when I learned time and time again about the endless amount of resources – specifically water – that we as a society are constantly wasting. Bethlehem Farm opened my eyes to the fact of how much I truly love a sustainable lifestyle. God touched my shoulder gently as I learned about drywall and roofing and drilling and painting. I learned the true definition of service. Service is working long days to cook a meal for sixty people, and service is listening to the lonely neighbor at a community night dinner, and service is striving to see the truth. The truth is that of struggle and need that others are unwillingly carrying on their backs. We live in a world where families are barely able to feed their children and leaking roofs are normal. Service – as a wise friend once told me – is anything that we do for another person out of love. Service was when my community nursed me back to health after an allergic reaction from a bee sting and then later on from the flu. God showed me love through every single person whose eyes met with mine at Bethlehem Farm: every neighbor and every homeowner and every volunteer and every Caretaker and every Summer Servant – some a crazy amount.
It would have been enough to see a place like Bethlehem Farm even for just one day. It would have been enough to even know that such a place existed. I got to live and laugh at a place so powerful and filed with so much love, and I thank God every single day for the gift of Bethlehem Farm in my life. God knew that the broken and scared girl who walked into Bethlehem Farm one day in May with far too many little braids would soon see the path of beauty and power and love. And so, I will end my Summer Servant tales with a line I found in my journal:
Sorry I haven’t written in a while, journal. Basically everything I have written since being at the Farm that I said seemed strange is one-hundred percent normal now. I have moved in.”
Thank you, Bethlehem Farm, for love.