When a Place Becomes a Home


By: Kaylie Rosenkranz, Student, Spring Break Service Trip Participant

Community. Prayer. Simplicity. Service.  Bethlehem Farm’s four pillars couldn’t describe the farm’s magic more perfectly.  Bethlehem Farm was not just a service trip. It was a home.  From the very beginning when we arrived, the caretakers met us in the driveway and hugged us saying “welcome home.”  So many names were introduced to me all at once, I thought no way was I going to remember 30 other people that I’ve never met before. Yet, by the second day not only did I know their names, but their hobbies, talents, and personalities.  The caretakers, fellow students from UIC and Father Ryan High School, people of West Virginia, and us made a community a home.

Community. Yes, I expected to make some friends with others from different schools going on this trip, but I didn’t expect to make friends with the people living in West Virginia.  Community night was a night when neighbors on the mountain or people who the farm was helping with home improvement were invited to dinner and prayer. 17309382_10212062506618830_5165753652914561977_n  These people welcomed us into their community, told us their life stories, and shared their talents with us.  One man brought his fiddle and played music for us after dinner.  After everything they had lost, whether from last summer’s flood, fire, or unemployment, they still came with a smile on their face ready to enjoy great company and good food.  I learned something that night.  As long as I have faith, it doesn’t matter what challenges may occur, with His help, I will never be alone.  I will have a community that will help me.

Prayer.  We prayed before every meal, before we left for a work site, and with the family of those we were helping at the work site.  We also started and ended the day with prayer.  It was sometimes led by the caretakers or sometimes led by our work groups.  My favorite prayer was the one my group led.  It was closing prayer on the last day so we all felt like we were family. Out topic was love: love of ourselves, love of our neighbors, and love of God.  We talked about how all these types of love strength each other and help our faith grow.  We also found these types of love in the work we did at the farm.  Everything came full circle and we ended the night saying that we loved each other.  We truly did.

Simplicity.  This pillar was perhaps the hardest one of the week.  There was no technology meaning no phones, computers, or television. We even had an electricity fast one night.  The first day was rough, I was constantly reaching for my phone to text my friends or check the time, but then I realized that I didn’t have my phone with me.  Then, I asked myself the question, “Why do I need to know the time?”  It’s not like I knew what time the next activity was going to start. Time somewhat become pointless.  The concept was liberating.  I was free from the restraints of having a schedule which is something I always have at school.  Simplicity also meant saving the environment.  We had saw dust toilets and bucket showers.  I used both.  Bucket showers are now one of my favorite ways to take a shower.  The first time, it was only 30 degrees outside, but looking up at the sky while showering was amazing. A once in a lifetime opportunity to appreciate nature. the food we ate also reflected simplicity.  Most of the food was organic and came from neighbors.  This meant that we weren’t harming the soil with harmful chemicals or harming the air with CO2 when trucks drive produce to stores.  Bethlehem Farm taught me that I don’t need the comforts of luxury to enjoy life.  Everything I need is provided by nature God created.

Service.  The chores are never done when living on a farm.  We started the day with chores and then went to our work sites for 7-8 hours.  I feed chickens, raked leaves, cooked, pulled out nails from old wood, finished the siding of a roof, and started a foundation for an extension to a home. Even though it was hard work, I found joy in working with my friends and knowing that I was helping those were needed it.  Not only were we serving others, but we were ultimately serving God. We could see him through the people, food, and nature surrounding us.  God was present everywhere.

Without a doubt, I would go back to Bethlehem farm.  It’s a second home.  At first, I was looking for some big gesture or evidence of God’s presence while I was there, but then I realized that God comes silently.  I can feel the grass now.  We are on top of the hill looking out onto the vast landscape singing “Here I am Lord.”  Here I am.

Happy Holidays from Notre Dame


From Notre Dame student Mary Howard:
I just wanted to pass along this photo of our Notre Dame team. We have had biweekly team dinners and concluded the semester with a little Christmas cookie party this Saturday as a finals study break and last hurrah. Bfarm still lives on in our heart and our relationships with one another..and our squashbuckling jokes.
Hope all is well and we wish you all a holiday season filled with love and blessings!!
Thank you for giving us this opportunity this fall!

Remembering the farm back on campus

Emily Okawara spent her fall break at Bethlehem Farm this year with a great group from Notre Dame.  After returning to campus, she wrote us a letter reflecting on her time at the farm, sharing the challenges and successes of trying to integrate her experience back at school.  Thanks, Emily!  Here it is:

Today marks a little under two weeks since I have been back at Notre Dame after my week at Bethlehem Farm.  I can very confidently say that there has not been a single day in which I have not thought about our week – in fact some days I just can’t stop thinking about it.  Today is one of those days so I wanted to write and share a little bit of the experience with all of you, who had such a huge part in making it so great.  First of all, I just want to talk about the tremendous respect I have for the lifestyle you live in simplicity, community, prayer, and service.  In my week at BFarm I did so many things that would have seemed crazy or unappealing to me in the context of a normal day in my everyday life – using a sawdust toilet, completely disconnecting from time, screens, and media, using a sledgehammer to demolish a house, or hauling chicken litter at 7:00 in the morning.  Now, though, I find myself wishing I could just take another bucket shower (spiders and all) under the stars or be convinced by Carley to eat a raw clove of garlic with honey.  I find myself listening periodically to “Country Roads” and reminiscing about hearing it while waking up for a day of hard work – and just love anything that takes me back to the farm in some way.

I think it has definitely been hard for me to transition back to the crazy-paced, loud, and stressful college life – I was late to breakfast with my friend the day after we got back (She went to BFarm last year and when I got there she said, “Emily, you are NOT on God’s time anymore!) and hated jumping right back into having so many hours of homework and class and rehearsal and meetings that I didn’t have the time I wanted for reflection and prayer.  I also felt like I had built such amazing and truthful relationships with the people on my Appalachia team that talking about grades and social media seemed so topical – I craved the conversations on the porch swing about soul ages or philosophical questions over washing dishes or thinking about God and love by the pond.

After a couple weeks though, I have picked out some little ways I can take what I had at Bethlehem Farm and translate it to the rest of my life.  Although I haven’t quite figured out how to get the university to approve my south-quad-bucket-shower construction project, I have put a washcloth in my shower caddy so that when I wash my hands I’m not using paper towels or the dryer.  And although I don’t hold hands in prayer at least three times a day, it’s amazing to give and get a hug whenever I see BFarm family around campus.  In a less concrete way, I have been thinking and reflecting about what really matters to me.

When people ask me how my fall break was, I don’t hesitate to say, “Incredible.  It changed my life.”  Not only did my week change the way I thought about things, immerse me in an intentional community, allow me to connect with Appalachian community members, and do things I had never done before, but I also built wonderful life friendships and had some of the best FUN I have ever had in my life.  We laughed a lot.  I think there is something so special about an environment that fully disconnects you from technology, stressors, and distractions so that you can be so present in every moment.  It was such a luxury to sit amongst others, just have time to look out on a beautiful view of creation, and allow conversation to go wherever it wanted (or to choose to just think and not have conversation at all).  The gift of time, peace, stillness, and presence that Bethlehem Farm gave me is one I will never forget.

It is an understatement to say that BFarm left me inspired.  Not only inspired by the fact that Jarusha manages to match her clothes to her glasses and hard hat every day to go out for demolition (although this was quite inspiring), but inspired to center myself in what matters and remember to take the time for prayer and community that Bethlehem Farm reminded me I needed so much.

Thank you for an amazing week – there is so much love in my heart for each and everyone of you!  You are doing great things and truly impacting the lives not only of the people you help in the community, but also the people you bring to the farm!


Emily Okawara, University of Notre Dame