Does the cold weather have you pining for warmer summer days? Let 2016 Summer Servant Jeff Baker take you back . . .
“After a somewhat long, but adventurous drive, I rolled up a narrow cork-screw road. As my tires slid on the gravel, I had a strange feeling I was literally in the middle of nowhere. It was like the opening scene to a typical horror movie–on top of that, in all the irony, the farm was seemingly deserted…”~ Day 1 Journal Entry.
I fortunately found a human, and was given an offer I could not refuse—bailing hay. I had just finished the backend of a seven-and-a-half hour drive and was a little tired. However, I proceeded to plop my arms out like a forklift and stack bales of hay into a barn. For some reason I was excited about this work. My self-explanation is that I felt like I was a real farmer! Check, there goes another one off the bucket-list. Within a day I was helping to prep the facilities for a high school group week.
“Welcome home!” I exclaimed as I awkwardly embraced several strangers loading off from a long trip. The farm had this thing, where you would say welcome home to people and hug them. “High schoolers usually think we are some kind of a cult,” one of the caretakers calmly said. “I thought you guys were pretty weird, but…[insert something positive],” exclaimed one of the high school students. “No you are right, we are weird,” the director nonchalantly interjected. So you can get an idea of the kind of people you would be meeting if you were just arriving at the farm—the awkward, the weird, and affirmation of weird. Did I mention one of the summer servants said I should never be a sales man?
Anyway, what is Bethlehem Farm? Where is the sales pitch? Well, here it is. Bethlehem Farm is a…farm in West Virginia, that strives to be an intentional Catholic community in Appalachia. This community serves local homeowners, volunteers, and my stomach! There were some serious recipes rolling out of that kitchen! Lots of on-site garden vegetables and local organic foods.
I know, I know….I am only scraping the surface. But how could I explain broad-shouldered mountains that stood like military columns? Or the trees breathing out mystical mists onto the faces of humble giants? The cows grazing and gazing a dampened, matted pasture? The faces of the students as they warmed, gleamed, and cried? The youthful zeal, heightened emotions, and hearts pouring out in prayer? The heroic acts of mud waddling under a flood stricken home? The sweat, toil, frustration, and courageous will to serve a stranger?
Service is a funny thing, because it reveals so much character with the utmost simplicity. To serve is to make a choice and the choices that we make decide who we serve. We can serve either God or the other guy; others or ourselves. There was a priest one Sunday mass that mentioned the following: “If you could boil down the Bible down to one word…it would be service.” He had witnessed many volunteers who aided in flood relief. He spoke volumes of the many volunteers who lent a hand to their fellow brothers and sisters in need. It was really beautiful how everyone rallied to help their neighbors. It was both touching and comical to hear the priest demanding people to stop bringing towels. He had so many towels he jokingly exclaimed the possibility of opening a towel shop. As people let out soft smiles and laughs, it brought out another side of service—a yolk that is much lighter. It is the joy that comes out of us as we stop, listen, and give what we are holding in our hearts.
Then, there was another side of service; community. I witnessed this additional side through the volunteers, Bethlehem Farm staff, and the summer servants. Every day we would clench each other’s hands and make a commitment to each other. Together we were going to make some sacrifices for the good of others–whether it was flood relief, home repair, or just having conversations. We had a hand in helping our neighbors in need. In this way, we were fighting for other people’s human dignity and all while strengthening our camaraderie. It was a glimpse of what Jesus asked us to do, and what we are capable of doing. Jesus never asked us to just sit there and isolate ourselves, but to take up our crosses and follow Him–to follow Him into those mountains, under those muddy houses, on those rooftops, and into the loving embrace of those “weird” people at Bethlehem farm. The farm’s staple “welcome home” and hug meant something. Home is the economy of love; it is the place of commerce where we exchange conversation, good food, and good company. So I know a place called Bethlehem Farm, but some people like to call it home, because “business” is booming.