What began as a planned trip to our annual National Youth Workers Conference in Columbus, Ohio, transmogrified to a board retreat, which became a tour to visit supporters from Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Ohio. Clearly, we could not visit all of the over four thousand households that have made Crossroads Farm a reality over the last twenty one years, for over nine thousand rural students in two Michigan counties. We selected people who have been with us from the beginning, many of whom we have never personally been able to sit down with and thank. The results of our search, became the itinerary for an eight State, nineteen stop visit, over fourteen days. We called it the Soil Health Tour and it was about checking the readiness for CRF to boldly push into the next steps of ministry developments. Some of you have followed our meandering path through the South.
We have eaten meals with friends who, have travelled the world, played in symphonies, ridden on Shamu, written a jingle for Coke, bought cars from Jay Leno, have a place in the Indiana High School Basketball Hall of Fame, performed at Carnegie Hall (twice), were college athletes, run corporations, were among the first students and volunteers at CRF, tried out to play in the WNBA, serve on boards like the Air and Space Center and Chick Fil-A, are highly ranked military officials, former CRF board members and proudly, we call them all friends. They all are extraordinary trajectory changers in the lives of rural students.
Even now, as states are beginning again to tighten restrictions on meeting and celebrating, we have discovered, for the sake of relationships, people are willing to risk illness. This is because, people seem to understand that “face-to-face” matters. The spirit of God travels. It brings hope, strength and unbounded joy. We need to see each other and if there is a lesson to be learned from this challenge to body-life and congregation, it is this. The extraordinary rises from the normal. One of the greatest meaning of life comes from the most basic thing thing. You.
In fact, God placed such a premium on our personal interactions that He commanded for us to do it often. At Crossroads Farm we have been teaching through many of these commands. There are 59, “One another’s,” listed in the New Testament. Here is our short list of “One Anothers’” from the road.
- We need to sing with each other. A recent study by the University of Texas El Paso linked maturity growth to the repetitious, out loud practice of singing sacred song. Surprisingly, this non-religiously biased study has demonstrated that in crisis and struggle, singing (and let’s just call it congregational worship) helps people cope. As I think back to Mrs. McFallen belting an aria of Amazing grace, I distinctly recall it bringing out the least mature side of myself at 15 years old, but who am I to argue with science. Just this last Sunday, as Dawn and I shared a shared the second row of a large church in Mobile, Alabama, we were moved to tears in worship. Minutes later, we cried again as a mother watched her son in his profession of baptism. We sang. We need to. Frankly speaking, I refuse to relegate worship to be done by rocks. Never on my watch. Not while I have breath.
- We need to touch each other. Our trek through the CRF version of the Chisholm Trail has had us asking people repeatedly, “Are you hugging?” The overwhelming response has been a hug... in some cases, cautiously, but honestly that may just be because I am now more aware of the hug protocols, which makes me even more likely to second guess my approach, head placement and duration. I was already awkward, but now we are all really piqued to social anxiety cues. Yes. We have hugged. At the most cautious homes we have mocked hugs, feigned kisses and remorsefully spoken of upcoming days when we may feel free to express physical emotion again without social precaution. Don’t worry. We are being safe.
In other words, we want to touch. Many of us use touch as a critical, if not primary demonstration of love. Those of us who do, have had our psyches dramatically and negatively altered. We would never “Inflict,” our love language on another, but it does make me wonder how we move forward after we have associated physical expressions of love with fear and potential death.
- We were not made to communicate like the Brady Bunch. Bear with me on this. Everyone remembers the Brady Bunch beginning sequence, right? There was a man named Brady, in a box, and then four men, each in a box, til the one day when the lady, also in a box, met this fellow. Her three girls, each in a compartment, joined the collection of boxes. They added Alice’s box and the nine became the Brady bunch. We are trying, but our comedy stems from older and distechnical (a new social condition which I created) people hold prolonged discussions from strange viewing angles, looking through their bifocalized gopher squints at screen while they try to figure out how to share screens. Most of my meetings result in at least 5 minutes of watching the technology follies. The quantum gap between technological acumen and the need to learn to communicate, “on the fly,” has created some of the funniest moments during the “Zoom Era!”
- People are generous. In spite of many households which have been sequestered, quarantined or otherwise restricted, most of us want to participate in being a part of the solution. Many of our stops hosted, fed and welcomed us with open arms (figuratively speaking, of course.) The outpouring of support for this ministry, the selfless prayers, the costly gifts, humbled us as people embraced the cause of rural student ministry. To these people we say, “Thank you!”
- No life is guarantied. We just received word today that one of our dear friends will be ushered into glory tonight as her family removes the machines that have kept her body with us these last days. Two days ago we discussed visiting her at her home. That was before her serious car accident. Angels rejoice. Her savior waits. Her family grieves. Her husband mourns. Earlier, we heard that another friend had been taken to the hospital. He was struggling for breath. Out of the hospital now and recovered, we caught our breath in prayer for he and his family for a few days. There is no one who escapes the end of days on earth. Instead of this being the rallying point to seclude, protect and fear, the believer, wisely, cautiously, and in deference to the weaker brother has an opportunity to speak hope, peace and assurance. The fact of imminent death, whether by pandemic, tragic accident or simply wearing out, is not our enemy. It is the promise of eternity with Jesus. It is our promise. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Neither heights of frenetic fear, nor depth of despair; neither struggle, or sickness, or governmental failure, nor isolation shall divide us from the promise of our Father. I speak this. No difference of opinion, no tragic circumstance, no political election, or racial difference is worth a single one of my relationships. So I take this moment to tell you that I truly love you. I miss those of you whom I have not been able to see. I pray for all of you without ceasing. In the promise of God’s horizon, I know that all of these soul-troublers will pass because we are all to be together in heaven, for all of eternity, with no more tears, sickness, loneliness or fear. If I don’t see you here before then, I will see you there with Lynnette, and Margie, Billy and Bobbi.