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. 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.