March 20, 2016
This will be a bit of an “unusual” farm update. I am currently on an airplane that is traveling between Detroit and Amsterdam. From Amsterdam, we will head to Nairobi, Kenya. This will be my first experience in Africa. You are probably familiar with our non-profit, Agristewards, and this is one of “those” trips. Many of you may know the story of Agistewards, but in case you don’t, I’ll give you some background of how this all got started.
Our family has always been an active Christian family. I’m not sure why I use the word “active”, but it seems like a good one. More than just going to church and “practicing religion”, I’d say we’ve tried to live out our faith in our business and with our personal time. My first mission trip was with Jodie to Costa Rica in 1998. Mom and Dad have now gone to Panama to help lead a Vacation Bible School for more than a dozen years. Dean has been to Haiti a couple of times. We are not a perfect family… far from it. We have been blessed with a strong Christian heritage and a great church that teaches Biblical principles. My Grandparents and Parents on both sides of my family and Jodie’s family have left a legacy of allowing God to work through their lives. I hope that does not come across as an egotistical statement, because it should be the opposite… without God, we don’t have much to offer, but with Him, He sure continues to give us what we need.
We met Brian Smith at the Traders Point Christian Acadamy where our kids went to school together. Brian is the wife of Jennifer and the Dad to Moriah, Marissa, and Luke. Brian is a Cincinnati Bible College graduate with a Missions degree. At that time, Brian had been on staff at Traders Point Christian Church for 15 years as their facilities director. At the same time he was doing that job, Brian also was given responsibility for all of the short-term mission trips that Traders Point was involved with. Not only was he great with the practical “hands-on” job of managing a facility, his heart for missions was also being stoked.
In the summer of 2010, Brian decided that his mission’s heart needed a little more stoking. He decided to leave Traders Point and pursue a full-time position with a mission organization. He just didn’t know which one. He needed a little time for God to open some doors, so he also needed a short-term job to keep food on the table while he looked. That’s how we came in. Brian called one day, told us he had a commercial driver’s license and wondered if we could use some help through the fall with bringing in the harvest. No brainer. Good guy. Handy. We could use the help. Brian came to work for us in the late summer of 2010. God had been putting some things in place on the farm to allow the relationship with Brian to get started.
Paving the Road
If you remember the timing, the general economy was still trying to recover from the “Great Recession”. When the general economy is weak, many times the commodity markets…gold, oil, as well as grains and land are a place where people stick their money. High prices for corn and soybeans had Indiana agriculture going pretty well. This is where my cousin, Jay Shultz comes in.
Jay grew up working on our farm as a high school job. He went to Butler and joined his family business of selling industrial equipment. It had been a great job for him, but the economy was wreaking havoc on that sector of the economy. So in the spring of 2010, Jay came to work for us for 3 days a week. It was a great fit. He could keep up with any potential sales for two days and do something he loved and make a little money on the other 3. Win-win. The other plus was that Jay had a heart for missions. He was on the board of a mission organization called Nehemiah Vision Ministries near Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Jay also pushed us to do something we had wanted to do for a long time but never had. We started a farm Bible Study…6am Monday mornings.
What happened in Haiti in 2010? Earthquake. Big one. It was a terrible tragedy, but there was something that came out of that tragedy. Money from all over the world poured into Haiti. The recipients included non-profits like NVM. NVM was doing great things and had big plans…expanded orphanage, new hospital, and lots of people coming in to help. They had a huge need for someone to come down and help manage the physical operations. Enter Jay. The US economy was still in the dumps. Jay and his wife Amy had three children, but they also had a little girl from the orphanage in Haiti that they wanted to adopt. This was great timing. They could commit to Haiti for a year, develop the relationship with their potential adopted child, help with reconstruction, and come back to either a better economy or maybe even a full-time job on the farm. In January 2011, the Shultzes moved to Haiti.
So in the fall of 2010, we knew Jay was leaving, and we knew that Brian was coming. For that one fall, both of them worked on the farm. As I look back at that time, I really see God’s hand in the timing. Not only were they two great guys to have around the farm (even though we thought it was a short-time deal), the Bible study that Jay had encouraged us to start had added a spiritual depth to our farm mindset. God used those two guys to prepare a path for something pretty cool.
Why leave the farm?
When Brian first came out to talk to us about working on the farm, I made the comment, “you know you don’t have to leave the farm to do mission work”. It was a passing comment and nothing else was said at that time. About a week later, my phone rang and it was Brian. He reminded me of what I had said and asked, “What did you mean by that”? I didn’t know what I meant. I just knew that we were of the same mindset. If God wanted Brian to work in missions, why couldn’t we be involved with it as well? This started some pretty cool brainstorming about what that might look like. Brian already had a trip planned to Kenya; to the same place that I am now headed. He took that trip and we paid him for his time. Pretty simple partnership, huh? That trip also solidified a very important thing in Brian’s mind. Everywhere he went in Kenya, people needed help growing their own food. From that point forward, we never wondered if we should continue to do agricultural mission work through the farm.
Jay makes an impact again
As you remember, Jay is in Haiti at this time. As it turns out, he has become pretty involved in trying to get an agricultural project started there as well. His family is adapting to the culture and they are bonding with Fifi, who is the 4-year old little girl that they want to adopt. If you don’t know Jay, you need to know that he is a really special guy. He is big and strong. He played football at Butler. He is 6’3” and weighs about 240. He works out every morning in a trucking container turned weight room. Jay took several years of French in High School, so creole comes pretty easy to him. Some people who go to Haiti for a limited time don’t intend to learn the language. Jay ate it up. That is just one of the reasons that Jay was a Haitian favorite. He is a really big, really white guy who talks and teases with his co-workers in creole. He is just a happy guy.
On June 15th, 2011, everything would change. Jay was driving a John Deere Gator and the Pastor/leader at NVM was driving a caterpillar backhoe. Jay was screwing around, showing Pastor how he could literally drive circles around him. As jay was sliding the gator sideways near the backhoe, his tires caught traction on a patch of concrete. The gator shot forward and went under the back of the backhoe where the digging bucket is. I say the gator went under the bucket, but Jay didn’t. His chest hit the backhoe bucket and the momentum of the gator bent jay back over his seat. As Jay struggled to breathe, he realized he couldn’t feel his legs. His breathing was hard and he felt like he was dying.
This is the part that most of us cannot relate to. Someone went and got Amy. This is what I call the movie scene. Jay tells his wife goodbye. When Jay tells the story, the reality of what was happening is what made the real impact. He said it was ok. It was peaceful. He was not scared. He says he felt the presence of God telling him it was going to be ok. He never lost consciousness and didn’t have any sort of “near death” experience, he just felt peace in a moment of chaos that should have been filled with fear. I think that moment has had a profound affect on how Jay looks at life.
Most of us would have died, but Jay was too big and strong for that. He had ten broken ribs and a broken back. After a 40-minute ride in the back of a pickup truck to a hospital in Port-au-Prince, Jay was airlifted to Miami. Two weeks there and two months of rehab in Indianapolis brought Jay to a new reality. He wouldn’t walk again. Even this tragedy would actually be a confirmation that we needed to be committed to agricultural missions.
My family and I were scheduled with several other families to go to Haiti to see the Shultzes and work on projects. So my first experience in Haiti was about two weeks after Jay’s accident. It was hard. The whole campus was just in a funk. Through the funk, I found a real place in my heart for the people of Haiti and more particularly the little village of Chambrun whom NVM serves. Jay and Amy had needed to leave so fast, that they left the kids at NVM. It was a safe place with great people to take care of them, but the family needed to be together. So when we returned, we brought the younger two boys with us. Anna would stay for a while longer to be with Fifi.
Farming God’s Way
In the fall of 2011, Brian and Dean went to Ft. Myers, Florida to a place called Echo. Echo is a seed bank and a training center for how to teach agriculture in other parts of the world. They put on a weeklong training for those that want to help people produce food. It was there that they found the curriculum, “Farming God’s Way”. They brought it home and we all went through it. The basic premise of Farming God’s Way is to apply Biblical principles to your farming practices. The beauty of it is that we can apply the concepts to the way we farm, the same way that we teach it to those in completely different circumstances. When we go somewhere, we don’t try to teach them to farm like us. It is much more like teaching gardening. We do have common ground though in the application of the principles.
One more trip to Kenya with “Farming God’s Way” in hand and Brian was convinced. This was a curriculum that we could stand on. It is what gives us the basis for going anywhere with a very high probability of being able to increase production. We are also convinced that this is not to be just a humanitarian effort. Farming God’s Way starts with a foundation of trusting God in all areas of your life. The agriculture aspect is what we talk about the most, but in the end, it is actually just a tool to help people find real spiritual food.
In January of 2012 we put into place our new non-profit, Agristewards. By this time, we had several people involved in trips and catching the vision for teaching Farming God’s Way. Our board is made up of Brian, Dean, and I from our farm. Dave Chance is a neighboring farmer who is really great with soil health issues. Cousin Jay rounds out the board. Brian spends about 40% of his time doing mission work and 60% of his time working on the farm. God has blessed the farm to support him full-time so that any donations Agristewards receives can go directly to projects. By the way, Jay has been back to Haiti multiple times. Dean and Jay were just in Haiti last week, installing drip irrigation and teaching High School kids how to plant crops. Fifi is a beautiful young lady, now fully adopted and living in the States with her family. That whole process is another story.
Much accomplished, Much to do
It is kind of incredible the experiences that Agristewards has been allowed to be a part of since 2012. I can’t list all of the travels from my head but I know that we have been to Kenya and Haiti the most. We have also been to Tanzania, Liberia, Burkina Faso, Thailand, Cambodia, and Jamaica. We have been to some of these countries multiple times. There is one common theme. It has never been hard to do what we’ve done. In fact, it’s been the most rewarding thing our farm has ever been involved in. If God wants something to work, he keeps opening doors. I don’t see any reason to stop walking through those doors. He keeps paving the way.