Amish Take the Beach at Dawn


Where I live in rural SW Wisconsin there is not much diversity unless you count the Amish.  They mostly keep to themselves and the rest of us respect their privacy and appreciate that we live in a country where we are “Free to worship.”  The Merry Green Marvel carried six Amish parents and their 19 children on a night drive from their farms in Wisconsin down through Chicago to SW Michigan.  It’s late August and the work of planting and tending to crops has been given a two day pause before the fields begin to golden as they move toward harvest.  I remember this time of year when my folks scraped enough money together back in 1966 and loaded four of their children into a Chevy Impala. Sustaining ourselves on bologna sandwiches and braunschweiger with saltines we made it out of the tall corn country of Iowa and lifted our gaze to the wonders of Yellowstone.

As the bus driver for this Marvel bus, I get to feel the thrill of this lifted gaze over and over as adventures unfold, trip after trip.  Imagine waking these dear Amish folks who strive to be “plain” so as to give God the greater glory. From their sleeper coach beds they rise with the first bend of light over the Easterly horizon.  They gather up the babies and little ones and move as one across the beach to feel the power of Lake Michigan wave to land. There was no scattering with each child answering their own call to thrill. They stood together as is their way, well before others arrived with towels, beach chairs and tanning lotion.  Their lifted gaze took in the pink blush painting the edges of Great Lake clouds as the sun pushed the brush.

Hearts full we went onto the farmhouse where many families had gathered for this reunion.  Men kissed men. Women kissed women as is the tradition of the “Holy Kiss” to convey the joy of being in fellowship.  I was invited to join them to sing in the basement of the farm house. Relieved that I didn’t have to have a bowl haircut to join I cleared my voice.  We sang hymns from a hymn book with women and girls on one side and men and boys on the other. Anyone could call out a song and page number and we would all join in.

I remember the tingle of being under my dad’s arm on a boat ride on Jenny Lake looking up at the Gran Tetons.  I feel that same tingle here in the farmhouse basement singing with the Amish. Male voices holding the bottom steady and the feminine soaring above forming a holy confluence flowing as one out of the basement out into the Michigan blueberry fields “Precious memories, unseen angels sent from somewhere to my they linger, how they ever flood my soul…”  It is good to get together.

The Edge of the Property

I was standing on my Amish neighbor’s porch to get some eggs.  The corn in the fields around us was just starting to shoot tassels.  The first cutting of hay was down and the jewel of the woods, the black cap raspberry was getting ripe. This was the first time I saw LaVina sit down from her work indicating that I might sit down too.

We had a few pleasant exchanges of what might be considered boring, small talk by outsiders, but really is a way for country folk to size someone up to see how far the conversation might go.  After a pause La Vina said , “We lost a dog.” It took me a while to remember, “Oh the old mother dog?” I wasn’t sure it had a name. “Yes it went missing a week or so ago. It was odd that it didn’t come home.  It always kept close by us. (It was a shepherd dog) We thought maybe the coyotes got it. She wasn’t getting around so well. Then Rudy (LaVina’s son) was out mowing hay and caught the smell of something dead. He brought the horses to a stop, got off the mower and walked over to some brush along the fenceline at the far corner of our property.  There was Trixie lying there. There didn’t look like anything wrong with her. Nothing had got to her. Apparently she decided to go off knowing her time had come.”

There was a tinge of sadness in LaVina’s voice.  But even more so I felt a certain surrender that comes from seeing enough of the coming and going of life.  Seen enough to know better then to fight it. To say there is this place out there on the far corner, on the edge of what we know that we get called to again and again.  It’s out there that we die to old things to make way for new things. From out there comes the call to adventure. To come to the edge of your comfort zone.

The old dog went out to meet the host of the edge.  A place she knew she had to go so as to not be a burden to others and to give herself over to whatever comes next.  “Rudy said she just laid there under the brush and had the look of peace on her face.” Then LaVina got up and went back to her work.

Journey to Service

By: Hannah Isakowitz, Senior at The Ohio State University

I moved into my dorm on a Saturday for my freshman year of college at Ohio State. I was terrified and confused and ready all at the same time. On Sunday, my two new stranger roommates and I went to the Student Involvement Fair, where over 1,400 student organizations gave us a peppy hello and a flyer. It was overwhelming to say the least. One of my roommates, Kali, trailed behind a little bit, so I went to see what she was looking at. It turned out to be GIVE Volunteers, an organization that does service trips all over the world. I thought it sounded nice, but certainly too adventurous for me. I had never travelled without my family, let alone to the opposite end of the Earth to a rural village. I wasn’t a hiker or a manual worker or a tree hugger. Everything I thought I was supposed to be, I wasn’t. I walked away.

A few days later, Kali brought it up again. She had already paid her deposit to go to Thailand and Laos for a month. Something about the excitement in her eyes made me feel like this was possible for me, too. And so, the adventure begins…

Almost 9 months later, I found myself on a 16-hour flight to Chiang Mai, Thailand. Panicked. What if I hated it and I was stuck for a month? What if this organization doesn’t align with my ethics?  Will I make any friends? Am I too out-of-shape? My journal from that day is filled with questions like these. But of course, the moment I arrived in a brand-new space and was greeted with smiling faces, all of those worries disintegrated. That month was life-changing. As a team, we overcame language barriers, made amazing friendships, worked harder than ever, laughed, and importantly, asked some really big questions. I was so inspired – but I knew this was only the beginning.

Since that first leap of faith, I returned to Thailand the following summer for 2 more months of farming and teaching. I went down to the Gulf Coast for winter break with my school and had the privilege of meeting Steve. Fifty of us worked hard together on projects via connections he made and were eager to return home and hear his stories at dinner each night. Every trip, in its own unique way made me feel more connected to a greater purpose. Before I knew it, I had gone from “not adventurous enough” to an experienced leader of outdoor service and adventure – someone with a Wilderness First Aid certification and more travel and hiking gear than I even knew existed. Every expectation of myself, of the people I met and served, and of the reality of service had been shattered.

On the Saturday I moved into my dorm at Ohio State, I had no idea this would be how I spent my life in college. I had no idea how much I actually loved hiking and manual labor. These trips didn’t just give me a fun and meaningful experience for the time I was there, they helped me see what was already inside me all along. Enough curiosity and commitment for a lifetime, and a heart of service.

I have three pieces of advice for anyone thinking about going on a service trip for the first time. First, the only expectation you can have of any service experience is that you will always receive more than you will give. Second, pack your curiosity. Ask more questions and learn more about your fellow humans. Third, don’t hold yourself back. Everyone has a spirit of adventure and a heart of service. Find yours.

Don't Forget Charlie

1/15/16  Denham Springs, Louisiana

Ms Anna Christine and Mr Jewel Davis, both in their nineties grew up in the Deep South. This past week a team of 11 college women from Towson State near Baltimore, 7 of them of African descent, some of them Muslim, came down to help rebuild the Davis home.  At the end of the week after the team had finished their work I asked Ms Anna what changes she'd seen in her life having grown up in segregation: "A regret I had was that I didn't question the culture I grew up in. I didn't acknowledge them. When you walked down the sidewalk they (blacks) had to step off the sidewalk and look down...never make eye contact.  I find it hard to believe now that I never said anything, but that's what happens when you just go along."

"I suppose what changed me more than anything was in 1950 when I was hired to help with the census and I had to go into the country to many of their homes.  I was 20 years old and I went by myself. I was not afraid even though I had to take poorly maintained back roads where I'd never gone before. And it seemed we were always getting stuck in the mud. But they helped me not be afraid. They were so warm and friendly.  And they had no reason to be kind toward me. But they were anyway."

"I'll never forget one house way back in the boonies.  I sat on the edge of the porch and went over the survey with the mother of the house.  She had a big family and I thought we were finished when she said 'Oh my I can't believe I forgot Charlie!!!' Then she took me in the house, it was small and had only two rooms. Not bedrooms. Rooms. In the back room there was a baby bed made up.  The mother pulled back the covers and there was Charlie. She beamed as she told me that Charlie was 16 years old."

"I was taken back. The boy was the size of an small child, but had a head much bigger. He couldn't talk. He had the beginnings of a mustache. I didn't know what to say. But the mother adored him.  And I'll never forget how clean the bed was. The sheets bright and pressed crisp. So Charlie got counted and I was on my way, but I was never the same after that. The way they took care of Charlie taught me what it means to be counted. To be acknowledged."

"After the flood and two feet of water in our home, Jewel and I thought how can we ever recover at our old age. We can't do it.   And who would care to help. Everyone else has their own flooded home to take care of. And now these young women from up North are part of the force helping us rebuild our home. Once again they are teaching me what it means to be counted.  And not forgotten.”