My Dad had said we’d never see anything like it again — not in our life times.
120 combines lined up around one field — 160 acres of soybeans.
A harvest of less than 12 minutes. An attempt at a world record. All crop donated to world hunger.
They were calling it a harvest for hunger.
The Farmer and his brother. My Dad and the neighbor.
Farmers in their worn hats and faded wranglers and scuffed up boots, from all up and down these gravel roads. Leaving their own fields and idling in with one combine after another, CASE-IH and Gleaners and New Hollands and John Deerers, all circling the perimeter of this one field.
Levi stands tall, looking. “I think that one right there is Dad.” He’s on tip toe, pointing. He can pick his Dad and our combine out in this sea of John Deere Green?
A dying breed — that’s what my Dad had said we all are, us croppers and herdsmen. That in less than his lifetime, this country has moved from one in three living on a farm — to only one in 46. Who will still dwell in the land?
“There’s 63 combines at this end of the field, Mom.” Malakai points to the north, us all lined up with the combines, waiting for the wave to begin. “And 63 at the other end.” He turns towards the south. “I counted twice. Isn’t that a lot of farmers in combines, Mom? ” I smile and nod. Plain, hardworking folks out here. One in seven jobs in this nation are produced from these fields, from the humble men in pick-up trucks.
“You think they can really do it in less than 12 minutes, Mom?” Malakai tugs at my hand.
“They’re farmers, Kai.” Levi spins from the field to face his little brother, hands on his hips. As if that statement alone explains everything.
When they start up the combines, exhaust plumes signaling all harvesters ready, the crowd cheers.
Shalom looks up at me, one wide open grin.
Then the flag — and the farmers ride.
“They’re coming, Mama! They’re coming!” Shalom’s jumping happy. The air’s thick with dust, with hope.
I’m choked up, and it has nothing to do with the air.
It has to do with men and food and that the first man was a farmer. It has to do with our story coming out of soil. It has to do with tilling the earth and reaping a harvest and it’s what Goethe said, “Sowing is not as difficult as reaping.” There is ultimately no crop without unwavering commitment.
These men — it strikes me, rattles me like a wind through dried bean pods — these men who turn over the earth, they revolutionize the world.
When a man makes a living from tending to particles of dirt, when a man does small things well — he makes all things become great things.
And when a man works dirt, he cultivates a life needing patience and kneeling to Providence: you can’t drive a seed to grow and you can’t demand a sky to give.
There are 10,000 bushels of soybeans coming off this field in just over 10 minutes by men who labor over land and I’m rooted and moved.
How many starving are fed by this harvest?
“They’re just about done!” Levi grins.
We can see a combine in the top northwest of the field fall back, mechanical difficulties.
The lead combine in that section will have circle back to combine that strip of soybeans and this will take time. Levi rubs his hands anxious. “You think Dad can see out there?” The work makes dust and it’s in the air, what we all are and no more, not anyone.
There’s a race of lead combines back to pick up missed strips of beans. There’s waiting on the edge, farmers in caps leaning to see.
“Last one’s coming up!” Kai points.
The crowd claps loud, smiling into all the dust. The horn sounds. The last bean is in the bin. Hungry will be fed today.
“Let’s find Dad — ” Levi’s already leading the way through the crowd.
Past the old men worn and keen and the teenagers texting.
Past the Mennonite women with babes on hips and the white-haired farmer’s wives with their canes and memories.
Through the knots people we weave — through all these farmers, mingling humanity, all the dust gathered, an arm reaches out, grabs my shoulder, “Hey!”
I turn and it takes me a minute to recognize who she is after all these years — Margaret older now, in her seventies now, her hand on my arm now.
“Margaret! To find you here!” I squeeze her hand.
“I saw you and just had to grab you.” Her Dutch accent is thick and she squeezes my arm and it’s hard to hear her with all the people pushing past us and I lean closer.
We’ll only have a minute with all the crowd pressing.
I’ll just have to say what’s most important:
“Margaret — all those years ago — that lawn club with all the farm kids, that Good News Bible club. You shared the gospel with me. You offered me the hope of Christ.” I shake my head.“Thank you.”
She fed me the realest food. I give thanks for the food. “Thank you.”
What if she had let me starve Christless?
“It was Jesus. Christ alone saves.” In a farm field, she’s giving Him all the glory alone.
I nod and tell her, “Yes, yes, only Him — and you were the beautiful face that brought me the Good News.” She’s wrinkled and exquisite and what if she hadn’t? What if she hadn’t?
The current of people tugs at us, and before she’s gone, I say it again, with every fibre of my being, tightening my grip on her hand: “Thank you.”
I can see her over the people, hear her heavy Dutch voice, before she’s gone in crush of people: “You’re welcome.”
“Mom — I see Grandpa!” Levi’s pulling at my sleeve. Margaret’s gone —
And there’s my Dad, Dad in his red hat and signature overalls.
I nod and he nods and we know what we aren’t saying.
He leads us back through the combines, looking for the Farmer too. I catch snatches of his words to Levi.
“Well, when you’ve spent your life in fields working alone — to look up and see a sea of combines. All those combines and farmers. No — maybe not again in my lifetime. ” Dad’s shaking his head.
To be part of a Body — after a life time of emaciation and aloneness — the feast is always spread for those who will come. Who am I inviting? And what if I don’t? When the trump sounds… will the last sheep be gathered in?
Dad’s thin and wiry, walking ahead of me.
Sometimes its hard to see the starving, hard to see there’s a waiting harvest, hard to see souls and eternity — all this dust.
Dad finds the Farmer and the generations all talk harvest and harvest is all I can think of — time running out.
There are beggars and we have bread — we are bread — and what keeps us from feeding the starving? Why would fear ever keep us from spreading a feast? What is the Christian response to hunger?
Only in this one blink of a life time — can we beckon just one person, anyone, towards eternity.
Margaret’s somewhere in this field…. somewhere, headed home.
When Dad stops on his way back to his combine, on his own way out of here, he stops to bend over to listen to Shalom, and I see it — how her skirt flies, a flag.
A welcome —
His face so wrinkled and exquisite…
“Meanwhile, friends, wait patiently for the Master’s Arrival. You see farmers do this all the time, waiting for their valuable crops to mature, patiently letting the rain do its slow but sure work. Be patient like that.
Stay steady and strong.
The Master could arrive at any time.”
Arial photos from this news coverage