I'd have to say that we passed with flying colors. Most of this was due to the fact that the Hoban kids were fantatstic. They were absolutely hilarious and most of the time we spent with them was doubled up in laughter. It was a great reminder of the joy that comes with service. Just because you're doing serious work that needs to be done and are helping people doesn't mean that you have to act like you work like at a funeral parlour. It was the perfect accompaniment to the recent Gospels referencing children. The child-like exuberance the Hoban group exhibited at all times was a good reminder of why Jesus held up children as an example of how to get into Heaven.
The joking began from the beginning. As we were doing introductions we asked the kids to say their name, describe their family and give something unique about them. When it came to this kid, Blake, he gave his name and family and began searching for something unique. As he struggled to find something interesting another person yelled out, "YOU'RE A JEW!", which was actually accurate and thus utterly hilarious. Blake, of course, took it in stride. I was impressed by the fact that he chose to embark on this trip and the poise he showed at all times. The rest of the kids, for all their kiddings, also impressed me with their ablity to recognize his participation in service as a uniting factor rather than focus on the divisive element of his religious identity. It was the embodiment of the Ecumenical mission of the Farm and laudable feat considering these were just high school kids. That more people could learn to make the same judgement...
Because Colleen, Jamie, and I made an effort to vary the activities for both the groups and ourselves, we unknowingly paired ourselves up with the same small group for multiple days of the week. I was fortunate to spend most of the week with Da Bear Beems (to be prounounced whilst strumming one's lips). Don't ask me what the heck the name meant. Brittany, Emily, Anna, Ben, Brian and Micah spent days with me at Construction, the clothing Pantry and Dub Dub's. Each member brought something different to the group and they all worked really well together.
Ben and Brian became known as the Wonder Twins and were probably the most outrageous people on the trip. In fact, I think I've uncovered footage from Ben's Nursery School Recital (Yes, he's actually a ginger). It's not a huge surprise that Dub Dub threatened to "shake the poop out of him". The first day on the Construction site those two decided to spend their break attempting to break apart large rocks armed with only hammers. They were goofy as hell. Speaking of construction, John Lewis decided to call me Alex Rodriguez, much to the kids' delight. Anyway, those two also must have been mainlining Red Bull or snorting pixie sticks because their energy was boundless. Anna was actually handicapped by a growth plate injury in her foot but you wouldn't know it by the way she worked. She was climbing ladders, caulking, and swinging hammers with the best of 'em. Brittany was a tiny girl, weighing less than the dogs, (For which the kids had an unnatural love. Many a "BEAGLE!!" could be heard reverberating across the Farm during their week) but she wasn't afraid to lift pantry boxes that were twice her size or dive into a pile of pantry clothes that started giving her sneezing attacks. I knew I could always count on Emily to do any task I asked of her. She was certainly quieter than the rest but she had this amazing ability to just cut right to the heart of an issue/ situation with a poignant question or comment.
In my short time here, I've realized that the chaperones can make or break a week. With us Farm Managers being so young, there is the possibility that chaperones could experience difficulty in following our lead. After all, these people planned the trip and all the logistics that led up to the week. Asking them to give up their control is hard enough, much less to give it up to three recent college grads. It's always a delicate balance predicated on the chaperones understanding and buying into the charisms of the Farm and on us Farm Managers understanding where the chaperones are coming from. Micah is an Art teacher at Hoban, was one of three chaperones, and was assigned to Da Bear Beams. Not only did he understand how the Farm worked but he really relished embracing its charisms. There are some people that really have to work to "get" the Farm. Jamie, herself, has said that she has struggled to understand how the Farm works at times. Micah is just one of those people that is made for the Farm. He reminded me a little of my uncle. It might have been the whole art thing (My uncle runs a book review in MN) but I think it was his gentle spirit. There was an earnestness that Micah brought to the week that made it so easy for him to immerse himself inb the experience. He connected so well with the kids and was joking right along with them but at the same time he was so present. A prefect example was on the ride back from Dub Dub's when he asked whether we serve her or whether she's the one serving us. It's a thought I've had myself regarding the people of Lewis County. He and I connected on many levels during the week. He was a big fan of The Lonely Island Crew and Mitch Hedberg and introduced me to some hilarious youtube clips. We also had conversations about family, college, and music that were all really enlightening. At no point did I feel like he regarded me as some naive college grad, which I'm sure I revealed on more than one occasion. It was really a peer-peer relationship that made the week so much easier. During one reflection he said something to the effect of, "Alex, what can I say? Just a good buddy". Took the words right out of my mouth. He told us he would like to come visit at some point and I hope he does.
The kids got a lot of work done during the week. It was a Pantry week again so they helped with the handouts and helped clean up the clothing side. They helped to put up siding and landscape the Fuller Branch construction site. And while there was plenty of joking, there were poignant moments as well. I was impressed by Dom's leadership skills both when we were mowing Herma's lawn and when we had to make a Grilled Cheese Fest for lunch one day. Toeing the thin line between a leader and know-it-all came so easily for him.
Grilled Cheese + Tomato Soup = Crazy Delicious
The same group had a great day at the nursing home on Friday. Taylor, Dom and I were sitting in the dining room getting ready to sing. I went to go look for Nick and Emily and found them in Welby's room. I asked Welby if he was going to come hear us sing. He's a little hard of hearing so I had to repeat it. When he heard he said "Oh I don't know, I'm just enjoying these two" motioning to Emily and Nick. He had a million watt smile going and so I said Nick and Emily could just stay with him. When I told Dom and Taylor that we would be singing sans Emily and Nick I could tell they were concerned but they powered through it. After singing in the dining room we met up with Nick and Emily and sang in the sitting area. Welby came out of his room to request an encore and so we sang another song. After this Welby told us all to circle around and he prayed for all of us. He asked God to bless us in all facets of life and thanked the Lord for sending us to him. It was a powerful example of how important Ministry of Presence is to the people we serve. Sure, we're not building a house for someone or giving them food, but how can you argue that Nick and Emily didn't impact Welby in a significant way?
By that part of the week, I shouldn't have been surprised at how those Hoban kids connected with people. They had this amazing ability to joke around and keep the laughter going but when the time called for it they were prayerful and sensitive of others. It's a gift that I hope they can continue to share with others. Ultimately it was sad to see them leave Saturday but the week had been a great one. I hope I can bring some of their incredible energy and sense of enjoyment to future groups at the Farm.