When invited, along with many others, to write my memories of Well Spring farm on Kitten Creek Road, I found myself at a loss. How does one capture in words the way a piece of land has imprinted one’s spirit? Thinking about the memories makes me want to return again, but I fear the moment has passed and it wouldn’t be the same.
Never-the-less, I will try to share the impact this farm had upon me.
My first visit to the farm came when Nancy and Judd were rebuilding the barn that was in disrepair. My girlfriend at the time, Alicia, (later my wife of 19 years) invited me to come to the farm to help.[i] I spent the day, along with others, nailing slats on the entire west side of the barn, and had a wonderful time meeting new people from all around who had heard about the project on the radio and stopped by to lend a hand[ii]This might have been my first introduction to Judd’s and Nancy Swihart’s land.
My next encounter was probably about 1998 when Nancy, my professor at Manhattan Christian College, invited me to play a part in a nativity pageant she had developed through the group Wellspring. Nancy knew I was an actor of sorts and thought it would be a good fit. It was a quaint and short little excerpt from the prophets and the Gospel of Luke. I spoke with Nancy afterward about how this could be a great outdoor production. Nancy shared that she had already had ideas on such a production but needed help in developing it. Nancy spoke to me about all her ideas and we, along with a few others, worked together with another professor, Dr. Wesley Paddock, who developed a script for us to use.[iii] This pageant was to grow into what is now Bethlehem Revisited. I’ve been told it draws thousands these days.
I felt honored to play the role of the resurrected Savior for a couple of years, directing the production one year, as well. But, I can honestly say that playing the role of Jesus changed my life causing me to reflect upon my spirit and soul. I seemed to be filled with a grace outside of myself. The experience deeply changed me.
The land itself, though, is what I remember the most. I found great delight in seeking solace in the cedar woods on the back side of the property. When I needed to escape, I would call Judd and Nancy and they would welcome me. Judd would meet me when I pulled up to the farm and help me gather wood that he had cut and stacked. He would offer a lantern or advice as to what might help my journey into the woods.
Nancy and Judd were excited for people to venture in. They were like children excited to see what healing or goodness might come your way. They knew what God’s creation does for the spirit and soul of those who give themselves to it. They were true hosts of healing.
On a cold winter’s night I would trudge over the hillside with the sounds and chills of the whipping Kansas wind in my face. Then, as I entered the cedars, slowly the sound would begin to subside and the chill disappear as I trekked down the hill. The trail led to a lonely cabin where I would set a camp fire and be still and listen. There is where my heart stilled and I could be alone with God’s creation. There I could look within without the distractions of the world. There is where my tainted soul would truly be revealed. A place where I fell down so I could get back up.
I have many other memories of “silent retreats” and artists gathering together in cabins to share poetry, music, art and short stories.
I will always remember the peace this land left with me. I thank God that Nancy and Judd gave their land to the Lord to use in a way that has touched so many.
[i] This was “Nehemiah 95,” and will occupy a post later.
[ii] Most of these were students and others who had already built memories at parties or meetings in the barn.
[iii] At this time the pageant became a guided tour of small groups. Dr. Paddock’s script was the forerunner of our current script.