Category Archives: Memories from others

Memories of the Farm by Michael Kizzee

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.

579787_10151184703522416_1036411355_nMy 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, ascan0001s 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.

TRANSFORMATIONS by Kay Bascom

 

For those who have not been to the Swihart Farm, it is unusual to describe.  Most farms are squarish. This farm is on a quarter mile wide strip that spans a half mile (80 acres east and 80 acres west) on each side with a “belt” in the middle – a fairly straight Kitten Creek Road which roughly follows a very crooked Kitten Creek.  When the Swiharts bought the old Fritz farm in l982, there were just a scattering of dilapidated buildings west of the road: a house, barns, and sheds.

Transformed now, I picture the geography in terms of a butterfly at rest.  Her body is Kitten Creek Road.  Her feelers point southward toward Keats village.  Her upper right wing is polka-dotted – no, polka-squared – by the original home and barn, plus new outbuildings and the Bethlehem Revisited “set.” Today the upper left wing is marked by Dan’s family farm, and Judd and Nancy’s new home.  The lower right wing now hosts two Bascom homes, and the lower left wing, the Reppert farm.  Many have come to this spot in their chrysalis years, and have flown away into their butterfly pilgrimages.  It was here that many of us found reality in Jesus, in fellowship, in creative undertakings together, and in solitude.

We’ve glimpsed a rich variety of transformations – transformations of land and relationships and experiences.  Like what?

  • Hosting a L’Abri Conference at McCain Auditorium inspired the creation of a fellowship in the making – “the group at the place” it was first called, before transitioning into “Wellspring.”
  • A widower’s derelict, plumbing-less little house became a family’s lovely expanded three-generation home.
  • A barn full of hay invited a prank: Judd’s truck completely hidden in the hay!
  • Once emptied, the red barn became a rustic meeting place.
  • A fallen tree became a bridge over Kitten Creek, the woods a sanctuary for Sunday afternoon quietude.
  • A chicken coop became one crazy clean-up project.
  • A granary became a guest cabin.
  • A muddy weekend in May became host to our first Family Life Conference.
  • Fallen down sheds reconfigured became a getaway cabin up top.
  • A woodsy draw saw Wellspring’s first building project become a six-sided prayer chapel grounded in railroad ties, framed with cast-off window panels, centered with a huge flint rock- become-altar.
  • An old elm tree’s shade became the site for HIS’ first few International Labor Day picnics.
  • The old root cellar before dawn became Jesus’ tomb, followed by a trudge up to high pasture to worshipfully await the sunrise, framing His cross.
  • The old barn’s slide doors opened to Spiritual Life Conferences, Wellspring Reunions, Family Dynamics Conferences, neighborhood potlucks, Easter Sunrise Service breakfasts, a coffee house season, youth-group gatherings, graduation receptions, wedding parties, and silent retreats.
  • Cut down trees became framing for Dan’s get-away cabin in the deep cedar woods.
  • A hillside became a Quiet Garden, and charted woods and fields became the Wellspring Nature Trail.
  • A home became a “writer in residence” hide-out for finishing his book.
  • The Reppert creek crossing became a Jewish Tashlish stone-casting site.
  • The ample Swihart dining tables became set at Passover with Seder Service accouterments.
  • Creating a booth with garden produce hangings delighted children at Sukkot time, celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles.
  • Twelve rocks in the pasture became Joshua’s twelve tribal Stones of Remembrance.
  • The waters of Kitten Creek occasionally became a baptismal site.
  • A $50 toilet hole drilled into the flintstone pasture became Judd’s gift to the outhouse of a honeymooners’ cabin.
  • The little high cabin became one couple’s first home, later hosted overnight camp-outs, gathered a poetry writing group, and graced several proposals of marriage, provided solitude during Silent Retreats, and is still transformed into Mary and Joseph’s home at Christmas.
  • The farm kids’ Christmas pageant evolved over the years into Bethlehem Revisited.
  • A hillside and plateau under the stars became the “set” for a reenactment of Jesus’ life story.
  • The haymow below the barn became Jesus’ manger.
  • The old root cellar and huge stone became Jesus’ tomb.
  • Kitten Creek oaks, cut, dried, and planed, became door and window framing for Judd and Nancy’s new home.
  • Starting with one, five more family homes have gone up on the acreage, “barn-raising” style.
  • Two hillsides are growing into mini self-sustaining farms.
  • Although in “provincial midwest Kansas,” the farm became a place where hundreds of Internationals have come to events, to homes for meals, and sometimes to live for a while.
  • The Fort and K State make Manhattan a transient community. Many of us  who enjoyed fellowship at the “butterfly” on Kitten Creek eventually flew off to other countries for months or years – to Russia, Lithuania, England, Holland, Poland, Romania, India, Afghanistan, China, Korea, Nepal, Pakistan, Ghana, Niger, Togo, Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, Mali, Cameroon, Uganda, Kenya, Guatemala, Bolivia,  and more… to geographical and spiritual places only God knows.

 

Yet we still return to our spiritual roots at the Farm with deep appreciation and thanksgiving.

Well, that’s just off the top of my head, and you all can remember other transformations, many of which were not visible, not quantifiable, known only to you and to God.                                                                   Kb  3/27/15

 

Our Christmas at the Farm by Kim Moir

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Self-pity was not far from my mind on that Christmas morning many years ago. Currier and Ives images of families gathered around Christmas trees and Norman Rockwell’s ghosts of idealism floated through my mind as we put on our winter coats, boots, and hats. It was only 9 AM and I had already been up for several hours keeping Nicky entertained and out of trouble while he watched Disney videos in his room so he would not wake our other son, Scott.

Bill and I packed up what we would need for our Christmas morning cookout, loaded up the car, and headed west to a place we knew would be a safe and quiet spot where we could spend a few hours of our day. Nicky has autism, and in the earlier years of his life we had help with him in our home for twelve hours a day. His needs were so severe that he needed constant monitoring, engagement, and structured teaching to keep him growing and moving in a positive direction. Because today was Christmas, our workers were at home with their own families, and we were on duty. This routine had been going on for many years.  We were growing weary of having people in and out of our home, sleepless nights, and days filled with tantrums and bites while we tried to coerce Nick into using his language to communicate.

The Farm became our place of quiet this day, and in the car Nicky settled into a place of calm. Driving to this familiar location brought with it an assurance that we would always be welcome, no matter what day of the year it was, or what time it was. Thankfulness replaced my self pity as I realized we were creating memories which were uniquely ours, shared by none. Parking beyond the driveway to the Swihart’s house, we unpacked our car and headed out through the pasture, down the path toward the cabin in the woods.

 

Nicky knew the way because he frequented this place on other days, with other workers.  He looked forward to a quiet time in the woods where he could pick up rocks, crush leaves, and wander in the beauty of dappled sunlight beaming through overhead trees. A chorus of crunches from our footsteps sounded from the snow and soon we headed slightly downhill and to the left, to the opening in the trees where we would settle for a while with the trees as windbreak. Bill and Scott worked together on the fire as I unpacked the picnic basket, unloading sausages and bagels, juice and utensils. We had unwrapped our stockings at home before we left, and Scott was assured that presents awaited us when we got home.

When hard times come to a family, it is what you do with the everyday moments that create habits of perseverance, character, and hope. Creative choices come when we are willing to explore the landscape provided for us and step out into the unknown. Such was the case this Christmas Day.

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Bill and Scott gathered kindling and started a fire while Nick played in the woods and I sat on a rock and waited, thinking of our unique morning. I really didn’t want to be here, but this was a safe option for our morning.  As I look back on this now, I can see God’s hand of provision for us this Christmas day. Sausages cooked on the fire, we prayed, gave thanks for the meal, and quietly ate together as a family. For today this was our manna provided in the woods, a respite away from our home, another sign to us that God saw our need and showed us a way to keep going.