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