Those of you that have followed our blog might remember that in the summer of 2012 I spent much of my time here engaged in some pretty hot, sweaty activities, including moving the church in Chennai to a new location. At the end of each long hot day, John and I would spend about an hour driving back to Mahab together and in that time, we had many discussions about the challenges of dairy production on his "Fresh Winds" farm in India. We talked about the care and feeding of the cows as well as the nutrition, and care and delivery of the milk. I told John that I wished he could meet my long-time friends Chris and Carolyn McMillen, owner and operators of "Paradigm Farm" in Toulon, Illinois John agreed that he would enjoy talking with a long time dairy man but I am ashamed to say that having spent time with John and observing his hectic schedule, I didn't take those comments too seriously. I have often marveled at how John manages to keep so many things going at one time and how many people want to have a little portion of his time, both here in India and on his infrequent trips to the US. Truthfully, I thought this potential meeting between my Indian friend, John, and my boyhood friend, Chris was only a fantasy.
Over dinner one evening just before our departure that summer, John suddenly turned to Susan and said, “Susan, I don't think Jim is taking me seriously. I told him I wanted to go to the farm in Illinois but I don't think he believes me.” I was surprised to
A few months later, in late September, I drove nearly 900 miles from Texas to the farm in Illinois while John and Carol planned to visit in friends in California for a few days and then fly directly to Peoria. As I drove, I tried to imagine what this visit might be like. I had made this trip many times before but this time there was a sense of excitement and anticipation for the coming days. Late Friday night, John and Carol's flight arrived and we enjoyed a delightful visit as we drove through the darkened countryside. When we arrived at the 100+-year-old farmhouse that the McMillens have beautifully restored and decorated, we made quick introductions, enjoyed a little late-night visiting, sleeping quarters were assigned, and everyone went to bed exhausted. As I nestled under the covers, I knew already that these 2 men, who each mean so much to me, were enjoying each other as much as I enjoyed each of them.
Early the next morning, Chris and John swung into action with a hearty breakfast prepared by Carolyn and Carol. The men made some adjustments on the equipment , Chris gave John a quick driving lesson, on the Combine, and then they were off to the field to harvest corn. All the while, John was asking questions, tapping the resource of Chris's lifetime of love for the land and livestock. Chris even had a few questions of his own. I enjoyed watching John climb the 6 foot ladder into the cab of the Combine, settle behind the controls, and grin as the many bushels of corn rapidly accumulated in the hopper behind him. What a contrast to my memories of harvesting feed for the cows in India, which mostly involved sending Justin to the widow's village at Vayaloor with the Jeep and a machete to cut forage.
Meanwhile back at the farmhouse, Carol and Carolyn were also sharing experiences and building their own relationship while they prepared dinner. After the hearty meal, John returned to the field and began harvesting several truckloads of corn while Chris drove the trucks John was filling back to the barnyard to unload into the storage bin. The weather was beautiful, the corn was ripe and even though Chris was somewhat disappointed with the yield produced in this drought year of 2012, John and Carol were amazed at the abundance of corn and the beauty of the land. John also expressed amazement at the technology that allowed one man to do so much work in such a short time, a stark contrast to the labor-intensive farming he experiences in India. I remembered watching the workmen in India unloading a entire truck full of hay literally by hand. No pitch forks, no loader, but grabbing each arm full of hay and throwing it off the truck and onto the haystack - very hot, sticky work. Back in Illinois, with the day's labors complete and the sun setting, the 2 couples gathered once again around the dining table,to share another delicious meal. We talked and laughed well into the evening as each couple grew in their understanding of one another's life, half a world apart.
Prior to our visit, Chris McMillen notified his pastor at the Toulon Methodist Church of the Christian's visit and an invitation to speak from the pulpit was graciously extended. So the following morning, we all headed to church together where John shared a wonderful message from the pulpit of the church I had grown up in. As I sat there, I remembered sitting in these same pews with my parents and siblings in the 1950's. I remembered being confirmed in this church and listening to other visiting missionaries tell of God's work in faraway places. I also remembered that just 2 months prior I had heard John deliver a message in the Vineyard Church of Chennai, in a new church location that I had helped move into during my visit and I thanked God for the gift of this new church as a sanctuary for a faithful congregation. As he spoke, John challenged the Toulon congregation to listen to what God might be calling each of us to do. He shared God's expectation to support the widows and orphans in our midst in the U.S. and around the world.
With both the Christian and McMillen families honoring Sunday as a day of rest, after church, there was plenty of time for the conversations to continue at a lively pace and even time for a short nap. There were many topics from faith to farming and many special life experiences shared to demonstrate the commitment both of these families have for the Lord and the people God has placed in their lives. Later in the afternoon, Chris took John and I to visit a working dairy owned and operated by Doug, a former classmate of mine. John talked with Doug and Chris about different forage, times and methods to wean calves, waste management, and many other topics. It was obvious that these farmers enjoyed sharing. The questions continued and the answers often helped John discover more topics that he was unaware of ,which in turn, generated even more questions. It was truly a joy to observe each of these men absorbed in the discovery process.
As the day wound down, John accompanied Chris on his evening farm chores. Chris described the feed mixture and amounts, how much hay to feed, and demonstrated his close relation to the animals with his twice-daily ritual of haltering each heifer and leading her from the pen to its feeding pan, calling each by name.
Around dark, we returned to the house for supper and the rich conversation continued through the meal and long into the night. With each moment, the bond between these couples grew and 4 people who had known each other less than 48 hours were laughing and enjoying one another's company as long-time friends.
Monday morning dawned bright and after another bountiful breakfast at "Paradigm Farm", we bid farewell to the McMillens and John, Carol, and I headed to Texas. I know it was the same number of miles as the trip north, but the time went rapidly as it always does in the company of those you love. John's new-found knowledge can best be revealed by sharing with you his joy in walking the aisles of the Tractor Supply Store and marveling as he was able to see and touch the many devices he had talked about with Chris. Imagine a child on their first visit to the candy or toy store. I would have loved to see the expression on the face of the customs agent as he went through John's bags full of nursing bottles for calves and the other delightful treasures John acquired from Tractor Supply.
I also find it interesting that 2 men on opposite sides of the world would be led to such inspiring names for their farms. When Chris came up with the name "Paradigm Farm" I'm sure he had a vision for seeking new paradigms through experimentation and study to find new and better ways to improve production. I doubt if he ever imagined that his Paradigm would lead to transformation for a farm in Southern India. And although John dreamed of "Fresh Winds" of change in India, with her vast needs to provide nutrition of both body and soul for her people, did he ever imagine that one day, he would both bring and receive "Fresh Winds" from a farm in central Illinois?
In 2009, as I began my first trip to Thailand and India, the leader of our mission team told us that the most important part of any mission trip should be to establish relationships. Spending the past 5 summers in India has been a blessing in abundance of relationship. God has reminded me of the stream of people He has placed in my life. What a blessing to be able to introduce two of them to each other for the benefit of both. Neither couple will probably understand the impact they have had on the other, or on me, but each recognized, in the other, the touch of God's blessing in their lives. As I expected , the conversations were filled with many questions about cows, calves, and feeding. But throughout each conversation, the focus was God's mercy, power, and abundance.
Back in India, when I first imagined a conversation between John and Chris, I had no expectation that the Christians and the McMillens might someday actually meet. I choose to interpret the resulting joy-filled visit as another example of what is possible when we desire things that are in the will of God. What a joy it was for me to be a small part of introducing 4 new friends. My prayer for you is that, as you read this blog, God has reminded you of how you can serve His Kingdom by being the link between people you may already know, in ways you may not have previously imagined. My imagination and ability were not enough to orchestrate a meeting between these 2 men, even though I imagined it often. I believe that it was indeed God's will for them to come together; no other explanation will suffice for me.
I have often wondered why God invited me to India back in 2009. During that first trip, I experienced a stirring moment at the widows village construction site in Vayaloor and was convinced that this was my calling. In 2010, I was excited to be back at Vayaloor, helping prepare for and chauffeur British students who were volunteering at the construction site. In 2011, the work at Vayaloor slowed and we only visited a couple of times to check on the hanging of the front gate. In 2012, we visited Vayaloor only once, the day before our departure, and had the blessing of seeing the cornerstones laid for the first widows' cottage complex. Each year I felt that I was making a contribution, but knew that anyone else might have done as much as I was doing or even more. Bringing the Christians and McMillens together, I experienced a deep new joy. I recognized that for a long time, God had been preparing me "For such a time as this." (Esther 4:14).
Years ago, my father, Glenn, told me that the following inscription is found on the wall of the E. Stanley Jones' Sat Tal Ashram in India:
"Not my responsibility, but my response to His ability."
I have used this quote often but now it has new and special meaning. I have worked hard and sweat much in India. But the easiest task for me to accomplish may turn out to be the most important. God chose me to simply introduce 2 beautiful families so that they can learn from and assist each other in the work of the Kingdom.
Please take a moment to reflect upon this question: How is God leading you to respond to the still, small voice?
“Not in the strong wind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in the still small voice.”
1 Kings 19:11-12