Today was our last full day in the Skagit Valley. The only thing we’ll be doing tomorrow is packing up our campsite and loading up cars to go home. I can’t imagine a better last day…nor could I have predicted how much such a short an “immersion” into the lives of others would change us all.
We began our day at the farm of a long-time member of Resurreccion named Salvador. For many, many years, Salvador picked berries like many in the Latino community. It is hard work (as is all farming), but it pays very little. Six years ago, Salvador was able to pull together the resources to lease a half-acre of land at Viva Farms – a business incubator with the mission of launching a new generation of farmers. Four years ago, Salvador went off on his own and leased two acres of land. Today, he has eight acres where he grows carrots, multiple varieties of lettuce and greens, broccoli, tomatillos, zucchini, green beans, corn, and a few specialty crops found in Oaxaca, Mexico. While his farm is not his only job yet, it provides him opportunity he never had while picking berries.
Salvador’s farm is 100% organic. He uses no chemicals…which means he weeds eight acres by hand. That is no easy task, particularly in ground as fertile as it is in the Skagit Valley. Friends and family often come and help him. Today, we were those friends. We did what I’ll call “carrot surgery,” meaning we fished through thick weeds to find a tiny tops (the greens you can see above the ground) and pulled out all of the weeds, trying not to damage the carrot underground (that at this point in the year is no bigger than an inch). We also weeded around the broccoli plants. To end our time at Salvador’s we did a little simulation to see what it is like to pick strawberries. Except strawberries, every berry grown in the Skagit Valley can be picked while standing upright. But picking strawberries requires picking fruits that are just inches off the ground. Berry pickers need to be fast. Not only because they are paid by the pound and need to pick immense quantities to be paid anything close to a survivable wage, but because if workers don’t keep up with others, there will be no fruit left for them to pick. So we spend five minutes weeding bent at the waist, just like farmworkers work when they are picking strawberries. We did the math. 5 minutes is 1% of a normal workday during strawberry season. Even after 5 minutes, our backs were tight and our legs were sore. We will never look at a strawberry without thinking of those who pick them again. One of the great things about Salvador’s farm is that he uses it to help feed his friends, his neighbors, and his church community. He will often bring fresh vegetables to others or let his friends take what they need from his field. On our way out, we were invited to take some fresh garlic and zucchini for our dinner tonight.
Doing "carrot surgery"
A row of carrots before being weeded
A row of carrots after weeding (we didn't do this row...we weren't that good)
Experiencing what it is like to pick strawberries
This afternoon, we were able to spend some time with the kids of Resurreccion. For the last two days, we have been planning Bible stories to tell and activities to do with the kids in order to teach and learn from them about God and God’s presence in our lives. The story our youth decided to tell was the calling of Abraham and Sarah in the Old Testament. It is a story of God’s promises and God’s faithfulness. Abraham and Sarah had no children and they were very old, but for many years God had been promising them that God would give them a child and through their decedents God would bless the whole earth. The promise had been unfulfilled for so long that both Abraham and Sarah began to question whether it would ever come true. At one point in the story, Sarah literally laughs when messengers from God tell her she is about to become pregnant…after all, she was over 90 years old at that point. But sure enough, God kept God’s promise to them and they had a son. And through that son and many, many generations of descendants, Jesus was born. Surely a blessing for the whole world! Our youth wrote a script of the story and acted it out for the kids. And then they invited to kids to interpret the story and act it out for themselves. All three of the versions were wonderful and, hopefully, we all remember that God is always faithful.
The kids of Resurreccion telling the story of Abraham and Sarah
After we had all finished telling our versions of the story, we did a craft in which we invited to write the things we love about God, ourselves, and others on hearts that we decorated to make beautiful. After all, those three loves – God, ourselves, and others – are how Jesus sums up the entirety of God's commands.
Something we didn’t plan but turned out to be one of the best parts of our time with the kids was an impromptu dance performance and dance lesson by some of the kids of Resurreccion. For the last year, they have been learning traditional Mexican dance. We looked ridiculous, but we all laughed our way through it. The sharing of ourselves, receiving from others, and finding connections between us and those who might seem like the “other” are all very important parts of what it means to be a part of what God is doing in the world – something we might call “mission.”
A surprise performance of an indigenous Mexican dance
Our turn to dance
This evening, we had several of the people we have been spending time with throughout the week over to our campsite for dinner. Three of the Paz “children” who are in their late teens and twenties (two we worked with in the fields and one who is the children’s director at the church), and Francisco (a lay staff member at Resurreccion) and his family all joined us for a meal filled with lots of laughter and stories about our time this week. After dinner, the Paz children who we worked with in the fields told us a little more about their lives and the challenges they face. They told us about the long days and incredibly hard work it took to graduate from high school while working in the fields (the blackberry season doesn’t end until late October so picking overlaps with school for almost two months). They shared about the progress that has been made in working and living conditions for farmworkers over the past several years, but also the work that still needs to be done. They talked about the tension they feel when days like yesterday happen (when there are small orders to fill and they have short work days); that they enjoy the rest but need to work to help provide for their family. And, one of the most insightful questions asked by our group: how are you so happy when you face such immense challenges. Their answer to the question might be the most important thing we’ve heard or experienced: they stick together as a family and care for one another, and they trust God to provide. They shared with us because they want others to understand them and their experience. They want us to tell the stories of our time with them. They want a name and a face to be in our minds when we hear all the talk about immigration. They want to be in relationship with people like us.
Relationships are at the heart of all this work. We could easily send money to Resurreccion. We could easily send up school supplies and basic necessities for farmworkers and their families. Those are all things we do and hope to continue doing. But without a relationship those things are just charity. Just before bed this evening, our whole group ended up around the table talking about our experience and sharing about the ways we have been changed and the ways we have experienced God’s love and presence over the last four days. This time wasn’t planned or scheduled, it just happened. We asked the youth if their expectations for the trip had been met, exceeded, or not met. Every single one of them said that they were exceeded and every single one of them said something about the relationships that have been formed with the community here. Yes we have worked hard, yes we have served, yes we have learned…but more importantly we are connected with real people with real hopes and dreams, real struggles, real joys, and real faith. That is what this is about.
Now we need to discern how God is calling us to build upon these four days and cultivate the relationships. We need to discern what God is calling us to do next in order to remain in relationship that is centered on shared experience, shared humanity, and shared belief that God is faithful and God will provide.
For those reading this blog from the St. Thomas community, hold us to it. Ask us about our experience. Encourage us to share our experience with you. And ask us how we as a church can build our relationship with the people of the Skagit Valley and the people of La Iglesia de la Resurreccion.