LEXINGTON, Ill. — The virtues of faith, hope and charity
formulate the foundation bond of the Fellowship of Christian Farmers
The organization was formed nearly 30 years ago during the
American Soybean Association Expo in San Antonio, when a group of farmers met to
discuss the need for an organized Christian fellowship of the farming industry.
It was felt by those at that initial meeting that farmers
and agribusiness folks are in an occupation that is burdened with stress.
Therefore, there was a need to build each other up by sharing needs in prayer
and emphasizing Christian fellowship.
That first meeting sparked an interest that spread
nationwide, and the FCFI, which is a nondenominational ministry with no
affiliation to any particularly commodity group or ag organization, was formed.
The FCFI has assisted farmers on both small and large scales
since its formation by sharing faith, providing hope in troubling times and
offering charity in the form of countless volunteers sharing their time, talent
and treasure through mission work.
One of the FCFI’s main roles is to cultivate friendships,
according to Dennis Schlagel, executive director of the organization.
“Farmers make new friendships. Years ago, we had neighbors
that were our bosom friends, and we helped each other, we shared equipment and
all of that,” he said.
“Well, that’s not how it’s done today. There’s some of that,
but with the weather on the radar, the guys check it often every day and with
touch-to-talk phones, Skype and cell phones, farmers may have their best bosom
friends in another state.
“There’s still that need to air-out, and some guys make
decisions better when they can talk about it, so the fellowship by helping guys
make good friends in other states is a tremendous resource to have great friends
that you can share what’s going on your farm or any anxieties you have — you
know it’s not going to go anywhere. Friendship cultivation is really
The FCFI’s annual conference is Aug. 2-4 at the Embassy
Suites Cincinnati-River Center, Covington, Ky., and offers a chance for farmers
to cultivate new and old friendship and share ideas and concern.
“We break up the group and put them into small groups. It
forces them to meet people. When we go to our annual conference in Cincinnati
and break into small groups, people are really eager to share what’s on their
heart,” Schlagel said.
“There is a real need for friendship cultivation in
agriculture today, so we try to do that, and we try to keep mission trips going.
When we put a mission trip together to go to Haiti or Jamaica or Mexico, we wind
up making a friend. That’s really valuable today.”
Over the years, the FCFI has provided the power of hope to
rural residents impacted by hurricanes, tornados and other disasters.
It is at that time when the victims are experiencing one of
the lowest points in their lives and the FCFI is there to help them rebuild
fences, cleanup debris and other duties to help mend the victims’ lives.
“When a disaster hits a farmer, I don’t care how long he’s
been farming, all of a sudden two generations of fence is gone. And your
neighbor’s stuff is gone. And you’re a tough guy,” Schlagel said, using southern
Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina as an example.
“All of a sudden you don’t think straight. When you’re in
the midst of it and it’s your farm, you don’t think right. You can’t decide if
you should fix the bent metal on the machine shed, start building fence or what
you should do.
“Well, farmers are tremendous counselors. You get two or
three farmers who have been through a disaster themselves and show up on the
scene to help, they’re tremendous counselors. They listen, they find out and
they put a plan together.
“I always tell folks that all I’m doing is keeping a great
American tradition going. If you have a fire in a barn, you see the barn and
fire and you just come. You don’t have a committee meeting and you’re taking
care of animals, you’re taking care of people, you’re doing interim things.
“Well, when you have a major disaster like we’ve had from
hurricanes to tornados that are on a scale like Joplin, Mo., those are not
normal storms, and there is a widespread area of people affected. Your neighbor
can’t help you because he got hit, too.”
Schlagel noted the tornado that struck Henryville, Ind., in
early March of last year.
“Guys were getting ready to plant, and it’s the busiest time
of year. But the guys would call me up and say, ‘Dennis, a storm hit our place
six years ago and 100 guys came and helped put the farm back together and
there’s no such thing as a well-timed storm.’ He made two trips to Henryville to
help guys get back into the field.”
Schlagel said one of the farmers impacted by the tornado in
the Henryville area was ready to get out of farming.
“He was that low and then volunteers went to the farm and
within five days they had two-thirds of the perimeter fence back up and they put
up an electric fence. Then the FFA chapter hauled hay in. They just came in with
a plan. It was so amazing,” he said.
“The youthful enthusiasm of FFA kids showing up on a farm
that’s been all tore up is a contagious thing to have kids turning a tedious
task into fun.
“I’ve always said farmers are the best counselors to each
other, and that’s what you really need in the middle of a crisis like that —
just helping them see that we’re going to put this back together.”