I pack a few clothes and my mp3 player to board the plane for southeastern Kansas. My great-grandfather Henry and his family packed everything they owned on a train. They stopped and purchased land because there was a Lutheran Church, and so my Grandfather Erwin grew up on the farm. He left to become a German professor, and today I know almost nothing about farming.
The morning after I arrive, my Aunt Edna takes me on a tour. I see the farmlands of my great-uncle Bill and my uncle Roy and the church my uncle Eldor pastored. Today it’s bursting at the seams, my aunt says. It’s difficult to find a seat on Sunday. My brain swirls with thoughts of A Secular Age by Charles Taylor, The Evolution of God by Robert Wright, and the religious “nones”. I find no evidence of such ideas here. Southern Baptist, Independent Baptist, Methodist and non-denominational churches fill the area. When we drive past, the grounds are covered with children for Vacation Bible School. But the landscape is brown because it hasn’t rained for weeks.
Farmers take me on tours of farmlands and pasturelands. I imagine great-grandfather Henry tilling the soil. Did he use horses? Did he have a tractor? Today, farming is a high-tech corporate activity. I’m shown massive planters and combines robotically controlled by multiple on-line computers and GPS systems. But some things still don’t change. One of my guides, splattered with dirt from head to toe, shows me how today’s corn is genetically bred so that its leaves curl when it gets too dry. This limits the loss of moisture. We haven’t had rain for weeks, he says. If we don’t get rain soon, we’re going to lose the entire crop. Modern science can make the corn drought-tolerant, but only God brings the rain. Pray for rain.
The final day, I visit an aging farmer in a retirement home. He farmed my grandfather’s and then my dad’s land. He has a big picture of Jesus on his wall and tells me how he leads the Bible study for the home. He also tells me the farmers need rain. Badly. While I am talking with him, his nurse comes to hand him his medication. She’s a stunning young lady, the kind who lights a room when she enters. “Don’t I have a pretty nurse,” he says. I change the subject to avoid swallowing my tongue. Since she’s carrying a book, I ask her what she is reading. She smiles warmly, “The Bible.” When she holds it up, it looks more like a popular novel. “I read it in story-book because I don’t understand the King James.” I almost say there are newer translations, but catch myself. Instead, I say, “Good idea.”
The next morning when I go outside to leave, the rain is softly falling.