Dave Stutzman, Dennis Schlagel, Jerry Druhan and Mark Freed (from left) offer their views on the importance of faith and farming during a recent get-together at the Fellowship of Christian Farmers International headquarters in Lexington, Ill. Stutzman and Freed are Lexington-area farmers, Schlagel serves as FCFI executive director and Durhan is FCFI photography and social media coordinator.
Dave Stutzman, Dennis Schlagel, Jerry Druhan and Mark Freed (from left) offer their views on the importance of faith and farming during a recent get-together at the Fellowship of Christian Farmers International headquarters in Lexington, Ill. Stutzman and Freed are Lexington-area farmers, Schlagel serves as FCFI executive director and Durhan is FCFI photography and social media coordinator.
LEXINGTON, Ill. — Easter is a time of renewal and hope and fittingly parallels what farmers experience when they plant that seed in the ground each spring.

Faith and farming have been interchangeable since the early immigrants left their homeland and settled amid the tall prairie grass to begin a new life with the first turn of the sod. That same faith is rooted deeply in the soils generations later.

Farmers in the Lexington area shared their views about the importance of faith, farmer and the Easter season during a get-together at the Fellowship of Christian Farmers International headquarters.

“I grew up in a Christian home and understood the values of living and working on the farm and enjoy that so much,” said Mark Freed.

“As I’ve grown older I’ve really come to realize it’s pretty amazing if you think about it to lay a helpless seed in the ground in the springtime, nurture it through the growing season and have the natural rainfall we depend on in this part of the country, how the Lord can provide a crop through that.

“It’s amazing. Without faith I can’t imagine being able to pull something off like that.

“The farming aspect has been a big part of my life. More importantly this time of year to me and as we come up on the Easter season is the fact that we as Christians celebrate the empty tomb, and the hope that we have in that is amazing and the thought that we have salvation through Christ in that event.

“As we come up on the Easter season and we do celebrate the empty tomb, it’s just humbling to think that there’s a guy who cares enough about us to give us that type of salvation, so we really do celebrate that, and as a believer, I feel like I have to rethink that everyday, but this is a special time for Christians and that’s important to me.

“You think about that aspect that Christ was laid in the tomb and then three days later emerges from the grave and is alive today, so it’s really an amazing thought. It’s hard to grasp, but on the other hand, it’s our hope and our faith, and we understand grace and mercy that God has granted us.”

While many farmers have faith in God, it doesn’t mean they don’t stress out “until we refocus our thinking,” said Warren Schaffer.

“When the two women went to the tomb, they were full of fear and great joy and that’s how I face each season, with fear and great joy,” he said. “There’s the joy of being able to work with my son, and then there’s the fear and the stress of the weather is there, too.

“One of the big pluses of having faith is you can see how God is working. You always have to look behind you to see it, and there’s knowing there are blessings there and to be watching for them and to be encouraged by them.

“I know one time I did a nice job of planting the field. The weather then turned bad. I went back to look at my field after it came up and I was grumbling and complaining and the thought struck me that this was from God and my mood changed immediately.”

While farmers are working hard to earn a living and support their family, Schaffer said those coins contain the words “In God We Trust,” so that brings perspective, too.

“As we gather these coins in, we still need to trust in God, and to be able to thank Him rather than curse Him is a huge role,” he said.

Dave Stutzman noted faith isn’t just limited to farming, but all other aspects of life.

“Being a Christian and having faith in God that he is in control of the weather, of everything that happens, is a comfort to me because as long as we go out and do the best we can do, as long as we manage our part as good as we can, then it’s out of our hands,” he said.

“It’s just like Job. He was very rich, had many animals and cattle and was obviously a good manager and God blessed him, but then Satan wanted to temp him so he took it all away.

“A year like this past one when it was so dry is a good reminder that no matter how good of a manager we are, no matter how good we do our part, God is in control and if he wants to bless us he will and if he wants to take it away he will.

“To me, faith in farming is no different than faith in the rest of life. I have faith that there is a God. I have faith he is in control of the events that happen, whether it be weather, temperature or whatever, so at the end of the day, as long as we’re prepared when it’s time to plant and we do what we can and we harvest it when it’s time, other than that it’s out of our control.

“It’s a comfort because I don’t have to go home and beat myself up about the weather because I can’t change it.”

Dennis Schlagel, FCFI executive director, grew up on a farm in Iowa where he helped is father and was struck at a young age with the importance of faith.

“I always was amazed at the special relationship, maybe because you’re outside all of the time and you’re depending on the elements, it’s kind of a special relationship that farmers have with the Lord because there are so many circumstances,” he said.

“You can see storm clouds coming and you scramble to get done whatever you’re doing and then all of a sudden the storm just goes around you. There are circumstances that make farmers closer to seeing the Lord in action.

“Even fast-forward to today, when you really get into the research on seeds and soil fertility, to me it just magnifies how amazing our Creator is and how they’ve taken a seed and they figure out the traits of that seed and then instead of physically crossing it in the field, they can do it in a laboratory and create the traits.”

As FCFI executive director, Schlagel has had the opportunity to visit agriculture labs to see how the research is conducted, “and it just blows me away.”

“I’m not an organic chemist, but how guys are figuring out the micronutrients. My studies at Iowa State University in agronomy of the NPK engine are so antiquated. That was soil fertility, but now it is so much more complex than that,” he said.

“But I think farmers have a closer fondness for appreciating God’s grace because they’re working on it and depending on it all of the time. That is very true over the generations.

“It does amaze me how we go into a growing season and every growing season is a little different. When you say this will be a normal year, well, what’s a normal year?

“This friendship that farmers have comparing notes, comparing their experiences and then making management decisions as the year goes on, there is a lot of prayer and there’s a lot of prayer in action that happens in farming. That always is impressive to me, watching the guys survive a bad year.”

The hard work and faith that those hearty souls carried when they first turned the sod still resonates today.

“Originally, the maps for the whole Midwest were mislabeled as the ‘Great American Desert’ and still they go out there and make farmland out of it. It was a big risk,” Jerry Druhan, FCFI photographer and social media coordinator, said of the faith the earlier pioneers had of settling on the new land.

“You realize, too, how fragile life is. You realize that we are just passing through,” Freed said.

“We’re stewards of what God’s allowed us to manage and so it really puts a whole new spin on it, too, when you realize you are working with something that’s been built over generations through hard work, sweat and labor and their faith and how the baton is important to be passed and you only pray and hope that you can do the same and set the platform for the baton to be passed.

“We talk about this prairie that we have and how they used to drain the land to help it be productive and how those hard-working immigrants came in and put in tile drainage by hand.”

The tile was installed in the late 1800s and early 1900s and some original tile found in the Lexington area is at least five feet deep.

“That was put in by hand, not with a machine. That tile is still viable today and you think about that and that step of faith. When they finally did get some mechanical help, they floated a dredge up the Mackinaw River to Anchor and dredged the river and made that land productive.

“There are literally thousands of acres in eastern McLean County, and it goes into Ford and Livingston counties that were drained into the Mackinaw River Watershed through that effort. It’s just amazing to see how those folks came in here and they were true pioneers to do that.

“You talk about faith, that’s strong faith when they said they could put a tile in the ground, drain the soil and grow crops and raise a family. That was the idea of those guys back then — to get a plot of land, drain it, raise and crop and raise a family, and it’s neat today to see those things passed down the generations. What’s important is the faith is passed with it.”

The stewardship of the land also is near and dear in the hearts of today’s farmers as they carry on the soil’s fertility to the next generation.

“For stewardship, I would say the only people who would milk the land are those with a short-term goal in line,” Stutzman said. “If you’re robbing the nutrients on the land, basically you are hurting your children and your children’s children. Our outlook is we want the land to be better for our children than what it was when we got it, so we’re trying to do just the opposite.

“We’re trying to do cover crops and other conservation practices. We’re trying to build organic matter. We’re trying to leave it in better shape then we found it and in knowing, too, that if we do that it will return more to us.

“It’s a stewardship thing for everything. I believe everything we have is not ours, it’s God’s. So anything that he gives us, it’s our job is to be the best steward of it we can, whether that’s the land we farm or the money we make from the land that we farm or whatever we have.”