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01 May 2014
When I was five, my Dad decided he needed to go to Bible college. He was a musician, turned Christian, turned public school teacher, turned Christian school teacher and he decided it was time get poorer. So, off we went to a little tiny place called Freedom Farm. Yes, Freedom Farm. Despite the oddness of the name, it was not a group of “right-wing extremists devoted to breeding the next generation of gun-toting, Bible thumping nut jobs.” Conservative, yes. Crazy, not so much. Freedom Farm was a combination church, school, college and radio station, smack in the middle of some beautiful countryside with a big dairy farm next door. Hence, the word “farm” in the name. Freedom, because of freedom in Christ and freedom from sin. In the summer, Farmer Wessel’s cows grazed in the pasture down the hill and the alfalfa grew in a field close by. On a still day, we could hear the faint sound of whistling from far up the road. My mom would smile and say, “Mr. Brown’s whistling again.” I never saw or met Mr. Brown from over the hill. I only knew him by his happy whistling.
We moved there the summer before I started Kindergarten. My Dad got hired to work at the school, to pay his way through college. So we lived on campus in faculty housing. Instead of sending me to the Christian school on location, though, my parents opted to homeschool me and my brother. Since my dad’s goal was to pastor a church once finished with school, and since he didn’t know if there would be a good Christian school available wherever we moved, he decided it would be best to start homeschooling so we were used to it.
There were several faculty families living on campus and there were quite a lot of kids. In the winter, we went sledding on the hill behind the school. It was big and steep with a frozen pond at the bottom. If you got a good strong start, you careened down the hill at top speed, hit the ice at the bottom and zoomed all the way to the other side. In the summer time, we raced around on the gravel roads with our bikes, brown as a bunch of Indians and nearly as wild, periodically falling off and skinning our hands and knees. It was a lovely place of hills, green grass, woods and innumerable places to build secret forts and wage imaginary wars. I remember one summer, all of us crazy kids had an entire network of forts and pathways in a big stretch of unmown weeds. We’d play in there for hours, sneaking up on each other and fighting over whose clearing in the grass actually belonged to who, getting eaten by mosquitos and ticks. Then there was the “Middle Trees,” a big stand of pine trees in front of the school. For some reason, the trees never got trimmed. All the better. The branches sloped down to the ground, forming dark green, piney walls. We created pine needle villages in there every summer, gathering up all of the old, fallen pine needles and forming little walls that marked off one friend’s imaginary store from another friend’s house. We molded piles of pine needles into little couches and beds and chairs. Those of us who owned stores created pretend bins and filled them up with crabapples, pine cones, rocks, dandelion heads and other sundries to “sell” to our friends. When I was a little older, I’d climb to the top of my favorite pine tree in the fall and watch the soccer team practice down below. I felt quite sneaky and incognito.
Then there were the secret places that only I knew about. By the cow pasture, all kinds of brush had built up beside the fence. One day, I climbed inside all of the foliage and was delighted to find that all the bushes and vines created a little hollow bubble where I could sit with my notebook and scribble away for hours or watch the cows up close. My hiding spot was no secret to the cows. They often stared at me while they slowly chewed their cud, but I didn’t mind. They were good company because they didn’t talk or tell anyone about my favorite spot.
Every Sunday, we walked to church, a little, white rectangle with not much in it besides chairs, a pulpit, a piano and two bathrooms—one for the ladies, one for the men. There wasn’t any Sunday School. There wasn’t any nursery. There weren’t any special programs, really. Just church. And then there was Pastor Krage, a man you could look at and be sure that there really was a God. There was light and love in his face. He often talked about trusting the Lord and faith and prayer. He knew a lot about all of those. Pastor Krage started the whole ministry years before I was ever born. There were at least four large buildings on the campus, and all of them were built on faith. In other words, the ministry had never gone into debt to build them. And Freedom Farm was never really rolling in the dough. The day school for grades K-12 didn’t charge tuition, just the cost for curriculum and that sort of thing. The reason being that Pastor Krage wanted everyone to be able to afford a quality education. Freedom Farm functioned on whatever people could afford to give. The faculty got paid when people gave. And somehow, we all had food to eat and clothes to wear and buildings that went up without loans. When there was a need, Pastor asked us to pray. The money came in. That was all.
Freedom Farm was a beautiful place and I was happy to spend eight years of my life there. Mind you, it was no utopia. There were problems. People had disagreements. Hard things happened. We were poor. But when I think about all the things I learned there and all of the friends I had and all of those beautiful summer days outside by the dairy farm, I have to say that Freedom Farm was the one place in my life where I felt absolutely safe and secure. It was a good place that God blessed. The best and happiest memories are there. I haven’t been back in a long time. Many things, I’m sure, have changed. But it was and still is the best place in the world.