“These hills were once a wild frontier.”
It’s a funny thing to think while out running errands, but I can’t help it. All these forests and hills make me think of settlers, families, setting out to create a home in the mountains of Pennsylvania.
Cabins. Small farms. Communities that grew into the towns that now dot two-lane roads.
In those days, you needed each other to survive in a very real way. A neighbor who knew how to birth a calf or who could help you mend a broken leg might be the reason you made it through the winter.
We’ve come a long way since then. But have we ever stopped needing each other?
Trusting Strangers in the Wilderness
When normal life is disrupted, what you’ve taken for granted gets thrown right out into the open.
That’s what happened in 2008, when Vern and I lived in Kenya.
Living in Kenya might not seem like “normal life”, but for a while it was our normal. We spent several seasons in mission outreach, building infrastructure to bring water to communities, and generally helping the good people around us. It felt bright- and peaceful.
Until it wasn’t.
At the end of a two-year mission service, Kenya’s election upended our safety. Once friendly tribes dissolved into violence. We watched in horror as communities we loved burnt to the ground.
Things got bad- and fast.
We asked soldiers, police officers, neighbors, strangers for help. We needed to find a safe way home. To some the danger wasn’t worth the cost. Others demanded bribes. I remember the uneasy quiet of cleaning our mission home while Vern negotiated a way out, praying for safety as I packed our belongings.
By the grace of God we found our way to the Narobi airport and back to the United States. I had never felt so thankful to live in a place where peace and order were just a part of “normal life” again.
This year these memories came flooding back as we saw our friends across Pennsylvania struggle with the divisiveness and uncertainty of the pandemic. There was the panic buying, the lost jobs, social media arguments, the election…and people I loved feeling the same fear I remembered from being in danger without sure help back in Kenya.
That’s the strange part about being in the wilderness. Challenges can break communities- like we saw first hand in Kenya.
Or challenges can build community.
Barn Raising on the Frontier
Back to Pennsylvania. Except, imagine you’re visiting a couple hundred years ago.
No internet. No virtual meetings. No angry folks in the grocery lines. You’ve only a few neighbors within the miles of endless land that stretches out from sunrise to sunset.
It sounds pretty ideal about now, doesn’t it?
But then you run into a life-and-death frontier problem: You need a place to keep your livestock safe in the winter.
How are you going to build that on your own?
It takes more than your immediate family to construct something so big. Even if you had all the skills yourself- clearing the ground, sourcing the materials, and putting it all together would take more manpower than you have.
You need a village. You need your neighbors.
In those days communities would take a break from their own daily work to spend a day building together. Everyone would have a job to do: grandmas and grandpas would look after the babies. Experienced builders would lead crews of the most able-bodied in the community. Older children would bring water to the crews or help assist in the cooking and feeding. Everyone supported each other.
It was all done in joy. The joy of helping your neighbor, the pride of building something bigger than yourself, and the security of knowing that your neighbor’s would help you when you needed it.
Barn raising was a time to connect with each other. To share life. In fact, there was so much food and fellowship that it felt more like a party than work!
I like to imagine in those times that barn raising felt a lot like Christmas.
Barn Raising for Christmas
Christmas might look a little different for your family this year…but at its heart, the joy and fellowship are still there.
In this season, I think about the families sheltered in the homes our crew has built. They may have started out as strangers calling our number from a billboard asking about a roof replacement…but now so many of you are friends. We know your name, you ask about our kids, we talk about our lives.
This is powerful. Especially in a time when quarantines have kept us apart: In our business, we have the privilege of building friendships as we “do our jobs” replacing siding and fixing roofs.
At the end of a year defined by isolation every act of trust, cooperation, and optimism shines all the brighter.
The qualities of generosity, selflessness, and togetherness are not just for Christmas- but for all seasons. Especially seasons of wilderness.
The ‘thank you’ note sent after our crew installed your roof…
…the tray of cookies I take to my neighbor…
…the enthusiastic wave of a friend across the street…
…the nurse, the police officer, the firefighter who shows up every day to keep their community safe…
These small acts of “barn raise” us as neighbors.
And as we close out the year at Martin- this is our Christmas wish:
I pray that as we celebrate we find our hearts open in thankfulness for the people who have buoyed us through the wilderness- and return the joy tenfold in the upcoming year.
Jenny Martin + Family