MAZON — The Gantzert farm north of Mazon was the site of a rather special corn harvest on Sunday, as members of the Park Street Congregational United Church of Christ in Mazon and the First Congregational Church of Western Springs came together for morning worship services, lunch, a pie auction, and rides in combines as the crop was harvested.
This is the 11th year the churches have joined forces – country farmers and city dwellers with hearts – as part of the Foods Resource Bank’s annual missions project.
As Mazon church member Donna Jeshke explained it, her church took up the project as a way to provide help with sustainable farming to foreign countries where hunger is a big problem.
“The farmers provide the acreage, and they plant the corn,” she said, “and the urban members help pay for the seed and fertilizer. Then we have a harvest celebration in the fall.”
Marv Baldwin, member of the Western Springs church and president of the Foods Resource Bank, said fall is a special time each year when the fruits of the labors of fundraising and donating and planting all come together, along with the two sister congregations. It’s a mission shared not just by Mazon and Western Springs.
“We have 219 United States growing projects like this one, with more than 600 churches involved,” he said. “It’s a grass roots mission. The farmers give their land and put in their resources to raise money . . . Western Springs members raise money to purchase seed and other input or donations.”
The John Deere Foundation also donates to the mission.
The project, Baldwin said, is not about giving food to needy families. It’s about giving things and education and resources to help farmers in Third World countries become sustainable.
Dollars raised by the Mazon/Western Springs group have been used by the Foods Resource Bank for such projects as educating African farmers, constructing wells, and building a concrete grain storage site so the farmers could store their grain in a location more suitable than just on the ground where rodents and weather were taking their toll.
Carl and Nancy Johnson of Mazon attended the harvest celebration and said the mission is a sound one that helps those who have very little.
“It helps them get a better life,” Carl said, “and get food for themselves. It’s better than a handout.”
“We have a marvelous crowd,” said Mazon church member Barb Kenney. “It’s a lot more people this year. It’s such a good cause. The things it goes for helps them become self-supportive and able to take care of generations to come. . . It’s a special mission for this church.”
Mary Brown, of Western Springs, brought her 11-year-old son, Martin, and his friend Griffin. They lined up for rides in one of the six huge combines rumbling through the fields after the service and lunch.
“I’ve been out here for eight or nine years,” Brown said. “I love getting out in the country.”
“It’s pretty cool,” Martin said of riding in the combine. “It gets a lot of corn.”
The brisk morning began with an outdoor church service under the mature trees at the west end of the corn fields. Ministers Tyler Carrell, from the Mazon church, and Meredith Onion from Western Springs shared the sermon. Then there was a lunch of sandwiches, baked beans and chips and a homemade pie auction, with pies going for upwards of $350.
Members contributed produce, as well, and canned goods for donations. All monies went to the FRB.
Carrell, who has only been with the Mazon church for two months, turned out to be a popular and witty pie auctioneer.
“I’ve been a goofball all my life,” he said with a laugh.
But the mission itself is a serious one, he added.
“I love the idea of a small town church working for the global good,” he said. “And it’s great to see the two churches partner together. The farmers have the expertise and the land, and the Western Springs congregation donated the seed and other donations. It all goes to the FRB to train people in the more impoverished areas of the world.”
Missions such as this one are a mandate from Jesus, he added.
“Jesus tells us that when you take care of the poor, you are taking care of Him,” he said. “When we take care of the least of His, we are helping Him.”