Pastor seeks to start Christian farmer outreach
CALLENDER – Dennis Schlagel, executive director of Fellowship of Christian Farmers International, told a small group of farmers Thursday that his organization will work with any group of four or more Christian farmers who want to reach out to others during a disaster, or share their faith at ag shows.
“We’re like Minutemen,” Schlagel said.
The Rev. Jon Rollefson, pastor of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Callender, who organized Thursday’s informational meeting, said he has a goal of forming a cadre of farmers ready to respond to their neighbors in event of disasters, as well as support FCFI activities.
This would include being at FCFI’s tent at the Farm Progress Show in Boone in 2014, sharing their faith with visitors and talking about the organization.
Schlagel, of Lexington, Ill., told eight listeners that FCFI is currently in Illinois to assist farmers cleaning up after the Nov. 17 tornado as well as in eastern Colorado, assisting cattlemen and farmers after Sept. 12 flash floods along the South Platte River decimated farms, pastures and livestock.
“Our fit is that we are in long-term relief,” Schlagel said. “First responders come in and open roads, clear out downed power lines and find the injured.
“We let them do their thing, and when roads are opened we come in to help farmers get back on their feet.”
Schlagel said FCFI works with county Extension directors, Farm Bureau and other ag organizations when they move into a disaster area.
In 2006, he said, FCFI volunteers spent 18 months rebuilding fences in cattle country that was destroyed by Hurricane Rita.
“They are natural leaders,” Schlagel said, “and they know everyone.
“We are a catalyst to make (relief efforts) happen.”
He assured his listeners that forming a core group of FCFI-sponsored volunteers does not mean adding meetings to one’s calendar.
“We’re not good at having meetings,” he said, “but if there’s task, guys are good at responding.”
He said most farmers have experienced some type disaster, and have a built-in understanding of what needs to be done when helping one of their own.
“It’s amazing how resourceful farmers can be,” Schlagel said. “They remember how things were done.”
He said that when farmers lose homes, livestock or outbuildings in a disaster they are basically on their own.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is better geared to help municipalities. Responding to rural disasters are the responsibilities of a state’s Department of Agriculture.
“If you’re a farmer,” FEMA will not come and find you. But the neighbors will show up.”
There is an evangelistic arm to FCFI’s outreach, Schlagel said. The organization attends large ag shows around the nation, including the annual National FFA Convention in Louisville, Ky., and will have a presence at the 2014 Farm Progress Show in Boone.
He said volunteers will help man the tents that offer activities, but will also share their Christian faith and keeps tracts in eight languages available to give away.
Schlagel said the group will need an estimated $4,000 for the Boone event, and will seek volunteers to prepare its trademark walking sticks that are given away at shows.
It gave these sticks away during the Webster County Fair last summer.
Both outreach activities would fit the Callender church’s mission, Rollefson said.
“My goal is to form a group for intelligent men and women for humanitarian aid,” he said, in event of a local disaster. He also wants to assist at the FCFI tent at the FPS this summer.
“I want people to think of the church as relevant to their lives,” Rollefson said.
A pair of rural Callender farmers – Carl Sandgren and Garret Geisler – said they liked what they heard about FCFI and are interested in becoming participants.
“Farmers have always helped farmers,” said Geisler.
Dave Hanson, of rural Gowrie, who farms near Slifer, said he was impressed over how active FCFI is in reacting to disasters, and likes that the organization shares its Christian faith at ag shows.
“There’s value in all these things,” Hanson said.