Listen: Yesterday I went to rural Missouri with some youth and other church folks. We spent the day working with Migrant Farmworkers Assistance Fund. This program connects workers arriving in late summer for harvest season with vital resources and services — assistance with food, clothing, dental care, school registration and more. Our congregation has supported this organization for many years. Since we have a sister community in a small village in El Salvador, working with MFAF is our answer to the whole ‘think globally, act locally’ deal. Which is a pretty great deal, in the grand scheme of things.
Throughout the day, we filled backpacks with school supplies; prepared boxes and bags of food; sorted toiletries; carried stuff to cars; and learned about the lives of these families who travel great distances to harvest the food that lands on our tables each night. It was good work. It was meaningful time connecting with others. It was an education.
And listen: I came away with a parable. As part of that whole preparing food boxes thing, some of us were gifted with the task of sorting through potatoes. As in, finding the rotten ones and removing them from the mix before bagging up the rest. Have you ever opened your pantry and known immediately that there was a rotten potato in there? Imagine that times a thousand. Feeling and smelling our way through these sodden plastic bags was an exercise in grace, and an utter assault to the senses. The offensive smell, the slimy feel on your hands, the complete gross-out sight of them, once they’ve been extracted from the bag… But we did not want to let whole pounds of potatoes go to waste, just because there was one bad one in the bunch. (Come to think of it, this parable appears several times in scripture. Mostly in Mark, I’d say…) Nor did we want a family to arrive at home and find one of these languishing in their food box, after working a long hot day in the fields.
Later, as we were standing in the parking lot waiting to greet families, one of the farm workers came with a gift for us. Us, the volunteers. Two large bags of freshly picked peaches, straight from the orchard. Perfectly ripe, round, and orange-y pink. A sensory abundance. I held one and inhaled. Let me tell you, that smell can redeem a whole day of bad smells. What a gift.
As I watched happy children skip off with their new backpacks, I thought, there you have it: the life of ministry—or really, life in general—in a snapshot of odors. Even rotten potato days come with a peach at the end. Or several along the way…