You won't save places you don't love
From a video at a Faith@Work event
Here is part of the story of Cheryl and Ralph Broetje, who founded, own and operate Broetje Orchards – a vertically integrated apple growing, packing, shipping, sales company located in the southeastern part of Washington State, USA. Its five million trees produce fruit that is exported around the world. Its mission is to be “…a quality fruit company bearing fruit, fruit that will last.”
In May 2006, a bad hail storm hit their farm. It only lasted a minute and a half but it hit virtually every tree on the farm, stripping leaves and apples and damaging branches and trunks.
They refused to use their disaster insurance as it meant leaving the trees as they were and telling all their farm workers to go home for a year. The trees needed urgent attention and the workers were mainly immigrant families who would have to keep moving from place to place in search of jobs with kids having to move school, etc.
They spent that year nursing most of the trees back to health and salvaging what they could and keeping the families employed. Miraculously at the end of that year they were able to pay off all the bills.
The farm was a result of Ralph, when he was 15 years old, listening to a missionary speak about kids in India and telling his teacher that it would be cool to own an orchard when he grew up in order to help kids.
When they got married they bought their first orchard and promptly lost every crop for the first few years and then on becoming profitable they experienced a radical shift in the labour force to Latino immigrants and they realised that these new employees were their first focus of mission.
They came with nothing, didn't share the same language culture or religion and never had done the kind of work demanded. The Broetjes were thrown into an instant on-the-job training mode.
The workers had other challenges too - transportation to work, affordable housing in a populated area, affordable dependable childcare - there were no grandparents or aunts to take care of the kids.
The Broetjes had been taken to church from their earliest days as Christ followers and they were taught that they were supposed to welcome, respect and have compassion for strangers. Sunday school prepared them for service especially of the vulnerable. "How can we say we're committed to God if we are not equally committed to those who are being excluded from the dream of God."
Thinking of their employees they took a number of trips to Mexico trying to understand what was driving these people off of their land and out of their country. They saw they were economic refugees who were willing to give up their lives to give their kids hope and a future.
They started to think how they could provide more jobs. They built a warehouse on our farm to become a shipper not just a grower and hired 100 women to sort and pack fruit. These women were leaving their small kids home alone and so they decided to build an on-site daycare centre. They trained some of the women to basically keep kids safe, fed and busy. Today that facility is a preschool.
They learned that a number of the families were living in substandard housing and so they took out a loan and built a 100 two, three and four-bedroom homes right across from the warehouse and a gym and a chapel.
The families gradually grew in faith as they started to attend Saturday night ecumenical chapel services.
They started to address health issues and also built an primary school on site. The kids started staying in school - graduating from high school and dreaming about what they'd really like to do with their lives.
Over the last 25 years, hundreds of students have been sent through colleges and universities and today they are serving in an amazing array of professions.
The Broetjes find their work now involves shaping workers not only to work on the Farm but to make positive contributions to other communities in which they will live and work and raise their families which could be in several countries.
"It's been said that you won't save places you don't love but it's hard to love places that you don't know and so we continue to learn how to love our place and those who tend it. The homes, the classroom, the workplace or the marketplace can become sanctuaries as we learn how to love those places and all who share them with us. When people feel safe and welcome and at home they feel loved and where love is God dwells."