A number of years back, before I had kids and possibly before I was married, a lady at Faith Evangelical Church in Crystal Springs, N.D., asked me if I would be able to come help out at a kuchen baking fundraising for a team raising money to go on a mission trip. The church sends out such teams every few years, and they typically complete some sort of task in foreign countries - helping with construction projects and the like - and try to follow the "Great Commission" in Matthew 28 to "make disciples of all nations."
My husband has attended Faith Evangelical all his life; his grandparents on both sides were involved in starting the church. His family also is well-versed in kuchen, a Germans-from-Russia baked good that consists of a yeast bread crust, custard and a variety of filling options. I knew next to nothing about making kuchen, but in the spirit of helping other people and getting to know the folks in the church, I agreed to come.
That first year, I believe I helped roll dough. It was a much less frustrating process than rolling out pie crusts, so I enjoyed it. The kuchen bake grew to an annual event, either benefitting mission teams or other needs within our community, led by a dedicated group of ladies who spend hours planning the bake even before the day comes. I've helped on baking days most years, save a few when one or both of my kids were under the weather.
My husband's father has been the recipient during a time of medical need. So has his grandmother. Two of my sisters-in-law and one of my nieces have been part of mission teams.
This year's kuchen bake eclipsed those of past years. The four-day effort produced 2,786 kuchen - more than 2 ton of kuchen, our pastor keeps pointing out. Half the profits, likely thousands of dollars, will go to a lady in our community who is battling cancer, with the other half saved for a future mission trip.
I'll never pretend to be some knowledgeable theologian or the most faithful of the flock. But there is something especially gratifying about being able to do something to serve someone else. We may not have been washing anyone's feet, but we were trying to fill a need.
The same day that we were bagging up the last of the kuchen, my older daughter had a 4-H meeting. One of the activities that day was for the kids to put together "thank you" bags for farmers in the community as they struggle through a historically difficult harvest.
Most of the kids have parents or grandparents who farm or ranch, so each kid was tasked with making a bag for a family member and one for someone else in the community.
Reanna was excited to deliver one bag to her dad and one to a couple in our church who spent hours working at the kuchen bake. They certainly had their own work to attend to on their farm and ranch, but they worked from morning until night on the kuchen bake each day. Their selfless work for someone else was recognizable even to a small child.
Our small towns and rural communities are struggling. But both the kuchen bake and the 4-H bag giveaway were important reminders of how special these places are and why we need to keep them alive.
Sure, there are benefits and charitable events in bigger cities. But here, where the connections are so close, caring for and thinking of others comes pretty naturally. And that's worth passing to another generation.