Nestled against the dense Northern Indian jungle, and within eyesight of the Himalaya Mountains, children’s laughter and calls for attention ring. “Uncle” and “Sister,” “Auntie” and “Brother” echo across the fields and playground. Like our own nieces and nephews, these children are in constant wonder, wrapped in smiles and stories. They study, play, and finish their chores like any other child. They ask about the world, pull our arms toward a recent discovery, and are always poised for a hug and to share their minds.
The Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission (or…The Farm) is like any home you can conjure. It's organized, and not so organized. There’s the hierarchy of age, and the unspoken necessity to concern oneself with the smaller ones. There’s work to be done, relaxation to relish, and comfort in visitors. Grey hair, lepers, toddlers, elders, and teens. Hospitality and Grace sit supreme in this house.
We rise every day with the sun. The rustle and squeak of bicycles float under our room, and music careens over the loudspeakers. Breakfast is simple but filling: porridge and bread made from the wheat. There is hot chai, and cream to cover the toast. Only a short distance away, the children walk proudly, hand-in-hand on their way to school. Saluting and cheering in their clean yellow and green uniforms. While they’re at school, the adults gather for tea time, and gauge the day and what it may bring. After morning studies, the children file back from school…they share snacks earned for good grades, and the drudge of exams. The cows lazily make their way through the playground to graze. Spicy vegetables and hot chapati bread are the best lunch, prepared with the tender care of many cooks. After, some choose to nap and refresh. Or walk down to the dry river bed, thirsty for monsoon season. Or catch up under the shade of an awning. Or challenge another team to an intense game of cricket. At sundown, the dinner bell rings with fresh curries wafting from metal pots. The children share salt and hot chillies from the garden. Some nod off…and others grow more animated about the day. 7pm comes and it's "inside time." A barrage of hugs ensues, and "I love yous" dance through the air.
Be it the academic pursuits of the school-age, or an ongoing project in the functioning shop…there is never a lack of broadening the mind and exploring daily life. Quite self sufficient, The Farm holds nearly one hundred acres of rich farmland on which they grow wheat and a variety of fruit. The dairy, built brick-by-brick by “Grandpa” Rick Shipway, provides fresh milk, cream, and butter for the whole family. A home-brew methane trap, hovering over the sweet-smelling dung, provides gas to power the stoves in the newly-remodeled kitchen. One can make anything out of metal in the shop, catch fish from the pond, gather eggs from the chickens, and pluck fresh mangoes and avocados from the trees.
Whether they came to this family through tragedy or neglect, the past has little bearing on the present. One day folds into the next. The children graduate to higher grades and get a little taller. The youngest ones stand on their own and begin to form words. The eldest learn how to drive the tractors and take off for adventures in the jungle. When a new brother or sister comes to live, they’re treated like they’ve been a missing part of the puzzle. Vital and whole.
Those that oversee the family have diverse stories of their own. Some came to The Farm through direct summons. Others heard of the work, the land, and the family…and came running. Still others are children from The Farm themselves, and have continued to stay to see the work carry on and to impart wisdom. Volunteers, teachers, and just plain ol’ folks are invited to share and grow in every way here. Talents and stories are encouraged.
This is fertile ground indeed.
Words by Steven Potorke
Thanks to The Archibald Project for inviting us to partner with them. The Archibald Project is an orphan care advocacy organization that uses storytelling to educate and inspire. Please check out their website and follow stories on Instagram.
If interested you can find The Good Shepherd's donate page here.