July 5, 2016

Showing Christ on the family farm

Written by  Jeff and Kendra Nissley

Making sure the kids have free time, bringing employees life instead of burnout, sacrificing valuable work time to make space for relationships. Jeff and Kendra Nissley can tell you that operating a family farm with a missional mindset isn’t easy. Today the Jubilee Dairy owners talk about restful living vs. to-do lists, building up their workers, and finding the unique ways that they can serve through farming.

As the tenth generation farming locally, we have been blessed with the opportunity to operate Jubilee Dairy with our children in Middletown, Pa. Farming alongside family, we seek to operate our dairy in a sustainable way to meet the needs of our family, our employees, and our community.

As people who spent time in multiple mission experiences with EMM, we’ve had to ask ourselves, “Do I see myself as a missionary to my community?” When we were in “missions,” we, as a team, were cognizant of our role to serve and reach out to the communities in which we found ourselves. But now we are in the real world—paying bills, getting work done, raising children, coordinating schedules. As we run Jubilee Dairy, we have to ask ourselves: how does following Jesus translate to our everyday lives?

Primarily, it is our desire for the farm to serve our family—not for us to become slaves to it! Dairy farming means an intense work schedule, and we have felt many times how easy it is to let our to-do list become our god. We really value the opportunity to raise our children on a farm, and yet we want them to choose to be a part of it, not merely functioning as our minions to “get more done.” This has taken us on a few steps of faith as we’ve chosen to hire adequate help to provide the time we need as a family to grow together. Finding the balance between teaching our children the value of hard work and farm life and allowing them freedom to explore their own interests will be a continual challenge for us.

In addition, the dairy employs approximately nine part-time people, most of whom are from our local community. Having a lot of part-time employees wasn’t our original intention, but as we’ve needed help, we’ve hired those the Lord has led to us. It’s our goal that those who work here enjoy what they do and that the work doesn’t feel like a burden for them or lead to burnout. By striving to meet the needs of our employees, we seek to honor their schedule requests, pay attention to what is going on in their worlds outside of work, and mentor young apprentices with a special focus on their strengths. Even by simply verbally encouraging the strengths of our employees, we strive to build them up and create a work environment that is life-giving.

Furthermore, we’ve enjoyed connecting with our neighbors when they shop at our self-serve Cheese Shed. We offer cheeses made from our milk, honey, and eggs. Because of this, we’ve gotten to know many of our neighbors on a first-name basis. Our desire is to build trust with those living in our community, and to create a favorable relationship between “the farmer” and our neighbors.

During our conversations at the Cheese Shed, we’re able to dialog about everyday life and also answer questions many have about farming. One neighbor family has become great friends of ours and is part of our familyLIVE missional community. Also, we enjoy hosting fall barn parties for familyLIVE, neighbors, and friends. Recently, we hosted our local fire company to a meal and barn party to thank them for their service to the community—how enjoyable it was to see them blessed!

Our ministry is to our growing family and our employees. And in recent years, our sense of the call to serve our community has strengthened.

So how do we engage people in mission in our everyday lives?

The first and greatest step is to TALK to the neighbors that we see or interact with. Snowstorms have provided an opportunity to connect with others, especially since we have access to equipment that moves snow.

Secondly, we need to (somehow) make the daily tasks of life take second place to the value of relationships and God’s kingdom. Relationships require time—a true sacrifice when we’re inclined to prioritize our own needs and to-do lists. Are we frantically trying to keep our lives together, or living restfully, trusting in God’s provisions and sufficiency? Are we pushing our employees to work harder and harder, or blessing them to work to their best capacity?

In our journey to operate Jubilee Dairy to bless our family, employees, and community, we pray for God’s daily wisdom to prioritize relationships and sow into generations to come.

Kendra Nissley served with the 1996 Puerto Rico STAT team and led the 2000 Kenya STAT team. Jeff Nissley served on the Honduras STAT and YES teams in 1996 and 1999, and led a 2000 STAT team in Pa. Jeff and Kendra live and farm in Middletown, Pa., with their five children.

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Eastern Mennonite Missions

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