When farm families call, Mary Myers makes no effort to conceal Rural Restoration Adopt Mission's (RRAM) religious connections. She calls the organization a “ministry,” and she believes that in her bones.
That's why, after nearly 20 years, she can still answer the hot-line with words spoken through a smile, remarkable because usually it isn't a happy person on the other end of the line. No, usually the caller is incredibly desperate, sad, put upon, even suicidal.
Over the years, Myers has heard such a litany of ugly stories she'd be forgiven if their darkness had shadowed her countenance, even a bit. That hasn't happened though: her words are still shaped by a grin and delivered with conviction.
“We're a non-denominational Christian-based outreach to farmers and ranchers. In the end,” she says, “we're just here to help hurting people. That's it.”
Peter and Mary Myers have five adopted children. That helps explain why the act of “adopting” a farm family is not taken lightly at RRAM.
Old Testament law says when a family adopted a child, “they could never let the child go,” says Mary. “They could disown their blood child, but not the adopted. That follows what we're doing. We never let a family go. If they want to stay in our network, they're in! They can stay as long as they want.”
RRAM's mission slogan is “fighting to keep farmers on the land.” Towards that goal, the organization does three things: gives information (RRAM's board includes several people well-versed on property rights), the outreach program, and advocate work. The “No Farmers No Food” bumper stickers seen in farming country are from RRAM.
Still, the hot-lines (or help-lines) are what keep buzzing.
“We get calls frequently from people who are terribly depressed, even suicidal,” says Mary. “We've gotten calls from farmers with pills in their hand. So many rural families are hurting and need understanding and help.”
Over the last three or four months at RRAM there's been an up-tick in calls from men. That's unusual — over 90 percent of RRAM's calls are from women.
What have the farming men been calling about? “They've been calling out of concern for their wives.”
RRAM's six “help-lines” aren't manned by licensed counselors. When such a counselor is needed, RRAM has an open line with James Dobson's Focus on the Family organization (a Christian Colorado-based counseling and conservative advocacy group).
The association “allows us to call their counselors and say, ‘Suzy Smith is need of counseling’ and we'll give them the particulars,” says Mary. “We'll then call Suzy back and offer her access” to the Focus on the Family counselor. If Suzy wants, the counselor will speak with her as long as she wants and refer her to Christian counselors in her area of the country.”
In this capacity, says Mary, “we're a networking service.”
That networking has made a difference. A short note from one who was helped: “Years ago (around 1990), I contacted Adopt. Our family was in a state of confusion, discontent and disarray. I'd almost given up hope. You responded immediately, listened to me, encouraged us, stayed with us and became our friends. For all this, we're blessed of God.”
Mary talked to the author of the note just last night. “This family is now prospering and whole,” she says. “When the family came to us, the mother didn't believe life was worth living. Today, they're helping other people.”
New Bootheel farmers
The Myers were born and raised about 30 miles south of Milwaukee in Racine, Wis., a large, industrial town. Peter, whose grandfather had farmed and worked timber around southeast Missouri, had no intention of staying put. His goals were set, says Mary, long before the two had met. “He knew from the age of five that he'd be a Missouri politician and a farmer. Before we were engaged, he told me, ‘If you want to be a part of my plan, great. If not, I'll be sad, but I'll find someone else.’ That was his marriage-pitch!” says Mary laughing. “At least I couldn't fault his honesty.”
After spending their early marriage in the Army, their plan began taking shape when the couple was Bootheel-bound; set to farm 80 acres of rented land. Having never farmed before, the two were “totally green” about what a cotton crop required. The newcomers began watching and aping their farming neighbors.
“When they chopped cotton, we did. When they planted, we did, too. It worked. We figured it out and ended up farming for 28 years.”
Peter was elected as a Missouri state representative in 1966. That eventually led to him being deputy secretary of agriculture during the Reagan administration, a time of high anxiety in farming country. A prolonged drought, poor commodity prices, high interest rates and other problems sent farmers reeling.
At the time, Fellowship of Christian Farmers had just begun, and Mary was a volunteer. One day, during a meeting in Peter's office, Mary was asked to take over an FCF outreach called Adopt a Farm Family (which later morphed into RRAM).
“They couldn't handle everything, so they asked if I'd take that program on,” says Mary. “I knew these people's hearts; I knew they were sincere, so I did it. I didn't have any training — I felt it was a call of the Lord. To be honest, I'd been praying and wanted some ministry work. This fell into my lap and 15 years later, we're still going.”
With the exception of a part-time secretary, everyone who works with RRAM is a volunteer. Weekdays, office hours are from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The six hotlines, however, are always open.
There's no trick to RRAM's approach, says Mary.
“If you love people,” she says, “you'll try to listen to them in earnest. They just need someone to talk to.”
(Editor's note: for more information, visit www.farmersruralrestoration.com or call 800-472-4674.)