"Little things mean a lot." The words from a tune that was popular in the 1950s ran through my mind as we left the farm, deeply moved by our visit.
My wife Erma and I were en route to Halifax, about halfway through a vacation trip in the Canadian Maritimes. We had read about a Kleinegemeinde Mennonite colony somewhere between Truro and Halifax. We decided on an impromptu visit to this community, also known as the Northfield Settlement
. We had no address except that it was in the vicinity of the small town of Upper Kennetcook.
As we searched for some sign of the colony we suddenly came to a gravel road with a small sign, Northfield. Assuming that this might lead to the colony, we turned onto the road, and after a couple of miles we noticed a mailbox with the anticipated name Penner, and a short distance later another with Penner, and another. Then at a crossroads we came upon the meetinghouse with a sign: Northfield Christian Fellowship (Mennonite) Welcome
Nearby a sign advertised fresh vegetables and nursery plants. We drove onto the farmyard which included a trim white house, a large barn, and structures for nursery plants. The entire front yard of the house was a flower garden in full bloom, the bright colors offered a cheery welcome. Several baskets of blossoms were hanging on both sides of the entrance.
Two women with headcoverings and dresses were working in the yard and approached us as we emerged from our car. We introduced ourselves as visitors who were interested in learning about the settlement. Both the mother, Linda Dueck, and her daughter, Neta, answered our questions. In the 1980s about forty families migrated from Belize, purchased land, and began farming in Nova Scotia. Sunday church services are conducted in High and Low German. The settlement provides a school in the basement of the meetinghouse for grades one through seven.
Linda invited us in for tea. At first we were hesitant to interrupt their work day. As we continued our conversation we mentioned that we were parents of an adult daughter who was developmentally disabled with cerebral palsy and mental impairment. “Oh, then you must come in and see my other daughter,” Linda responded. “In addition to gardening and nursery plants I run a one-patient hospital.”
As we entered the room we noticed monitoring devices and tubes which led to a bed where the daughter lay. The room was orderly and clean. Linda approached the bed and we followed her lead. The 23-year-old was profoundly disabled and required total care. Her small twisted body faced the wall. It appeared to us that she could not move much nor speak; it was our impression that she could not sit up or walk.
With a loving gesture, the mother gently stroked the forehead, leaned over, and spoke softly, “Wilma, you have visitors. Would you like to smile for them?” Erma also leaned near and greeted her, “Hi, Wilma.” Then for just a second or two the face brightened and a very slight smile appeared. And then it was gone. Such a little thing, just a hint of a smile.
Those who have observed and worked with persons with disabilities know how important little things are – a sound, a movement, a twitch, a breath. Jesus reminded us of the significance of little things with his comment about a cup of cold water given to one in need (Matt 10:42). It was clear to us that Wilma was lovingly cared for. She was a valued member of the family and community.
If we ignore or devalue the small things, we might overlook significant gifts. A gift can come from a source that we least expect. Wilma’s slight smile was such a little thing, but to us it was a profound gift.