Wegendt makes connections between Amish, homeless

Wegendt makes connections  between Amish, homeless

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Stephen Wegendt worked as an organic gardening teacher at a private school in the Wayne County area and soon found himself working with the homeless population in Wooster, some of whom have aged out of the foster system, to help them get off the streets.

But the Youngstown native and now local resident knew he wanted to marry the idea of organic gardening and self-sustenance to the people who needed his help the most.

He just needed a way to do it. Wegendt, now living near Walnut Creek, is available to give talks, teach organic gardening or teach youth groups.

How he got to Holmes County is a story in itself.

Driving his solar-powered moped from Wooster to Holmes County, Wegendt desperately needed a “save” as he called it, or a sign from God. As he meandered the winding roads, he stopped at a roadside store for a cold drink and struck up a conversation with the girl at the counter.

When he asked about her Amish church, Wegendt was directed to a “guy back there” in the store, who turned out to be the son of the store owner, and as they talked, a connection was quickly made.

That very night he found himself eating dinner at their home along with their neighbors from across the street — one English man with ideas among a sea of hospitable Amish folk, ideas about how they could share their hospitality with the homeless, not by sharing their ordinances, but with the virtue behind them.

When the night ended, Wegendt had been invited to their church. He talked with a bishop and some elders, who grilled him to make sure he was who he said he was. He talked to them of his ministry and what he was passionate about.

And it wasn’t two weeks later that a consortium of Amish men, including the bishop, arrived in Wooster by truck, handing out apples, water and Bibles to the unhoused. The people on the receiving end of these gifts responded enthusiastically, striking up conversations.

“There is a gentleness to the Amish people,” Wegendt said, “and it’s a noticeable gentleness to those who are not around gentle people. It’s winsome to this ministry.

“None of us should stereotype anyone. Cooperation between Christians of different stripes can be extremely good for the kingdom if we overlook differences that are not important. I don’t have the kind of wealth that is in this area, and they don’t have inner-city knowledge of how the people and the problems and culture work, but together I can be a signpost for them to find their way in ministry. In return they have tools I haven’t accrued.”

And they continue to go and share, with Wegendt first acting as a go-between leader, and now sometimes even without him.

“I felt so at peace down here in Holmes County,” Wegendt said, “and just like you can’t say that all English people are so worldly, you also can’t say that plain people don’t like city outreach or be good at it. What I really wanted was to lead a less worldly life.”

What Wegendt wanted was to live in a house just slightly bigger than a tiny house. He wanted to plant organic gardens around it and create a space for solitude and teaching. And he wanted it to be situated in Holmes County. But he soon learned by studying the culture and values of Holmes County that land was almost more precious than money. He knew he may have trouble locating a place for his vision.

He was talking to the bishop about what he wanted to do, and he said, “Stephen, we may not give you land, but if you can find land, our people can help you build it.”

Wegendt’s vision was to find a small patch of earth where he could capture sun for solar energy, space for gardens and incorporate a green way of living. Many of his friends discouraged him from trying to locate land, telling him it would be too hard, and to focus on finding an apartment. But he felt God told him to stick to what he wanted, so he remained firm. After talking to several different people, he went in blind to talk to someone he was assured by friends would not help him.

“The power of life and death is in the tongue,” Wegendt said, “and I told my friend that I was going to stay positive.”

That very man, that last ditch effort, is the one who helped him secure the land his tiny cottage now sits on.

The little, blue, tiny cottage is nestled in a small valley near Walnut Creek. Wegendt modified a kit he purchased to give him a loft effect. There’s just enough sun each day to capture the solar energy he needs, and sometimes not if the sun hides behind the clouds.

“The people at the business I first made contact with received the pieces and parts of my tiny cottage to their place,” Wegendt said, “and that’s where it was assembled. They were all taken down the road by a massive trailer, in the snow no less, where it was placed on an insulated pad we had built. We pushed the walls up together. They ministered to me with their kindness.”

Labor, carpentry, love of God and community — all things that came together in the assembling of the tiny cottage.

Wegendt installed different eco-friendly systems to give him the sustainability he needs to live. A little garden has been created with organic soil from Paradise Lawn Service, which creates soil from local food scraps. He will plant them with his own seeds. He also planted everbearing strawberries in a patch he hopes to glean a yield from.

Ultimately, Wegendt has found that in different areas of Ohio, from his native Youngstown, to Wooster, to Walnut Creek, there is much beauty to be had when working together for the good of all. When you help others, you are helped in return.

Wegendt can be reached at P.O. Box 12, Walnut Creek, OH 44687, or via email at neo51081@gmail.com.