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Serving in retirement

Although John and Marianne Sundblad retired from farming near Cokato six years ago, they haven’t given up sowing. But it’s no longer crops they sow, it’s good works. In 2014, the Sundblads joined The Sower Ministry, a non-profit Christian organization. The name stands for Servants on Wheels Ever Ready.

John and Marianne Sundblad, of Cokato, have been donating their time and talent toward The Sower Ministry since 2014. Marianne often cleans, organizes and sews. Contributed photo

When the Sundblads retired, they had been farming since 1973. John had done occasional construction work, and Marianne had worked as a dental hygienist for 40 years. They sold their farmland in 2012 and now, in their early 70s, are in the process of selling the buildings including the house. (They plan to build a new home near Alexandria.)

The first winter away from the farm, the Sundblads took their RV, a 27-foot fifth wheel, to Florida’s warmth and sunshine, but found they didn’t have enough activities to keep them busy. Marianne said, “We enjoyed Florida, but there was too much leisure time. We’re workers and don’t like to just sit around.”

When the Sundblads heard about The Sower Ministry from a friend of a friend, it caught their interest, and they joined in 2014. Marianne explained, “We filled out an application, we each wrote our testimony of faith, and we had to get our pastor’s recommendation. Then there were criminal background checks and a phone interview.”

John added, “We filled out a skill sheet saying what we can do.” John listed various kinds of repair work, construction and hauling. Marianne listed sewing (one of her favorite pastimes), cleaning and organizing.

The Sower Ministry sends out a booklet to members six times a year, listing the location, timeframe, scope and description of the work, and how many people are needed. Each assignment lasts three weeks, followed by a “free week.” Some Sowers remain in their location and resume duties after their week of leisure, while others travel and return or move on to a different Sowers’ location.

After being accepted, the Sundblads chose to spend September and October 2014 with The Sower Ministry in New York and Maine. Marianne said, “I did a lot of housekeeping and cleaning for retreat camps and youth camps. John was involved in some construction and maintenance.” They took a brief break in November to take a tour of Israel.

The first two months of 2015, the Sundblads worked at Sowers’ projects in Texas, first at a retreat center in Harlingen, then at a Bible camp in Medina. Marianne did housekeeping and sewed curtains.

John tends to do repair work, construction work and hauling during their assignments. Contributed photo

While in Medina, the Sundblads became friends with a couple from North Mankato and were able to provide emotional support when the man had a bicycle accident, followed by emergency hip surgery.

“They’re like family now,” Marianne said of the couple.

In December 2016, the Sundblads accepted two assignments in California, first stopping to see the Rose Bowl Parade on Dec. 31. They then proceeded to a Bible camp in El Cajon (near San Diego), where John laid blocks for a retaining wall and Marianne cleaned and painted what she remembers as “many, many bunks.” From there, they went to Chico, in central California, where they worked for a Youth with a Mission training camp, along with other retired people from a different organization.

“They had a really bad access road to camp,” John said, “so we ground up the old asphalt and got it ready for paving. I replaced a culvert one day and did other chores.”

Marianne recalled, “It was rainy and cold, so I often worked five or six hours reinforcing (doubling) towels, making some of them into bath mats, and making aprons and potholders.”

One recent summer, the Sundblads worked as Sowers for three weeks at Trout Lake Bible Camp in Pine River, Minn., where John built and painted bear-proof dumpsters and hauled logs for construction work. As usual, Marianne sewed. Although most sites have a sewing machine, she brings her own along.

A typical day begins with each couple breakfasting in their camper, followed by group devotions from 7:30 to 8 a.m.

“There’s an assigned group devotions leader, with people taking turns,” Marianne said. “I have given my testimony and talked about our Israel trip and some of our life experiences. Sometimes we sing hymns, such as the theme song, Hear Ye, the Master’s Call at the end of the service. Once we know each other, after the first week, we share prayer requests for our families and for other Sowers. By the end of the third week, we don’t want to leave one another.”

John and Marianne Sundblad by their camper at one of their work sites. Contributed photo

Everyone begins work at 8 a.m., with a half-hour break at 10:30. Women then work until 11:30, when they go back to their RV to make lunch. The men eat lunch at home and return to work. In the afternoon, the women do household chores, go shopping, prepare supper or enjoy crafting or sewing bees. Some women may resume work after lunch. Men usually work six hours, three in the morning and three in the afternoon.

There’s the social life, of course, with spontaneous or planned potlucks for supper. There also are unplanned treats. Marianne recalled that the camp director’s wife in El Cajon hosted “a very nice, formal tea party for us one afternoon. The men didn’t come, of course, but they got to eat the leftovers. We have to take care of our men.

“We usually have supper at home, but once a week we have a potluck,” she said. “Sometimes the camp provides a meal. In the evening, we play table games or watch and share DVDs.”

When the Sundblads returned home in spring 2017, they had “a lot of work getting the home place ready to sell,” Marianne said, “before beginning to build our new house.”

If things don’t go as planned with the property sale and start of new construction, they hope to go on assignment with Sowers in November through February or March.

John said, “It’s been a pleasure to see different parts of the country and to help these various ministries.”

Marianne added, “They are very appreciative.”

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