God works in mysterious ways.
It’s a truth the Rev. K.C. Dehning has known, and it’s a truth that was revealed this year. The pastor of St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church and his wife, Terri, have been facing one of life’s more difficult situations. Not just the pandemic, but Terri’s health.
Earlier this year, Terri endured a series of falls that found her in the hospital for 34 days with 7½ days spent on life support in the Intensive Care Unit. Being laid up for those days cost Terri the ability to walk.
“She had grown so weak,” said Dehning, 60. “She couldn’t walk at all when we left Indianapolis.”
Terri, 55, is wheelchair-bound for approximately 90% of a day.
Dehning said that in 2016, the Mayo Clinic diagnosed his wife with multiple sclerosis. After a series of tests, her physician at I.U. North Health Center, Indianapolis, narrowed that diagnosis even further. She suffers from secondary progressive MS, which targets only 5% of those with the disease. Once symptoms start, they progressively get worse.
Toward the beginning of 2020, Dehning said his wife fell down more often than in the past. Then, one day, she ended up in the hospital. Eventually released, the couple has returned home, but Dehning has found little time to balance both work life and home life due to his many responsibilities.
“In January of this year, she and I could have cleaned out the attic,” he said, “but after her stays in the hospital, she couldn’t do that at all.”
Not only is it difficult for her to stand, but it’s nearly impossible to get a wheelchair up the stairs, he said.
Yet, that’s when God stepped in, again.
One of the pastor’s young congregation members, 10th-grader Hannah Neuendorf, asked him if he knew of anyone who needed help. Unbeknownst to Dehning, Hannah had just joined the Century Career Center’s FFA group. This is the first year the organization has existed within the Logansport Community School Corporation.
And the students needed projects.
So, Hannah’s FFA advisor, Jenni Fishburn, agreed to tackle the Dehnings’ request for assistance. Early one morning, a group of FFA students went to the pastor’s home and cleaned out the attic, which was in disarray from falling debris when the roof had been repaired, and trimmed shrubs that had grown too tall.
“The kids were super excited to do something together,” Jenni said, explaining that her program is about setting higher standards and connecting with people. “Hearing that Pastor Dehning’s wife had so many problems made the students feel good about helping people in their own community.”
Hannah said she “loved volunteering for my pastor. I think it was a great opportunity not only to get involved with our community, but also to build a stronger bond with fellow FFA members.”
Myleigh Moon, a sophomore and chapter president, agreed. “FFA teaches people many life skills and lessons to help everyone throughout life, so to have this in our community is exciting.”
Dehning found it exciting as well. “It was incredible to see these students arrive, and after a few instructions, get right to work. It was amazing that all of this work, which probably would have taken weeks for me to do was accomplished in just one Saturday morning. My hat is off to the dedication this group of young people have to serving others.”
Throughout the day, the FFA members remained focused on their tasks at hand, stopping only a few short minutes for refreshments provided by Judy Knohl, a church member. They also received a hand from Dehning’s son-in-law, Larry Clinger, who is a teacher in the Frankfort school district.
With the collaboration, the students had completed their first service project.
Jenni said it gave her students a sense of accomplishment and purpose for the day, especially during the pandemic, when it has been difficult associating with others and finding ways to keep busy. Ultimately, the FFA program is a way to introduce kids to the agriculture world, she said. “But they don’t have to be a farmer or a vet. There are 235 unique jobs in ag. And with this program, they are developing personal leadership and growth through ag education.”
“It helps kids explore new careers and gain some life skills that school doesn’t really set out to teach,” said Hannah, secretary of FFA. “It lets kids who don’t really want to do sports still compete and enjoy life experiences before our life journey really starts.”
Helping her students gain those experiences is one reason Jenni hopes more opportunities like the one they did for the Dehnings will become available. Talks have been underway with Emmaus Mission Center, she said, but with the high school moving to a hybrid schedule, it might make things more difficult. “But we want to get out there and help people.”
It’s a goal Dehning fully supports. “If you have a small project that needs a few extra hands, I would recommend calling the Logansport FFA to help,” he said. “They’re not just about farming.”