*Pictured: Jennie’s daughter sketching the statue of George Washington Carver as a boy in the woods at George Washington Carver National Monument, June 2024.

Last night we arrived home from a whirlwind of a trip throughout southeast Kansas and western Missouri. As I started swiping through the pictures on my phone, I was struck by the theme of unsung heroes visible in the pictorial history of our adventures. We visited sites honoring heroes and challenging us to be heroes today.

At the Little House on the Prairie site, we clearly heard the language used to talk about the Ingalls family squatting rather than “homesteading” or “living” on the land belonging to Native Americans. Can we be brave enough to remember and retell the truth of history? To lament the times and ways we have fallen short of Christ’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves? 

As I shared with our 7-year-old the story of Irena Sendler risking her life to save Jewish children during WWII and preserve their birth names at the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes, I was reminded that merciful will be shown mercy.  

As we climbed “Bloody Hill” at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield and we read about the family with young children who took shelter in their root cellar during the battle there, I was heartbroken over the violence and destruction that impacted generations, recognizing that the very earth continued to tell this story as bullets and other remnants of the battle were found in these fields for over 100 years after the battle. I was reminded of the peacemakers who will be called children of God, and our call to find peaceful ways to resolve conflicts.

As we climbed the stairs to Laura and Alamzo Wilder’s farmhouse on Rocky Ridge, I was reminded of the ways storytelling can impact others. The stories we tell of our own families and our faith heritage can inspire generations of those who come after us. In the same way my Russian Mennonite ancestors sought freedom to practice their faith in Kansas and made many sacrifices as they immigrated and started a new life, I am called to consider the ways I might need to sacrifice to live faithfully.

As we walked through the peaceful woods at the George Washington Carver National Monument, we stopped at a sign quoting Carver as saying “All my life I have risen regularly at four o’clock and have gone into the woods and talked with God.” What a life of discipline and dedication. His entire life was in the service of caring for the earth and others as he pioneered uses of peanuts and other natural resources for the good of all. His story of being born into slavery, his faith, and his love of others truly makes him a hero.

I could write more about all we saw and my reflections, but I am left with a deep sense of gratitude for the ways that God can use the events of our daily lives to challenge us–to challenge us to be unsung heroes in our households, our congregations, and our communities. What does it mean to share our stories? To boldly speak the truth–both the beautiful and the ugly parts of our stories? What does it mean to work hard and to love our neighbor as ourselves? What does it mean to be a peacemaker? May God grant us the wisdom to see and the courage to act.

-Jennie Wintermote, WDC Resource Library Director