God and viral infections work in mysterious ways.
Forty-seven high school kids from Messiah Lutheran Church in Lincoln, Neb., and their seven adult leaders flew out to California on Saturday to do a week of volunteer mission work at Gleanings for the Hungry, a nonprofit, church-affiliated farm near the Tulare County town of Dinuba.
Just 23 hours before their flight was set to take off, one of the leaders got a phone call: Don't come because there's been an outbreak of a nasty intestinal flu.
The tickets were non-refundable and rescheduling things for 50-plus people would be a nightmare, Scott Guenther, director of high school youth ministries for Messiah, said Wednesday. So the church group went ahead with the first part of its original plan: Fly into Los Angeles and bus up to Bakersfield, where it would spend the night and attend church the next morning at St. John's Lutheran on Buena Vista Road.
Facing the prospect of having nothing constructive for the kids to do after pulling weeds and performing assorted tasks around the church, Guenther told St. John's congregation about the predicament Sunday.
Church members immediately started contacting people around Bakersfield: "Do you need help? Do you need help?"
A half hour after worship, Guenther said, the Lincoln folks had been offered $2,000 cash, use of an SUV for a week, Wal-Mart gift cards and catered meals. They also got what turned out to be their best lead on work.
Since Tuesday, they've been working at one of the city's two soon-to-open community gardens, on Jonah Street near Pacheco Road, which is set to open with a ribbon cutting 10 a.m. July 6.
(The other garden, at 4th and Eye streets, is scheduled to open July 2).
"They've been just amazing," Luda Fishman, business manager for the Bakersfield city solid waste division, said of the Nebraska kids. "They've done so much work in there."
That includes, Fishman said, spreading compost, doing planting, placing stepping stones and drawing murals on two walls.
They're continuing the exhaustive work that's been done on the garden the last 18 months by volunteers and sponsors including the Greenfield Walking Group, Keep Bakersfield Beautiful, Lowe's and the plant and vegetable company Bonnie.
There's been such a variety of things to do in the garden that everybody in the church group has found something they enjoy, said Josiah Kettelhake, 17 and an incoming high school senior in Lincoln.
"It's been a blessing for us to come out here and still serve," he said.
A big issue for the Nebraska kids was transportation. That was taken care of when Valley Baptist Church offered one of its buses for the week. The young, hard-working visitors will be working mornings at the community garden until Saturday, when they bus back to the airport and fly home Monday.
The exchange of generosity doesn't end there.
On Tuesday night, local folks supervised -- and bought pizza and ice cream for -- the kids so the Messiah adults could go out to dinner, Guenther said. And when it turned out the church group had more cash than it needed, he said, it pitched in to buy paint for the second mural.
"God has given us more than we need," Guenther said, "so this was a chance to use that money for His purpose."