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Farmers & friends pray to end drought
These signs asking passersby to Pray For Rain are posted in front of the home of Tom and Phyllis Shankles of rural south Manteca. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

If you pray for rain, it will happen. You can’t convince Dave Roorda and friends otherwise. The proof is in the ground.

As in wet ground. After nearly three months of practically nary a drop of precipitation from the heavens during the time of the year when it should be pouring cats and dogs followed at times by flooding, it finally happened last week, on the last two days of January. Like a shy visitor, the rain fell delicately on thirsty agricultural fields. Still, farmers all over were grateful for the moist relief in a punishing and scary long drought.

Even with the news about possibly more rain coming this way, Roorda and friends are not stopping in their crusade to “Pray for Rain.” They continue to give away the blue placards with the three white words posted against a bright blue backdrop to as many people as possible – not just farmers – who would like to spread the words of divine supplication.

Among the compassionate friends who have accepted a couple of the placards are Tom and Phyllis Shankles of Manteca. They planted the signs in front of their rural south Manteca home just over the weekend.

 “We’ve been praying for rain four a couple of months,” said Tom Shankles, a longtime Manteca resident who retired from the now-defunct River Paper Company in Ripon. He retired after working there for more than three decades before the business closed its doors.

Like practically all churches throughout California, the Shankles’ Cornerstone Community Church on East Highway 120 have been praying for an end to the long drought, long before Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency.

Tom Shankles said he is not a farmer but he is sympathetic to all farmers.

“We’ve always been friends with many farmers,” he said.

The rain that spattered the valley’s fields was most welcome.

“The rain was, of course, the answer to our prayers,” Roorda said.

But he pointed out that the rain is not just for agriculture; it’s also for drinking water, among many other things which is why their plea for divine assistance is directed to everyone regardless of their religious affiliation or line of work.

“All of us are in need of water right now,” said Roorda whose family also goes to Cornerstone.

And, added his son, Nick, “we’re going to keep asking (God) for rain (because) we’re still short.”

The placards came to David Roorda’s attention last week when he attended a farmers’ meeting held at Isadore’s restaurant in Manteca. Duane Heimrich of Stanislaus Farm Supply in Modesto, who is also a farmer, brought some of the placards to the gathering. By the end of the meeting, all the placards were gone. Roorda was one of those who picked up several of them.

The idea of the prayerful message came all the way from Texas. Heimrich first found out about it, and actually saw the signs, when he went to the Lone Star State on business last month.

“As you know, there’s also drought in Texas, and Texas is also (part of the) Bible Belt,” explained Dave Roorda who grows alfalfa hay, oat hay, corn and other crops throughout south San Joaquin County.

Everywhere in Texas, Heimrich saw the sign, “Pray for Rain,” and picked up scores of them to bring home to the valley.

Dave Roorda said he and Heimrich have ordered scores more of the signs and would like to give them to people who would like to show their prayerful support. The signs are given free – they are $8 apiece – but they will not turn down any donation.

The sign is a direct supplication for divine intervention, but it actually does three things, he said.

“One, it brings communities together – disasters always bring people together. Two, if we pray, God will bless us. And three, by praying to God, we’re acknowledging God, and that’s the main key.”

Dave Roorda clarified that the words on the posted placards are not lifted verbatim from the New Testament in the Bible. The scripture (1 Thessalonians 5:17) quote in small letters below the message actually reads, “pray without ceasing,” he said, and that includes praying for rain.