Eight miles southwest of Minden, Nebraska, sixth-generation farmer Mark Lundeen looks out across his family farm. Thankful for the opportunity to be back in rural Nebraska, he’s farming the land God has graciously given him and his family.
It’s a windy day out on the prairie, and today’s task of fertilizing and spraying is difficult. He makes sure all of the equipment is running in tip-top shape before checking the spray calibration.
With only two weeks left before planting begins, he has a lot of work to do.
Having just graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in December with a degree in agricultural economics and minors in agronomy and agribusiness entrepreneurship, Mark is busy back on the farm working, transitioning to one day taking over the family farm for his father.
Each generation before him has had boys who wanted to come back to the farm.
Now Mark has followed suit, and in a few months, he will start his own family when his fiancé, Rebekah Binder, whom he met at the university, joins him on the family farm.
Rebekah will graduate in May with a degree in family science and is pursuing a career as a dental assistant.
The wedding is July 9 in her northern Nebraskan hometown of Spencer, where one of her brothers-in-law, former Nebraska Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru) director and pastor Ethan Wiekamp, is officiating the wedding. The couple met through Cru while at school.
After the wedding the couple will begin the next chapter of their lives by taking over the family farm. And one day, they will pass it down the family line to the seventh generation.
“I want to use this farm as a way to raise my family, and God-willing, I can pass it down to the next generation,” Mark said. “I want to use this farm to give what is God’s, back to God.”
Farming is a tradition in the Lundeen family tree, instilled in Mark and his two younger siblings, Laura and Nate, since they were born.
“I knew I wanted to farm ever since I was little,” Mark said. “That was the dream, to be a farmer.”
His future wife has embraced the idea of rural Nebraska. Growing up near the edge of a small town, Rebekah always loved hanging out in the country and has always considered herself to be a country girl.
And after spending frequent time on the Lundeen farm since the two started dating in November 2013, Rebekah noticed how passionate Mark and his family are about farming in rural Nebraska.
“I love learning about everything that goes into farming,” Rebekah said. “The coolest part I’ve been able to experience is watching Mark and his family interact, being able to work together. Until I started dating Mark, I didn’t know someone could be so passionate about farming.”
Mark’s passion for farming is undeniable. He loves the flexibility and the diversification of the profession. He’s a businessman doing physical labor and operating equipment, all while doing strategic planning and thinking critically. Each element is just as important as the next.
“A farmer’s job is never done,” Mark said. “You might finish a task, but there are always things you can do to improve and get better at. I like that – thinking about new ways we can become more efficient.”
But more than anything, Mark loves how farming and his relationship with God co-exist.
“I love how you’re really dependent on the Lord, and you have to trust in God because ultimately he’s the one who grows the crops and brings the rain,” Mark said. “Really, we are just stewarding his land. When I die, I’m not going to take the farm with me. I’m farming it for him.”
Rebekah recognized the family’s love for agriculture was for a greater purpose.
“I was like, ‘Oh man, I didn’t know someone could have such a huge heart for this,’” Rebekah said. “But he does, and so does his family. So it’s fun watching them enjoy what they do so much. He loves every aspect of it and how he can use farming to glorify God.”
No matter how much the Mark’s love to farm, he knows he must trust in God at all times, despite the various threats to his crops.
One of the many threats is precipitation totals and water supply. Much of the western half of Nebraska fails to gather sufficient rainfall totals throughout the growing season, causing significant concerns for rural Nebraska farmers.
And irrigating farmland comes at a high premium. Nearly 90 percent of the Lundeen’s farmland is irrigated.
“Fortunately for us – unlike a lot of farmers in the United States – we can irrigate and create our own rain, but it’s not free. It’s expensive to irrigate,” Mark said.
Water isn’t the only issue. Severe weather can also take its toll on the fall’s harvest, and Mark mentioned how easy it is for a hailstorm or big windstorm to wipe out all of their crops.
“We can do all these things so we are farming well, but God can take it away just like that,” Mark said.
It allows Mark and his family to keep God at the center of their lives.
“It keeps us humble, in a perspective of relying and being dependent on him, just as we should daily with our relationship with God, relying on his grace,” Mark said.
The same belief that has backed the family farm for six generations is also the backbone of Mark and Rebekah’s relationship.
“Our relationship with God is the foundation of our lives and what we try to keep at the center and live our lives for,” Mark said.
It was the afternoon of Dec. 17, 2015, two days before Mark graduated from UNL. He just took his last final exam of college, courtesy of Chemistry 105.
He was running on fumes – no more than three hours of sleep. He had only studied for 45 minutes that morning.
No matter. He had big plans for that day.
He picked Rebekah up in his white pickup for a scavenger hunt around Lincoln.
The two frequently go on such adventures, but today was different. Mark was about to pop the big question.
“I was nervous, but I was really excited as well – more so excited than nervous,” he said. “I knew it was one of my biggest decisions I made in my life so far. I had some friends help me plan it, and they were a huge part in how it turned out. I just really wanted to make it special for Bekah.”
From the moment Rebekah hopped in his truck, she knew something was up. But she couldn’t put her finger on what.
There was a note waiting for her. It was the first clue to a scavenger hunt, one of Rebekah’s favorite activities.
Each clue was a different letter, one for a particular memory of why Mark was sending Rebekah to random spots around Lincoln.
The first clue led to Pioneers Park, where the couple frequently goes hiking, biking and trail running.
Once she found the first clue, they moved farther along the map to the Mill, a coffeehouse downtown in the Haymarket. It has long been Rebekah’s favorite place to grab a cup of hot chocolate.
“I’ll go there sometimes, just to get hot chocolate,” she said.
They walked into the Mill, and embarrassingly, she asked the employees, “Do you guys have a clue for me?”
They responded, “Yeah! We’ve been waiting for you.”
After getting the clue, the two ordered some hot chocolate and were on the way to the next clue.
Rebekah noticed now Mark was acting very strange, preoccupied by his phone.
He wasn’t being rude. He was trying to communicate with all his associates, making sure each step of the scavenger hunt proposal would be completed to the letter.
The next clue led to Memorial Stadium, where they looked at the skyboxes and went out onto the field, just the two of them.
“I was thinking, ‘Why on Earth are we going to Memorial Stadium?’ It was then that I realized, OK, this is a little bit bigger scavenger hunt than I am used to,” Rebekah said.
Mark asked her, “Why don’t you run a few sets of bleachers?” So Rebekah ran up, and Mark told her to close her eyes.
When he told her to open them, he was throwing a hotdog up at her in the stands. Then it clicked. She had once told him that before she graduates, she was going to catch a hot dog in Memorial Stadium.
Football season was over, and no more hot dogs would be launched into the feeding frenzy of the Red Sea.
He laughed and said, “There you go. You caught your hot dog.”
Check catching a hot dog in Memorial Stadium off the bucket list.
“At that point, I was thinking he put a lot of thought, time and effort into this,” Rebekah said. “He had to go all around town to plant these clues.”
It was more than just the normal, everyday scavenger hunt.
The final clue led her to a tree farm just west of Lincoln. As they walked up and down the rows of trees, Mark sounded like a tour guide when he said, “Up here on your right, pretty soon you should be able to find your last clue.”
Rebekah arrived at a tree completely decorated with ornaments lights. Next to the tree sat a table stand with a picture of the couple surrounded by a bouquet of flowers and a letter with her final clue.
She went to open her final letter. This one much thicker than the others.
She pulled out an ornament. On it, it read, ‘Rebekah, will you marry me?’
“Why don’t you hang it on the tree?” he asked her.
Then he read a letter he had written to her.
Mark’s sister, Laura, a sophomore at UNL, was there capturing photos.
“It was really special,” Rebekah said.
Rebekah wasn’t expecting it because as far as she knew, Mark hadn’t asked her dad yet, let alone even bought a ring.
“I thought he was being a slowpoke,” Rebekah laughed. “I was like, ‘When is this guy going to propose to me?’”
For Mark, he ended his days at college with his most memorable moment yet.
“When I asked her to be my wife, I was really excited for the future and the fact I get to be with her for the rest of my life,” he said.
The two met through Cru, working on the servant team led by the students.
“Once we started hanging out, I knew I wanted to date her,” Mark said. “From being on servant team with her and getting to know her through Cru, I got to know her personality and her heart for the Lord and for others. We had a lot of similar interests, and I knew early on I wanted to be in a relationship with her.”
Most of their similar interests revolve around sports or outdoors activities. Mark and Rebekah love to ski, water ski, bike and hike around state parks. They play a wide variety of sports together such as tennis, baseball, Frisbee golf, basketball and ping pong.
“Any sport, you name it. We’ll probably play it,” Mark said. “We just like being active.”
The two even went snowshoeing together last winter.
One of Mark’s favorite moments was teaching her how to snow ski, his favorite hobby. Mark said it has been fascinating to watch her get really good at.
Needless to say, their relationship is quite active and upbeat.
“Anything that we can be doing outside we really enjoy,” Rebekah said.
Since the two started dating, Rebekah has become more daring because of Mark’s personality.
“He’s more adventurous than I thought he was when I first met him,” Rebekah said. “I just thought he was a quiet kid who would never do anything risky. I had no idea. I’m a very by the rules person and he’s not as much. He’s definitely adventurous, which has helped me be more adventurous.”
Rebekah also referred to Mark as ‘very genuine, with a huge heart for people.’ Mark has a desire for other people to grow in their relationship with the Lord, as he demonstrated by leading a small group bible study of primarily east campus students in his final two and a half years of college.
That has provided wisdom for Mark when talking to his now fiancé.
“He’s very gentle – speaking truth and love to me even when I don’t necessarily want to hear it,” Rebekah said. “He treasures me more than I ever thought.”
It all stems from what their relationship stands for: love.
“The aim in our relationship is to really show others around us love by first loving the Lord and being a couple that others can look up to and know that you can have a relationship centered around the Lord,” Rebekah said.
Rebekah went on a mission trip to South Africa with Cru the summer after her freshman year. She fell in love with the kids and the ministry there, and now hopes to travel back someday with Mark.
The two would look at short-term mission trips in the winter months when it is less busy on the farm.
“That’s where our hearts are,” Rebekah said. “We would both like to serve in that capacity. I have a huge heart for Africa, and Mark has told me he will take me one day. I really want to go back for just a little bit.”
What has made Mark and Rebekah’s relationship all the more dynamic has been Mark’s sister, Laura, who also is involved in Cru. The two have formed a tight-knit bond since Mark and Rebekah started dating because of their similar personalities.
“We are able to talk spiritual things, too, which is really cool, and I think we have a really neat relationship,” she said.
It has made her all the more comfortable with her future family.
“It’s very special to be able to go into his family where I am so welcomed – not only by his parents but his siblings also,” she said. “It’s really fun to be able to interact with her on the level as a friend and my future sister.”
* * *
With the decline of rural Nebraska counties, there comes a need for farmers to go to college and come back to take over the family farm. It’s what will keep agriculture in the state alive for centuries to come.
“One thing I love about rural Nebraska is that agriculture is the driving market,” Mark said. “It really is the driving business. There are so many jobs associated with agriculture in rural Nebraska.”
And now Mark has made his way back to rural Nebraska, soon to be reunited with his future wife, who is looking forward to being a part of rural Nebraska.
“I didn’t picture marrying a farmer and living on a farm – not that I was opposed to it by any means, but I had never really imagined it,” Rebekah said. “I am very excited and thankful I do get to be a part of that lifestyle.”
Mark said it’s difficult to get started in farming unless you have family who is already doing it. From five generations before him, he is thankful his family has passed the farming torch down to him.
“It’s an honor,” Mark said. “I give all the credit to my parents and grandparents because they have been extremely generous just by allowing me the opportunity to come back. I’m going to have the same mindset that they do of wanting the next generation to take on this farm.”