Spring Sower: Unlikely Acts of Worship
Written by Becky Rosaler on April 18, 2016 in General, Sower
A question we often ask partnering farmers is how their relationship with God has changed since Plant With Purpose began working with their communities. A common reply is, “We are now planting trees.” In my American mindset, I dismissed these responses, thinking that somewhere along the line, something was missed. Maybe they misunderstood the question. Tree planting is an environmental activity not something that reflects a maturing relationship with the Lord. Something must have been lost in translation.
The significance of these statements was lost on me. It was not until traveling to Tanzania and hearing first-hand responses that my categorization of activities and their impacts began to make sense. To Plant With Purpose partnering farmers, the act of planting trees is an act of worship. It is an outward expression of their faith, a way in which they are honoring God and walking in obedience.
A THEOLOGY OF CREATION CARE
We could base this tree-planting theology on Paul’s writing in Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” However, we see from Genesis to Revelation, the Scriptures talking about creation and offering insights into God’s relationship with the physical works of his hands. God puts Adam in the garden and tells him to tend and keep the land. After the great flood, the Lord makes a covenant promise to never flood the earth again. The songs in Psalms offer perspective on how the trees and the hills praise the Lord while the heavens declare the glory of the Lord. Proverbs render guidelines for the ethical treatment of animals. Paul’s letters recognize Christ as being before all creation. And in Revelation, John closes with the new heaven coming down to earth, and the Tree of Life being central in the coming kingdom.
Plant With Purpose participants across the seven international programs understand this insight. God created the earth. He cares about creation. We were given the responsibility to steward it. So of course, planting trees is an act of worship.
CONNECTED TO CREATION
Far off the main roads in the Dominican Republic, Andrés Gonzalez lives in a jewel-toned house with his wife and seven children. Andrés’ farm is a multi-story agroforestry plot reminiscent of Eden with bananas, coffee, cassava, and cacao growing together. The edge of his farm drops steeply to a stream below. Andrés sees it as his responsibility to protect this water source. “I’m a watchman of water. If you don’t have water, you don’t have life.” But it is not only the water Andrés is protecting. He shares, “Genesis 3:19 says, ‘From dust you came, and to dust you will return.’ So by taking care of the land, we are taking care of ourselves.” These profound words serve as a reminder of our roots and our connection to the land. Andrés honors God by taking care of God’s creation.
THE TREE PLANTING EVANGELIST
Halfway around the world in Tanzania, Isaya Mongowi is taking on the task of reforesting Mt. Kilimanjaro. Isaya shares, “I used to be the poorest of the poor.” Before partnering with Plant With Purpose, his property resembled a desert. The land took the brunt of years of deforestation and poor soil management. Isaya began implementing the sustainable agriculture techniques he learned from Plant With Purpose. This included planting trees. These trees added nutrients to the soil, while protecting the soil from harsh rain. Today he shares, “We have seen many changes to the environment. My land now looks like a forested garden. We get everything we need from our property including corn, sweet potatoes, bananas, and eggs.”
“We’re taught that God created the earth and we are commanded to take care of it. Planting trees is one way we do this,” shares Isaya. His tree nursery holds hundreds of seedlings, which he gives away for free. He calls these seedlings his bible—small objects holding countless lessons and valuable in their worth. Neighbor and friends are drawn to the transformation they see in Isaya’s life and in his land. Isaya instructs them on how to plant trees and even provides environmental education to the children in the local school. Tree planting is now part of the local curriculum to which Isaya declares, “I love this work.”
ACTIVATING THE LOCAL CHURCH
Environmental stewardship is a core value of Plant With Purpose’s staff. A walk through rural Dominican communities with Country Director Carlos Disla can turn into a waste management lesson as he encourages children to properly dispose of their trash. This value filters through staff to churches and creates change in the communities.
In Mexico, the local church is orchestrating community-recycling programs. The team in Mexico is developing a new curriculum called “Manos a la Tierra” (Hands to the Earth), which teaches the biblical basis for creation care.
In Thailand, Mrs. Rom Lamai shares that because of Plant With Purpose’s involvement in her community, “We better understand about making our village clean with the idea of ‘reduce, reuse, and recycle,’ as well as planting and taking care of trees in our village.”
Plant With Purpose’s emphasis on environmental restoration has influenced the culture of the Lutheran Church in Tanzania. They are embracing the church’s role in stewarding creation to the extent that each child who goes through confirmation plants a tree.
In just a few months, Plant With Purpose has been changing perspectives in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Pastor Kasongo Kategere recently shared, “When we were invited to a training on the ‘Theology of Work,’ as a pastor and teacher of the Word of God, I was surprised to learn a new discipline that we have ignored for decades. After the training, I realized that work is compulsory for Christians. God, by His unfathomable love, placed man in a naturally pleasant environment. Like Adam, he asked us to cultivate and keep it. Despite my advanced age, I decided to accept the tree seedlings from Plant With Purpose. I just planted more than 820 trees. I know these trees cannot benefit me now, but they will be useful for later generations.”
LEARNING FROM THE FARMERS
Plant With Purpose partnering farmers challenge me to ask the question, “Is environmental stewardship part of my worship?” To some degree I can answer, “Yes.” Composting, recycling, keeping my shopping in check, buying at farmers’ markets, and being aware of single-use plastics are resource decisions that filter through my mind and daily drive my actions. As I look to Plant With Purpose’s partnering farmers, I realize there is room for growth. Will you join us in embracing a theology that includes creation care and discovering new ways to glorify God through stewardship of his creation?
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