Summer Sower: Designed for Purpose
Written by Scott Sabin on August 2, 2016 in General, Sower
From the very beginning, God has invited people to participate in what he is doing in the world–creating, redeeming, restoring, and loving. In short, we were created for a purpose. Yet for many people that sense of purpose is precisely what is missing in their lives.
I had never given that much thought, until one evening in the mountains of Haiti when the Episcopal priest we partnered with joined a group of visitors at the guesthouse. Though he had been given a remote rural parish, he flourished, founding dozens of schools and providing opportunities for thousands of people.
As we sat in the dark, he told us how happy he was that God had given him a task. “God gives each of us something to do for him,” he said. “It’s as if he gathered us together and said to each of us, ‘I have a very important job for you.’”
With great exuberance he exclaimed, “It makes me happy that God has something for me to do. I feel excited!” But after a pause he said, “Can you imagine how it would feel if he said to you ‘I have nothing for you to do?’ So many of the people in these mountains think they have nothing to give.”
USING OUR TALENTS
Jesus’ parable of the talents recorded in Matthew 25:14-30 comes to mind. For some reason, when Jesus told this particular parable, he chose the man who only received one talent—the poor man—to be the villain. This man buries his gift. He, perhaps like many in the mountains of Haiti, felt his contribution did not matter, so he buried his talent, declaring his master to be harsh.
For years, this aspect of the parable has bothered me. Even though I still do not understand why those who received more had an easier time recognizing their role, I have seen that it is often those with fewer talents who tend to bury them. The good news though, is that everyone received a talent and therefore had a job to do. No one is told, “I have nothing for you to do.” Everyone has a role to play, a purpose in the kingdom.
That evening in Haiti was the first time I realized how awful it must be to believe you have nothing to contribute, to feel you are and always will be completely dependent on the goodwill of outsiders. It is the very definition of disempowerment.
I began to realize that this level of disempowerment is more widespread than I originally imagined. Subsistence farmers often feel like they have little to offer their community let alone have a role to fulfill in the kingdom. It is something I have witnessed throughout Plant With Purpose’s programs especially as we first start partnering with new communities.
As the program launched in Burundi in 2008, we focused on working with returning refugees, some of whom had spent decades in refugee camps where they were prevented from doing anything productive. These men and women had never worked before and had little confidence in their ability to contribute. But what we found is that they were hesitant to try farming or participating in savings groups until they began to realize that God cares about every aspect of life. In fact, he calls us to join him in the creative and redemptive work of cultivating creation. Plant With Purpose’s local staff designed an outreach curriculum called “Theology of Work” that offers hope to this country, while encouraging people to discover their vocation, calling, and purpose.
Throughout Burundi, there is a deep desire for workshops teaching this curriculum. Churches all over the country are asking for training. Few things match the joy on the faces of those who have discovered they have agency, and can exercise their talents creatively. Real power is unleashed. Innovative businesses are flourishing and subsistence farms stand as well-designed works of art.
OUTCOMES OF AGENCY
I most recently witnessed this discovery of agency while visiting our newly launched program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Plant With Purpose has been working in the Kakumba watershed in South Kivu since July 2015, offering the transformational Plant With Purpose package: agricultural training, reforestation activities, savings groups, and Christian outreach focused on empowerment and reconciliation.
However, a number of things make our work in Kakumba unique. The DRC is our first new country program since refining our watershed approach a few years ago. Focusing on the whole ecological unit has brought together communities that have been linked by conflict as much as geography. Indeed the history of conflict in the region is deeper and more horrible than I previously imagined, making reconciliation a key element of our work. Our local partner, with employees and participating pastors from seven different tribes, is a living demonstration of possible peace and reconciliation.
This reconciliation is not only taking place between tribal groups, it is also taking place within family units. Many of the men we encountered were previously involved in armed militia groups while their wives did virtually all of the work to support their families, including farming. Today we are seeing examples of men and women working side-by-side in the fields. As one man told me, “We used to sit around and play cards all day, but maybe if we work together we can do something great.”
As subsistence farmers realize they have agency, they step out in confidence trying new endeavors and taking the steps to improve their lives. Savings-and-loan groups assist partnering farmers in managing their finances and encourage the start of small businesses. Because of her savings group, Dolores Frias in the Dominican Republic is embracing this purpose. She shares, “I thank God and Plant With Purpose. Before joining my savings-and-loan group, I didn’t save my money. Now I do. With my loan, I planted trees, cassava, and other crops. I earned money from my small business of making Johnny Cakes, which I take to the school and sell to the children. With that money, I am able to survive. With the loans, I buy supplies to make more Johnny Cakes. At the end of the first savings and loan cycle, I built a beautiful bathroom for my home.”
Plant With Purpose will continue to tell people: God loves you. God has a purpose for you. God wants you to invest your talents. God invites you to create with Him. Our prayer is that partnering families will echo the sentiment of Neema Elikunda in Tanzania, “I thank God for lifting me up from nothing to something.”
The Summer Sower is hitting mailboxes this week. To read the entire newsletter, click here.