When I get on Skype with my family, one of the common threads of conversation is the weather and what is blooming or ripening in our various homes. One sister lives in the desert of Arizona and another sister and dad in central USA. I, on the other hand, live in the tropics of SE Asia. I was excited when I heard the crocus had bloomed in Oklahoma, the first sure sign of Spring. At the same time my other sister talked about their lemon harvest and all she does to be able to have lemonade all year round.
So, Susan’s, Lessons Learned in the Garden was especially meaningful to me. I hope you are blessed as you think about what she has learned from her gardening.
Some people are born gardeners – I’m not.
It could be because it doesn’t fit easily with my ‘quick results’ personality, or that I had always seen it as an ‘old ladies’ hobby’, or maybe the dry conditions in Australia where I had grown up didn’t encourage things to grow. For whatever reason, I didn’t garden – until 1995.
We had invested a year in learning the majority language in the Southern Philippines. Then, after moving to a tribal village, we had to start the learning process all over again in a different cultural environment .
The Military regularly passed through, looking for communist insurgents. I discovered that there were two signs they looked for in assessing whether a household held sympathies with the rebels – a fence around the house and a garden. The train of thought was that if an individual or family spent most of their time hiking around as a rebel or in the rebel camps, there would be no time or interest in fencing the house or cultivating a garden. This gave me great incentive to learn gardening!
In the 14 years since, through the seven homes we have lived in, I’ve continued to garden, and have learned a number of life lessons through this. So, here are my “life lessons learned in the garden”.
First, God brings the growth. Since moving to work amongst the U***n tribe in 2001, there have been congregations formed and lives changed. We have seen God act in amazing ways. All by His grace. He has brought the growth. No gardener can make a plant flower or force a seed to sprout. No person can make someone else open their heart or change. That’s God’s job. (1 Cor. 3:6- “I planted, Apollos watered, but God made it grow.”)
The second lesson I’ve learnt is that environment matters. Compare the tropical mountain highlands of the southern Philippines to dry Brisbane in South East Australia. In Brisbane it may rain five times in four months, yet in the Southern Philippines it rained almost every day (except for three weeks in April). This affects what grows, how fast is grows, and individual characteristics of the plant. Even the same plant can look different when cultured in different environments. I have observed the same principle in life. Different cultural and physical environments matter. I have learned not to be judgemental as an outsider, but to listen first, and take note of the environment.
I have found that preparation and care make a difference. Knowing that God brings the growth is no cop-out to using strategies and plans. He has given us a brain to use! For myself, the practical outworking of this has been to invest time and energy in learning the worldview, culture, and languages of the local people we have lived among. It has meant learning how to show God’s love in practical, appropriate ways, always working with the end in view – that we, as outsiders, are temporary. We have modelled all we do, then assisted others to do it, followed by watching them from a distance, and finally leaving to start somewhere else. None of this guarantees success, but it sure makes a difference.
A difficult lesson to learn has been that weeds will always grow – not may grow, will grow. Weeds come in different types, with different growth patterns, but they are always there. Some can be dealt with by snipping off the top, while others require every last root bulb found and removed. Our spiritual enemy is active in any situation. He uses many tactics and takes many forms, but is always active. In western society it seems the aim is to work towards a life without suffering and problems – a garden without weeds. But this is unrealistic. Weeds will always grow. We need to constantly counteract them.
It was through a pawpaw tree that I learned the root system is important. We had this tree growing beside our outside septic-system toilet. It grew well on the gentle slope, and promised an abundance of fruit – until rainy season arrived. One morning I walked out to find it lying on the ground. The enticing, almost-ripe fruit at the top of the tree was heavy and the shallow root system had not been able to keep the top-heavy tree upright on the slope in the soggy ground. I never did get to enjoy a ripe pawpaw from that tree. Many beautiful, showy plants easily die or are blown over. This lesson has shown me that it’s great to look nice, but what is ultimately important is our roots. It has caused me to ask myself if I am investing time and energy in my physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual root system, for that is what is important.
We, as a family, will be undergoing a major change of environment soon. After 14 years of living in the rural and tribal areas of central Mindanao, and six months in Australia on Home Assignment, we will be moving to the mega city of Manila. My prayer is that I will carry my garden lessons with me. I have even written a prayer, which you may want to make your own:
“Father, whatever the environment that I find myself in, enable me to prepare the soil in others’ lives and care for them appropriately; to be on the look out and vehemently attack any visible weeds; to invest in my own root system; and to trust the resulting growth to You, the only one Who brings the growth.
By Susan Chapman
Working with OMF Int. – www.omf.org
(Reflections penned in late 2009)