We walk the lines of cowpeas in Albertina’s field with excitement. Before our eyes is the reclamation of degraded land, the redemption of what was lost. Her joy bubbles over with ours. She recognizes the change not only in the land but in herself.

Albertina’s husband, once a respected community leader, is now an alcoholic. This sickness has placed all responsibility of family care on her shoulders. But she doesn’t walk with her head down and shoulders slumped. She stands tall and strong with a smile.

Christ in her, the hope of glory.

She walks in the freedom He offers and has given the weight of responsibility to Him. She follows Christ in everything, even her farming, and lives in His promises, passing on the message that has become her life.

Sustain, launched in 2013, fills a specific need that has been seen in missions. Our culture is so prone to categorize the facets of life. We divide the parts deemed “spiritual” from the “physical,” declaring them unrelated.  This leaves a missions movement that has not addressed a people’s total need or livelihood.

“And we don’t see how the spiritual world infiltrates our politics and our business and our neighborhoods and our homes and everything we do. And we’ve actually exported this distinction all around the world in the way we’ve done missions. Lesslie Newbigin said that Christian missionaries have been one of the most secularizing forces in the entire world. We’ve gone into third world context, and you know what we’ve told them? We’ve told them that it is not spirits who make the crops grow. It is scientific agriculture. So we got fertilizers and fungicides and pesticides and hybrid seed and we showed them their religion has nothing to do with agriculture. It belongs in the realm of science. What we should’ve said is this is a God-created and God-sustained world, and He has designed ways for this world to operate. And we experience the most, the best of His gifts in this world when we operate according to the way He has designed it. And so we seek Him, and we work in the context of how He as a perfect Designer of this world has made us.” – David Platt

Traditional beliefs speak into agriculture. Witchcraft, a religious system built on fear and superstition, hands out empty promises to farmers. Want to protect your field from theft? Kill a chicken in the field and line the fenceline with its blood. Want an unusually high harvest? Purchase a charm. If you have a difficult season, “Someone was behind you.” Perhaps a disgruntled friend or family member visited the witchdoctor to counter your efforts.

What happens if missions doesn’t address agriculture? It leaves a gapping hole that gets filled with these traditional beliefs- and the church combines her Christianity with witchcraft. Instead of experiencing the freedom and joy of Christ, they remain trapped in fear with no understanding that “He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world.”

We must not limit the influence of the gospel, but instead recognize that it is God’s total solution to man’s total need. When people grasp the fullness of this message, we begin to see productive faith-filled farms and discipleship-minded farmers.

Farming God’s Way and Foundations for Farming are Biblically-based educational resources for conservation agriculture. They are discipleship that walks farmers away from harmful practices and mindsets and into the abundant life of Christ. They replace the idea that “You lack” and “You need this chemical fertilizer, this hybrid seed, this equipment” with “God has placed in your hands what you need already. He is enough for you.” Corn yield averages with current, harmful farming practices like plowing, burning organic matter, or monocropping may be 0 to 20 bags per hectare. But the potential? Over 110 bags. And we’re seeing the shift firsthand.

Our goal is that we do not carry this message to every village, but that farmers do. We want to spark a viral move of God that local leaders carry. Farmers have been told their whole lives through the government, through society, and through their harvests that they are not capable. But we have a new message. And the response is incredible. The Holy Spirit is touching lives like Albertina’s, starting a fire that will continue to spread.


“Someone who gives you knowledge and someone who gives you food are two different people. What we have learned today, we can share with our families and others.”  – Meta, Chairwomen of Lunjasia (greater Njabalombe area) Women’s Association

Dust covered the Toyota as we cruised from side to side, avoiding potholes on the main road from Nyawa Chiefdom to Zimba town. We facilitated a difficult meeting, with few conclusions. The obstacles against the laying hen project are looming. Quick solutions are necessary, but the system doesn’t quite allow for sudden changes. Participants are caught saying, “It’s a good project, but…” Assisting leaders in business development is complicated. Our obstacles: limited market information, a struggling transport system, poultry diseases, a damaging mindset apparent in comments like

“…as farmers, we never reach the level we want…”

A long discussion left us with action points and glimmers of hope. Gertrude and I have no solid answers. The easiest solution? Dump free inputs onto the participants, flood them with agricultural goods. However, we have seen the effects of such a distribution, the way it further engrains a perspective that says, “we lack.”

Instead of driving home, we turned left at the tarmac, taking us through Zimba where Tom was meeting us. Next on the agenda was an overnight in Njabalombe Village, Simwatachela, for an introduction to some women’s groups.

We had no idea what to expect. I had my assumptions.

I need to think of how to explain that we don’t give out seed.

I need to sell the importance of education when I am asked for handouts.

I should be prepared to answer questions about projects, ready with an eloquent way to say they most often fail, but education is something that lasts.

 We pulled into the churchyard, surrounded by excited faces and a welcoming song. The ladies were busy preparing dinner and chibwantu, a local maize drink, over an open fire. Many had come to greet us that night, enthusiastic about the next day’s meeting.

I let my mind break from planning, let it rest in the hospitality shown. The cool evening arrived, the colors of the sky faded into a deep blue before darkness set.

After tea and buns, we began the day’s gathering. Ladies continued arriving as time passed, until about 50 sat on the logs that served as church benches. Introductions were followed by a simple question, “Before we begin, I’d like to hear what your groups are currently involved in. Can we have a representative share from each?”

Suddenly, many ladies stood up and walked out. I often find myself in awkward situations, trying to navigate happenings that I don’t really understand. Responding as usual, I just waited quietly.

IMG_5543One by one, the women reentered through the front door, carrying crafts, vegetables, pots, tablecloths, baskets, and rugs. The stage was soon lined with handmade and handgrown goods. Someone from each group stood behind their contribution and spoke of their activities.

Needless to say, I was floored. And attentive.

The day before, a friend reminded me through a devotional writing of the story of Jacob. In her words:

“He had made some foolish choices, deceived his father, stolen his brother’s birthright and blessing. As a result, he found himself fleeing for his life, his brother intending to kill him. So he left his imploding family and headed for Haran.  And when night fell, he took a stone for a pillow, went to sleep in the barren and lonely place he was in. Jacob had a lot to worry about. But while he slept, God gave him a vision and spoke to him in a dream, there in the middle of the wilderness, in the middle of nowhere. Jacob woke the next morning and remembered the night’s vision and the voice of God speaking, and he realized something. He realized something so remarkable that he took his stone pillow and made it an altar and said ‘Surely God is in this place and I did not know it’.”

Surely God is in this place and I did not know it.

The women’s testimonies prompted this phrase to repeat in my mind. He is present. He is here. He is dwelling within this group of believers, this group that stands against stereotypes. They are women business owners, women molding bricks to build their own shop for renting, women who use their profits to buy 10 blankets to donate to the local health clinics.

Surely God is in this place and I did not know it.

He is active. He is bringing women to life, showing them their value, awakening them to the resources by which they are surrounded. He is telling them, “I am with you. I will establish the work of your hands.” And they are running forward in this promise, in the confidence that He is at work in and through them.

I was a student that day of this group, of God. Surely He is present. And we get to jump in, encouraging believers, further equipping them, sending them out with joy into their communities. They carry the message further, influencing countless others.

Surely God is in this place. I am fully aware.

The two situations seem drastically different: the difficult meeting in Nyawa Central followed by the excitement of Njabalombe. But God is present in both. One awakens us to possible obstacles. One gives hope. They serve each other, a warning and a promise.  In each, we walk forward in faith, trusting that God is for us, believing in His ability to change us and to intervene in our circumstances.

He is here- wherever our “here” is…

 

 

 

 

 

 


As I have read the Gospels over the years, the belief has grown in me that Christ did not come to found an organized religion but came instead to found an unorganized one. He seems to have come to carry religion out of the temples into the fields and sheep pastures, onto the roadsides and the banks of the rivers, into the houses of sinners and publicans, into the town and the wilderness, toward the membership of all that is here.

– Wendell Berry

Rather than limiting the reach of the gospel, Jesus’ message made daily life sacred. He showed us glimpses of this connection found in common places.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser…

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me…

Take my yoke upon you…

He has written The Story into the world. Illustrations surround us. We’re not bringing Christ to a new place, as if able to fit Him into our backpacks and present Him with a “Surprise!” We don’t carry the gospel as much as point it out. The message has been written there from the start. Often as occupants, we are blinded to it- our eyes become accustomed to normal surroundings. Though creation speaks of an incredible God of grace, love, and hope, sometimes it takes a visitor to help us read the writing and see the beauty, the mystery, and the potential of the everyday.

Someone comes: to point out a new opportunity, to lead us in discovering hidden resources, to cause us to reevaluate our foundation, to convince us to try, and to help us see that we can do it ourselves.

A garden hoe, saved seed from last year’s harvest, cattle manure, and dried grass are not extraordinary. While the last is commonly burned on the field, the rest are typical inputs for the Zambian small-scale farmer. But take these four resources, adjust the cultivation practice, and watch as harvests multiply.

The good news continues: the increase in production isn’t the only resulting change. When someone discovers the goodness of God and their identity in Christ, their worldview shifts. They have not been forgotten. They have been surrounded by God’s provision from the start. They are redefined: Children of God. Beloved. Valuable. Equipped.

The footpaths led us from household to household and surprisingly enough, from one Farming God’s Way plot to another. We had taught the Biblically-based conservation agriculture program in Machenje Village two weeks prior to this visit, explaining how implementing the principles God established in creation can increase the productivity of the land. Tradition, pressure from others, and doubt often hinder adoption. We pray for one- one innovator who will step out of the norm in faith despite the reaction of the community. When a single person fully understands the message, the fruit of his work stands as a testimony to the village, beginning a ripple effect that spreads independent of our organized teaching efforts.

But in Machenje? 17. And growing. Even many who had not attended were trying because these women had passed on the message.

After working in Zambia for four years, I should no longer be surprised by God’s work in a situation. I should expect Him to intervene, changing hearts and drawing people into a new life. But on this visit, as the plots dotted the landscape, I stopped our parade of enthusiastic farmers.

“Why are you doing this? What prompted your adoption of the teaching?”

Everyone laughed. I guess the teacher isn’t supposed to ask such questions.

The response: “We thought we needed cattle. But we are carvers, we don’t have oxen to plow. We see now that there is something we can do with our own hands.” They recognize God’s gifts that have been with them from the start, and this has overflowed into confidence and excitement. They’re walking into a deeper understanding of the care of God and His presence in their everyday.

We are messengers, pointing to the evidence of an unending love that has been always been available and reachable but never realized. Jesus carried religion to the fields and sheep pastures, let’s help people see it there.

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