I was looking at desiccated, erosion-scarred hillsides, each one a patchwork of rock walls delineating fields of withered corn and representing the entire future of a family, when the phrase “weary land” first came to mind. At the time I was in Haiti, but I have since seen weary land all over the world and my mind often goes to that same hopeful passage in Isaiah 32, which hints at redemption that is not just spiritual but will be “like streams of water in the desert, and the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.”
The imagery of Isaiah helped me to see these hillsides with new eyes. Instead of seeing only the misery and hardship, passages like Isaiah 41:17-20, gave me the imagination to see what is possible with God. In that passage, the prophet speaks of God answering the cries of the needy by planting trees in the wasteland and opening springs and rivers in the desert. God has given his people the capacity to do some of that same work.
Now I look at similar hillsides with fresh imagination. How different would the lives of those poor families be if their weary lands were covered with rich topsoil, flowing with water and producing abundant fruit? That dream seems fanciful, but is not as elusive as one might think.
In fact, it has become more than a dream. Creation is amazingly resilient, and God has given us an incredible diversity of tools that we can apply to restore it, even as we help farmers to increase their production and better understand Christ’s love.
Plant With Purpose is working alongside tens of thousands of farmers in eight countries and we have begun to see what is possible with our own eyes. By incorporating trees and other elements of agroecology into their farms, farmers are dramatically increasing their crop yields while they contribute to the health of their watersheds. Rain that once ran off in deadly flashfloods now infiltrates the soil, recharging groundwater and changing the microclimate. Many report that streams, which had dried up or become seasonal, are beginning to once again flow year around. Rivers are beginning to reclaim the desert.
As I recently drove through the mountains near Cornillon, Haiti, we passed hills covered with trees, and valleys that were little versions of Shangri-La. I spoke with farmers like Wally Emilcar, who took me on a tour of one of his fields, where he was growing bananas, chives, peppers, tomatoes, sweet potato, sugarcane, grapefruit, soursop, squash, coffee and numerous other plants. He told me he had planted fifteen different species of tree, including mahogany, cedar, acacia and pine. He explained how he has learned how to collect, save and germinate his own native pine seed and produces his own seedlings. I asked him what he used to grow on this same land and he laughed dismissively. “Nothing serious… Some pigeon peas and corn, but the corn was really a waste of time”.
Farmers like Wally have learned, and are continually teaching me, that human beings are not necessarily the problem, but rather can exercise their God-given role as stewards of creation. Former guerilla fighters in the Democratic Republic of Congo have described discovering purpose and self-respect by restoring the watersheds where they farm. In Tanzania this year, ten-thousand farmers gathered for a day of celebration to recognize the fact that over the year they had voluntarily planted 1.4 million trees on their own farms and in nearby riparian zones. Many of them have come to see their stewardship as an outward expression of their faith and a witness to surrounding communities.
There is still a long way to go, and Isaiah’s prophecy is not likely to find complete fulfillment this side of Christ’s return, yet so much more is possible that we often imagine, and it continues to be an incredible blessing to see tiny glimpses of the Kingdom in unlikely places.