May 12, 2007
Ten years ago this weekend, Ron and I were in Addis Abba, Ethiopia, attending peace meetings and trying to make a decision about our future. We hated the thought of leaving Africa. We needed to decide if we should invest another major portion of our working career in Africa or to re-engage America once again. We feared being weird missionaries who thought they were African and did not fit into the American culture. We also missed being a part of the Quaker community on a daily basis. Yet we wondered if we could find as much passion and purpose for service in America that we woke up to each day in Africa. Our desire to be a part of the Quaker community and our hope that our years in Africa could make a difference in the land of our birth were the tipping points for us and we returned to America in September of 1997.
After sleeping 3,155 nights under a mosquito net, after 9 years of making my own mayonnaise and dog food (and most of the time being able to tell the difference), after nine years of feeling a world away from the culture of our birth, we decided to become Americans again. In Africa we ate fresh pineapple, bananas and papaya everyday. In Africa we were able to see flowers and flowering trees 365 days a year. In Africa we had 1000 different species of birds, our days are divided evenly between12 hours of sunlight and 12 hours of darkness. In Africa we listened to thunder over 200 days of the year. We lived at the source of the Nile River, the longest river in the world. It was hard to not call Africa paradise!
But Paradise had its down times: phones that didnít always work, erratic electricity and war, war, and more war. High rates of HIV/AIDS, malaria and a dozen other exotic diseases that no one ever wants to think about enduring. I do not miss kerosene lamps and candles, squat toilets and pit latrines and men urinating in public anywhere and everywhere. Neither do I miss guns: I do not miss seeing them everywhere, everyday, nor do I miss hearing gunshots on a daily basis. I do not miss having to buy my milk, bread, eggs, and vegetables each at a different location.
So now I live in America, a different land than Africa. A land of voice mail, pagers, MP3 players, caller ID, and web browsing. A land of apples and seasons, of grocery stores, shopping malls, movie theaters, libraries and bookstores. A land of snow and tornados, concrete and computers. But also a land of friends, family and a community of Quakers. I still miss Africa, but I am surprised Iíve found as much passion and purpose for life and service here as I did in Africa. Iíve always believed that if my time in Africa was to matter to our world, then I had to live differently here. I had to live with the awareness that what I do, what I consume, and how I live matters to my African friends. I had to live with an awareness that I am a part of a global village and that I can make a difference in Africa and by how I live in Winchester, Indiana.
SoÖ..Iím going to share with you my life in Winchester Indiana.
Iím almost ashamed to admit that most of my time, energy, ministry, and wellÖÖÖ.most of my life seems to revolve around food. I guess my years in Africa taught me of the sacredness of food. The breaking of bread together builds community, growing food connects us to the land and to our creator. Food nourishes our bodies and helps us grow. Food gives life. The lack of food is starvation and death, and seeing people actually die of starvation changes your perspective on food.
Six years ago a Compassion Garden seed was planted. The planting of the Compassion garden was inspired by a Heifer International magazine article about a school yard garden. It was also inspired by the need to engage youth in a service project, the desire to teach kids about gardening, the need to do something with the space between the church parking lots, and the need to supplement the Junior High Sunday School offering that was to go to support a Compassion Child. This patch of ugly ground that no one wanted to mow was across the street from our church, between the Presbyterian and Quaker parking lots. Six ft by 50 ft of weedy soil is now a vegetable garden; planted, weeded and watered with the help of the youth in our meeting and with help from people in the Presbyterian Church. Produce grown in the Compassion Garden is placed on a table each Sunday in the meetinghouse for anyone to take and eat for a small donation. Whatever money collected goes to support a young girl from Uganda named Janet who is a Compassion International child.
Each summer we plant green peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes interspersed with bright marigold flowers. In a world where 24,000 people die each day of hunger, it doesnít make sense to let weeds grow where food can be produced. The food we grow wonít make its way to Africa, but it does provide good healthy nutrition and local produce that does not take fossil fuel to bring to our table. Our financial donation for this food is able to help one child out of poverty. This is good stewardship of land and labor and a visible expression of Godís intentions for the earth.
The Compassion garden teaches us that our physical work to nurture this soil in Winchester, Indiana, matters to a child in Uganda. Money helps, but how we live makes the real difference in our world. As we work together to plant, water and harvest the produce, we nurture community and we make community visible. Youth relate to adults, Presbyterians relate to Quakers, the community sees a beautiful garden in the heart of our city, people drive by and honk when we are out harvesting or watering, people stop and ask what we are doing and I have an opportunity to greet my neighbors as they walk by when Iím out there. The garden is producing vegetables, but it is also growing community and making compassion visible.
The Compassion Garden is about growth. Today there are 5 Compassion International children sponsored by individuals and SS classes at Winchester Friends.
The witness of a hands on project for the Compassion child planted a seed. The idea for a seed fund for missions began to grow. Now each year a $1000 from a trust left to our meeting is set aside for grants to individual members. This project is called Shareholders in Shalom. The participating Friend accepts $10 or $50 and agrees to invest it in raw materials or ingredients, then add his/her own skill, time, and sweat to produce something which can be sold (handicrafts, food, etc.) during the next several months. For instance, someone could purchase lawn mower fuel, then mow lawns for profit; or buy cleaning supplies and then clean houses for hire; buy seeds and plant them, then sell produce for profit, etc. Sometimes two or three Friends pool their investment to work together on a common project.
My Shareholder in Shalom project for the last three years was to buy ingredients for pickles, jalapeno jelly and salsa (using excess Compassion Garden produce), ingredients for wheat rolls and cinnamon rolls to take to our local Farmerís Market. Last year with an investment of $50, I made over $250 for the Shareholder project and added another $50 to the Compassion garden for the fresh produce I used in the pickles and salsa. Shareholders invested in a Seeds for Peace project in Bosnia, Alternatives to Violence training at Friends Theological College in Kenya, and a game for children in Lebanon to teach them the difference between a toy and the million cluster mines spread in southern Lebanon by Israel. This coming summer the Shareholders project will be making relief kits to send to Iraq for the millions of displaced people. The gardenís growth reaches around the world.
Having a garden across the street from the meetinghouse raises awareness of some important issues in our world today: stewardship of land, the importance of chemical free food that takes little fossil fuel to produce, the importance of a Farmerís Market around our city square and the value of participation to be visible to greet my neighbors. In a world where most of the food on our table travels up to 2,000 miles, it is important to offer locally grown produce with almost no use of fossil fuel. The importance of locally grown food spurred me to buy a locally raised cow. Last week the cow was butchered and now we are offering locally raised, locally processed beef for people in our meeting to provide an alternative to chemical and preservative laden meat at our Walmart store.
In an effort to encourage the use of locally raised, locally produced food and to cook more intentionally, a group of young women at the meeting became interested in gathering 4-5 times a year to work together to cooperatively cook things together for our families. FoodFriends spends time freezing corn, canning beans, making cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning, making homemade bread, cookie dough, main dishes or bierrocks for the freezer. We work together to produce food with no additives, we buy natural sugar, brown rice, and organic flour in bulk and divide it to save money. Our time working together brings laughter and joy and fellowship into our meetinghouse. This is a good thing.
In a land abundant with food, I still see people go hungry. Often people have enough food, but they are malnourished because they only buy highly processed food, high in fat and sugar. These foods line our supermarket shelves and are unbelievably cheap for the amount of processing they require. Growing vegetables across from the church and taking them to the local farmers market is one way to increase awareness of natural, real food and maybe to increase the nutritional level of our community. This is stewardship of food.
There are other projects Winchester Friends are involved in that get us beyond our meetinghouse. One is Morganís 1st Gift. In memory of an infant who died, and because a baby in our community hospital had to go home in a pillow case, a group of women started putting together sacks for newborns that include clothing, quilts, and other necessities. Over 200 sacks are given in our local hospital each year to newborns with the message that each child born into our world is a message from God that there is still hope for our world. This is stewardship of life.
For 6 years now our meeting gives away tree seedlings for Earth Day. 100 Blue Spruce, 100 Saw tooth Oak, 100 Tulip trees, 100 bald cypress trees, 100 red bud trees, and 100 shagbark hickory trees have been planted by Winchester Friends in an effort to address the issue of greenhouse gases in our world. This is stewardship of our planet.
The Compassion Garden is a visible witness of our relationship with God and Godís relationship with us. As a community of faith, we at times may be tempted to focus too much energy on worship services, buildings, prayer meetings and attendance and forget that our world needs visible expressions that God still rules above. Our world needs people who make the invisible spirit of God visible. Our world needs examples of people who care about the stewardship of all life. Our world needs people who make visible their experience of Christís life and Christís baptism. Our world needs to see Christians outside the walls of the church, actively making our world a better place. I hope I am always ready to garden and grow.
On Saturday, May 12, 2007 I was asked to share about the Compassion Garden at Friends Memorial Mother's Day Salad Luncheon. The text is what I shared and the photos below are a part of the slide show I shared with the group.
Compassion Garden 2001-2007
Garden space in 2001.
Parking Chat removed and replaced with topsoil by Tony and Clarence Kritsch.
Junior Youth plant seeds in March each year.
Garden prepared for seedlings in April.
Youth painting fence posts.
Seedlings planted May 21, 2006.
June 5, 2006
June 26, 2006
July 2, 2006
July 17, 2006
Compassion Garden produce on Sunday mornings.
Produce plus pickles.
Produce plus jams and salsa.
Compassion Child, Janet in Uganda.
JalapeŮo Jelly for Shareholders.
Farmer's Market for Shareholder's.
Bald Cypress trees for Earth day 2006.
Shagbark Hickory Trees for Earth Day 2007.
FoodFriends corn freezing day.
FoodFriends Green Bean Fest.
Morgan's First Gift Donations