Full Disclosure: for those of you who haven’t figured it out yet, we are missionaries living in Thailand. So what does farming have to do with the gospel? Farming is food and the gospel has to do with going to heaven, right? To be honest, I’m tempted to believe this. But you may be pleasantly surprised to know that isn’t the whole story.
When Jesus spoke of the gospel, the message was pretty clear: Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand. There are three nuggets of gold in there, and they are all critically important to what I and anyone else as a follower of Jesus does.
- Repent: this basically means that you acknowledge that a) something you do or b) something happening around you that you are complicit to is not as it should be. Your response is to change what you do or change the part you play in the malfunctioned system you find yourself in.
- Kingdom of God: God’s kingdom can be summed up by the Jewish word Shalom, which is a true, pervasive peace; things are the way they were intended to be. This means relationships are restored, nations are just, the land is healthy.
- at hand: this is what it sounds like. The kingdom is “here and not yet”. You can touch it and experience it, see it dimly, but it isn’t in its full authority… yet.
This was the good news Jesus came to preach. And it was intended to be shared with all peoples of all walks of life. The invitation is for everyone. In the same way, it applies to all parts of our lives, specifically all of our relationships.
In his book, Tending to Eden, Scott Sabin talks about 4 primary relationships in everyone’s lives. He groups them according to 1) ourselves, 2) other humans, 3) God, and 4) creation. He goes on to demonstrate how these relationships intertwine with one another, to the benefit or detriment of the others. Oftentimes the church presents an individual-focused relationship to God while neglecting how that relationship connects to and informs the other three. To say this another way, the gospel is far too often presented as a means to “personal salvation” when the Bible paints a completely different, and bigger, picture.
Sabin illustrates this point by referencing the duty of parents. If you were to ask them to choose between giving their children food and shelter (relationship with self) OR giving them religious instruction (relationship with God), the parent might look at you funny. The two are not mutually exclusive, yet that is very much how the gospel has been depicted in modern religious movements. Spiritual salvation has been compartmentalized from physical salvation. However, if someone were to ask me if I came to Thailand to preach Jesus OR tend to their physical needs, my answer is YES!
Now I will apply this logic to my work at the Charis Teaching Farm. Our research farm has four primary goals: (1) Restoration of the land, (2) Employment of local people with a focus on relationship, (3) Support of local families through the production of food, and (4) sharing knowledge and practices with farmers from the surrounding area. Through pursuing these goals in concert I have seen relationships restored and strengthened. For instance, caring for the land rather than squeezing out the few nutrients it had left after years of unsustainable agriculture methods, produced a healthy ground which has rewarded us in kind with an abundant harvest. Treating my workers with kindness and respect has given me friends who care about the work they do. Sharing our produce with at-risk families demonstrates the love of God and that His economy is larger and more open than they previously imagined. And finally, sharing our knowledge, methods and worldview with farmers who visit proliferates a mindset of the “kingdom at hand” which will have ripple effects across Southeast Asia.
The gospel has always been good news, especially to the poor. It represents hope in a dark and malfunctioning world. It’s a message that we all need to continue to return to so that we may be filled with hope anew and be reminded that the Good Life is within our reach. It is an honor and delight to share this message of hope through agriculture to the people of Thailand. And I offer my thanks to all who have supported and continue to support us so that we can continue to do this. If you would like to support us, please visit our DONATE page. Thanks for reading. I hope this post gives you fresh hope for an even better Good Life for you and the relationships around you.