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Barry Mann tells us about what makes community development important and how it makes a difference.
Growing Nations was born when August Basson asked the question of God, ‘How can I feed the people spiritually when they are physically hungry?’ The Lesotho Evangelical Church also believe they have a responsibility to help support their parishioners in a practical way, especially those who are hungry. And so, Growing Nations is teaching people how to provide food for themselves.
What’s the difference?
But what makes the ‘Farming God’s Way’ values that Growing Nations use different to Conservation Agriculture (CA)? You could rightly argue that as the same planting methods and crop management are used they should produce the same yields and have the same positive impact on the environment. This is true, but ‘Farming God’s Way’ is about more than just passing on the CA methods to increase yields. At the heart of Growing Nations’ teaching is the Bible. In fact, our teaching starts in Genesis, looking at God’s amazing and perfect creation and his relationship with man.
The renewal of people’s minds
Bill Rettie went to the Kerio Valley, Kenya, in 1986 to establish the church based Cheptebo Rural Development Centre and initiate development and training activities. He reflects on the change that results through gospel transformation.
I found out soon after arriving in Cheptebo, Kenya, that the government had classified the area as ‘low potential’. This meant they weren’t interested in putting much investment into it, nor did they expect anything to come out of it. There was almost the suggestion that the locals were a low potential people. The general attitude was ‘we are poor, we have always been poor and we probably always will be poor, so please come and give us things’.
At Cheptebo Rural Development Centre we took a different approach, saying “We are not here to give you things, but to help you use what resources are already here”. As people were changed through the transforming power of the gospel, they began to respond to the agricultural training being offered by the centre. Land that had been considered unproductive now began to yield good harvests. And the contrast is that today nobody, including the government, is talking about the area as ‘low potential’. They use Cheptebo as a demonstration and training area because there has been real transformation there.
We have seen the words of Romans 12 come true before our eyes. Christian development has got to begin not with the farm or crops but with the renewal of people’s minds. When people who are transformed into the likeness of Christ begin to live it out, families are changed and communities are changed. Now, each time I go back I see this working out in practice. An area that was poor, neglected and depressed has become vibrant. People are excited about the potential of their area, what they can do, what they are doing and what the future holds.
Watch a video interview with Bill and Joseph & Sally, who run the development centre today.
You can read an article about Bill’s work transforming the dry Kerio Valley into a farming success that was published in the East African Standard in Kenya here.
This biblical teaching is all about transforming people’s lives; helping them to put God first and to acknowledge him in every aspect of their lives, personally, in their family and community life and on their fields. God has given us the role of being stewards of his creation and once farmers realise this their whole outlook on life changes. As they put their trust in God their lives are truly changed and agriculture is no longer seen as a chore but as a blessing.
Does it really work?
Five years ago, in the remote village of Ha Lelinyane in Lesotho, Growing Nations trained two farmers. Despite being laughed at and told ‘you can’t farm like that’ by community members, they persevered. Year after year their crops have improved and now they are a great example of what can be achieved. Not only are they self sufficient, even producing crops during last seasons drought, but they are also working alongside Growing Nations to train farmers from their community and across Lesotho. Most importantly, they give all the glory of what has been achieved to God.
Pastors and farmers who are passionate about God and agriculture are not only helping people meet their physical needs but are developing them spiritually too. The students participating in the Resident Student Programme often find their spiritual lives deepened and one student, Ntsiuoa, has been clearly called by God into mission.
Reaching the unreached
AIM has already been using Growing Nations to run ‘Farming Quest’, a three week course for those working in areas where agriculture is practiced. The participants are taught the principles of ‘Farming God’s Way’, together with the transformational development tools to enable them to take the methods back to their own ministry areas. We are currently looking at ways of expanding this further to equip future teams before they go out to work among unreached people groups in rural areas. What better way to share the gospel than working alongside the people in their fields?
It is our prayer that the work of Growing Nations will not only transform lives but will be instrumental in helping others spread the good news to places where it has not yet been heard.