Monday, August 23, 2010

God Whispers in My Ear

Day 4: Wednesday, Aug. 4

Leogane, Haiti

Today, I was feeling sorry for myself in a major way. I suck at measuring (accurately, at least), cutting a straight line with a skill saw and screwing-in screws with a power drill. I was 0-for-3 on the day. I came to Haiti in hopes of gaining more carpentry skills because I feel called to go on foreign mission trips to work in construction. Someday, I’d like to be able to write in a few other skills besides cooking that I offer to a team.

So I went for a short walk to be alone and pray. “Lord, why is it so hard for me to learn how to do these things. I really want to get better. I just don’t have a knack for this sort of thing. This is going to be a really frustrating week for me if you don’t help me.”

I looked out over the empty backyard of the orphanage and stood in silence for a minute, sweating profusely. Then I heard God whisper in my ear: “Plant these people a garden. You’re a farmer.” Then I cried for a minute.

God was right. The fact that I suck as a carpenter doesn’t disappoint God one bit. I grew up on a farm, and even though I left the farm 31 years ago, the farm has never left me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven down I-5 to Los Angeles and driven over a thousand bubbles in the middle of the freeway because I’m checking out the crops to my left and to my right. When I began catering in 2004, my secret ambition was to grow a garden for vegetables and herbs, and maybe even raise a few steers, a pig or two, maybe a goat, a roost of chickens or a gaggle of ducks.

I joke that the farm house I grew up in was next door to fields of cantaloupe, wheat and lettuce – and poop, lots of poop because 20,000 head of cattle lived across the road. I can tell you everything about raising cattle, because my dad was a cattleman. As a sophomore in high school, I had the 4-H grand champion steer in the Yuma County Fair. I participated in the Arizona State fair judging cattle. I could guess the weight of a steer within 30 pounds. For three summers in college, I was a hired gun for various farms in California and Arizona. Driving farm implements was a whole lot of fun growing up, but my oldest brother will tell you that I never could put in straight rows for planting. He always had to put the first six rows in. Sort of like my saw skills.

My senior year, my dad the farmer advised me to choose between cattle and wrestling, and I chose wrestling. In college, I gave up wrestling for journalism after I suffered a lifelong injury to my neck. I was a newspaper journalist for 23 years, including seven years working in the food department for the Tri Valley Herald in Pleasanton, California. Here I am writing about farming again.

I digress. Back to Haiti. Whereas my mind doesn’t really see things when I work in construction, the ideas started flowing immediately for a garden. I walked around the roughly one-half acre. I grabbed a handful of dirt and tried to envision what kind of crops would grow here. I looked at all the weeds and rocks and began plotting strategy. Thankfully, it is a fairly flat piece of land.

I walked next door to check out the corn field. I plucked an ear of corn, and the kernals were sweet and tasty. The field was infested with weeds. This farmer apparently didn’t like hoeing weeds.

I made mental notes of the farm equipment we would need. I thought about the irrigation problems we would face and how we would solve them. I made a mental note to ask my middle brother how to get rid of the abundant grass. I made a quick plan to buy some chickens and build a chicken coop so the children would have eggs to eat for protein. Chicken poop is one of the best natural fertilizers. They would need either a cow or a nanny goat for milk. We’d plant fruit and nut trees someday. I asked one of our interpreters if he thought we could get a local farmer to come in and chisel the ground, and he assured me they would help us. I made plans with the cook to go to the local farmers market so I could see the vegetables for sale from the area. (There was a large variety; I counted more than 20 different vegetables and fruits.)

When would we come back? November, to plant the winter crop. Then again in February for the harvest. We’d teach them bee-keeping because bees are needed for pollination. We’d teach them canning so vegetables would be plentiful two months later. Canning is no good unless you have a cool place to store the jars. With no electricity at the orphanage, we would have to build an old-fashioned root cellar a few feet underground to keep them cool. Because it rains so much, it would have to have proper drainage designed. We would need to write the director of the orphanage and ask his permission.

The children would help farm, because they need to learn the responsibility of caring for something that will benefit them. Teaching them to farm will bring alive Jesus’ teachings on the Parables of the Soils. Maybe a few of them will even become farmers.

I started thinking of friends who might join me because they have certain skills our team would need. My friend Jan was the first to come to mind, because she raises a few chickens in her back yard, she keeps bees to make her own honey (the best I’ve ever tasted), and her back yard is one huge garden. My two brothers are my best advisers, and maybe I’ll invite them to come along. I asked Bill, our Haiti team’s resident construction expert, if he could design us a chicken coup, and he said certainly. When I told team members I wanted to come back to plant a garden, a few of them said they wanted to come back, if for no other reason then to see the kids again. The team will need engineers as well as housewives.


When God puts a vision on the hearts and minds of one of his followers, he gives them the tools they need, from ideas, to consultants, to helpers, you name it. All of the components won’t come at one time, but they’ll come at just the right time. His time. I love how God works. He uses us for his purposes, if we are willing to humble ourselves and serve him with his plan, not ours. This isn’t about us. It’s about empowering the Haitians to feed themselves. This project may go beyond this little orphanage that sits on 2 acres of this island nation. Every farmer in Haiti could benefit from the irrigation principles we can teach them.

Here’s the funny part. In January, I began a ministry called Feast With the King, whose premise is to use good food to witness to a lost world. One of our tenets is to help churches plant urban gardens and give the proceeds to the homeless. In Livermore, I’m working with a church to plant a garden in its back yard. But as I planned to go to Haiti, at no time did I ever think about planting a garden. I knew I wanted to go, prayed about it and asked God to provide the finances, which he did.

God first had to get me down there before he could put his ultimate plan on my heart. I had to grow a heart for those orphans before I could serve them. God wants his servants to have caring hearts for those they help. He wants our motives to be pure.

The hard part for me was to not go out and find a tractor and chisel and get to work. I wanted to organize the kids and get all the big rocks out of the field. But I knew I had to be patient, pray and wait. Every once in a while, I’d walk over to the ground and just look around and pray. Before I left, I bagged a pound of dirt to have it analyzed back home for nutrients.

When I got home, I wrote up the proposal to my church, Cornerstone Fellowship, and its mission board, which oversees this Haiti project. A few days later, I was invited to participate in a group to plan our follow-up ministry. Since I got back two weeks ago, I started calling people I thought could help me solve problems I foresaw. I shared the vision with a few friends, and some of them sent me notes from research they did on the Internet.

God is present in Haiti, and he is working in the lives of Haitians. He is letting them know every day that he loves them. Someday, one of the ways he will show them he loves them is by providing them with healthy food from their very own garden.

Way cool.

I can’t wait to go back to Haiti again. I want to help plant a garden. I want to see the children again. And I want to share God’s love for those children. God willing.

Caption: Could this be where we one day plant a garden? Stay tuned.

1 comment:

  1. Cool post. I read part of it last night and when I woke up this morning, the Spirit reminded me of his work with all of us. Particularly, he brought to mind, "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good...All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills."(1 Cor 12:7, 11)

    Years ago, while studying Exodus 35:20-34, I saw this principle more clearly in Isreal's preparation to build a tabernacle for God. God gave a plan to Moses and he also provided the workers and their desires for the work. Isreal's story clearly illustrates the work of the Spirit in empowering people to do the work of God.

    Your story also illustrates the same.