Category Archives: stewardship

just say yes

“You don’t dig up a fruit tree every year, do you? If you do, you’ll never get any fruit!” It does make sense, when you think of it like that.

Pastor Chen, a Taiwanese Presbyterian minister, shared why he has chosen to stay put, in the same place, for the past 20+ years of his ministry.

In the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church when one is done training to be a pastor, the first ‘assignment’ is truly that – a lottery system, picked out of a hat, if you will, and you are told where you will go. Sort of like an arranged marriage. Pastor Chen, before receiving his assignment, decided that wherever he was sent, he would stay.

He wound up being sent to a poor, aboriginal (indigenous) area of Taiwan, to the Juang San Church. He himself is not of the aboriginal peoples, but that was where he was sent.

Though Taiwan has only a small percentage Christian population (around 3.5%) the aboriginals are overwhelmingly Christian (close to 70% of aboriginals are Christian).  They are a small portion of the total population (around 2%) and tend to be the poorest and most marginalized in society.

Pastor Chen quickly realized that not only could the congregation not afford to pay him as their pastor, but the church itself was already in debt, and the church members were themselves out of work.

Needing work himself, and needing to figure out a way to help the church become self-sustaining, Pastor Chen began to wonder what might be possible.

Nearby the Juang San Church is the Changua Christian Hospital – what has become the leading medical center in the area, and begun with Presbyterian roots.

As it happened, the hospital approached Pastor Chen to see if he and some of the church members might become the cleaning crew for it.  “Yes!” he said – explaining that those who have few resources always say yes. The new cleaning crew had to quickly figure out what it meant to be providing that service for the medical center – they didn’t have experience in this, just a willingness, ability, and a need.

After working through issues of the floors being a bit too polished – it could get dangerous if people were to slip and fall in the hospital – the crew settled into a routine and won the approval of the hospital.

After a while of this the hospital came to Pastor Chen and asked, “You are doing such a good job with the cleaning – do you do fumigation?”

“Yes!” said Pastor Chen – having no idea how to do fumigation. “But we learned.”

Again, pleased, the hospital came to Pastor Chen and his crew – “Do you do landscaping?”

“Yes!” said Pastor Chen – explaining to us that after trimming the trees back a bit too much, they learned.

What began as a crew of 4 is now a crew of over 300, including church members and non-members, now sustaining themselves, their families, and also the church.

Because it has become self-sustaining the church is able to give back more to the local community, offering after school tutoring to local aboriginal children, and helping them protect the local habitat – in danger due to the forces of globalization – whose destruction is the biggest threat to the traditional way of life of the aboriginal people.

“The purpose of the church is not just for evangelism” said Pastor Chen, “not just for spiritual things, but for the whole life – for the whole person.”

“crucify him!” (Jesus and the gopher, part 2)

Tigger, the hunter

There is good news, and there is bad news, and they are both the same thing. Despite the previously mentioned ‘ultima cena‘ for little gophy (and at the risk of rushing straight from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday) he lives.

It was Tigger who spotted him, from the porch. I’m not sure if spotted or sensed or smelled is the right word to use, but, upon watching her pounce from the porch down into the garden, I followed.

What I was greeted with brought me both relief and frustration. Relief knowing that my decision to use poison gas to rid the yard of little gophy had not actually murdered his poor gopher soul (and implicated my own in the process).  Frustration knowing that my ‘horticulture’ as it is described in Spanish (from my conversations yesterday at the granero) is most definitely still at risk of being destroyed from the roots up.

Quickly I called to Tigger, ran up to the porch, tied her up, and got the tube of gas pellets. I was headed back down the steps to gophy, whose little head was again poking up out of the hole, his big front teeth prominent, with the thought that this might just be it, the end of gophy. I had him in my sights, a perfectly accessible hole down which to drop the ‘danger poison gas pellet’ when, from somewhere, I heard, echoing in my head “crucify him! crucify him!”  (Apparently this is what can happen when one spends too much time alone in the garden…)

this is not the kind of 'shooting gophy' I initially had in mind

Today is, of course, Good Friday, the day on the Christian calendar commemorating the crucifixion and death of Jesus. The day when the crowds cheered, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Author and Catholic priest Richard Rohr, in his daily meditation for Good Friday put it this way: “The central issue at work [on Good Friday] is the human inclination to kill others, in any multitude of ways, instead of dying ourselves—to our own illusions, pretenses, narcissism, and self-defeating behaviors.” Hmmm…

Today also, this year, happens to be Earth Day, a day, as wikipedia puts it “to inspire awareness and appreciation for the earth’s natural environment.” The day when we are supposed to celebrate the earth and its creatures, all God’s creation. Presbyterian Pastor Craig Goodwin, in an article about the intersection of Good Friday and Earth Day, puts it this way: “Earth Day’s collaboration with Good Friday helps the church remember that, like his love, Jesus’ sacrifice is for all the Earth.”

On both accounts, it seemed like a rather bad day to reach for the gas pellets.

So, I put the tube back in the bag and headed into the house for some garlic. Yesterday the Mexican caretaker of the house next to me told me that garlic will deter gophers. So, I peeled off a couple of ‘dientes’ (literally teeth) of garlic, dropped them in the hole, and covered it up.

15 minutes later Tigger was back in the yard, watching the gopher, its head poking out of a new hole.

photo: socks

taste your food

'tomato' by erin dunigan

The first time I noticed it, it happened to be in the form of a tomato. It was fresh from the garden, homegrown, just off the vine and I was slicing it up to eat for dinner.

“This is so good!” I couldn’t help exclaiming as I took my first bite. It was, in no uncertain terms, delicious.

“Wow, what a difference it makes to eat your tomato fresh from the vine, vs. fresh from the produce aisle at the supermarket,” I thought to myself. Even the ‘vine ripened’ tomatoes in the market didn’t even come close to the flavor of the home grown version. So, for the past five years since, I’ve made sure each spring to plant tomatoes. “They should have a different name for the ones that they sell in the supermarket,” I remember thinking. Because the tasteless bland bit of mush is really nothing like the real thing. I seemed to be turning into something of a tomato snob. Not just a snob, but a real tomato evangelist as well. “Here, try one of these, you’ll love it,” I offered to friends and neighbors, when the plants’ yields were more than I could keep up with. “It is so much better than the store bought variety–try it!” I’d push. Not quite a megaphone and placards preaching impending doom on the street corner, but close.

This behavior continued over the past five years, fairly consistent. In the intervening time I read books such as Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy and  Michael Polan’s In Defense of Food. I started paying attention to where my food came from–meaning, how far away (do I really need out of season berries from Argentina?) as well as how it was grown (do I really want to eat beef from a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) with all of the potential for disease, not to mention the ecological ramifications such mass produced farming efforts leave in their wake.

But then one day a few weeks ago something else happened.

Spending more of my time in Baja California, I’ve been trying to get as much of what I need locally, rather than picking it up when I happen to be in the US. Amazingly, even though it is a small town, a new ‘produce market’ opened up locally, with all kinds of fruits and vegetables, most of them locally grown. On this particular day, along with my other items, I picked up a cucumber and a few carrots. That night as I was peeling the cucumber and slicing it to put in a salad, I sampled a bit.

“This has so much flavor!” I couldn’t help but exclaim. I was amazed. I didn’t realize that cucumbers could be so flavorful–so much that I could even smell the cucumber as I was slicing it.

That was when I realized–maybe the same thing that is true for the tomato, is true for the cucumber as well?! Is it possible that cucumbers, real ones, grown locally and picked when they are actually ripe and ready to be eaten, is it possible that they are actually much more flavorful than their store bought counterparts, just like tomatoes? It seemed so obvious, now that I saw it, but still somehow I was stunned.

The next day it happened again. I was hungry and wanted a snack. I spotted the carrot and decided I’d peel it and have a healthier snack than the chips and salsa I was eying. So, you guessed it. I peeled and sliced the carrot and as I bit into it, again was taken aback. “You mean carrots are flavorful too?!”

So, it made me wonder. How much else of what we have been accustomed to eating and drinking is actually a shadow of the real thing? And perhaps more importantly, why in the world have we allowed this to be so?