This organization is involved in an orchard nursery business.
The job entails keeping honey bees in a local orchard.
The applicant should have relevant experience and qualifications.
This organization is involved in an orchard nursery business.
The job entails keeping honey bees in a local orchard.
The applicant should have relevant experience and qualifications.
This organisation is involved in the orchard business and training programs.
This job involves working with local farmers to assist and train them in developing profitable fruit-growing farms.
Experience in orchard management of apples, pears, apricots, plums and peaches would be helpful. Experience in fresh-fruit marketing and storage is also useful.
This organization is involved in the orchard business and training.
The job involves developing sales and marketing for the orchard business.
The successful applicant should have appropriate work experience and qualifications.
The NGO, based in the capital with two outlying branch offices, has a total of 20 staff, all locals having a reasonable command of English. They are project- and grant-focused but are trying to shift to a business model with farmers gradually paying for consultation, which would then provide 50% of their income. They are working to build the value chain for honey and walnuts through training, consultancy, certification to HACCP and other food safety standards and organisation of cooperatives. In the near future, they will start an agro tourism business. They are facing challenges relating to product quality.
Experience in food safety standards and accreditation.
They are looking for a native English speaker, who doesn’t have to be qualified. They are willing to host a PhD student — to support their research and provide a visa — if the PhD student was working in the food safety sector and could, in return, provide advice on food safety to their clients.
Whole of life discipleship
Rod and Helen* have served in Pen Asia for the last 8 years; he as an agronomist and she as a home-schooling mother.
Here, they each reflect on what it means to follow Jesus in the diverse contexts of their daily lives.
‘Whole of life’ discipleship means living a life of faith alongside others and encouraging them in their faith journey. This is very challenging to me because it’s intricately linked with my own faith journey. Discipleship of others feels most natural, and most authentic, when it overflows from my own experience of following Jesus, my own experience of being His disciple.
I’m still learning how to stay aware of His presence amidst my everyday activities and to walk through my days with Him. I’m still learning to turn to Him over and over again in small moments, with thankfulness and cries for help. I’m still learning to put my failings, my hopes, my needs and the needs of others around me into His hands.
As I learn more about how to follow Him, and as I experience His loving care, His provision and His encouragement, then I find myself sharing these experiences in a natural way with those around me.
John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
I find it hard to strike a balance between being intentional in discipleship and allowing the Spirit to lead me. I am committed to encouraging others to follow Jesus more closely, but I want to do it in His strength, relying on His wisdom and His timing and not my own. The times I feel a welling up in my spirit, an urgency to share an experience of His grace or an encouragement from His Word, are the times I sense His Spirit touching others through me. I pray for my heart to become more sensitive to His nudges and for more of these moments that seem truly God-directed.
The people I live my everyday activities amongst are the ones I have most opportunity to share with and encourage: my three kids who I teach at home each day, a few local women who I come into contact with regularly, and a few other expat friends in our community. These people, with whom I interact most closely, see the best and the worst of me. Amidst the messiness of my everyday life I hope they will see His strength made perfect in my weakness as I seek to follow Him.
I have the opportunity to live life and faith alongside our house-helper Bee*. She is from a small village in the south of the country but is living in the capital with her husband while he does further study. She works in our home to help support her husband’s studies and they live with us. Bee is a follower of Jesus, but her husband is not.
It is a privilege to walk alongside Bee and we’ve experienced some exciting answers to prayer. She was keen to learn tailoring skills whilst living in the capital; but we knew it would be difficult to find a tailor who would be willing to teach her around her work hours, and who would teach her a wide range of skills rather than seeing her as an opportunity for quick money or as someone to give all the drudge work to. We both prayed about how to find the right tailor to approach and one day I felt a strong urging to take Bee to a particular tailor who had made some clothes for me a couple of times before. I shared it with Bee and we went there that day. To our delight, the tailor agreed to teach Bee for a reasonable ‘one-off’ payment and for an open-ended amount of time—until Bee learnt as much as she wanted to learn. Bee has been learning alongside this tailor for over eighteen months and it is working out so well. An obvious answer to our prayers!
It’s harder to walk alongside Bee when circumstances are difficult and His answers are less obvious. It’s harder for me to trust His timing and His wisdom and to encourage Bee to do the same. Earlier this year Bee’s mother was very sick and so my family and I joined Bee in praying for her. Despite our prayers and our efforts to try and find the right medications for her, Bee’s mother died. Her family is left in a difficult situation with two younger sisters still at home and Bee’s father travelling away for work.
Although Bee’s husband is not a believer, he attends church with her each week and has been interested to read some Christian books and even a Study Bible. He has remarked that Christians really seem to care for other people and he was struck by the difference between the Christian funeral for Bee’s mother and the Buddhist funerals he is familiar with. He hasn’t decided to follow Jesus yet. Bee and I are still praying for him.
As I walk alongside others I learn so much from the way they live as a disciple. I have been challenged by Bee as she works in our home. She does her work with such diligence and care, always doing tasks to the best of her ability, and never seeking recognition or praise. When I read in the Word about taking the attitude of a servant, I think of Bee. Her example challenges my own willingness and efforts to be a servant.
Eight years of living in Pen Asia have provided me with a variety of experiences related to discipleship and how discipleship might work in this context.
In a broad sense, discipling others is to be available to help shape their spiritual life. There is a sense of this being intentional, and yet also a natural process to help others seek increasing fruitfulness in their lives. Discipleship viewed this way is what we might refer to as sanctification.
As westerners, we usually think of discipleship as taking place during a set period of time, often early in our spiritual journey, a time we set aside to let God do His work. Discipleship may fit into a class at a set time where we form our theological views. Perhaps we ignore the claim that God has on our lives, that our journey of growth should be continuous and ongoing, that God can use chance encounters or even suffering to form and shape our spirituality—that He is orchestrating all things to work together for our good.
Adopting this approach fits my context. Local folk don’t split apart their spiritual lives from their secular lives. Spirituality permeates everything. Discipleship, then, can take place through all sorts of actions, forms and situations. Discipleship is actually a whole lot of life experiences with the key ingredient being the promptings of the Holy Spirit (who, by the way, works so powerfully in us; see Col 1:29).
For some time, I managed a team made up largely of Buddhists. Despite our context (where evangelism is viewed as creating disharmony and may lead to expulsion), there were many opportunities to share Christ gently in word and deed. Some of this was direct: sharing a parable at a training session, explaining my Christian motivation to walk alongside the poor, praying with those in difficult situations, or responding to questions about my faith. But much was indirect: consciously donning a servant leadership approach, respecting others, discussing ethics and morals, or demonstrating love in action.
My current team is made up of believers, quite a different situation. We have been following a Bible study series to explore and discuss passages in depth. The book of Romans, for instance, is not something to be rushed through. Much of our discussion has centred on questions from our staff that have not been answered in their church settings. Discussion of theology has led them to consider life application in areas such as diet and health, raising children, the use of technology, and ethical business practices.
Living as a Jesus-follower means, however, that discipleship stays blurred. It involves a whole lot more than simply sharing scripture passages. It involves showing, demonstrating, guiding, or applauding others as they put Jesus’ words into practice. It may also be listening, crying, or hearing broken stories. Much of this takes place in the midst of the everyday. Note how often Jesus performs an action or provides teaching while he is “on the way” to somewhere else. Am I ready to adopt this view, to be available anytime, to point others to the Jesus way?
Lately, I’ve enjoyed asking our staff about their faith journeys and helping them relive why it is that they follow Christ. I like to encourage them to expand their faith, such as through specific prayer or re-reading small passages of scripture. Attending their church services has also been encouraging for them, giving them a kind of solidarity and me a deeper understanding of the challenges of worshiping in their context.
What about those who are yet to follow Jesus as their Lord? Discipleship can then take on the form of revealing the truth of scripture as played out in real life. Acts of kindness play a role here. When I worked in development, building a bridge with a poor community, a major undertaking for all involved, led to changes in mindset about “Christians” such that some villagers are now working with a nearby Christian business. These are small steps indeed, but as we are faithful in small ways, so God can do His work to orchestrate bigger changes in the future.
Rod and Helen are Interserve Partners in Pen Asia
*Names have been changed
One of my first impressions of Mongolia during a visit in 2002 was that it is a land of contrasts and extremes. I’ve now been living in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, for 16 months, and the contrasts still stand out. Extremes of poverty and wealth; modern city lifestyle and nomadic herders; space and congestion; and it goes on.
But the contrast that stands out and dominates is that of the weather, and this past year has been greater than normal in its extremes. Mongolia has a continental climate with warm to hot summers and very cold winters. The last winter, some say, was one of the coldest for 30 years, with temperatures dropping to -50°C in some places. It has also snowed more than normal resulting in the fiercest winter in living memory. The previous summer was fairly typical, but with less rain than normal. So this contrast of a dry, warm summer where grass and consequently hay production was poor, followed by a very cold and snowy winter led to what is called a ‘dzud’. This dzud has been very severe.
A friend, travelling in the countryside for a few weeks, stopped at a ger, the traditional Mongolian home. He writes:
“Outside the ger tied up to the truck there was a goat. We asked the herder about how he made it through the dzud. He still had a good size herd. He told us he had close to 1,000 animals but now he has only 200 – 800 of them died in the dzud. The goat that was tied up outside had been found buried up to its back in the snow. It was the only one from that group of his herd that lived.”
Stories like this are typical. Current estimates are that about 20% of the 40 million head of livestock in Mongolia have died. Many that have survived are weak and the spring new-borns didn’t have much of a chance. Many more will continue to die. As of mid-May, there were reports that over 32,700 families had lost at least half of their animals, with over 8,700 households left without any livestock at all.1 A contributing factor to the extent of the disaster has been a huge increase in the number of livestock to beyond what the land can sustain; the Mongolian pastures have been groaning.
But what does this mean? In a country where approximately one third of the population depend on herding for a living, this is devastating. For those who have lost a large majority, if not all of their herd, this means that they now have no form of income. The UN expects 20,000 people to move to provincial centres or the capital to look for work. Unemployment is already near 50% in some places. The price of meat has risen by 50%. Infant and maternal mortality has increased by 30-40%.2 The children of herders are suffering significant psychological effects, among many other knock-on effects.
Many are trying to help but there have been difficulties in such a vast land. JCS is one of many NGO’s playing a part in distributing aid supplies and also looking to the future trying to advise on animal and land management. All that JCS does is done through the local church, but the Mongolian church itself is poor. I went with a JCS dzud relief trip to a small town with a church with which JCS has connections. Aid was given out to 200 families who had lost all their livestock, yet this was only scratching the surface; just as the livestock try to scratch through the snow and ice to find some grass hidden below, so it seemed with our relief efforts.
Summer is now here. Temperatures have been in the high 30’s. It has rained. The grass is green. It can be easy to forget the groaning and desperation of the cold and snow of a few months ago; the contrast is stark. But for many the devastating effects will last for years to come.
Photo: A car buried in a snowdrift; desperate Mongolians await food handouts run by a Mongolian Christian group; a Mongolian ger during a blizzard; Bactrian camels coping with the winter as best they can; Mongolian herders receiving food and other supplies.
In late 2007 our family moved from Auckland, New Zealand, to a “city older than Rome” on the other side of the world. Located in one of the former republics of the Soviet Union, it is a city of old and new, where horse drawn carts still clog up the traffic and internet cafes can be found alongside traditional bazaars, and where both Turkic languages and Russian are spoken.
I am an engineer with a non-government organisation working in the area of Appropriate Technology. The NGO evaluates and uses simple sustainable technology to improve local people’s living standards in the areas of water supply, sanitation and housing.
I had been forewarned that coming to work here wouldn’t be like engineering in New Zealand, and my first trip out to a work site in a neighbouring town, to construct and install a new pump, served to underline that fact. There was the welding machine “plugged” into the power by bare cables pushed into the supply box, with similarly bare cables laid along the ground, awaiting the unsuspecting foot; the visit by a local official keen on a bribe for “allowing” the pump to be installed; the drunk policeman who passed by carrying a gun… I was definitely not in New Zealand any more.
While work here has many challenges to productivity that you don’t face in New Zealand (for example, two power cuts totaling about twelve hours every day), it is still possible to achieve positive change and improvement in living standards for people who desperately need it. Following the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991, living standards dropped as the economy collapsed, and although it has recovered slightly, the country is still one of the poorest in the world.
Over the past seven years our organisation has worked with communities to develop appropriate technology solutions such as non-electrical water pumps for irrigation, passive solar houses, solar water heaters, high efficiency ovens and hygienic toilets. Other technologies currently being developed are biogas (producing gas for cooking from cow dung), micro hydro power, and wind energy for electricity production. Some of our technologies have been readily adopted by the local communities while others have not been widely used due to a clash with the traditional way of life and culture. Two good examples of our projects are the coil pump and the passive solar house.
The low annual rainfall here – it’s drier than in Central Otago! – and the very hot summers (with temperatures up to mid-40’s Celsius) mean that many farmers rely on irrigation to water their gardens and crops. Without irrigation the farms turn into wasteland. During Soviet times irrigation was carried out by a system of canals and electric pumps, but many of the irrigation channels are now broken, the price of electricity has greatly increased, and the cost of an electric pump is beyond the financial means of most farmers. If they can scrape together enough money to buy a pump, they have no money left over to pay for repairs when – after a short time – it breaks down because of its inferior quality and the damage caused by fluctuating voltage and intermittent power supply.
Having to carry water by hand from the river or canal severely limits the amount of land that can be watered. Then there’s the physical effort involved for those sent to get the water – often children and women whose lives are already hard enough! Carrying water instead of doing school work is a fact of life for rural children.
As an alternative to the electric pumps, our organisation introduced a “ram” pump, which does not need electricity. A ram pump is good if there is a big height difference between the water supply and the pump location. However, there are many streams and canals where there is a good flow of water but no significant change in elevation. A new pump was needed that could work without electricity and use only the power of the water flow to operate.
Then along came Jonathan, an engineer from New Zealand… he and his family spent a year here as part of Interserve’s On Track programme. From theoretical beginnings (with a little help from Archimedes), through to prototypes – made from rubbish bins and garden hoses – all the way up to full working models, Jonathan developed the coil pump. The coil pump uses the water flow energy in a stream or canal to drive a paddle wheel with a large coil of pipe attached to it. The greater the length of pipe on the paddle wheel, the higher the water can be pumped uphill away from the river.
From Jonathan’s initial work, the pump has been further developed and installed in lots of places, supplying water to houses, small farms, and even to trees in a cemetery. By using only stream energy these coil pumps can lift water up to 30 or 40 metres vertically above the river and supply 10-60m3 (up to 60,000 litres) per day. They are built with locally available materials, cost much less than electric options to set up, and – best of all – cost nothing to run. The coil pumps are very popular, with word of mouth as the main advertising, and the demand for the pumps each summer is greater than can be supplied. Our aim is to teach people how to make the pumps themselves so that they don’t have to keep relying on us, however there are often problems caused by poor quality materials and ongoing design issues that continue to need our attention.
The climate here in the winter months is also fairly tough. Temperatures below zero are normal and last winter saw many days of -20 degrees Celsius, colder than in much of the rest of the country. With the dramatic increases in energy costs, most people struggle to keep warm during winter. Traditional houses use mud bricks and are usually not insulated, meaning they are cold in winter and weak during earthquakes. We live in an earthquake zone even more active than Wellington; there have been a couple of big earthquakes since we arrived here, the most recent wiping out most of the buildings in a village about 100 kilometres from us, killing 74 people.
To address the need for warm, safe and cheap housing, our organisation developed the passive solar house. With our region averaging 270 sunny days per year, solar energy is a readily available source for heating. The passive solar house is well insulated and uses the sun’s energy during late autumn, winter and spring to heat the house. Large windows face the sun and trap the heat (working rather like a greenhouse), utilising a verandah area that then circulates warm air through the house via internal vents. During the hot season, when the sun is higher in the sky, the windows are protected from the sun by large eaves. The house uses a new type of oven for cooking and heating (another product developed by our project); it is significantly warmer, less smoky and more fuel efficient than traditional models. The house is also more resistant to earthquakes because of its foundation design and timber framed walls, which allow it to flex and move without being destroyed. The new building technology uses only locally available materials and is no more expensive than houses built in the traditional way.
All our project work seeks to help rural communities and urban poor. By providing free advice and assistance with technologies like those described above, we can bring about change for good. We can break down distrust and suspicion as to our motives, and show local people what it means to live out a holistic faith that affects all areas of life – physical, social and spiritual.
Our work is not done in isolation, but in partnership with others, locals and expats, including the community development teams who research the problems faced by local communities. We all work together to provide appropriate technological solutions, which are developed to be within the means of most people. As the technologies become more widely known and sought after, we train up local technicians, businessmen, and even pastors, so that they, in turn, can make them available to a larger number of people, while at the same time earning an income for themselves. The success of the coil pump in bringing lifegiving water to the wastelands demonstrates the great impact that someone with technical skills can have here. We’re always in need of more workers (engineers, teachers, health professionals and so on), so if you want to make a difference through your work and witness, enjoy novel work environments and interesting countries stuffed full of mountains, please contact us!
Andrew and Anne and their children, Luke and Hannah, are Kiwi partners who enjoy living in Central Asia; they invite you to join them there.
“Are we really reaching the poorest of the poor?” I asked my co-worker, Badri.
The year was 1994, and we were sitting in a teashop in Galyang, Nepal, discussing whether or not our programme was having the desired impact on the poor people in the community we worked in. At the time we were involved in enterprise development, helping local entrepreneurs develop industries that would then, we hoped, result in job opportunities for the poor.
Our conclusion was, “Actually – no, we’re not,” but just at that moment our order of chow mein arrived, so we never got to explore why we weren’t really reaching the poor. Instead, in his unobtrusively inquisitive way, Badri asked Tilak, the proprietor, how his business was doing. When Tilak responded that he wasn’t happy with the quality of the noodles he was buying, Badri asked, “Why don’t you make your own?” Six months later Tilak’s noodle factory was up and running, employing five poor people, and within two years it was supplying three districts with good quality noodles.
A survey conducted in 2004 revealed that as a result of our programme, a total of 75 people were employed in 11 industries. Our programme was working! But I still had these nagging questions in the back of my mind: Was I really helping people to get their “daily bread”? Were we really reaching the poorest of the poor? When I voiced them to my Nepali colleagues their response was, “Of course you are helping the poor. Everybody in Nepal is poor.”
I still wasn’t satisfied, though, that providing income was all that was needed to feed hungry people. Statistics tell us what we want them to, so I usually accept them with salt-flavoured cynicism, but one statistic stuck in my mind: even when income is increased, only 10% of that increase is spent on food.
Another flaw in focusing solely on income creation was exposed in Mugu, where even though the people were reasonably wealthy, they were malnourished and food insecure. They were selling the nutritious food they produced, and using the money to buy food for their own consumption, but the problem was that the food they bought was of lower nutritional value than the food they sold. One farmer, for example, would sell his litre of milk for five rupees at the local market, then promptly spend those five rupees on a cup of tea at the teashop, and return home satisfied with his day’s transactions. Because his end goal was income, it didn’t occur to him to drink a cup of that milk instead and share the rest with his family so that they could all benefit.
I like to think that my job description comes from the Lord’s prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread… and may I have a wee bit of jam, please?” As a food technologist, one of my contributions to food development in Nepal has been the utilisation of appropriate technology to process surplus food in order to give it a higher market value. Though limited by the lack of electricity, roads, transport, telephones, water and heating fuels, we still managed to produce dried foods such as vegetables, fruits, fruit leather, spices and spice mixes, as well as fruit juices, bakery products and pickles (no jam, sadly – sugar and cooking fuels cost too much). We discovered, however, that there wasn’t much of a market for the processed foods, and we eventually came to the conclusion that what Nepal needs most is good quality, readily available, low-priced fresh food.
A change in mission focus has brought us into the field of food security, which is all about having a secure supply of food with a focus on availability, access and usage. It includes the whole chain of events from ploughing and putting a seed in the ground to putting food into one’s mouth. It recognises that income, marketing and nutrition are also important for having a good food supply – having a secure income means having a secure food supply.
The 21st century buzz word is food sovereignty, which considers the whole environment in which food security and the food chain take place. It looks at rights to land for owning or renting, rights to water for irrigation and drinking, access to markets, access to forests and environment conservation in general. Right to food is also talked about a lot. This is the legal aspect of food sovereignty, which says that the government of a country should be responsible to see that everybody has access to food security.
What we find we are dealing with in reality is the management side of food supply – management of farms, food production, water supply, forest, food storage, processing and diet, and management at household level, with a particular focus on reducing wastage. Ninety percent of Nepal’s population live in rural areas, which means that a lot of the very poor in Nepal still have access to some land on which they can grow their own food. There are obstacles, however, such as issues with accessing the land and water, lack of technical know-how, and poor land management. It’s these things that we are now trying to address.
I have a hypothesis that God has given everybody enough resources to be able to meet their basic needs of food, shelter, clothing, education, health and peace. However, it has a rider which says that in order to get maximum benefit from these resources, they need to be shared. This hypothesis is based on the parable of the talents, particularly focusing on what can be done with only one talent. Maybe I’m taking it beyond what Jesus intended, but maybe He envisaged that some unassuming 21st century development worker with a big imagination would take it that far!
Shankar, another co-worker, and I recently visited a village called Pipaltar; it is a low caste village, the poorest in that community. Many years ago, though, it was a thriving village, able to produce its own food and fulfil the basic needs of its inhabitants, because it had a good irrigation system. But then a high caste community settled near it, and took their irrigation intake from the same stream, 50 metres above the Pipaltar intake.
This diverted most of the irrigation water away from Pipaltar, and it slowly withered into the poor community that it is today.
One of our first steps to bring about change involved working with a partner organisation to mediate a water sharing system for both villages. Then as we explored the situation, we discovered that they have enough resources to meet their basic needs, including land to grow sufficient food once the irrigation system is functional again. We realised, however, that success will depend on good management: first of all, of their irrigation system; secondly, of their farming system (to be able to provide a balanced diet); thirdly, of their storage system (there is a lot of unnecessary wastage, including vast loss of stored grains due to rat and insect infestation); and finally, of food within the household – ensuring that everybody gets a fair share and that there is enough to last them for the whole year.
When we consider a goal for food security for the Nepal situation, we realise that looking to the West, at a market-oriented capitalist system, isn’t appropriate. Instead, because we are still dealing with a lot of remote areas and isolated pocket communities, we see that subsistence farming still works, and still needs to work.
The standard we would like to set for Nepal is a well-managed subsistence farm run on a business basis. The present farming thinking is supply oriented, which means that the farmer produces the two crops a year that his ancestors have always produced. What we aim to promote, however, is business thinking, with a demand orientation which considers that the family is the market and the supply should be according to the market demands, that is, what the family needs. So our ideal farm includes the usual two grain crops a year, a vegetable garden, animals and pulses for high quality protein foods, fruit trees and a cash crop, maybe with a beehive and fish pond for variety. With this the farmer can provide all the nutritional needs of a balanced diet for his family, as well as have some cash for school, medicines, electricity, television, jewellery, mobile phone and so on This money will come from selling the cash crop as well as excess food.
Many ask, “How come they haven’t already thought about making changes and improving their own situation?” The answer lies in a fatalism which says that it’s the will of the gods that they are that way and they can’t change it. A change in attitude and mindset is needed and that will come through our demonstrating the alternatives.
One aspect of this that is already working is our promotion of vegetable gardens, or “kitchen gardens” as we call them here in Nepal. Some recent visitors to our work area asked a local woman what difference having a kitchen garden had made to her life. Her response was, “The children don’t get sick as much as they used to. And when they do get sick, the sickness isn’t so severe and they recover a lot more quickly.”
Are we really helping to feed the poor? Yes! We would like to see a 30% increase in food production soon, and later we hope to be able to expand that to 60% and 100%. But we won’t do it just by focussing on income or food production or good management or good marketing. We’ve learned that changing only one factor doesn’t change the whole situation – we need to change multiple factors. We haven’t yet reached the point where all those factors have been identified, especially since each situation needs to be considered independently – we need to explore the local resources and the possibilities. But I am now satisfied that we truly are helping provide people from poor and marginalised communities around Nepal with their daily bread, and that – someday – there will be jam too.
Roydon is a NZ partner, who has been working as a food technologist in Nepal since 1985.
For most of the past 10 years my family and I have lived in a part of the world where relatively few people understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
When we arrived I had anticipated putting my honours degree and doctorate to good use in some sort of agricultural project which served the poor and gave ample opportunities to live out our faith. Instead I became the world’s most highly qualified pot inspector!
It all began quite innocently really – or was that ignorantly?
Firstly, I knew nothing about the product we were selling (pottery), in fact I didn’t even like it. My only prior exposure had been when my wife dragged me down to the Sunday markets to ‘revel’ in the pottery on sale – a highly evolved form of conjugal torture!
Secondly, I knew nothing about doing business – I was an agricultural scientist, the son of a Marxist. In my family, business was a sleazy alien we stopped at the front door along with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. We were encouraged to pursue honourable professions which would benefit the world (medicine, education – even science). So although I could model ‘heat and water vapour transfer’ I couldn’t distinguish a balance sheet from a shopping docket!
Thirdly, we had no capital – well what do you expect of a Christian socialist!
Despite this trifecta of what might be kindly described as business handicaps, we somehow (or more accurately, God managed) to build a business exporting pottery to Western markets. Along the way we became the leading pottery exporter in that country. We employed about 20 people full-time, up to 30 casual staff, and through our subcontractors generated employment for more than 200 people. We worked in more than 10 different communities across the country and worked with more than 70 different subcontractors (including accessory suppliers and packaging suppliers).
It started very simply – a fellow Christian worker (who was a trader by background) needed someone to help him pack pots. He had figured out that the pottery was cheap and that there was perhaps an export market for it. But if the price was low, the quality was lower, so to control that he inspected every pot he shipped – the trouble was there was only so many hours in the day and when you have to pack 50,000 pots just to fill up one container, that’s a lot of hours.
The solution of course was to bring in the world’s most highly qualified pot inspector (moi!). I knew all those years of studying heat and water transfer through the rhizosphere (even my computer doesn’t know this word) would eventually come in handy! So there I sat, day in day out, surrounded by the grubby poor I had envisaged serving, looking at their cruddy pots and throwing most of them away (not a way to make them love you – let alone admire your walk of faith!).
Occasionally to break the monotony (believe me, inspecting 50,000 pots out in the open, with only dust, sun and smelly potters for company is monotonous), I’d discover they were cheating and slipping my rejects back into the boxes we were shipping. Then I’d get a chance to express my love for them!
Here, strangely enough, is where the trifecta really begins. My tirades of abuse and pot smashing (along with their attempts to cheat me) brought about a real relationship. We needed each other – I had customers to satisfy – they had families to feed – it was a relationship of mutual need – so we couldn’t just walk away – and in the end we had to be reconciled. After all we had a job to do and neither I nor they could stop until the container was done. So over a soft drink they’d illuminate me as to how white lies (which is what apparently this was) were really okay, let alone culturally appropriate. And I’d illuminate them on how regardless of a potter’s theology of truth, our customers were not so culturally ductile! We began to really communicate!
Over the years these people with whom I fought on a daily basis became trusted (not with their pots) and valued friends. In turn we became trusted members of the communities in which we worked. In many ways we (and our staff) became a part of those communities, bought property and were present day in and day out.
From the income generated from our business, new businesses sprung up, other businesses grew. We were able to develop products specifically to generate employment for women and gradually help our suppliers to understand that acting with integrity and building trust were essential to business success and indeed helpful to all forms of human interaction.
We didn’t get everything our way – we still struggled with our subcontractors employing their children rather than sending them to school, we were threatened by local authorities with having buildings demolished if we didn’t pay bribes. There were enough moral dilemmas to keep a Christian socialist wannabe do-gooder busy for the rest of his life!
Ultimately though, we wanted to see people blessed, not just materially or by living ‘better lives’ (important as these things are) – but we wanted them to experience the transformation that can only occur through meeting Jesus, through experiencing God’s forgiveness and being reconciled to our Father and Creator. But the reality is we didn’t see much harvesting though we did lots of sowing.
In our location, as in many of the societies where Interserve works, there is a kind of ‘faith lock-down’ going on. This is at least partly a result of the trauma these communities are going through as they seek to adjust to the impact of globalisation and development. In the midst of turmoil they cling all the more desperately to the one thing that has not changed (or at least they have some hope of not allowing to change) – their faith. Hence our attempts to persuade them to follow Jesus can easily be perceived more as reckless social vandalism than ‘love in action’. That of course is the great challenge in our post-modern/pre-modern world – to live with such integrity that our oral communication of the gospel only explains what our lives already state.
What we have done, we have sought to do as an outworking of the law of love in our lives. The funny thing is that love can be manifested in inspecting 50,000 pots and rejecting more than half of them – it really can. Because the story of love in this context is about telling the truth in love (being real) – that’s what the gospel is all about I think. About the truth of our circumstances today, tomorrow and in eternity. But it can’t start if you’re not there – sitting in the dust and heat, surrounded by smelly people who begin by thinking that the aim of the game is to pull a quick one over you. It’s a wobbly start, but then that’s life all over!
The author has lived with his family in the Middle East, where he pioneered a successful business. They recently relocated to another BAM project in South Asia; they are currently preparing through a year of intensive language and culture study.
‘But a few seeds did fall on good ground where the plants produced a hundred or sixty or thirty times as much as was scattered’ (Matthew 13:8). ‘Thus the saying “One sows and another reaps” is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labour’ (John 4:37,38).
Ilove avocados. My whole family does. In salad, guacamole, whatever. Unfortunately we live in Nepal, where they are rare as Armenian Presbyterians.
Fortunately, near where we live there are two avocado trees, planted over ten years ago by the Smiths family. They too loved them, and so planted some seeds from which large, very fruitful trees grew. Because we are friends with their old landlord, we get to enjoy dozens of them. Fantastic deal.
The thing is, the Smiths never got to taste even one avocado from their trees. Before the trees were mature enough to bear fruit, they had to return to England. Before I wrote them to tell how much we enjoyed and appreciated their long-sighted labour, they didn’t even know the trees were still alive.
Our labour here in the leprosy hospital often seems like this. We sow seeds of light and life to patients passing through our doors. Some accept, and we can see the early fruit in their lives, but they leave, returning to villages days from here with which we usually have no contact. We don’t know if the fruit grows, multiplies or just withers. Some listen patiently, smile, and leave without us knowing of any change in their heart. And some just don’t listen.
Occasionally we get glimpses of the harvest we have sown. Over ten years ago a young lady came in with some of the complications of leprosy. Ginnu was angry and bitter. She had been expelled from the family and village for her disease, and hated herself for the deformities in her hands and feet. Arriving in the hospital, one of her first experiences was to hear the patient fellowship singing and joyously praising God.
She angrily asked one of our nurses, ‘What are these people so happy about? Most of them are worse off than I!’ She remained angry for much of her time here, but towards the end her heart was softened by the ongoing demonstration of God’s love and hearing the word. She left believing in Jesus as her Lord.
And that was the last we heard of her, until she returned ten years later with another complication. She was a changed person, full of joy and peace. She had been accepted back into her family, and during her time away had shared her story with many in the village, and there were now ten families meeting together for fellowship, and looking for a pastor to come and teach them more! We would never have known this were it not for her being forced to return.
Bearing fruit The fruit from some of the seeds we have sown is plain to see. Binja, a bank manager, came to us decades ago with signs of leprosy, and during treatment he had a severe drug reaction which almost killed him. He steadfastly refused to listen to the gospel, but enjoyed teaching other patients to read. Responding to a young lad’s request to read the Bible to him, Binja was convicted by what he read and turned his remaining life over to the Lord. He eventually became the principal of the Bible School and spent several years teaching the gospel to many men and women from distant areas. What a fantastic harvest!
I suspect that life for many of us is like this. We sow seeds during our day-to-day lives; we may be privileged to see some of the fruit, but much of it we may never see. When we read the story of the farmer sowing seeds, we assume that he will see the fruit of his harvest, and soon. That is the nature of farming. In Canada now, the farmers often sow winter wheat, which lies underground for the long dark winter months, only to sprout the following spring and bear fruit in the summer.
Words of truth we speak and acts of love we do may not bring about a response for a season or two. What joy for us to see the sprouts arising in God’s timing. Or, because life is not always like grain farming, we may be sowing apple or avocado seeds, where the fruit takes many years to come. In today’s mobile world, we may be sowing without ever seeing the tree, let alone the fruit. In this we need faith in the Lord of the harvest, who watches over all of the seeds that his farmers have sown.
Of course, this assumes that we are really sowing seeds! The seed is the Word of God, nothing less. If we spend our lives sowing other than the true seed, the chance of a harvest are zero. However if we are faithfully sowing seeds wherever God has placed us, we can rest assured that God will do what is needed to bring in his harvest. Perhaps others will fertilise, and yet others prune and weed. Be encouraged: his word will not return empty!
We have planted an avocado tree in our back yard. With a six-year time to fruition, it is unlikely that we will ever taste the fruit from it. The reward, the blessing, will be for others to enjoy. But really, the important thing is that it will be bearing fruit.
The Partner serves as Medical Director at the leprosy hospital in Nepal. He and his family (pictured below), are seconded from Interserve to International Nepal Fellowship.