A land flowing with honey

“So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey …” Exodus 3:8.

Honey has been associated with God’s abundant provision for his people from the time of the Exodus to John the Baptist, who was known to eat locusts and wild honey. The Bible has many references to goodness and delight accompanying God’s delivery of this remarkable food.

I remember, when I was a small child in Papua New Guinea, curling up under my dressing table to peer through the bedroom window to see my parents welcoming mission workers who came to town from isolated villages in our region. Supporting God’s frontline workers has been a part of our family DNA. I always thought I, too, would be one of those workers. This dream of serving in remote areas could not be realised, however, when our youngest child was born with significant health issues. Instead, my husband and I were convicted of the importance of partnering with those who were serving.

An unused, original Flow Hive that my husband found on eBay in 2016 was the beginning of an exciting new direction for partnership. I had been thinking about the importance of our role as Christians in the stewardship of our environment …“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Gen 2:15). I took a beekeeping course at a farm near my home in regional NSW and came home with a queen bee and a nucleus. Bees are crucial to the sustainability of our world ecosystems and responsible beekeeping was one way we could contribute to good stewardship.

The rate of honey production astounded me. A hive of bees works almost like a single organism with remarkable efficiency and precision. Those bees started producing at least 3kg a week of delicious nectar. Each frame is emptied separately in this system so the honey from each frame tasted different—sometimes fruity, sometimes aniseed. What were we going to do with all this honey? It was far more than I could share with family and friends.

At that time our church was supporting mission workers who had established a carpentry school in Tanzania. They needed to provide half scholarships for students from families whose income was limited, so I decided to sell some honey specifically to support a student who had no parents and no means of income. As it turned out, people loved the idea and my honey provided the student with full board, lodging and education for two years.

When this project was complete, I looked for other ways to continue to responsibly use the gift God had given me through my bees. I found an Interserve Tangible Love project in Cambodia that struck a chord. It was supporting workers who enabled street people to receive rehabilitation from drug addiction and to access pathways to employment.

Later I diversified into using a traditional hive and making reusable beeswax wraps for food storage from the wax from the honeycomb. The sale of these beeswax wraps raised yet more funds for mission.

Kingdom gardening has not only been a unique way for me to support God’s work; it has also opened opportunities for me to speak to people in my own community about the creative and successful work Christians are doing to support less privileged communities. It has provided me with an easy opening to speak of my faith and of the Biblical direction to be responsible for the environment.

This is kingdom gardening and tangible love in partnership.

Kirsti is a mum, a beekeeper and a mission supporter. She lives in regional NSW.

For God so loved the cosmos

“Single use” was the word of the year in 2018, according to Collins Dictionary. In 2019 it was “climate strike”. Clearly the world is more and more anxious that our current lifestyle is leading the planet into crisis, and wants to make fundamental changes. Christians are also speaking up in word and action, from grassroots movements such as Eco Church to Christian voices at global environmental meetings. Are we just following the crowd? Or are there fundamental reasons why Christians should be active in caring for the environment? And, given so many needs in the world and so few workers for the harvest field, should environmental care be part of mission?

Interserve believes that creation care must be included in our response to the gospel, agreeing with the Lausanne Declaration on Creation Care (November 2012). The reasons for this are found throughout scripture. From the beginning, God declares that creation is good (Gen 1) and belongs to him (Ps 24). He sustains and nurtures it (Job 38), delights in it (Ps 104) and promises to take care of it (Gen 9). When he placed humans on earth he commanded them (us) to rule over creation as those who bear his image (Gen 1). And he balanced the command to rule with commands to “serve and to keep” (Gen 2)—the same commands given to priests in the Old Testament temple.

Not many Interserve workers are directly employed in “environmental work”, but those involved in Business as Mission affect the environment through their business, and all of us interact with creation as we eat, breathe, wash, shop and travel. When we do these things with respect for the Creator, conscious of bearing his image, we bear witness to others of the loving God we serve.

The Bible links environmental degradation with sin (Gen 3, Hos 4), but also affirms that God’s redemptive work will restore the creation to fullness and peace. In fact, Jesus’ death and resurrection reconcile not only humans but “all things on earth and in heaven” to God (Col 1). In the biblical picture of shalom we see harmony between God, people and all of creation (Isa 11, Rom 8). If we are to be active participants in God’s story of redemption, we cannot ignore the wide scope of the redemption story.

We also cannot ignore the fact that the people we serve depend on a healthy environment for their survival and wellbeing. This year, while smog in Delhi was closing schools and filling hospital emergency rooms, newspapers reported that more than 1 million Indians die each year from air pollution-related diseases. In
Indonesia the air pollution that affects the health of more than 10 million children comes largely from burning of rainforests and peatlands. Future environmental problems are likely to be far more serious. The glaciers of the Himalayas are a massive water reservoir, feeding rivers that support more than 1.6 billion people (about one in four people on earth). These glaciers are predicted to lose at least a third of their ice mass by 2100 due to climate change. This will mean floods in the short term, then severe water shortages and crop failures in the following decades.

Ultimately, the people Interserve serves cannot flourish unless the environment that supports them also flourishes. This is why the Lausanne Declaration says that, “Love for God, our neighbours and the wider creation, as well as our passion for justice, compel us to urgent and prophetic ecological responsibility”.

Christians are called to care for God’s creation and join God’s work of redeeming all creation as part of our obedience and love of the Creator. The environmental degradation we see across the Interserve world only makes it more urgent that we act.

Richard has loved the natural world since his growing up years in New Zealand. He has worked as a freshwater ecologist for 15 years, and with his wife Liza is currently serving to resource Interserve in the area of creation care. He and his family live in South Asia.

The problem of snakebite

“Can we find out more about snakes?” That request from our physician consultant started me on an unexpected journey. After extensive research including interviewing over 34,000 people in the community, we now understand much more about human–snake conflict. Most importantly, we have learnt that snakebite requires a wholistic response.

A public health perspective
South Asia has approximately 70,000 snakebite deaths per year; there are approximately 100,000 deaths worldwide. Other impacts of snakebite include disability due to limb damage, social and mental health issues, and crippling economic costs from the loss of healthy income earners. In 2018, the World Health Organisation recognised ‘snakebite envenoming’ as a neglected tropical disease, enabling more funding and planning for prevention and better treatment.

A scientific–medical perspective
We need to understand the chemical actions of venom and the medical symptoms of snakebite. We also need to develop diagnostic tests and antivenom that are safe, effective and affordable.

An environmental perspective
Many people’s first suggestion is to kill snakes. This would lead to more rats, which eat more grain, leaving people without food. Understanding snakes’ place in the environment can help us modify interactions more appropriately. Snakebite is primarily a rural problem. Tropical regions are most impacted, with snakebite cases mainly coinciding with the monsoon season. In our area, bites tend to happen in the cool of the evening; snakes come out to hunt just when people are also more active outdoors. Lighting and torches will help people to see and avoid standing on snakes.

Understanding the geographical distribution of snake species is crucial to providing the relevant antivenom. Environmental management has a place in decreasing the incidence of snakebites. Advisors recommend sleeping with a well-tucked-in mosquito net; properly disposing of waste and securing grain storage to decrease rat and snake populations; and establishing buffer zones between grain crops and housing.

Personally, I have come to appreciate the amazing design of snakes. Their scale patterns are remarkably consistent within a species and some designs and colours are quite eye-catching.

An economic perspective
There is an inverse relationship between a country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the incidence of snakebite deaths: lower GDP = more snakebite deaths. Rural areas usually have a weaker political voice and fewer health resources: antivenom is costly to produce and requires well-trained health workers to administer; protective footwear is expensive; ambulance services are deaths of farm animals cost farmers dearly.

A spiritual perspective
In South Asia, 70–90% of snakebite victims first present to a traditional healer. Many would not kill a snake because snakes are worshipped, and many believe a snake will only bite you if the gods allow it. Others believe the snake’s death will cause the snakebite victim to also die. This spiritual perspective has both religious and cultural aspects. Hindus, Buddhists, Animists and Christians all have snake-related beliefs.

The Bible has many literal and analogical references to snakes, and they are not all negative. Most often people think of the Genesis 3 serpent and its connection to Satan in Revelation 12, but we also have the bronze snake of Numbers 21:4–9 which people could look to and be healed. Then, John 3:14–15 says, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him”. These verses, which occur just before John 3:16 in Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus, need further exploration in parts of our world where snakes and snakebites are common and their connection with the spiritual is pervasive.

“Your kingdom come”
Often when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, I get to this and stop: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. What does God’s kingdom look like for human–snake interactions? Snakebite is a huge problem where I can only ever make a small impact. When I look at it from the perspective that God has given me an opportunity to be part of His Kingdom work, then I press on with the task He has given me to do.

Amelia has served in South Asia for more than 15 years, as a nurse, PhD student, and in building local
research capacity.

Name has been changed.

Thinking about good stewardship

Last week I had a meeting with a business owner in a South East Asian country. I was asked to explain why ‘organic’ foods made business more difficult and how it could be worth it. These are not simple questions so I decided to write it all down as a way to process it all. Until recently for me, caring for creation revolved around natural resources, conservation, waste and pollution. But as I wrote, I realised that food production is indeed part of caring for God’s world and the people in it.

I am a consultant with a number of social businesses which aim to use profit from running a business to achieve social outcomes, rather than wealth for the owners. Some of these businesses produce organic food and offer a range of environmental, economic and social benefits (see diagram).

Two examples of these social businesses are:
• An organic farm producing a range of herbal teas and other healthy products.
• A catering business supplying organic meals for workshops, trainings, events and meetings.

The food is healthy. Some say it is tastier. Both businesses struggle with profitability. There are extra costs involved in organic production since other solutions are needed are needed for pest, weed and disease control. Yield is often lower, too.

Solutions are challenging to find. Instead of chemical fertilisers, organic manure and compost are needed to supply nutrients for plant growth. Manure and compost take time to collect and make. It is expensive to transport and generally requires high quantities to supply enough nutrients. It can cost up to ten times the cost of chemical fertilisers. The options for organically protecting plants from pests take much more time than applying chemical sprays. Farm labour is also becoming scarcer as young people move from rural to urban areas. Being organic and profitable generally requires a higher level of technical expertise and cost.

Does the food need to be organic to be healthy? Not necessarily. However, the one that uses harmful chemicals isn’t usually the one who pays all of the costs. People, wildlife and the environment—sometimes a long way away or without a voice—can bear the suffering.

Living in a city, my own family is increasingly becoming disconnected from production. We shop at markets or supermarkets. We don’t know much about its source or how far it has travelled, and we want it cheap. The reality is that organic production needs at least a 20% price premium to make it work.

Is this good stewardship of the natural resources we have been given? I find myself wanting to support these businesses even though I am not a ‘die-in-the-ditch’ organic consumer. The social, environmental and health outcomes offer an excellent wholistic context in which to minister to the owners, employees, other farmers and customers. Both of these businesses have operated for more than five years, and aim to be at a sufficient scale to make a difference and be sustainable. Relationships are being built and our respect for both people and the environment in which they live demonstrates God’s love for all creation.

Roger has lived in South East Asia for over ten years, working with various social businesses.

Names have been changed.

Small beginnings

Nine months ago, we were looking for a house to rent in South East Asia. Our family had just moved here, hoping to be a part of the community as my husband works training teachers. I vividly remember looking out the kitchen window of one house to a big, grassy backyard (so different from others we’d seen with bare concrete). We could imagine our daughters playing there … but who would they play with? A small face peered through the fence and was soon joined by her two older sisters. Thank you, Lord!

At first grappling with the local language was all consuming, but gradually we found ourselves with more time and energy to look for ways to connect with our neighbours. This has been a priority because it’s impossible to train people well without knowing about their lives.

We also wanted to be part of the witness of God’s people here—there are many misunderstandings about what Christians believe and how they live—so that others may have the opportunity to experience peace through Jesus too.

We are learning that sometimes small, seemingly insignificant things can have a big impact … like our two small veggie patches. A friend gave us some old, open seed packets, but would they grow? Yes! From them grew tomatoes, tarragon, capsicums, bok choy, zucchini and spinach. We marvelled with our new neighbours at the variety and beauty of God’s creation.

Everything grew much faster than we expected because of the heat and humidity, and we soon had an overflow to give away. We got to know new and old friends through conversations about the garden. What should we grow next? Local friends had lots of ideas … “Corn would grow well, pumpkins too. Why don’t you pull out the old stalks?” “We wanted to wait to collect the seeds, and to enjoy the birds visiting.” “Will you make more garden plots? Why not the whole backyard?”

We had known one lady for five years but had no idea of her passion for and knowledge of gardening. She discovered the unfamiliar taste of tarragon. Would she like to take some plants? Sadly, she had nowhere to grow them at her house, but she took a big bunch of leaves. We better understood how our lives are different and the same.

Passers-by started sharing ideas about how to use our produce. Our daughter’s friends asked to help water the plants. All the while we wordlessly shared other, more precious things, such as time together—yes, we like being with them and listening to them—and the opportunity to give others a connection with the earth and an experience of God’s abundant creation.

Deeper conversations are still hard for us in our new language, but when friends do tell us about their troubles, have we sensed the same unspoken questions over and over? Does God see them? Will He care for them? Do we know anything about Him worth listening to? It has been precious to experience together the Lord’s care, very present and adding colour to our lives.

Any gardening takes time, even if it’s just two small veggie patches. As we take the time to care for nature—to nurture, to learn new methods, to preserve the ecosystems around us—this is a concrete expression of our faith. We’ve been encouraged by how God can use it to bless others and to demonstrate His abundantly good ways, for His glory.

We take God at His word that He not only cares for people but for all that He has made (Gen 1:31). The wonderful thing we’re learning is that, as we care for God’s creation, so often the people around us are nurtured too … ourselves included. Thank you, Lord.

Felicity is the mother of two small children, living with her family in South East Asia long term.

Names have been changed.

Green in the home and workplace

My wife and I are from South Asia and have been Interserve Partners for more than 15 years. We supported a university student movement, encouraging students to engage with the mission of God in and through their fields of studies. Alongside that, I’m a mechanical engineer with more than 25 years of experience in the manufacturing industry. There, I promoted the manufacturing of lightweight automotive components that help to reduce emissions. I’ve always been interested in how a Christian care for the environment can be expressed in the workplace.

Several years ago, I decided to take a year off from my engineering career in order to invest more time in a governance role in student mission, and three strands providentially came together to set me in a new direction.

The first strand was a series of intriguing conversations I had with my friend Ruben, an Interserver who served as a professor in Economics in Central Asia. He was writing a book on sustainable development. During our conversations I shared my passion about the importance of stewarding technology, keeping in mind the needy South Asian context. While university students boast of new technologies and discoveries in research, it is sad that these are not reaching rural and underdeveloped areas. If stewarded well, the benefits of these new technologies can percolate deeply into society.

Ruben added another dimension: “Those technologies should be GREEN—for the sustainability of the planet”. Together we also engaged in discussions on this subject with local pastors and church leaders.

The second strand was the work of my wife Beck in our own home. In the hustle of the city, can there be green homes? Yes! Beck, who is a creative and industrious homemaker, has established a rather interesting vegetable garden on our ninth-floor apartment terrace. Our household waste is organically composted and used as manure for our garden, which has produced greens, chillies, capsicum, tomatoes, eggplant, and ginger. Such a welcome variety of fresh vegetables grown in our terrace oasis! Beck has instituted a strict regime of reducing use of plastics at home. She has also ventured into home production of organic washing options to reduce grey water waste—not just dishwashing soap but also organic beauty products.

The third strand was an interesting invitation from a secular financial institution to lead their sustainable banking department. The group already had a deep sustainability-oriented culture but wanted someone from a non-financial background to further grow the sustainability culture and to promote green initiatives among colleagues and clients. This was a department specifically created to harness environmental sustainability through core business functions. What a ministry opportunity!

I prayerfully took up the role and over the last three years God has enabled me to establish a strong creation care policy. This policy mandates that the products and services of our financial institution must create easy access to clean energy, green enterprise for rural development, and climate change risk mitigation technologies throughout all 700 branches across the country. The policy mandates a work culture of environmental stewardship. Meticulous green protocols must be strictly adhered to by each branch, and branches that achieve successful green audits may qualify for green awards.These audits even check whether there are taps leaking in the toilets, not just how much access to clean energy they create. At a micro and macro level, we can see the difference made for communities across the country.

I’m now working on linking our financial institution’s performance with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. I have a strong conviction that these goals can be a solid foundation for a thriving regenerative economy.

Dee and Beck are South Asian and are long-term Interserve workers. Dee is a vice-president of a government-regulated financial institution in his country, where he leads the sustainable banking department.

Names have been changed.

Conversations about food and faith

I remember it clearly. My simple stir-fry had opened up a genuine and open conversation with a stranger about my faith in a God who loves and cares for the amazing world He has created. We spoke for almost an hour. How did that happen?! Well, in one sense, it was simple. My friend had dropped in to visit, he noticed that I was making thoughtful choices about my meal and he asked why.

In another sense, many things had brought about the conversation I had with this man. Long before I was an exchange student living overseas, I was making intentional decisions about the way I interact with the world God has made. These included research into the ethics and environmental impact of the clothes I wore, the sustainability of the produce I ate, and the welfare of the farmers and animals providing food for my table. The choices I made in my normal life in Australia allowed me to keep making those choices in a foreign culture as best I could. I hope that my friends see integrity between my beliefs and how they play out in my daily life. My friend saw those distinctive choices and asked a question about them.

Hayley, an On Tracker in Central Asia, shares a similar experience. “Shop owners like to give you one plastic bag per item. Carrying around my own bag has reduced my plastic accumulation, and I hope as my language develops I can have conversations about why I do this.”

Despite living in very different cultural contexts, Hayley and I have something in common. We’re wrestling with how caring for creation is integral to our faith. As we live that out, we hope for the opportunity to share about the love of God with those who witness our actions. I hope that as Hayley grows in her language skills, she will have similar encouraging opportunities for conversation and friendship.

As Christians we have a unique voice to speak into this space of caring for the environment. We care because God cares.

In a bleak environmental landscape across the world, with ravaging bushfires, devastating drought and species extinction, many feel hopeless. I admit I sometimes do. It is appropriate to cry out, “How long, O Lord?” Over the years God has had to remind me that ‘saving the environment’ is not a burden He expects me to carry. In my personal grief and frustration over the ways we take the environment for granted, I’ve been able to lean on the corporate history of grief and lament we have in the Christian faith. We are equipped to respond to the eco-anxiety and ecological grief* many people experience.

We can also share a clear hope for the future. Callum, a Partner in South East Asia, writes: “Our Father has a plan not just for redemption of individuals, but for all of creation. As we live as his agents in this world, we seek to see His Kingdom come. We are longing for the day when He brings back perfect harmony and balance to our environment. But for now, we have the privilege of being part of His work and bringing glimpses of His Kingdom to the world. I love the fact that our faith gives us eternal perspective.”

It is this hope that has resulted in some of the best conversations I’ve had with others about my faith. What a beautiful, transformative message to get to speak into people’s lives.

Katherine is a Creation Care Advocate for Interserve. She has an Honours degree in Marine Conservation and Resource Sustainability, a Graduate Diploma in Divinity and loves to chat about mission and the environment!

Some names have been changed.

*Vince, Gaia. “How scientists are coping with ‘ecological grief’”. The Guardian, 13 January 2020 (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/jan/12/how-scientists-are-coping-withenvironmental-grief).

A legacy of care

I am excited about the topic of Kingdom Gardeners. It goes to the heart of God’s call on my life to participate in his mission. As a young veterinarian I wanted to use my skills and passion for animal health in God’s mission. As I shared my vision, I frequently received the response that “Animals don’t need the gospel, so why would a veterinarian be useful in mission?” While I didn’t have the understanding of wholistic mission that I now have, I had a deep conviction that demonstrating God’s love through care for animals was a legitimate way to bear witness to Jesus. A person who particularly inspired me is one of Interserve’s foremothers.

Rosalie Harvey lived in the city of Nasik, Northern India, for 50 years from the late 1800s. Her legacy included raising 1500 abandoned babies and establishing a community for hundreds of homeless people ostracised because of leprosy. Her other legacy was establishing an animal hospital. Her biographer narrates:

Miss Harvey “took personal charge of the Bhisti (Water Carrying) Bullock Relief Corps. For the three hundred and sixty-five days of the year these animals would know no break from drawing water for the people of Nasik. This Relief Corps of bullocks provided periodic rest for the hard-worked beasts of burden, and one may be sure that Miss Harvey delighted in the task of bringing relief to these patient creatures of God.”*

Rosalie’s advocacy for the wellbeing of hundreds of beasts of burden that kept the city of Nasik functioning resonates clearly with the teaching of Exodus 23:12: “Do your work in six days. But on the seventh day you should rest so that your ox and donkey may rest”.

Speaking of donkeys … Rosalie was also known for her impromptu inspections of the donkey herds moving through the hustle and bustle of the Nasik marketplace. “It is too bad,” she explains, “They make them carry the heavy loads of stones one way and then trot them back to the quarry so that they get no rest either way.” On one occasion, she ordered the packs to be removed from two donkeys—one was lame and the other had nasty saddle sores— sending the donkey boy with his charges to the animal hospital.**

Rosalie discipled many people over her lifetime as they encountered Jesus. Hers was a witness that incorporated care for the marginalised, care for animals and sharing God’s word.

John 3:16 tells us God loves the world—all that He created and proclaimed as good. Rosalie Harvey’s story is just one part of our heritage as an organisation committed to caring for all creation. I am excited about many roles where our workers can address various environmental issues as servants of the gospel. I could tell you about organic farming projects, sustainable coffee production in the rainforest, regeneration of wetlands, eco-tourism and other projects throughout Asia and the Arab world where reconciliation of all creation is an integral part of the transformation of lives and communities that Jesus brings. I count it an enormous privilege to journey with Interserve workers, encouraging them to bring glory to God and demonstrate his love in the ways they interact with all people and all creation.

Dr Christine Gobius is the National Director of Interserve Australia. Her background is in veterinary science and public health.

*Miller, A. Donald. ‘Aayi’: Glimpses of Rosalie Harvey of Nasik and her friends the lepers (The Mission to Lepers, London, date unknown), p19.

**Ibid, p42–43.

We are Kingdom Gardeners

For 168 years, Interserve’s approach to ministry has been to focus on the whole person. People are at the centre of our work. But people live in a physical, social and spiritual context which shapes their whole approach to life. As people striving to see God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven, we want to be Kingdom Gardeners, nurturing the Kingdom of God in all its glory. We can’t ignore the natural environment where people live—and where we also live—as we love and serve them.

Caring for God’s creation, with its people, has always been part of the story of redemption— both physically (“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” Gen 2:15) and metaphysically (“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field” Matt 13:24). As we go into the world, caring for people requires us to engage with the whole context in which they live. We become able to say, as Paul did to the Thessalonians, that “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Th 2:8). Sharing our lives gives us the opportunity to make known the glory of God in all His handiwork.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Ps 19:1). The knowledge of God is demonstrated to everyone through His creation. But how much of God’s incredible handiwork is obscured by the careless or wilful destruction of nature? And how often is this tied to unjust exploitation of people? For many, experiencing creation in all its intended glory is unattainable. As crosscultural workers, we can be a prophetic voice in a natural and spiritual wilderness, showing God’s intention for His creation and His people. As we demonstrate our love for God by caring for everything He created, we invite people to better understand their Creator and His desire to see all creation restored to its intended glory. “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth” (Ps 57:5).

Interservers show how God loves the world— His people and His creation—in many different ways. A naturopath works with the local community to develop healthy and sustainable food sources in an arid environment. A family lives with a displaced people group, helping them farm in productive ways that value all life. Another couple runs an eco-tourism business in an area occupied by several oppressed minorities, bringing people together through enjoyment of God’s creation. An engineer’s day job is working towards providing sustainable, alternative energy. After hours, he partners with the local church to meet needs in the refugee community. A researcher is studying the practical and spiritual relationship between animals and humans, working with local people to demonstrate and share God’s love for the world. Kingdom Gardeners plant, water and tend the garden, and God brings the growth. “May the whole earth be filled with His glory” (Ps 72:19).

Peter has worked with Interserve in Australia and the Middle East for over 20 years.

The solution is coffee

We drive two hours outside a busy tourist town in South East Asia, climbing consistently since leaving the banks of one of the mighty rivers of this region, and stop in a village. We are surrounded by dense forests 1000m above sea level. Led by one of the village elders, we walk past the houses and further up the mountain into the forest.

He pauses and proudly points out his coffee seedlings growing in the shade of the forest. He tells us how he is following the planting directions regarding spacing and feeding, and how this village is collecting their food and animal waste to create fertiliser, using the methods they learned from our coffee promoters. We walk a little further and see three men clearing weeds from the forest floor. It is about 10 months until next year’s planting season, but they are preparing now in the hope that the coffee company will choose them to have some of next year’s seedling allocation. A lot of excitement has been generated in this village by the sustainable income that farmers now have from selling their carefully tended coffee cherries to the coffee company that I work with.

Unlike their lowland brothers and sisters, many people in these highland areas have traditionally earned only a small and unstable livelihood from farming. This has led them to clear the forests as a temporary source of income. Deforestation also makes way for other crops that the people have been told will make them lots of money, particularly if they use the chemicals available from neighbouring countries. The majority of people in these areas do not know the Creator of the beautiful environment that they live in and endeavour to harness for their daily livelihood.

These issues inspired the company’s founder to seek a solution … and that was coffee. More precisely, organic, shade-grown, specialty coffee. Coffee could be a source of sustainable income for these people and help them take care of the beautiful environment that God has created in this part of the world. Expats and local Christians are rarely allowed to visit this part of the country, but doing this work means highland people have the opportunity to meet people who have a different worldview.

The coffee company has gained a lot of respect during their 14 years of working with highland villages. Last year we gave out 60,000 seedlings to new farmers in some of the 25+ villages that we now work with. We also had requests for more than 20,000 extra seedlings from new farmers or current farmers who want to increase their crop. This reveals great trust in the company as the coffee tree takes more than four years of cultivation before it yields its first sellable fruit.

This trust has, in no small part, been earned by the work of the company’s coffee promoters who walk alongside more than 850 farmers as their coffee plants grow. These local Christians visit the villages many times a year, teaching farmers how to grow specialty coffee in the forest without chemicals, and how to cultivate the trees to yield fruit that will earn high prices. They also share with all who are interested about the Creator whose creation they are tending. It’s these “kingdom gardeners” who are progressing the heart of the business to give highland people the opportunity to know more about the Creator who loves them.

For the coffee company, worshipping the Creator includes caring for His people through creating sustainable income for the coffee farmers and the 40 families directly employed by the company, introducing these people to the giver of life, caring for His creation through sustainable agriculture and environmentally friendly practices, and displaying His character through ethical business practices.

This profit-for-purpose business is now selfsufficient and offers profit sharing with its workers while investing the remaining profits into serving more highland communities. With demand for the company’s coffee outstripping supply, the Father continues to present more and more opportunities to be kingdom gardeners among some of the least-reached peoples of South East Asia.

David and his family live and work in South East Asia long-term. He combines his passion for coffee with his heart for Holy Spirit-empowered transformation.