On the east corner of our campus there is a half acre garden plot with around 60 garden beds. These beds were planned, created and maintained by the director of the community garden, Seth Davis. But Davis is not alone. He is helped in large part by the students enrolled at the Institute for G.O.D. Int’l who volunteer their time, learning about food production techniques that can help the very vulnerable rural populations they are preparing to serve in the developing world. The food produced by the garden helps supply our on-campus kitchen, which is also volunteer-run, which provides 10 meals to 120 people each week. The Nyumba kitchen menu is based upon what fresh produce is available through the garden, training our palates to rely on fresh seasonal produce.
Each week, students put in over 80 man-hours of work into the garden. Employees of our organization, like myself, also volunteer time to assist in the community garden. It is truly a group effort. But it is no easy task. Tilling one garden bed by hand can take as long as three hours. Other methods with automatic tillers would require far less time. But our methods are replicable anywhere in the world, with very little technology.
Yesterday, I was in the garden with three of my students from the Institute. As we worked, we reflected together on the biblical mandates given to men--in particular, the work involved in “tilling and keeping” the ground (Gen. 2:15). We considered the responsibility we feel to model the type of male the world desperately needs to see--the kind of male concerned with the health of his environment, for the people that are in it.
As the conversation continued, I found myself mostly listening. I felt grateful to be a part of a higher education institution that places such value on practical skills. While the four of us worked in the garden, on the other end of the campus, five students were constructing a playground for our ministry’s elementary school. Many of these students had already completed classes that morning, and now took a “break” to meet real needs around the campus, voluntarily. Afterwards, many of them would return to student housing to complete homework. This day is not out of the ordinary, but is actually typical for our students. They are learning to have hearts of generosity as they learn the word, and move their feet to meet real needs to order an environment where we can thrive together--modeling something many think impossible.
One of our sayings around the ministry is “the way of Jesus was not meant just to be learned about, but to be lived.” This statement colors everything we do. When God put man in the midst of the garden, he was charged with the responsibility to till and to keep it. This was not something Adam knew how to do instinctively, but something he had to learn as he worked with his hands. The original vision for a child of God was someone who would learn from God, morally and ethically, but also learn, practically, how to create a good environment.
The Old Testament’s emphasis on learning and working with your hands continues in the New Testament. Paul reminded the Thessalonians how he worked day and night (1 Thess 2:9) when he was among them and encouraged them to mimic his work ethic (2 Thess 3:7-8).
While our students diligently learn the Bible, they also learn how to work with their hands. Geoff Hartnell, a third year student, is learning to vermicompost. Vermiculture is a method of composting with worms. The soil produced by this method is extremely rich and makes a great additive to any garden bed. Soon, he will do a short video tutorial that will be shared with our East African cooperatives so that they too can learn how to better their soil, and enhance food production. The garden isn't the only place where students learn to work hard, students have also developed proficiencies in plumbing, horticulture, mechanics, wood-working and home repair, among other areas.
When many of our students first enrolled, they had very little understanding of how to work with their hands. However, over the course of their time here, alongside learning the Bible, they are developing practical capacities that can benefit the world around them. Every student enrolled is required to gain skills in building, working the ground, healthcare or education. While this is not a typical approach to Bible education, we are training students to allow their study of God’s word to complement their practical capacities.
As an educational institution, we don’t teach our students these practical capacities so they have a better chance of job placement after graduation. We teach these skills because we understand, fundamentally, that God wants people to have meaningful work. Each time I get to till another garden bed I feel grateful for how far God has brought me and the people with whom I journey.
Written by Jeff Sherrod