We recently posted Scott Wisley’s story about working with farmers in Papua. That post resonates with another account of an alert cross-cultural servant working with agriculturalists.
On a trip to Kenya, I shared dinner with an agronomist working for a local Christian relief and development organization. He explained how he was going from village to village, teaching impoverished, subsistence farmers how to improve their farming practices.
“What are you currently teaching them?” I asked, expecting to hear something about new seed varieties, or crop rotation techniques or the like. The answer was surprising.
“I’m teaching them how to see the forest in a seed.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m trying to change their mindset. I’m trying to help them see resources that are right in front of their eyes, but are so common they are often unnoticed or taken for granted.”
This young agronomist was on to to something more fundamental than the latest farming techniques and technologies. He wanted to change their paradigm about farming altogether.
Many people have heard the Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish and he has food for the day, but teach a man to fish and he will have food for a lifetime.” This saying provides an important insight about the difference between handouts and training. But it doesn’t go far enough. Teaching a man to fish will not lead to his transformation. The agronomist understood that the goal of development must be nothing less than the transformation of lives, families, communities, and nations. Such transformation does not depend on money. But it does have a cost: it requires new ways of thinking. In fact, this Chinese proverb needs to be extended:
- Give a man a fish and he has food for the day: that’s relief.
- Teach a man to fish and he has food for a lifetime: that’s development.
- Educate a man to think (in new ways) about fishing and his life will be changed forever: that’s transformation!
Does God care about the development of healthy communities? Of course. Do His intentions for people include all the dimensions of life: spiritual, physical, emotional, and intellectual? Yes. Because this is true, we must be directed by God’s concerns as we serve people and communities in Jesus’ name. And the most important factor to help a community or society develop and prosper may surprise you. It is not their history, or their culture, or their education, or their habits of life. All those are important, but the single most important factor to influence how a people develop is the way they think.
The Bible provides the truth about how to be rescued from sin. It also gives the truth about how to live as God intended. That means that only the worldview of the Bible has the power to bring positive transformation for individuals and nations. Here’s another way to say that: only when people view reality as God made it, Scripture describes it, and Jesus Christ lived it, can they find the life God has for them.
The Bible has much to say about the power of ideas and the importance of the mind. The great commandment (see Luke 10:27) tells us to love God with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind. The Apostle Paul says we are to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Co. 10:5).
Many people are caught up in ways of thinking that line up with the fallen systems of this world (see Proverbs 14:2). But there is a way of thinking that aligns with God and his Kingdom. As Christians, we understand with our minds that Jesus’ death on the cross provided salvation for our sins. And also with our minds we are to understand all of reality in a new way – the way Jesus sees it.
Christian scholar Harry Blamires wrote that we should think “Christianly” about all things, even the most unspiritual things![i] For example, our thinking about marriage and family needs to be based on a thoroughly biblical understanding of reality. Most Christians would readily agree with that. But the same thing is true of how we think about science, government, the arts, development, and resources. All too often we fail at this very point. Unless there is an intentional commitment to apply God’s Word to all areas of life, Christians will naturally fall into the thinking and operating of worldly systems. This must not be. The consequences are serious. We will always be tempted to live according to worldly ideas and standards. We must resist this temptation. The way of Christ is always costly – and it must be deliberate.
We see an example of this in the life of another agriculturalist from the past, George Washington Carver. He lived more than 100 years ago, but he still has much to teach us about living fully for Christ in all areas of life. Carver, like my agronomist friend in Kenya, also has much to teach us about a biblical view of resources, development, and transformation.
Carver was born to a single mother in 1864. As an infant, George and his mother were kidnapped by Confederate night-raiders and sent away to Arkansas. His mother disappeared and the identity of Carver’s father remains unknown. George was reared by a relative, Moses, and his wife Susan. It was on Moses and Susan’s farm that George first fell in love with nature. He began to collect all kinds of rocks and plants.[ii] Carver is a living example of how someone born among the “poorest of the poor” can contribute to the transformation of those around him through a mindset enlightened by God’s revelation in Scripture and in creation. Carver was a man of humble roots that God used to impact an entire nation.
Carver understood the wonder of God’s revelation. He read Genesis 1:29, Behold, I give you every herb yielding seed, which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for [food] … (KJV). Carver commented on this verse in childlike wonder: “’Behold’ there means ‘look,’ ‘search,’ ‘find out’… That to me is the most wonderful thing in life.”[iii]
Carver took the Bible seriously. He understood that God intends that the Bible inform our entire lives, including our work. Carver also understood that in addition to reading the Bible, he was to “read” the book of creation:
To me, Nature in its varied forms is the little window through which God permits me to commune with Him, and to see much of His glory, by simply lifting the curtain and looking in. I love to think of Nature as wireless telegraph stations through which God speaks to us every day, every hour, and every moment of our lives.[iv]4
Carver realized that in the creation we can discover the purpose of a thing and then put it to use for the benefit of mankind. When asked by an agricultural journalist what prompted him to study the simple peanut, here’s how he answered.
Why, I just took a handful of peanuts and looked at them. “Great Creator,” I said, “why did you make the peanut? Why?” With such knowledge as I had of chemistry and physics I set to work to take the peanut apart. I separated the water, the fats, the oils, the gums, the resins, sugars, starches, pectoses, pentoses, pentosans, legume, lysine, and amino acids. There! I had the parts of the peanut all spread out before me. Then I merely went on to try different combinations of those parts, under different conditions of temperature, pressure, and so forth.
The result was what you see – these 202 different products, all made from peanuts![v]
When George Washington Carver looked at the simple peanut, he saw its potential. He recognized that God had made the peanut for a purpose, so he looked for the common miracle in the seed. He saw the forest in the seed.
When we look at a seed, what do we see? Do we see the simple seed or do we see the potential of the seed? Do we see the forest in the seed? Do we help others see the forest in the seed? Do we open their eyes to all the resources that come into view when we see the world from the perspective of God and His Kingdom? Do we encourage their curiosity and their desire to discover the untapped potential hidden within these resources?
Many people fail to see what George Washington Carver saw. There are two reasons for this. Some don’t see Carver’s vision because they believe the world is material only. They don’t recognize that God’s hand rules all things, so they try to explain the universe through evolution. They think man, and everything else in the world, is nothing more than a product of evolution. A second group of people believe that unseen spiritual forces rule the world. To these people, man is a victim of these forces. Neither group recognizes the Biblical view, as pictured by Carver. He understood that God made all things and put man on the earth to discover and develop the resources He had placed there at the beginning.
In upcoming articles, we will open the Bible to see how Scripture should shape our thinking about resources. The Christian worldview opens our thinking to a huge understanding of resources. This includes resources found in the environment, internal resources available to all men and women, and even more resources available to those who have put their faith in the saving work of Christ. We’ll look at the resources in each of these categories in future posts.
– Darrow Miller with Gary Brumbelow
This post is one of a series developed from the book The Forest in the Seed by Darrow Miller and Scott Allen.
[i] Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind: How Should a Christian Think? (Vancouver, British Columbia: Regent College Publishing, 2005).
[iii] George Washington Carver, quoted by John S. Ferrell in Fruits of Creation (Shakopee, MN: Macalester Park Publishing Company, 1995), p. 62.
[iv] Ibid, p. 62.
[v] Ibid, p. 50.