“I knew he meant us!” cried Demi, clapping his hands. “You are the man, and we are the little gardens; aren’t we, Uncle Fritz?”
-Little Men, Louisa May Alcott
I left the Dominican Republic for three weeks this summer. Before I left, I tried to set my affairs in order. I prepared the church musicians, cleaned my room for anyone who needed my bed, and handed my garden over to Aneudy, who works the cassava and plantains and fruit trees in the same field.
“There are a lot of tomatoes,” I said. “You’ll probably have to pick them every other day.”
When I got back, a basket full of bright red fruit attested to Aneudy’s faithfulness. “Aneudy was out picking tomatoes every day,” my host mom informed me, adding, “and he kept asking, ‘When is Rebecca coming back?'”
Assured of the health of my little plot, I waited another day before I went to check on it.
There were tomatoes. There was pruning to be done. And there was also an 8-foot dead plantain tree lying across the entire row of tomato plants.
* * * * *
After nine months of cultivation, I sent my students out into summer vacation in June. I’m getting them back in a little more than two weeks. I’m nervous about what I’m going to find.
A large proportion of my students went to homes with physical comforts. Few of them will be worried about hunger. I’m not likely to lose any to violence, deportation, or serious diseases. They will be physically safe.
But I also know some of them will be, more or less, left in the care of the internet or their gaming consoles. Some of them will be left in the charge of nannies and won’t see much of their parents. Some of them are going back full-time to families where there are significant tensions between relatives, unstable relationships, no clear authority, and no real emotional security.
Many of them are going back to environments where there are few books besides a Bible and no opportunities to use English. They may not have enough paper to “waste” on mere expressive writing or drawing that isn’t for an assignment- it simply isn’t a spending priority. They probably do not have parents who read voluntarily in any language, and probably not to them.
My little garden of readers and writers is going to need some TLC when I get it back.
* * * * *
God seems to like the garden metaphor. He put Adam and Eve in the middle of one and told them to tend it. Turns out, rebellious humanity doesn’t make good gardeners.
Jesus, seeing a crowd of Samaritans coming through the fields to see him, tells his disciples, “Look, the fields are white for the harvest.”
Jesus tells us that God is a gardener who prunes the Vine’s branches. Paul shows us how we Gentiles have been grafted into God’s people, and how the Spirit makes the branches bear fruit.
The command that keeps coming up, over and over, in this season of my life is the prayer Jesus told us to pray: Ask the Lord of the harvest to send more workers.
I’m delighted to see my little church, not so little now, gaining momentum in sending out workers. While I was back in Illinois, I got to meet brothers and sisters with their eyes set on secular Europe, Latin America, and Asia- and the little villages and neighborhoods closer to home. So I keep praying: Send more gardeners. Send more people who will love and tend your plot faithfully. Bring in the harvest Jesus died to purchase.